Civil Service head Peter Ong says policy makers must be close to the ground

Civil Service head Peter Ong says policy makers must be close to the ground

SINGAPORE - The Head of the Civil Service wants elite members of the service to be close to the ground so they will not only craft but also execute policies well.


Get the full story from The Straits Times.

Here is the full speech delivered by Mr Peter Ong:

An eventful 2013

2013 was an eventful year for Singapore and the Public Service alike. It was a Year of Connection, as we heard our people's aspirations through Our Singapore Conversation. It was also a year where PM articulated key policy shifts in his National Day Rally speech that will enable u s to move forward together, as a nation.

We also had episodes where we had to rally together as one government to tackle some important long term issues in the Population White Paper, and deal with the hacking of government websites and the riot in Little India.

A Purposeful 2014 

We enter 2014 with fresh aspirations. We have just completed our annual Budget Debate and Committee of Supply where we made major announcements to honour our Pioneers and provide greater assurance for our healthcare needs. The proposed re-opening of Parliament in May will further flesh out the policy agenda for the rest of this term of government. Managing implementation in a complex world

In parallel with the roll-out of our key policy initiatives, it is timely to remind ourselves of the need to focus on the smooth implementation and execution of these policies. There are several reasons why we ne ed to focus on this critical part of the policy cycle.

First, our operating environment is evolving at a more rapid pace than before. There is greater diversity amidst rising aspirations of our citizens, greater plurality of voices on issues and greater uncertainty of policy impact.

Second, our policies have become more complex; we face a constant surge in transactions and feedback volumes; and our implementation timelines have become shorter.

To overcome these challenges, we must devote more attention, time and resources to ensure that our carefully crafted policies will deliver the intended outcomes for our citizens when implemented.

Policy IS Implementation

Excellent policy execution requires our AOs to be well versed in a full range of skills. It requires sense-making to identify needs. It is also about thinking through implementation details, including how the policy is to be explained and communicated, and whether the policy is easily understood and citizens can benefit from it. Smooth implementation requires high awareness of the intricacies of processes to be rolled out, right down to the proverbial last mile.

When I was once a young Admin Officer, my boss es often told me that policy is implementation.

The best policy is only as good as its execution, otherwise it remains only as good ideas on paper.

There should also not be any artificial divide between policy formulation and policy implementation.

The officers who formulate the policy should own its entire chain and be accountable for how the policy is translated into outcomes that eventually reach our citizens.

Let me highlight three elements that can improve our ability to convert policy formulation into successful execution. I Pay attention to details, with ears on the ground

The first is to pay attention to details while always keeping our ears close to the ground.

Given the complex ways in which our policies interact with citizens and the volatile external environment, how we deal with details and feedback can either facilitate a successful rollout of our policies, or stymie their progress.

This culture of mastery over details in our Service is well known. We have all heard stories of the late Mr Sim Kee Boon who used to walk the ground and even slept at Changi Airport before its opening, to ensure that everything is in place. Legend has it that even the cleanliness of the toilets never escaped his attention. This attention to details is perhaps what makes Changi Airport so loved by all who use it.

I was fortunate to have worked with colleagues who exemplified this spirit of mastery over policy implementation details. In my very first job, I was brought to walk around every MRT station along the North-South and East-West line before it was opened to understand if pedestrian and passenger connectivity to the stations had been ironed out. Every possible gap had to be looked into to ensure a seamless flow on Day 1.

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