14 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Prime Minister (a) what is the format of the Government’s after-action review (AAR) on COVID-19; and (b) whether it plans to share the AAR’s findings or recommendations with the public.
The Minister for Finance (Mr Lawrence Wong) (for the Prime Minister): Mr Speaker, Sir, I am taking this question on behalf of the Prime Minister.
Sir, last July, in a reply to a Parliamentary Question from the Leader of the Opposition, Senior Minister Teo said that the Government will conduct an after-action review (AAR) of our COVID-19 response when the situation has stabilised and we are out of the woods.
Sir, our response to COVID-19 can be characterised by two broad phases. In the first phase, which was from the start of the outbreak to August last year, we focused on containing the spread of the virus. Thereafter, when we had vaccinated a high proportion of people in Singapore, we shifted our approach to learn to live with the virus. For now, the pandemic is still not over, but the situation has improved. Therefore, the Government has started work on the AAR, focusing on the first phase of our experience, in other words, what happened from the start of the outbreak till August 2021.
The AAR is intended as a broad ranging exercise to thoroughly analyse our experiences and review the lessons learnt, so that we can be better prepared for the next pandemic. We have asked the former Head of Civil Service Mr Peter Ho to oversee this process and he has agreed to do so. The Government will share the findings and lessons with the public, when the AAR is completed.
Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): I thank the Minister for Finance for answering the question. Sir, as the Minister has alluded, last July, Senior Minister mentioned that there were particularly severe challenges for the Government and there were many valuable lessons to be learnt from COVID-19. Likewise, only a few weeks ago, at the Administrative Service Appointment and Promotion ceremony, the Prime Minister said we will be throwing away valuable lessons for which we have paid dearly.
Sir, the public have limited to an unknown perspective on the short-comings or lessons that were paid for dearly during COVID-19 and how we can be better ready as a country both physically and psychologically when another pathogen or emergency hits our shores. I thank the Minister for confirming that an AAR led by a former head of Civil Services is going to be conducted. Can he also share how many participants are envisaged to participate in this AAR, will it be a whole-of-Government exercise? And secondly, would this exercise also include reviewing emergency preparedness scenarios for the country and other scenarios such as building up indigenous manufacturing capability in critical areas, for example?
Mr Lawrence Wong: Sir, the AAR has already started as I mentioned just now. It is indeed a whole-of-Government endeavour. Mr Peter Ho has been given access to all information with regard to the Government’s response. He will do a thorough exercise in reviewing the Government’s response, which is our intent: to learn thoroughly and rigorously from what we have experienced so far, in order that we can do better for the next pandemic, which will surely come.
This was also the approach we took when we review the lessons from SARS. Which is why, as Minister Ong said just now, we put in place a DORSCON framework, we set up NCID and likewise, we will learn many lessons, many useful lessons from COVID-19, particularly the first phase of the experience so far and we will use these lessons to improve our response for the next pandemic.
To the second question that Mr Pritam Singh asked, indeed, the lessons that we hope to derive from this AAR will be wide-ranging and will include how we can be more resilient as a nation, how we can improve our supply chains and how we can improve our national resiliency in a broad range of areas.
Prime Minister’s Office
9 May 2022