How to “Do First, Talk Later”

Clean up the turf issues.
How to “Do First, Talk Later”

Here's a drawback of a decentralised government: when the public needs help in “grey” areas where responsibility is not yet defined or turf issues may arise, public officers may spend more time figuring out which agency is responsible, than addressing the concerns quickly.

To tackle this, the First Responder Protocol (FRP) was introduced last year to spur a “Just do first” approach. Now when a member of the public contacts an agency for help, its officers should try their best to resolve the matter first if they are able to – even if the issue is not directly under their charge.

Since the launch of the FRP, some grey areas are now dealt with in a more coordinated manner. The Agri-food & Veterinary Authority, for instance, is the lead coordinator agency, for all animal-related issues. (No more confusion over who to call when there is trouble with crows, mynahs or pigeons!)

For cleaning matters, the Department of Public Cleanliness (DPC), under the National Environment Agency, is the one taking the lead. The public can call its hotline, or use the “Clean Lah!” smartphone app to alert the DPC to uncleared rubbish.

When a DPC field officer spots a pile of rubbish or clogged drains, he can snap photographs of the mess with his office-issued iPad. The images are sent back to the headquarters to help DPC staff determine the action that needs to be taken.

“If the issue is creating a public nuisance or an unpleasant situation, let’s clear it up first,” says DPC Director Desmond Tan. Later, the Department will sort out which agency “owns” the mess and send the cleaning bill to them as agencies still have their own cleaning contracts.

But “the DPC is not the government’s maid agency,” he stresses. It has successfully shown that a single government entity can take responsibility for a public issue, while working with other agencies, to provide better public service.

Ironing out the kinks hasn’t been easy for the year-old DPC and will require more dogged determination. “We’re in the ‘embarrassed intermediate’ phase where we’re moving towards the ideal state but we’re not there yet,” says Mr Tan.

The DPC aims to integrate the public agencies’ cleaning contracts by 2016 to further give turf issues the boot.



The DPC worked with app developer BuUuK to fine-tune their “Clean Lah!” crowd-sourcing app so that it provides useful information for the DPC’s work.


The DPC has its own cleaning workforce so that it can really take action when needed.


It can be hard for officers to resolve some turf issues. Bosses who offer their help to mitigate the situation, at a higher level, are heaven-sent.

    May 13, 2013
    Chen Jingting
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