Good people should not be silenced, and especially so for public servants who have a duty to the people.
During his Budget debate speech on Tuesday (Feb 25), Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng raised the issue of lingering fear among public servants to speak up against their superiors and politicians.
He also shared about the matter on his Facebook page.
Mr Ng emphasised the importance of the public service as the heart of the entire system and that public servants play a crucial role.
In reality, worry about being branded as troublemakers, angering bosses and consequences on appraisals and promotions have resulted in their inaction and silence.
He cited Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wish for Singapore to be blessed with a “divine discontent” – to be persistently unsatisfied and continuously driven to do better.
However, he said that more work needs to be done to ensure the “divine discontent” is heard and that the status quo would not be accepted for the sake of a better Singapore.
“This culture of being afraid, of keeping quiet, of not rocking the boat is detrimental to the public service, to any organisation and most of all detrimental to Singapore,” he said.
The proposed solution to the matter: demolishing the culture by tearing down entrenched processes and bureaucracy.
“We urgently need to cut the extremely long red tape that may be frustrating not just for members of the public but also our public servants,” he said.
Mr Ng noted the need for a revamp of the public service appraisal system which has been a hindrance to public servants voicing their opinions.
He said: “Again, many public servants I’ve spoken to fear a bad appraisal if they speak up, oppose their bosses’ views and challenge the status quo. Hence, they don’t speak up although their suggestions may in fact improve the lives of their fellow countrymen.”
Instead, he suggested the Government study a 360 appraisal review system that allows employees to review and grade their direct managers. Such systems are being used by multinational corporations like Google and Alibaba, he added.
“The current appraisal system does not incentivise risk-taking and innovation, and I suggest we change it. Urgently,” he said.
The Government also needs to play a role in making it easier for public servants to voice their concerns and empowering them in the midst of an unhealthy environment where mediocrity is rewarded.
Mr Ng also called for the continued practice of having frequent all-hands staff meetings to establish direct communication channels.
Having internal quality service managers within Ministries and Statutory Boards to follow up on feedback from public servants was also proposed.
Quoting from his budget speech last year, Mr Ng called public servants a rare breed who devote their lives towards serving Singapore.
He said: “But we now need to make sure that they don’t work in a system where they feel they need to be silent, where they feel they need to be ‘Yes sir’ men or women and where they feel that nothing will change even if they speak up.”