Public Service Division

Singapore Infopedia

The Public Service Division (PSD) was established under the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on 3 January 1983 to serve as the central body dealing with matters relating to personnel management and career development in the civil service. These matters had previously been handled separately by several government bodies.1 PSD was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in 1994.2 The division now manages the human resource and development policies of public service officers as well as provides support for the “Public Service for the 21st Century” (PS21) movement aimed at building a first-class public service for Singapore.3

Prior to the establishment of PSD, responsibility for the personnel and career development matters of civil service staff was divided among three government agencies: the Personnel Administration Branch of MOF’s Budget Division classified civil service jobs as well as administered the employment terms and conditions of civil servants; the Establishment Unit of the PMO oversaw the training and career development of senior civil servants; and the Public Service Commission (PSC) managed, among other things, the recruitment, promotion, transfer and discipline of officers in the civil service.4

From 1978 to 1981, there was a sharp increase in the number of resignations from the civil service, including high-level administrative officers, doctors, lawyers and engineers. During this period, the elite administrative service alone lost 15 senior officers and 118 junior officers. The government was concerned over this brain drain from the civil service, which was generally attributed to the more attractive salaries and faster career advancements available in the private sector.5 The pay disparity between the public and private sectors was in fact confirmed by a 1981 survey conducted by the Research and Statistics Unit of the Inland Revenue Department on graduate employment and earnings. The survey found that graduates in the private sector earned on average 41.7 percent more than their counterparts in the public sector.6

On 3 March 1982, the government announced that public sector wages would be revised to bring them more in line with those of the private sector.7 The objective was to ensure that the civil service would continue to maintain its vibrancy and effectiveness by attracting and retaining bright graduates.8 The government also decided to adopt an employee-centred approach towards managing civil servants which would place more emphasis on long-term career development rather than the short-term needs of a job.9

On 19 April 1982, the government announced the appointment of a high-powered 12-men steering committee headed by then PSC chairman Tan Teck Chwee to study how this new approach could be adopted.10 On 31 December 1982, the committee announced that a single agency would be formed and given authority to review, revise and implement civil service personnel policies and practices, with a view to making long-term improvements to the civil service.11

On 3 January 1983, PSD was established under the purview of MOF. It was organised into five branches that handled the respective portfolios: scholarships, discipline and appointments; personnel development; salary schemes and service conditions; research and placement services; and finance and administration of the division.12

PSD took over all the functions of the Personnel Administration Branch under the MOF’s Budget Division. It also took over from the PSC functions like the career development of graduate officers, job-matching for professionals, administration of scholarships and supervision of the Civil Service Institute. PSC continued to be responsible for the recruitment, promotion, transfer, discipline, dismissal and placement of civil servants on pension schemes. Head of civil service Sim Kee Boon was appointed the first permanent secretary of PSD, reporting directly to the minister for finance. His deputy was then Secretary of PSC Er Kwong Wah.13

Later developments
In July 1983, PSD introduced a comprehensive annual staff review in which permanent secretaries and heads of department wrote appraisal reports assessing staff work performances. PSD also introduced staff ranking exercises, which were adapted from the system already in use at the petroleum company Shell, to determine the potential of civil service officers for advancement.14

In 1984, the Social Development Unit (SDU) was formed within PSD to help single public service graduates find suitable marriage partners by organising matchmaking activities such as overseas tours and personal development courses.15 In 1998, SDU was transferred to the then Ministry of Community Development.16

On 5 September 1984, following Sim’s retirement, Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) at PMO Andrew Chew took over as permanent secretary of PSD as well as head of civil service.17

In 1989, the Social Integration Management Service (SIMS) Unit was set up under PSD to facilitate the integration and assimilation of new immigrants to Singapore by providing assistance in areas such as housing, education, employment, immigration matters and social services.18

On 1 June 1994, PSD was transferred to PMO, which saw the merger of the PSC secretariat and PSD. In October that same year, Lim Siong Guan took over as head of PSD in his capacity as permanent secretary of PMO following Chew’s retirement.19 Under Lim’s tenure, PSD formulated guidelines that devolved personnel management to ministries. This gave the personnel boards within the ministries greater control over the appointment, promotion, transfer, confirmation and placement of civil servants, thus making these processes faster and more efficient. Lim also introduced the concept of scenario planning into the public service.20 As a result, the Scenario Planning Office was established within PSD in 1995 with assistance from the Ministry of Defence.21

In 1995, SIMS was merged with the Professionals Information Programmes Management Services Unit (PIPS) to form the Foreign Talent Unit within PSD.22 The new unit had two functions: first, to attract foreigners to Singapore and help them settle down; second, to keep in touch with Singaporeans who were overseas so that they would want to return to Singapore eventually.23 On 1 May 1998, the unit was transferred to the Ministry of Manpower’s International Talent Division, which also served similar functions through its “Contact Singapore” programme.24

The PS21 Office was also established within PSD in 1995 to support the PS21 movement.25 Officially launched in May that year, the movement aimed to change the organisational culture of the civil service to one that encouraged civil servants to be “service-conscious, forward-looking and innovative”.26

In 1996, the Personnel Guidance Unit was set up within PSD to help improve the selection, placement and development of public service officers.27

In 1997, PSD organised the first public service exhibition at the Suntec City Convention Centre. Titled “Serving Singaporeans – Today, Tomorrow”, the exhibition showcased the range of public services available to Singaporeans and also provided visitors with glimpses of future plans to improve such services.28

2000s to present
In 2001, the Civil Service College (CSC) became a statutory board under the purview of PSD.29 The college was established in April 1996 to serve as the centralised training institute for public officers of all grades.30

In 2002, the Organisational Development Unit was established to help develop organisational excellence within PSD.31

In 2003, the Scenario Planning Office was renamed the Strategic Policy Office and expanded to include the Strategic Issues Group, which was formed to study long-term strategic issues across government agencies.32

In 2005, the permanent secretary of PSD was appointed to oversee the work of both PSD and CSC. That same year, the Corporate Services Department and the Communications and International Relations Department were also set up within PSD.33

In 2006, the Leadership Development Department was established within PSD to handle matters pertaining to personnel development, compensation and the administrative service.34

In 2007, PSD set up the External Projects Office to help export Singapore’s public sector capabilities.35

In 2008, PSD celebrated its 25thanniversary. In May that year, PSD launched the first Public Service Week, which was to become an annual event for public officers to celebrate the achievements of the public service. The event also saw the introduction of the Public Service Pledge, which is recited by public officers at observance ceremonies held locally and abroad.36

On 21 May 2011, PSD came under the purview of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean following his appointment as the minister in charge of the civil service.37

1. “Central Body to Manage Civil Servants,” Straits Times, 1 January 1983, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Achievements and Milestones,” Public Service Division, accessed 20 March 2014.
3. “About Us,” Prime Minister’s Office, accessed 16 August 2013.
4. Chua Mui Hoong, Pioneers Once More: The Singapore Public Service, 1959–2009 (Singapore: Straits Times Press and Public Service Division, 2010), 131. (Call no. RSING 351.5957CHU)
5. Leslie Fong, “Govt Concerned over Brain Drain,” Straits Times, 28 February 1982, 1; “Admin Service Losing the People It Needs,” Straits Times, 28 February 1982, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Leslie Fong, “Pay Rise Likely for Admin Grads,” Straits Times, 21 February 1982, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Leslie Fong, “Pay Rises for Govt ‘Brains’,” Straits Times, 4 March 1982, 1; Lillian Chew, “Civil Service Agrees on NWC,” Straits Times, 5 September 1982, 1; “Pay Rise for Men at the Top in Govt,” Straits Times, 2 November 1982, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Govt Move to Keep Pace,” Straits Times, 4 March 1984, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Chua, Pioneers Once More, 130; Leslie Fong and Lee Kim Chew, Civil Service with Human Face,” Straits Times, 19 April 1982, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Fong and Lee, “Civil Service with Human Face.” 
11. “Central Body to Manage Civil Servants.”
12. “Central Body to Manage Civil Servants.”
13. “Central Body to Manage Civil Servants.”
14. Leslie Fong, “Now Civil Service Takes Two Steps Forward,” Straits Times, 6 July 1983, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Benny Ortega, “Soon: Matchmaking Service for Us All,” Singapore Monitor, 6 March 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives (Singapore: Public Service Division, 2008)
17. “Kee Boon Retires from Civil Service,” Straits Times, 5 September 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Unit Set Up to Help Immigrants,” Straits Times, 23 August 1989, 16 (From NewspaperSG); Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 36.
19. “Andrew Chew to Retire as Head of Civil Service,” (1994, April 23). Straits Times, 23 April 1994, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Public Service Division, Achievements and Milestones.”
20. Chua, Pioneers Once More, 187; Grappling with the Future in Advance,” Straits Times, 28 April 1996, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Public Service Division, “Achievements and Milestones”; Neo Boon Siong and Geraldine Chen, Dynamic Governance: Embedding Culture, Capabilities and Change in Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2007), 389. (Call no. RSING 351.5957 NEO)
22. Public Service Division, “Achievements and Milestones.”
23. David Ma Kwok Leung, oral history interview by Santanu Gupta, 21 February 2006, transcript and MP3 audio, 57:33, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 003020), 48.
24. Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore, Singapore: Facts and Pictures, 1999 (Singapore: Ministry of Information and the Arts, 1999), 102. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SMCFFS-[HIS])
25. Ma, oral history interview, 48 – 2.
26. “New Code to Boost the ‘Service’ in Civil Service,” Straits Times, 6 May 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 36.
28. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 36; Chen Jingwen, “Singapore's Survival: Give Your Ideas,” Straits Times, 28 May 1997, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Civil Service College Now a Stat Board,” Straits Times, 10 October 2001, H10 (From NewspaperSG); Public Service Division, “Achievements and Milestones.”
30. “History,” Civil Service College, accessed 28 May 2013; Chua Mui Hoong, “Civil Service to Get One Central Training College,” Straits Times, 28 February 1996, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 37.
32. Public Service Division, “Achievements and Milestones”; Neo and Chen, Dynamic Governance, 209–10.
33. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 37.
34. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 37.
35. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 37.
36. Public Service Division, National Goals, Global Perspectives, 37; Public Service Division, “First Public Service Week in May,” press release, 31 March 2008.
37. “Organisation Structure,” Public Service Division, accessed 29 April 2014; “Teo Chee Hean,” Prime Minister’s Office, accessed 21 September 2011.

The information in this article is valid as of 12 September 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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