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Civil Service College - Principles of Governance

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Principles of Governance
Preserving Our Fundamentals Preparing For The Future
Over the years, Singapore has developed a good reputation for sound government.
International rating agencies, such as IMD, Transparency International and PERC,
have consistently given the Singapore Government high ratings for its efficiency,
rule of law and lack of corruption.
Singapore's successful transformation from a small fishing village into a modern
metropolis has attracted much international attention. Good governance has been a
key factor. However, many will be surprised to learn that the Singapore Government
does not follow a prescribed model of governance. Our system of governance is
unique to our circumstances.
What is so unique about Singapore's governance context? We believe the principles
are shaped by three key elements:
Unique Nation: This relates to our physical constraints - our size, lack of
natural resources, and a multi-racial society;
Unique Environment: his relates to fundamental forces in our external
environment that influence our existence; and
Unique Government: This relates to the unique features of our political
system, including the legacy of the PAP Government.
Together, these elements make us unique as a country to govern. However, each of
these elements is not mutually exclusive but interacts with one another. For
example, our physical constraints compel us to leverage on our external
environment. Internal and external forces in turn, shape the role of our government.
From this context, four key tenets have been distilled as characteristics of our
principles of governance. They are:
i. Leadership is Key
Eschew corruption
Do what is right, not what is
Be pragmatic
Provide long term vision
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ii. Reward for Work; Work for
Self-reliance, not welfare
Meritocracy for best use of
iii. A Stake for Everyone,
Opportunities for All
Singapore a global city and
choice home
Promote collective
Beyond physical stakes
Preserve core values and
iv. Anticipate Change; Stay
Stay nimble and flexible
Be better organised than
Exploit opportunities even in
Turn constraints into
The overall framework can be illustrated as follows:
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Leadership Is Key
Governance is more than just a set of institutional arrangements to ensure the
effective functioning of society. Many countries have democratic elections,
separation of powers and systems to hold their bureaucracies accountable to the
legislature but they are not necessarily well governed. Effective systems of
governance are necessary but the key is the quality of leadership that resides in all
the institutions of governance. In fact, quality institutions of governance follow
naturally from good leadership.
There are four core characteristics of leadership:
Eschew corruption: This is the most basic requirement but is often taken for
granted. If Singapore's leaders fail to meet this necessary standard of probity,
it cannot be demanded of any other official throughout the system. Indeed,
the foundation of the public's trust in the Government stems from their belief
that decisions are made without fear or favour. The actions and decisions of
the Government must be fair, consistent, and transparent to all.
Do what is right, not what is popular: Our public sector leaders must have the
courage to do what is necessary for the nation, rather than what is popular.
Eschewing popularity does not mean ignoring the interests or preferences of
the people. It does mean having the courage to confront difficult issues and
take tough decisions, where necessary.
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Besides doing what is right, public sector leaders must also be prepared to
take calculated risks and even go against conventional thought. Increasingly,
Singapore will also find itself having to invent its own solutions as it expands
into more and more unchartered fields of endeavour.
Be pragmatic: Our multi-racial context and external environment imposes
various constraints on public policy. If we were to build all considerations into
our policies, they would be almost impossible to implement. We must therefore
be prepared to do what is practical. Being pragmatic also means we must be
prepared to re-examine what we are doing from time to time and question
whether the assumptions remain valid. Our public sector leaders must be
prepared to go back to first principles and discard what is no longer valid. We
must be "ruthless" in our honesty to admit what does not work and be ready to
replace bad policies with good ones.
Provide long term vision: It is not enough for leaders to set high standards
for themselves and to lead by example. Today, the task of government has
become far too complex for a few people to manage from the top. The Civil
Service as a whole needs to exercise good leadership at all levels of the
organisation. Our people need to cope with adaptive change (i.e.,
fundamental changes in attitudes, mindsets and values).
This calls for public sector leaders who can provide a long-term vision for
Singapore, tempered by a sense of reality. They must be able to communicate
their policies, convince the people of their rationale and eventually, bring them
on board the change effort. They must be proactive agents of change.

Reward For Work; Work For Reward
Singapore has been governed on the basis that "no one owes us a living". We
neither depend on others to provide us with assistance nor do we encourage our
citizens to develop a dependent mindset. We believe that the strongest motivation
for individuals and society to progress is for rewards to correspond directly with one's
efforts. "Reward for Work; Work for Reward" therefore seeks to promote a positive
work ethic and self-dependent mentality. It creates a powerful incentive for
individuals to put in effort and reap the fruits of their efforts, rather than be free
riders in our society.
This principle consists of two sub-principles:
Self-reliance, not welfare: Our limited resources prevent us from providing
comprehensive state-funded welfare. An ageing population and a higher
dependency ratio make this option even less feasible. Most importantly, such a
system would sap away the incentive to work. We believe that every
Singaporean should earn his own keep and strive for his own betterment. They
should rely on their own abilities rather than depend on the Government for all
their needs. The Government should only step in to help the genuinely needy
with targeted assistance.
Promoting self-reliance does not mean the Government frees itself of the
responsibility of looking after the needs of its citizens. The Government will
continue to provide basic and affordable public services, healthcare, housing,
education and transport. In particular, the Government invests a significant
amount of resources in education and skills training as it provides the best
means of social mobility and ensures Singaporeans maintain their
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Meritocracy for best use of talent: We believe in the best person for the job -
"best" being defined as one's own ability and performance, not one's race,
religion, gender, wealth, social class, or connections. We believe in this for two
reasons: First, the only way a small country like Singapore can do better than
others is if it has the best people in leadership positions in politics, economy
and society. Second, in our multi-racial society, any form of positive or negative
discrimination against any race will ultimately create tension.
We recognise that meritocracy is not a perfect solution to the inequalities that
exist in our society, between individuals and racial groups. However, the
solution is not to do away with meritocracy, but to find ways to level the playing
field. The best ways are to invest in education, to create more opportunities in
every field, and to enlarge the economic pie. These are all requisites for the
concept to function smoothly in Singapore. That said, the concept of
meritocracy itself has to be broadened to include non-academic achievements
and embrace other "whole person" qualities.

A Stake For Everyone, Opportunities For All
All societies seek to create a stake for their citizens but in Singapore's case, it is all
the more important because of our origins as an immigrant society. Singapore can
only survive if every Singaporean sees their future and that of their fellow
countrymen as intertwined. Giving a stake to everyone, not just citizens but all who
have a role to play in Singapore's future will help towards this end.
The Government will create opportunities for Singaporeans, regardless of their
abilities, to realise their full potential. It will not only develop Singapore as a land of
opportunity, but also diverse opportunities. It will create more avenues for
Singaporeans to pursue their interests in fields that contribute to Singapore's
development as a vibrant and balanced society e.g. sports, arts and culture.
However, while ensuring ample opportunities for everyone, the Government cannot,
nor should it guarantee equal outcomes.
The sub-principles in this case are:
Make Singapore a global city and choice home: Singaporeans will only
make the sacrifices required of them if they have a stake in the country and
are proud to be Singaporean. We have to ensure that Singapore continues to
be a choice location to work and raise a family. This means maintaining our
premium on security, stability and social cohesion. It also means ensuring that
our living environment continues to be attractive and the public has easy
access to good yet affordable public services and facilities.
Besides catering to our citizens, Singapore's continued success depends on
its openness to newcomers, who can contribute to Singapore's development.
They should be given a stake, although the nature of this stake will naturally
be different from our citizens. In order to be a great city, we cannot afford to be
so narrow as to only focus on privileges for today's Singaporeans. Today's
newcomers may become tomorrow's Singaporeans.
Just as Singaporeans now look beyond their basic needs, so too will foreign
investors and talent as they decide where they want to base themselves. The
competition for talent has become global. This requires us to pay attention to
the softer aspects of our infrastructure, such as lifestyle, the arts, and culture.
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Promote collective responsibility: No society can progress without those
who have benefited from the system putting something back into society.
Self-reliance must therefore be balanced with collective responsibility.
Collective responsibility can take different forms. For example, certain initiatives
benefiting society as a whole need not be undertaken solely by the
Government but only through co-sponsorship. The underlying premise is that a
robust society and economy should never have to depend only on the
Government's support. The other example is the 'Many Helping Hands'
approach, bringing into play family support, community support, and as a last
line of defence, government support, for the needy.
Beyond physical stakes: As part of the nation-building effort, the
Government has given everyone a tangible stake in the country through its
home ownership scheme, and later, through its various asset enhancement
schemes. With most Singaporeans now owning their own homes and
becoming more affluent, home ownership and asset enhancement will not
have the same impact as before.
Our efforts must go beyond physical stakes. We need to find ways of rooting
Singaporeans emotionally. One way is to create more opportunities for citizens
to participate in the decision-making process and to provide feedback on
various policies. Another is for the Government to support worthwhile causes
that may yield high social, rather than economic spinoffs or in the way we
assess what is "good" for our society e.g. in our conservation of historical
places. Traditional cost-benefit analysis should perhaps give greater weightage
to the "emotional value". A third way is for the Government to shift away from
pure economic logic in the way it communicates some of its policies.
Our focus should also encompass Singaporeans overseas. This group is likely
to grow in size, as we become more globalised. We will need to find new ways
of rooting them emotionally to Singapore (we are already organising overseas
activities for them, maintaining links through overseas networks such as the
Majulah Connection and allowing overseas voting).
Preserve core values and identity: Perhaps the most fundamental stake we
can give Singaporeans is the idea of Singapore's uniqueness. Few city-states
have thrived with such success as we have in today's world.
We should not forget that in 1965, independence was thrust upon us, because of
our pursuit of a vision of a society based on equality, regardless of race, language
or religion. This ideal must continue to be nurtured in the hearts of every
Singaporeans and experienced in the reality of Singapore society. Ultimately, the
strength of our will to safeguard our fundamental rights as a sovereign nation - our
right to self-determination, our right to establish ties with anyone, and our right to live
and work the way we do - depends on a shared destiny.

Anticipate Change, Stay Relevant
This principle encapsulates our basic approach to dealing with our dynamic external
environment. While we cannot forecast change in an increasingly volatile
environment, we can anticipate it by staying nimble and flexible, and at the same
time, exploiting opportunities that come our way. We seek to:
Turn constraints into advantages: Singapore's constraints have compelled us
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to seek ingenious solutions to our problems. For example, we turned poor
regional conditions into an advantage by offering First World conditions in a
Third World region. We also turned our small size into an advantage, by better
utilising resources and minimising wastage. Our effort to make ourselves
self-sufficient in our water supplies is a case in point. And what we lacked in
quantity, we made up in quality while ensuring we remained competitive. In this
way, we were able to develop, for example, PSA and SIA into world class
companies, which could take on the more established players.
Be better organised than our competitors: We have always had to
distinguish ourselves from the region. But today, the region is rapidly catching
up and our competitors have become better organised than before. This is to
be expected. However, we have several decades' head-start. We will have to
be even better organised than our competitors in the following ways:
Closer coordination and integration - With the devolution of government
functions and setting up of more statutory agencies with greater
autonomy, government agencies will need to work even more closely in
order to reconcile their competing priorities and identify a solution that
best serves the national interest;
Better teamwork & organisation - Besides the Government, our people
need to develop group instincts to work as a team, even as individual
initiative, creativity and enterprise are encouraged;
Benchmark against the best - We should continue to benchmark
ourselves against the best in government or industry, in order to maintain
our edge. Where benchmarks are lacking, we should keep in close touch
with shakers and movers in government and business to ensure that we
are clued in to the latest developments.
Strategic leverage on technology - The Singapore Government has been
an early adopter of technology, especially IT, since the early 80s.
Technology is a force multiplier that will help maintain Singapore's
competitive edge across all fields. The Civil Service should continue to be
an early adopter and leverage on technology to improve the overall
responsiveness of our public agencies and better delivery of public
services. This will ensure that the Singapore Civil Service maintains it
edge over others.
Stay nimble and flexible: In a rapidly changing world, Singapore needs to
continually find new ways of staying relevant. To achieve this, we must be able
to exploit opportunities faster than our competitors. This will become more
important as change becomes more frequent and discontinuous. Our society
must be adaptable to change. The Government also has a crucial role to play -
as catalyst and champion of change:
First, it has to be more receptive to new ideas. It needs to recognise that
it has some blind spots, prejudices and historical baggage that need to
be jettisoned. It should be bolder in supporting private initiatives, either
by sanctioning them or co-initiating them.
Second, instead of picking "winners" in any field in the New Economy,
the Government should identify a broad range of capabilities that can be
developed into future competitive strengths. This will maximise our
options in the future.
Flexibility does not mean we compromise on our beliefs and interests.
Where our conduct of international relations is concerned, we should do
so on the basis of mutual respect and benefit. Standing up for our rights
preserves the international space that we have painstakingly built up for
ourselves over the years and our freedom for manoeuvre.
Exploit opportunities even in adversity: Opportunities do not only present
themselves when times are good. While we anticipate and plan for the
worst-case scenario, we should also be continually on the lookout for
opportunities in times of crisis and find ways to turn them to our advantage.
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We should always be on the look out for any tensions arising between the
principles. The dilemmas that result do not necessarily negate the policy direction
being considered but rather it indicates that the eventual policy solution will need to
be customised to that unique context or set of circumstances. In a rapidly changing
environment, there is an increasing need for government to be able to generate
such solutions to meet a wide variety of scenarios. It is in resolving these tensions
that the principles move from the realm of theory to the real world of policy