subpage banner


Speech By Mr Eddie Teo, PS (PMO), At The 8th PS21-MFE Forum On 'No Red-Tape!' On Tuesday, 4 Sep 2001, At The IPAM Auditorium

04 Sep 2001

Good morning colleagues,

2 Welcome to the 8th PS21-MFE Forum on 'No Red-Tape!' Some members of the public may think it ironical that the civil service is holding a forum on no red-tape. But civil servants should not be surprised. For some time now, we have been driving home the message that the Civil Service must be less bureaucratic and more innovative. The question is whether civil servants have been listening and whether the public has noticed any change on their part.

3 Calling for no red tape is not the same as calling for no rules. No society can function without rules. Rules help to maintain order, reduce abuse, and ensure adherence to established standards. However, public sector regulations can become obstacles if they are excessive and if civil servants enforce them mindlessly, complying with the letter rather than the spirit and intent behind the regulation. In Singapore, we pride ourselves on having an efficient and responsive Civil Service. Independent observers, including foreign business people, seem to agree, and independent surveys have ranked Singapore highly for being responsive to the needs of business, for an efficient civil service and for good governance.

4 However, as our Public Service enters the 21st century, is that enough and can we adopt the same approach to bureaucracy and rules, as we used to? In the present environment of rapid and relentless change, driven by dramatic innovations in technology and business concepts, the Public Service needs long-range vision to anticipate the future and an even greater responsiveness to the public and to business.

5 Rules that have become outdated and are over-specific make the Civil Service bureaucratic. Too much bureaucracy prevents fast policy implementation, stifles creativity and limits our level of productivity. We need to reduce the level of bureaucracy while still maintaining accountability. The 'More Vision, Less Bureaucracy' movement was started last year as our strategic response to this challenge.

6 What do we mean by 'more vision'? It means having the ability to look to the future and around the corner, so that we can anticipate challenges before they swarm us. It means looking beyond narrow, agency interests and appreciating national needs. It means understanding that for Singapore to make progress, the public sector must allow more room for the private sector to power our economic engine. The Public Service needs to adjust from simply being a regulator to become a facilitator. We have to respond with speed to new trends. Speed can be enhanced by having a clear vision of the future, and by reducing bureaucracy and cutting cumbersome red-tape.

7 We need to review government rules to ensure that they do not become outdated and out of sync with external realities. Rules that are valid today may not be relevant in the future. Not only do we need to review rules, we also have to establish a system for continual change and be innovative in the way we formulate our rules.

8 Let me share with you a few ideas on how all government agencies can tackle this challenge. First, we can establish 'sunset clauses' for rules whereby an agency?s rules are given a limited shelf life after which they need to be reviewed and a deliberate decision made as to whether the rules should be continued. Some of us are quite uncomfortable with this idea. What if some absent-minded civil servant purges the rules without reviewing them and they all disappear? Before some us start applauding a world without rules, please stop to consider how chaotic society will become if there were no rules. There would be huge traffic jams and worse, daily riots, and Singapore would become ungovernable. To safeguard the really essential rules, they could be reviewed as and when necessary and we could restrict 'sunset clauses' to only certain kinds of regulations. Hence, in Australia, certain regulations are given automatic expiry dates of seven to ten years; this ensures continuing review and updating of the stock of regulations. Second, adopting a policy of eliminating a fixed quantum, say 10%, of rules every year so that agencies are forced to examine systematically how their rules can be further streamlined. This is an even more radical idea than the first. But again, we can apply safeguards and limit the 10% to only certain kinds of rules. Third, adopting a negative-list approach to rules review, i.e. anything that is not explicitly prohibited is allowed. A negative-list approach allows for greater flexibility when the operating environment is fast-changing and complex. Fourth, regulators must put themselves in the shoes of their customers and experience the process of having to comply with the rules. Only then will civil servants realise how inconvenient or impractical some of their rules may be. Fifth, we must earnestly act on the feedback provided by the public and in our opinion surveys to discard or improve our rules.

9 There is no single, fixed way of cutting red tape. Regardless of the approach, what is clear is that overly prescriptive rules tend to restrict innovation and flexibility. However, overly vague rules should also be avoided because they can lead to confusion or even abuse. Agencies need to strike a fine balance. MOF and PSD are reviewing our Government Instruction Manuals or IMs by re-focusing on the principles that they convey, while allowing government agencies the flexibility to make variations within the overall principles. This allows senior management the latitude to adapt the rules to suit their specific environment.

10 To give a greater impetus to rules review across agencies, three initiatives have been established under the More Vision, Less Bureaucracy movement.

11 First, the setting up of the Pro-Enterprise Panel (or PEP) and the Speed Team for Enterprise (STENT) Network by Mr Khaw Boon Wan when he was Chairman of the PS21 Organisational Review Committee. PEP?s objective is to make Singapore the No. 1 pro-business environment in the world, for all companies big and small. All senior public officers have been co-opted into the STENT Network; this emphasises the high-level focus and importance that we attach to reviewing rules and cutting red-tape to help our businesses. So far, 141 pro-enterprise suggestions have been received from our businesses, of which 62 (or 44 %) have been accepted by our agencies and 18 others are under evaluation.MTI also started the 'Win $1,000 Award' which gives away $1,000 every month to the best pro-enterprise suggestion to cut red-tape by a public sector officer.

12 Second, PSD established the Zero-In Process (or ZIP) Panel. ZIP tackles a broad range of social and community issues of concern to the general public. These are issues which cut across agencies and which, in the past, were tossed around from one agency to another. As a result, our Feedback Unit even created a list of 'X Files' of cases which were lost in the bureaucratic maze! To inject a proactive attitude towards resolving these cases, the ZIP Panel was created to make sure that such issues do not slip between the cracks. Lead agencies are identified and ZIP teams are formed to zero-in on difficult cross-agency issues and propose solutions within a 30 to 60 days timeframe.

13 ZIP is useful in cases where we have a number of agencies responsible for a particular public service. Take the maintenance and cleanliness of our housing estates: NParks is in charge of the trees planted along the roadsides, PUB is in charge of drains, LTA is responsible for the roads, while HDB and URA take charge of car-parks. The public does not know who is in charge of what; I think even we civil servants may not know. They do not know who to call when they encounter a problem. The problem gets compounded when the issue cuts across several agencies and requires their joint action. Hence, we have crows which gather i n trees managed by NParks, create noise pollution which ENV is responsible for; and pollute roads under LTA?s care. Each agency will tackle the individual dimension of the problem. But this is not as effective as if they work together and tackle the root of the problem.

14 Through ZIP, lead agencies have been identified and back-end arrangements made such that no matter which agency the public calls, the issue will be forwarded to the right authority to deal with quickly. In other words, there is no more 'Wrong Door'; the member of the public will be served, and the issue resolved, no matter which agency he approaches. Secondly, the lead agencies will coordinate cross-agency issues so that the problem is resolved speedily. Any cross-agency disagreements are resolved internally, after the problem has been solved for the public.

15 I am heartened by the enthusiasm of our officers in the ZIP teams from various agencies who have got together to tackle these issues. The presentation later this afternoon will touch on some of their success stories.

16 Third, Ministry of Finance set up the POWER (Public Officers Working on Eliminating Red-tape) initiative to allow our officers to cut red tape whenever they spot one. A number of POWER Sessions have been held, by both MOF and PSD, to streamline Government IMs. The concept of POWER Sessions is similar to GE?s Workout, which you will hear about later this morning. At POWER Sessions, officers of all ranks come together for a day to discuss specific IM topics on finance, procurement or personnel issues. After discussion, they present their recommended changes to a management panel which decides on the spot if they agree, disagree or think that the issue needs further study. I am happy to note that POWER Sessions have been very well received and a number of rules have been amended as a result. The concept has now caught on and Ministries such as MOE and MOF are also using this format to review their own internal rules.On their own time, all public officers are also free to enter their suggestions to the POWER website.

17 In order to contribute effectively to the rules review process, our public sector officers need to be equipped with the proper tools and techniques. Cutting red tape may not come naturally to all officers. However, they can be taught some simple rules review concepts and learn from best practices across the Public Service. For instance, the licensing regime can be changed from requiring pre-approval by the Government agency to self-regulation by the market. Another example is the class licensing scheme, which removes the need for a licence if the applicant satisfies certain conditions. The presentations later this morning will highlight examples to illustrate these concepts and share with you some success stories. To address the training need, IPAM will start a course on rules review early next year.


18 I hope I have said enough to convince you that in future, you will find that in many areas of public policy, prescribing detailed rules will not work. As a Public Service, our emphasis should be on outcomes and results - especially results for our public. And rules should exist primarily to make things clear for our public officers and to remove temptations.

19 The new approach to rules can be disconcerting. It is easier to write detailed rules than to describe boundaries within which officers should operate. This requires clearer expression of mission and strategy and a higher degree of leadership to develop and communicate vision. It also means that central agencies, such as PSD and MOF, must allow for more variation in decisions of individual Ministries. It requires a mindset shift in both those who set rules and those who follow them. In essence, the new mindset towards rules in the Public Service is that of enlightened ownership, rather than blind obedience, by all.

20 In conclusion, I am pleased to announce that we are launching the inaugural POWER Awards today. The POWER Award serves to recognise Ministries which have been particularly active in their efforts to remove and amend rules, and as a result, enhanced their delivery of services to the public. This award will be given out twice yearly. Ministries were judged on how responsive they have been to feedback and how proactive they have been in cutting bureaucracy and streamlining processes. A panel comprising members from the public and private sectors selected the winning entries.

21 I congratulate the winners of the inaugural POWER Awards. I wish all of you a rewarding forum. Thank you.