Singapore’s political contestation will continue, likely to intensify

Singapore, challenge, government, public, service, PAP

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong spoke at the annual public service leadership ceremony on November 1, 2022.

In his opening speech, he highlighted that the Public Service played a pivotal role in keeping Singaporeans safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, from keeping borders, checkpoints, hospitals, and vaccination centers running smoothly to reaching out to households and businesses to ensure they could get help.

Many agencies had to come up with unprecedented measures amidst tight deadlines, incomplete information, rapidly changing conditions, and, as you know, limited manpower,

The Public Service rallied together to fight Covid-19. Leaders within the Public Service played a significant role in motivating their teams to work proactively across ministries and agencies.

Singapore is in a much better position now with regard to the pandemic,

New challenges ahead

While the worst of Covid-19 is hopefully behind us, multiple new challenges have risen: disease, war, disruptions to supply chains, and the economy.

In addition to these challenges, Singapore will also have to grapple with domestic issuesDPM Wong said. 

Needs will continue to increase as Singapore’s economy matures, and the population ages rapidly. In fact, the Ministry of Finance (“MOF”) feels the pressure most acutely, DPM Wong said. This is because almost everyone comes to them every year during Budget period to ask for more funding and manpower.

I can appreciate and fully understand your needs. I think many of them are meritorious. I want to support you more. But my difficulty and the MOF challenge is where does the money come from?

We do not have magic money trees. How do we find the resources we need to do more? And even if we can find more resources, how do we solve the manpower issues? Because manpower will continue to be limited, the more we take, the less the private sector has.

All of you know that businesses today are struggling to find more workers. So these are the challenges we face. I'm sure everyone understands and recognizes this.

Opportunities abound

When we take a step back to consider where we are today, and the risks that lie ahead, the reality is that we are entering a very different world, Mr Wong said.

Through the pandemic, Singapore has enhanced its reputation as a trusted and reliable hub. The Singapore brand continues to be highly admired around the world.

As a result, Singapore is able to attract investments and talent, even in an uncertain world.

To thrive in this new and very different world, Singapore must have an effective government that can respond to new challenges quickly, even as it plans, builds, and invests for the future, Mr Wong emphasized. 

The key to sustaining good results, DPM Wong said, is a close working relationship between the political leadership and the Public Service

This relationship is grounded in mutual respect and trust and a shared understanding of a higher calling and purpose – and that is to build a better Singapore together. 

Political contestation

DPM Wong said that political contestation in Singapore is here to stay and will likely become more intense over time

The political leadership will have to manage the politics, he said.

We do not assume the right to leadership. Just because the PAP has governed Singapore since independence does not mean it will always do so. Instead, we will have to work hard, even harder, to win the confidence and trust of citizens – to secure the mandate to govern, and to prove that we can govern well. Policies do not take place in a vacuum. So whenever we consider policies, we will have to make a judgement as political leaders of how far to go, what changes to make, taking into account these broader considerations,

The stance of the political leadership in the PAP

DPM Wong gave his assurance that decisions made by the political leadership in PAP will always be driven by a full commitment to do what is right for Singapore and Singaporeans

We will never compromise on our key principles and values.

We will not allow populist politics, race politics, or money politics to take root in Singapore.

And that means we will continue to be upfront with Singaporeans about issues which may not be so popular but need to be discussed and dealt with.​

We will continue to tackle problems head-on instead of taking the expedient way, kicking them down the road, or allowing them to fester and grow.​

DPM Wong tells the Public Service that in doing this, the PAP Government values greatly the professional inputs and objectivity of officers in the Public Service.

So don't try to second-guess (predict) the Minister or propose anything you think will be politically convenient for us.

Instead, continue to be candid and forthright in sharing your assessments and views, based on your best professional judgment.

The final decision taken may not always accord with your recommendations. But know that your professional inputs matter greatly and are a vital part of our decision-making process, he said.


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