SPEECH BY DR TONY TAN,DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND CO-
ORDINATING MINISTER FOR SECURITY AND DEFENCE, AT THE
NATIONAL SECURITY COURSE CLOSING CEREMONY, 25 FEBRUARY 2005,
6.00 PM AT THE CIVIL SERVICE COLLEGE
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me begin by congratulating our course participants who have
successfully completed the first ever National Security Course.
Over the last two weeks, you have heard from senior national security
practitioners and scholars from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies
who shared their experiences and lessons learnt with you. You have also visited
various agencies involved in national security to enable you to get a better
understanding of their capabilities. In addition to the lectures and visits, you had
discussions with top government officials. I hope that these discussions have
given you a higher level perspective of Singapore’s national security, and a better
understanding of the thinking behind our policies and the national security
architecture that we have put in place.
Our National Security Strategy
It has been almost four years since the events of 9-11 first awoke the
world to a terrifying kind of security threat. The discovery of JI in Singapore and
the region and the Bali bombing in 2002 reminded us that this was neither a
distant nor a hypothetical threat. These events were followed in succession by
other terrorist attacks all over the world, in places like Casablanca, Jakarta,
Riyadh, and Madrid, just to name a few. Singapore has not appeared on the list
of targets hit only because of the vigilance of our security agencies, which
uncovered and arrested the JI network of terrorists in Singapore before they
These were cataclysmic events that had led many countries to take
another look at their national security organisations. Some chose to improve on
what they had. Others chose to completely rebuild their organisations, putting in
place new systems and structures. Like them, Singapore reviewed its national
security architecture and updated its thinking in the light of the new security
environment. But unlike the others, we did not have to start from the ground up.
We were already in the process of rethinking our national security
architecture in the late 90’s with the set up of the National Security Secretariat.
The events of late 2001 only spurred us on with an even greater sense of
urgency. The culmination of this process was embodied in the Ministerial
Statement that I made in parliament on 20th July 2004, on a new strategic
framework for Singapore’s national security.
Our approach to national security depends on effective coordination and
cooperation among our Government Ministries and agencies. This is a
networking approach, which leverages on and combines the strengths of
individual Ministries and agencies, in order to provide comprehensive capabilities
to deal with the whole spectrum of national security challenges.
But why did we choose a coordination and cooperation approach? The
answer is that only a coordination and cooperation approach can provide the
flexibility needed to meet the challenges of the increasingly complex national
security environment facing our country. Today Singapore faces a wide spectrum
of threats ranging from the possibility of all-out war to single episodes of terrorism.
Challenges to our national security can emerge quickly from unexpected
directions, taking unimagined forms, leading to unforeseen consequences. The
possible permutations are countless. The traditional, hierarchical model of
government with its rigid and fixed boundaries that compartmentalized agencies
into distinct areas of responsibilities simply cannot cope with this kind of
The key to meeting this challenge lies in our ability to quickly assemble a
package out of a diverse range of capabilities, expertise and resources from
different agencies to meet any needs that emerge. To do this, a network must be
developed in which each agency, at the press of the button, will be able to come
up to speed rapidly and cooperate with each other in customized teams to deal
with an emerging issue.
At the same time, while leaving each agency to do what it does best,
effective coordination is necessary to ensure that there is no duplication of efforts
amongst the agencies, that neglected areas are addressed, and that the different
agencies work together in the most effective way possible.
Examples of Successful Collaboration
Only such a coordination and cooperation approach will provide the kind
of flexibility and resilience we need to meet complex challenges facing Singapore.
The value of such an approach has already been demonstrated. When the SARS
crisis hit us in 2003, we were able to rapidly bring together different agencies,
such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of
Defence, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Each agency brought to the table their
own capabilities, expertise and resources, to manage key aspects of the crisis,
such as contact tracing, care of patients, sanitization of the environment, and
maintaining the integrity of the quarantine system. It was a package that allowed
us to successfully contain the disease.
This success is significant, but the SARS crisis had lasted for only a few
short months. The multi-agency co-ordination that was put together to manage
the SAR crisis was an ad hoc temporary arrangement set up to manage an
immediate problem. So, while our government Ministries and agencies have
proven that they can pull together in a major crisis, the question remained as to
whether we will be able to maintain the same kind of interagency coordination
and cooperation to address the complex long-term issues that require not a few
months to deal with, but years or even decades to resolve?
I believe that we can. The new strategic framework for Singapore’s
national security is designed for the long haul. When the immediate need of
rapidly strengthening Singapore’s security after 9-11 had been met, coordination
and cooperation between our agencies did not stop. The Security Policy Review
Committee continues to sit regularly to discuss long term national security issues
and provide policy directions. The various multi-agency committees that have
been set up to look at areas such as aviation security, bio-chemical defence,
maritime security, infocomm security, and maritime security, are continuing their
work of coordinating and developing operational plans and new capabilities.
Structures with seconded officers from different agencies set up for day-
to-day coordination, such as the National Security Coordination Centre in policy
coordination and the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre in intelligence coordination,
have been able to fulfil their designated functions under the new National
Security Strategic Framework headed by the Permanent Secretary for National
Security and Intelligence Coordination.
At all the different levels, our security agencies have proven themselves
able to collaborate to address the longer term national security needs of
Singapore. We have been able to gather the collective wisdom of the different
agencies and gain an all-round view of complex national security issues. We
have been able to come up with plans that would best bring together the
capabilities, expertise and resources of the different agencies to resolve those
issues. We have been able to de-conflict the needs and developments of the
various agencies, so as to maximize scarce resources.
These are no mean achievements, and we should count every one of
them as a success.
New Mode of Governance
But we must not stop here. A strong collaborative approach can be
applied to areas other than national security. Inter-agency cooperation and
coordination is just as important in other areas of government, not just in national
security. Even without a crisis, our civil servants should still be able to think and
act collectively in their day-to-day work. Coordination and cooperation will
represent the new mode of governance that will determine how well the civil
service will perform in the future.
Why is this so? More and more, uncertainty and complexity characterize
other realms of government policy as well. The Asian financial crisis, terrorism,
SARS, tsunamis, remind us of the uncertain and unpredictable world that we
have to live with.
At the same time, many challenges remind us of the highly complex
problems that we face that have potential impact in many different areas. Take
for example structural unemployment. This is a very complex issue because it
touches on different areas such as upgrading the skills of our workers, the
redesign of jobs to make them more flexible and attractive to our workers, and
facilitating small businesses. Structural unemployment also has implications on
our CPF policies and whether the government should provide a social safety net
for the structurally unemployed.
Take a second example, that of an aging population. It impacts on areas
including the rising cost of providing affordable health care to a population that is
living longer, a shrinking base of tax payers to pay for social services, the age at
which CPF can be withdrawn, and readjusting the CPF contribution rates to allow
older workers to remain employable. The issue is also linked to areas such as
housing, for example in providing reverse mortgage, and public infrastructure, for
example in providing more elderly friendly facilities.
A third example will be that of a low birth rate. It touches on areas such as
the levy on foreign maids, the provision of pre-school care and day care, creating
conditions to attract more foreign talent to fill essential job vacancies, the review
of workplace practices to make them more “parent-friendly” and the education
With so many areas to be addressed, a whole list of agencies and
ministries will be involved, such as: the Central Provident Funds Board; the
Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry
of Finance; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Manpower; the Ministry of
Trade and Industry; and the Work Development Authority. Even non-government
agencies, such as the trade unions and the Community Development Councils,
have parts to play.
How do we keep it all together? Without an approach based on
coordination and cooperation, the individual efforts of each agencies in
addressing each of the areas will be diffused and, thus, ineffective. Just as in the
national security sector, effective networking among Government Ministries and
agencies will help bring together the diverse capabilities, expertise and resources
of different agencies and ministries into the customized packages needed to
meet each of the challenges.
Indeed, coordination and cooperation should extend beyond the strategic
level. Coordination and cooperation should also be the approach at the
operational level, where the government interfaces with the general public and
the private sector. In the traditional “stove-pipe” government structures, a
member of the public or a budding entrepreneur might have to go to several
government agencies to obtain even basic government services like having
applications approved or licenses issued. The public is increasingly demanding
and they expect services that will meet their individual needs. I am glad to
observe that steps are already being taken to address such public sector-private
sector interfaces at this level. But the larger point is that one-size-fits-all solutions
would have to give way to customized approaches as complicated problems
increasingly defy simplistic solutions.
The shift from a hierarchical and departmental mode to a coordinated and
cooperative form of government will require the setting up of the right financial
and personnel systems to facilitate and support multi-agency work. For instance,
there will be a need for more cross-Ministry or cross-sector form of budgeting to
finance inter-agency projects where there is no clear ownership. Efforts have
started in this area but more can be done. Our personnel system can also be
enhanced to facilitate this new mode of governance. The current appraisal
system has to take into consideration not just how well a person has done within
his department but also his contributions to external agencies.
While the financial and personnel system will have a definite effect in
shaping organizational behaviour, the mindset of our civil servants has to change.
To accomplish this, our civil servants must develop the instinct to collaborate with
others outside their ministries and agencies.
This is an important challenge. While we have dedicated civil servants
who are competent in their respective fields, working with other organizations
does not come naturally. Our civil servants are more comfortable working within
their own organizations, with their institutional worldview and their own ethos.
This could impede their ability to work together with other agencies, as different
points of view clash. Even the very kind of skill sets that have allowed our officers
to work efficiently within their own organization may not necessarily be the kind
that will allow them to operate effectively with other officers in a network of
organizations. A paradigm shift is therefore needed in the thinking of our civil
servants to develop the instinct to go beyond departmental perspectives to work
together towards larger national goals.
The National Security Course is an example of how co-ordination and
collaboration among our Government Ministries and Agencies can be fostered to
address a national issue. By bringing all of you together for two weeks, I hope
that you will discover the perspectives of each other’s agencies. I also hope that
when you return to your respective agencies, this exposure to the perspectives
and concerns of other agencies will help knit closer inter-agency understanding
As such, the success of this course is measured not only in terms of how
well you have absorbed the knowledge taught in this course, but how well you
have come to view each other as partners. If this course has been truly
successful in inculcating this sense of a shared mission amongst you, then it
would have accomplished its objective. And I hope that the success of the
National Security Course will stir interest in moving the Civil Service towards a
mode of governance that is more flexible, more collaborative, and better able to
meet the complex challenges of tomorrow.
With this, I wish the participants of this course every success as they
return to their posts.