SINGAPORE - It would be no laughing matter if the civil service fell prey to "revolving-door politics", said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in Parliament yesterday.
"On Tuesday, we all smiled when Ms Denise Phua mentioned the scenario played out in Yes, Prime Minister. The reality, however, should it come to pass, will not give rise to much mirth," said Mr Teo.
During her speech, Moulmein-Kallang GRC Member of Parliament Denise Phua warned that what was depicted in the British political comedy Yes Prime Minister - in which politicians came and went, and senior civil servants ran the country, believing that they knew best what was good for it - was "not an improbable scenario".
Mr Teo agreed that revolving-door politics "raises the risk" of that scenario happening "where civil servants are more able, stay longer and therefore know more than their ministers, and may well run rings around them".
The best way to avoid this, said DPM Teo, was to make sure that MPs and ministers were of the "highest quality - people with ability and the interest of Singaporeans at heart".
"That will give us the best outcome - able, elected political leaders with good feel of the ground, working hand in hand with able and committed public officers to develop sound policies with the long-term future of Singapore in mind, to implement practical programmes that serve the needs of Singaporeans," added Mr Teo.
Over the past four days, MPs have highlighted issues for re-examination in the public service.
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh, for example, highlighted the problem of elitism in the policy-making process and suggested a more "bottom-up process" to policymaking.
He said in a Facebook post: "The Government, aided by a meritocratic system of scholarship, has recruited some of the most academically talented individuals to lead the civil service. Yet, in recent years, I have heard increasing complaints from average Singaporeans about a growing disconnect between them and the elite policymakers."
But DPM Teo in his speech said that many front-line agencies and public officers had done "good work in the last two years to improve service delivery and policy responsiveness".
"And we will continually strive to do better," he added.
In the wake of Public Service Week last week, DPM Teo reminded public officers on the need to re-focus on three areas, namely, to strengthen inter-agency collaboration to more effectively resolve issues that Singaporeans face, be more responsive to the changing needs of Singaporeans and find better ways to engage Singaporeans.
"Where the public service or public officers have fallen short of these high standards, we will endeavour to correct, counsel and improve," said Mr Teo.
"But do also spare a word to encourage our public officers and motivate them when they do a good job."
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.