Part of this article was taken from a previous report here.
“The respondents were also less happy on issues such as the provision of job opportunities for older and retrenched workers, the Electronic Road Pricing system and the provision of affordable public transport” (‘Bread-And-Butter Issues’ A Concern For Many, My Paper Report).
The commentary “‘Bread-And-Butter Issues’ A Concern For Many” (February 1, 2011) presents interesting statistics on Singaporeans’ levels of satisfaction towards general political and socio-economic conditions. Despite the valid statistical concerns – such as having a different sample group for the Perception Survey instead of tracking a singular group’s year-on-year sentiments – there is certainly value in the feedback; especially the plethora of negative on-the-ground concerns over the cost of living, housing and transportation. Progressively, however, the challenge lies in the management of such dissatisfaction; with the national feedback unit Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH) acting as a tangible agent to relay genuine recommendations or worries to the respective ministries. Effectual change can then be rendered.
Feedback, if handled effectively and efficiently, would emerge as productive engines for national development and planning in the long term. Questions have been rightfully asked of these studies conducted and opinions garnered by REACH; whether they are realistically taken into consideration. Besides the institution of new endeavours and collection channels, and beyond the superficial acknowledgment of feedback-comments received, improvements are necessary to increase public confidence in the agency.
First, it is crucial to quantify and qualify what the agency has tangibly accomplished since its establishment: and this should go beyond mere figures of increased web traffic or numbers for comments and blogs. Second, since REACH prides itself as a feedback unit, it could provide instances in which comments have been taken into consideration and possibly even turned into action (particularly so if they are related to the direct ministries or government-linked organisations). Even for collated points that might not have been feasible or adopted, it would be nice to offer explanations, as well as to provide some genuine rationale and acknowledge the contributors’ efforts. Finally, the aforementioned Perception Survey – along with its other efforts such as the Policy Study Workgroups et cetera – could do with heightened transparency and publicity to let the public know what is going on; and how the latter can contribute positively.
The greatest issue that is plaguing REACH is one of credibility: Singaporeans and naturally going to be sceptical about a government-based unit tasked with gauging ground sentiments and gathering public feedback. There is a lingering atmosphere of amazement for many to see the government being receptive towards comments; yet the general populace pulls back with suspicion and uncertainty. A government presence not only makes individuals feel that the agency is redundant – since feedback can be channelled directly to the departments – but also question the desired impartiality of REACH in its delivery.
Any proper feedback unit should be independent in political affiliation, even if it might bring about challenges in terms of funding, manpower and administrative functioning. If not, a lot of the proposals or policies from REACH might just fall on deaf ears in time to come.