Ms He Ting Ru asked the Prime Minister what measures are being taken to address any concerns about diversity in terms of gender, ethnicities and background in the top levels of the Civil Service, particularly in relation to Permanent Secretaries.
Mr Chan Chun Sing (for the Prime Minister): In building a dynamic, efficient and resilient Public Service, diversity is an important enabler.
Diversity has many dimensions, and is not limited to gender, ethnicity and background. It must also include the diversity of experiences of different job functions within and beyond the public sector. In forming strong leadership teams, we consider the performance, potential and competencies of the individual team members, and how they complement one another.
In the Public Service, leadership roles are not confined to the Permanent Secretaries. Working with the political leadership, the Public Service senior leadership comprises Permanent Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, Chief Executives, the heads of Professional Services, in domains such as education, healthcare, urban planning, communications, science and technology, and the younger officers on the Public Service Leadership Programme. At the wider level, we also have the Chairmen and Board members of our Statutory Boards, as well as the members of our councils and advisory committees. Diversity is achieved at the system-level, rather than in specific segments of the leadership structure.
While desirable, it is not always possible to have every leadership segment to be a microcosm of our society. When a particular leadership segment is not representative of our wider society’s diversity, we establish structures and processes to ensure that the necessary breadth and depth of perspectives and interests are taken into consideration.
To achieve the desired diversity of perspectives, experiences and capabilities in our leadership teams, we adopt a multipronged approach.
Firstly, the Public Service is making efforts to recruit a more diverse range of candidates, including promising mid-career leaders outside the public sector who have the heart to serve. We also work with self-help community groups such as MENDAKI and SINDA on outreach programmes to share more about Public Service career opportunities. Through these efforts, we hope to bring in capable individuals from the minority groups to serve in various parts of the Public Service, including in leadership roles. At the scholarship stage, the Public Service Commission is mindful to seek out and award scholarships to candidates from diverse backgrounds.
For in-service officers, we have been expanding the opportunities to give them a more rounded experience. For the younger officers on the Public Service Leadership Programme, most are rotated to different roles in different sectors in their initial years, so that they have exposure to policy, operations, stakeholder engagement and international relations. As they progress in their careers, officers on the leadership programmes from across the Ministries and Statutory Boards also come together for milestone training programmes.
Beyond public sector postings, the Service has also been expanding the opportunities for attachments in the private and people sectors, to help our leaders appreciate ground realities, understand stakeholder perspectives and build their networks beyond the public sector.
We have a system of Statutory Boards, advisory councils and committees, where we harness the expertise and energies of many individuals in the private and people sectors to contribute on a wide range of issues, from governance to specialist skills to policy reviews. It is also a standard procedure for Ministries and Statutory Boards to consult widely, actively and systematically when enacting legislation or implementing a complex policy.
It is not always possible to achieve the same representations in all segments of our leadership system that mirror our society in all aspects. Neither is that necessarily our end goal. Instead, diversity of representation is but one of the many input indicators. Our desired and more important outcome indicator is the robust decision-making and effective and efficient execution of policies, programmes and public services, enriched by diverse perspectives and capabilities, and supported by our system of processes, structures, recruitment and deployments.
The Public Service will continue to build the best possible leadership team in service of Singapore and Singaporeans.
Prime Minister’s Office
5 April 2022