Photo of Ong Ye Kung from Wee Teck Hian from TodayOnline

Speaking at the annual promotion ceremony for civil servants, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung advised that they should “think big, start small and act fast”:

“Civil servants should think big, start small, act fast. There is no perfect comprehensive grant plan. If we over-plan, we run the risk of paralysis by analysis.”

The Minister who is sharing half the portfolio of the Education Ministry with Minister Ng Chee Meng then started reading from his script harping on innovation, risk-taking, voicing out and policy proposals for civil servants:

“Civil servants need to offer bold policy suggestions, rather than second-guess the policy preferences of ministers. They must also keep an ear to the ground and operate in the real world. We may or may not agree with you, but we want people to come to meetings, ready to contribute their ideas and be open to the views of others. Ministers, too, must be open to challenge and confront trade-offs squarely. However, sound policies must take into account ground realities and constraints. Policy suggestions that are theoretically more efficient are sometimes impractical. We often have to set aside theoretical ideals and work on a sound and practical understanding of how people are likely to react and respond to any policy change…”

Minister Ong Ye Kung then recounted that a senior civil servant asked him what are the current PAP government’s expectations from the civil servants, to which he gave an empty reply and saying “it is the job of civil servants to make things happen”:

“The short answer is that our expectations are no different from the earlier generation ministers. The direction of policies must come from political leaders vested with an electoral mandate to carry out their agenda during their term of office, and the public service must support this with clear-eyed analyses of options and effective implementation of policies…It is the job of civil servants to make things happen… It means hitting the ground running, taking some calculated risks, overcoming obstacles, negotiating conflicting concerns across agencies, and finding a way forward.”

Minister Ong Ye Kung has a notorious reputation of being a bootlicker and giving grandiose speeches among the civil service. The former high flyer civil servant soar through the ranks due to nepotism as he was the son of Ong Lian Teng, a former MP for a breakaway faction of the ruling PAP.