SITED on the ground floor of a block of one-room rental flats, the space to be occupied by the Bukit Merah social service office was infested with rats, bedbugs, lizards and cockroaches.

But its general manager, Mr Jai Prakash Ramalingam, was more concerned about the well-being of the children living in the homes above the office space.

"More rats will come out at night when these kids come downstairs to play," said the 37-year-old of the filthy surroundings that confronted him earlier this year at Jalan Bukit Merah.

He contacted the Health Promotion Board, National Environment Agency and the Tanjong Pagar Town Council and all three swung into action and cleaned the area.

Relating the situation yesterday, Mr Jai said: "People asked me, 'Is this the job of the social service office?'"

Perhaps not, as the office is a one-stop help centre for residents seeking social and financial aid.

But his initiative is the kind of response Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean wants public sector officers to develop as an instinct.

He made the call at a closed-door dinner for senior officers on a new Public Service Leadership Programme that will turn them into specialists in fields such as economics, infrastructure and central administration.

He urged them to "be more integrated, more focused in how we work so that we achieve better outcomes for all of us".

"Many issues are inter-connected. Finding good solutions requires cross-boundary thinking."

For example, improving productivity and shaping Singapore's population policies are issues that cut across sectors and agencies, said Mr Teo, who is also in charge of the Civil Service.

Meanwhile, in Jalan Bukit Merah, the government agencies plan to get to the root of the infestation problem. They will hold talks to get residents to stop littering.

This holistic approach to policymaking, however, must go hand-in-hand with specialist knowledge, Mr Teo said in his speech at the dinner in Orchard Hotel.

"Deeper specialisation is needed to understand and tackle these complex challenges thoroughly."

He cited how Singapore is able to confidently provide for its water needs from diverse sources today such as treated used water - Newater - and desalinated water.

This was possible because Singapore brought all its water agencies under one roof, he said.

Today, more officers are being groomed to be specialist leaders, said the head of the Civil Service, Mr Peter Ong, in his speech at the dinner.

There are now 601 officers on the Public Service Leadership Programme, which began in April last year with 429 officers.

Mr Ong also emphasised the importance of having integrity and urged public service leaders to go the extra mile to serve citizens.