Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Public Sector (Governance) Bill [Bill No. 45/2017]
Sir, I stand in support of this Bill. Establishing a system of governance with greater accountability and transparency in our public sector is welcomed.
I support the Bill’s objective, which aspires to remove independent vertical units, commonly known as silos, and creates a whole-of government connected approach to delivering public services.
I have comments and queries on one fundamental aspect of the Bill.
Scope of Bill
The bulk of the clauses in the Bill apply to the “Singapore Public Sector Agency”, this term excludes the “Public Service” (defined to include the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Civil Service, Singapore Legal Service and Singapore Police Force), effectively limiting much of the scope of the Bill to cover only “Public Bodies” and “Singapore Public Sector Agencies”.
As illustration, clause 4(1) confers power on the Minister to give directions to all Singapore Public Sector Agencies. The principle behind clause 4 is to enable a whole-of-government approach in implementation of policy.
Hence clause 4(2) (g) specifically qualifies that such directions can only be made for purposes of supporting a whole-of-government approach.
In this case, then it seems logical and consistent to ensure clause 4(1) applies to the Public Service as well.
This exclusion of Public Service can be seen in clauses complementary to clause 4, namely, clauses 9, 10, 11. This exclusion is also present in clause 6 on data-sharing, and clauses in part 4 and part 5 of the Bill on governance and financial administration of Public Bodies.
Can the Minister clarify why the Public Service is excluded from the bulk of these clauses? Especially since I understand that the aforementioned entities defined as Public Service in the Bill also delivers services to the public.
In fact these entities serve very important functions and impacts the everyday citizen. Given that the objective of the Bill is to better establish a consistent system of governance and accountability, can Minister clarify how this objective will be fulfilled when important agencies such as the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Civil Service, Singapore Legal Service and the Singapore Police Force are excluded?
The need to balance standardisation vs autonomy
I understand that all organisations, public or private, have hierarchical structure and contain layers of structures, at times one layer may be much more deeply embedded, resulting in a silos structure.
At times, such silos structure is necessary for administrative purposes, or for the very functioning of an organisation, such as the military’s chain of command.
Applying this line of logic, I foresee a possible rationale for the exclusion of the Public Service – on justification that these 5 agencies exercise very specialised powers and fulfil very specific, critical functions within our society such that their constituting act already contains provisions allowing Minister to directly make directions, or an informal tight governance framework may currently be in place, or that these five agencies need the flexibility and autonomy to have room to exercise discretionary powers.
However, this justification would similarly apply to the other Public Bodies, which similarly have constituting acts containing internal controls. In fact, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean mentioned recently at the Public Service Leadership Dinner on 8 Nov 2017 that “the challenges that confront Singapore and Singaporeans often cannot be compartmentalised.”
Keeping in mind the objective of the Bill which is to break down intra and inter agency silos to enable a consistent system of governance, can Minister clarify specifically how different these five agencies are defined as Public Service as compared to Public Bodies such that standard governance rules as envisioned in the Bill should not apply equally across the board?
Sir, notwithstanding the above clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.