I enjoyed reading The Straits Times' interview -- "You need two hands to clap" --with DPM and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean today (May 21) to mark Public Service Week. Mr Teo is also the minister in charge of the civil service.
What he says makes a lot of sense. He asks a rhetorical question: Would it not be a pleasure to have a society in which public officers and members of the public deal with each other with courtesy and mutual respect, and each understands and empathises with the other's roles as well as concerns?
Yes, "courtesy and mutual respect" is really the nub of the issue when it comes to any service relationship and is probably more critical in the public sector as tax-paying Singaporeans are generally less tolerant of rude or unhelpful public officers these days.
Mr Teo goes on to explain that although public officers have many roles, they are actually one service, one family, with one mission: Making Singapore better and working together to build one future for the country.
I like the "one family" concept. If this could be extended to the people they serve, I think many of the obstacles and problems the civil service faces each day would be reduced.
One could just imagine how a public officer would respond if someone he was serving was being treated as a member of his extended family!
The minister disapproves of a situation where a public officer is threatened by members of the public, who say: "If you don't give me what I want, I will write to the press, I will complain to the Prime Minister, I will make sure you lose your job."
I fully agree with him on that, but I know that sometimes there may be circumstances when a person is driven to seek other avenues of redress simply because he is caught between a rock and a hard place.
One final thought: We should stop referring to public officers as civil servants. The reason is that they cannot be our servants if we hope to be treated as part of the bigger family.