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Parliamentary Replies

Increasing Productivity In Public Sector

13 May 2013

Date: 13 May 2013

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance: 

How is the Public Service Division taking the lead in increasing productivity within the Public Sector.

Reply by DPM and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam:

Productivity is an important objective in public services. However, most governments find it difficult to measure productivity accurately in public services, as the value created from such services is often intangible and not easily quantified.  For example, putting additional teachers in a school to provide a well-rounded education may be desirable, but the value imparted to the students is not easily measured. It would clearly be wrong to conclude that having more teachers for the same number of students graduating means a reduction in productivity.

It is therefore a challenge to define or measure public sector productivity in the same way as the private sector. Nevertheless, the Public Service has always been committed to the efficient delivery of better services to our citizens.

One indication of this is the fact that the public sector’s share of the total labour force in Singapore is one of the lowest internationally. Its 3.6% share in Singapore is close to that in Hong Kong (4%) and lower than in countries like New Zealand (7%) and the UK (12%) -- in all these cases, the numbers exclude teachers and defence personnel. 

We are however continually seeking improvements in efficiency in the Public Service. I will highlight four key areas to illustrate how this is being done.

First, through the use of IT and automation. We are seen internationally as amongst the leaders in the use of IT to improve delivery of public services. As a recent example, with effect from 1 Apr 2013, Singaporeans who have successfully applied for passports may now collect them from ICA’s self-service machine, iCollect. This initiative not only makes it easier for customers to collect their passports, but also enables ICA to expand its service capacity without additional manpower.

Second, the Public Service is driving productivity gains through organizational efficiency. For example, the newly formed Department of Public Cleanliness at NEA has consolidated public cleanliness responsibilities for the entire Public Service. This initiative will enable the Government to reap economies of scale in the procurement and administration of cleaning services, and achieve better productivity in public cleanliness.

Third, we invest in the training and upgrading of public sector officers. All civil servants are required to take part in regular training to sharpen their skills and to expose them to better ways of working. The Civil Service College, which is the training arm of the Civil Service, constantly reviews its curriculum and training programmes to ensure relevance, and seeks to bring in good trainers and course providers, to help our officers improve. 

Finally, in addition to these initiatives, the Ministry of Finance has in place a Manpower Management Framework to constrain the growth of manpower in the Public Sector. This framework provides Ministries with the incentive to moderate headcount growth, except where necessary to deliver better value.

Taken in totality, these four thrusts will continue to increase productivity in the Public Sector, and aligns the Public Service to our national objective of improving productivity.