How Mr Lee shaped the public service

"Mr Lee shaped the ethos of the Singapore Public Service. He instilled the values of excellence, incorruptibility and meritocracy that we have preserved to this day.

He was a powerful orator, but for him, Government was not just about rhetoric. He lived up to what he said. He delivered on his promises. He led by example and set high standards - working hard to get things done for Singaporeans.

He had an eye for detail, getting the small things right, along with the big things... For him, any policy or programme was only as good as its implementation. For him, if something was worth doing for Singapore, it was worth doing very well.

His commitment to clean government is legendary. In the early days, corruption was rampant. When Mr Lee won the mandate to form the government, he strengthened our anti-corruption laws and gave the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau wider powers to investigate and eradicate corruption.

Today, it is not just the Public Service, but Singaporeans as a whole who are committed to maintaining a corruption-free society.

Mr Lee believed strongly in meritocracy. He was adamant that public officers should be appointed, and advance, on the basis of their abilities, effort and achievements, not connections. For Singapore to succeed, he believed in picking the best person for the job, regardless of race or family background.

Mr Lee established the practice of paying public officers market- competitive salaries that move with the market - a practice which we still maintain today. There is no "iron rice bowl", as poor performers are exited...

Mr Lee believed that public officers needed to understand the ground, in order to hold the trust of Singaporeans.

In 1960, he told public officers that he expected them to know the problems facing citizens, whether they were city-dwellers, farmers, or fishermen. He wanted a government that grows "from the ground up", putting Singaporeans at the centre of all that he did. He expected public officers to communicate clearly and simply, especially to citizens...

Mr Lee also spoke about how public officers should work with the political leadership - offering frank and impartial advice to ministers, so that ministers could make sound decisions.

Mr Lee and his Cabinet continually emphasised that public officers should consider more than just the technical aspects of policymaking, but also ground realities - whose interests are affected, how the policy fits into the Government's long-term objectives, what the reactions might be, and how to communicate the policy.

Once the decisions were made, it was the duty of public officers to implement them well."

This article was first published on Apr 2, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.