Photo of Ong Ye Kung from Straits Times

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung who has never once worked in the private sector today (Oct 2) waxed lyrical about innovation and told some 2,300 civil servants to “innovate”. The PAP Minister who was a civil servant throughout his 26-years career gave a speech on innovation telling civil servants to break rules:

“Other countries have the advantage of bigger markets and looser regulation, but Singapore is the opposite as it is small and well-regulated. Singapore can compete by offering impeccable coordination between agencies to make things happen. Whole-of-Government efforts mean every agency chipping in to make the impossible possible. It is not every agency having its own vested interest and a veto to make the possible impossible. In this pursuit of innovation, the main obstacle is ourselves. Public servants spend more time coming up with new rules to regulate activities instead of looking for ways to cut red tape and enabling new activities. Common reasons for this are a lack of time, of resources, and of supportive bosses. But public servants must set aside this time, and the best ideas have always been born out of some desperate need.”

The PAP Minister also opened up possible corruption opportunities for wayward civil servants by raising the limit of “small ticket items” from S$5,000 to S$6,000 without going through a public tender:

“First, civil servants will find it easier to procure small-ticket items. From November, calling for quotations will not be needed for items valued at less than $6,000, up from the current maximum of $5,000. A common gripe was that they could not go for value-for-money suppliers they knew of as they had to get three quotations every time they wanted to purchase something.”

Minister Ong Ye Kung ended his speech with more motherhood statements about innovation:

“What we want to ensure is that we are not tripped up by our own rules… Such change requires hard work to counter intransigence… Innovation in the public service is not about a sudden burst of genius or flashes of divine inspiration… but a systemic and long-term slog across the board. I am doing my part, and I need you to do yours too.”