Need for diversity in public service: Eddie Teo

SINGAPORE - The chairman of the Public Service Commission has underscored the need for diversity in the public service.

In an open letter on the PSC's website, Mr Eddie Teo said that the PSC will continue to reach out to students from different schools and backgrounds and guard against elitism.

This is important to avoid "groupthink" as the population has become more diverse, the education system has changed, and national problems have become more complex in recent years.

"Our public service leaders recognise the need for diversity and realise that future public servants will be more questioning, and have different and divergent views, just like our population," he said.

"Just as the government is changing the way it governs, public service leaders are learning how to manage a new generation of younger public servants, who want greater participation and more voice."

But Mr Teo also noted that the effort to have greater diversity in the public service would "come to nought" if these divergent views are discouraged, or those with different and non-conventional views are not valued and appreciated.

He said that the PSC will continue to guard against elitism by having scholars from different socio-economic backgrounds as "a public service comprising only the privileged and upper classes will add to the impression that meritocracy leads to a lack of social mobility in Singapore".

In this regard, the PSC continues to reach out to students from different schools and backgrounds.

About 68 per cent of public service scholarship holders came from Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong, he shared, with the proportion peaking at 82 per cent in 2007. This has fallen to 60 per cent in the last two years.

And while there will always be top schools which are more popular than others, he said: "There is nothing wrong in this, so long as they continue to take in students from all socio-economic classes, and the overall landscape allows students from other schools to enter and rise to the top in any career, including the public service".

The chairman, who is serving his second term, also encouraged PSC scholars to study in a wider variety of universities and not just the Ivy League universities in the United States, or Oxford and Cambridge in Britain.

"Those aspiring to be public servants should realise that their performance will often be enhanced if they can bring a new perspective to help tackle a public policy issue, gained by their stint in a 'non-traditional' university or 'non-traditional' country," he said.

He added that the emerging diversity among public servants has not been at the cost of ability, as the high standards have been retained.

"We continue to subscribe to meritocracy and do not practise affirmative action or positive discrimination."

This is the second open letter Mr Teo has written.

His first, on the PSC interview process, was in 2009 when he first became chairman.

Read the full letter here:

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