Singapore’s high-quality Public Service can only be truly successful if it operates under first-class political leadership, Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong (pictured) has said.
“Some people argue that since we have a capable Civil Service to keep things working, Singapore already is in good hands,” Mr Lee said.
“Hence, we need not be so stringent in our expectations of political leaders,” he said.
Speaking to about 900 senior bureaucrats at the annual Public Service Leadership Dinner, Mr Lee said this view was totally misguided.
“Leadership does matter, and political leaders play a specific, vital role in any country, but especially in our system of Government,” Mr Lee said.
“A competent Civil Service may be able to keep the country going on autopilot for some time, even if its politics are divided, or its political leaders well-meaning but mediocre.”
However, he said under such circumstances, the Public Service could not launch major policy, set new directions or mobilise the population to mount a national response to major challenges.
Citing the example of the United States, where there was widespread agreement that the country’s ageing infrastructure was due for an urgent upgrade, Mr Lee noted that the necessary work could not be done because of deep political divisions.
“In Singapore, the political climate and leaders support and enable the Public Service to operate in a rational, efficient, systematic way,” he said.
“The country therefore has the luxury of looking beyond the short-term, and the confidence that it will be able to fund and carry out longer-term plans.”
Mr Lee said that just as Public Servants must understand the political context, Ministers were expected to be “hands-on executive leaders” rather than simply providing strategic guidance.
“This means that if they are not up to scratch or cannot play their roles properly, the Public Service will not function well,” he said.
Singapore, 18 January 2020