15 November, 2011

Relics of the Cold War


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By now you would have learned about or personally experienced the effects of the Transformation Programmes that my administration has embarked upon. We are by no means reaching the conclusion of the programmes, as change is a continuous process. However, the building blocks that will better facilitate our progress in the face of various environmental changes have been put in place. We are building a strong foundation for the 21st century.

Of course, this in no way dismisses the foundations previously laid down by our forefathers in building our country into what we have become. Were it not for their vision and foresight, as well as the subsequent policies to carry them through, we would not be enjoying this level of economic prosperity or social harmony.

Yet, as we can see, the times are changing. For the sake of our future, we must adapt to these changes accordingly while simultaneously preserving our national identity and integrity.

Many countries had once shared our belief in similar policies and practices, but they have moved on. In particular, the Cold War period between the 1940s to the early 1990s had largely influenced Governments everywhere to be more cautious and rigid in their policies and views. The Cold War is over, and the world is a different place now. It is time for us to move on.

One distinctive aspect of the model economies and the nation we want to become is the level of service, be it in the public or private sector. A nation with a first-world mentality believes in a level of service that is efficient as it is courteous. It believes in according people respect as a means to earn mutual respect. It believes in taking pride in a service delivery system that functions smart, without being bogged down by redundant rules and excessive red tape.

Let’s consider this example; our Government delivery system. In a number of policies, forms are part of the law, and unless they are correctly filed, the public may find their appeals and requests slowed down by mere administrative paperwork. In reality, the actual process, with the right approach could take a matter of hours or days to resolve rather than weeks or months because of say, an incorrectly filed form. I have wondered, and this is a consideration, would it not be much easier for the public, and more effective for the civil service to make these forms supplementary to the law, rather than part of the law? The Government has done good work in recent years with regards to this, and I applaud the civil service for their efforts. But let us not just consider striving for efficient processes, we must also make the processes effective. Bottom line, while the Government must ensure the balance of a proper administration and speedy processes, we must also not forget that there is an element of effective “demand-oriented service” that we must strongly consider in moving our administration forward.

When he revolutionised transportation with the Model T car, Henry Ford famously said: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” At a time when cars were a new marvel to the mass consumer, this approach was acceptable, but not anymore.

Generally speaking, contemporary customer service philosophy is built around the belief that ensuring customer satisfaction will greatly benefit a business or organisation. If the consumer or customer wants variety, expediency, or value-added support, an organisation would be wise to provide them, thus ensuring satisfaction and loyalty.

The same applies in the civil service. In order to foster public confidence, the Government must be able to satisfy their needs and expectations. Rules and policies are meant to facilitate this, rather than act as a barrier to good service and public confidence. If a rule or policy appears to function at the expense of public interest, then it should be reviewed or overhauled; it should not be sacrosanct to public interest.

This is one of many things I have been thinking about. I have also thought about the challenge of engendering this shift in paradigm from a mindset born of the Cold War era to one that is fully aware of the present global and local environment. It is time for us to make the transformation and do away with the relics of the Cold War era. Both the public and private sectors must move forward together and make this transformation.

What are your thoughts? In your opinion, what can be done to bring about this change in mentality in both public and private sectors? What examples should we look at or model after? I welcome your feedback.