“Such a task signals a new phase in the Government’s commitment to inclusive growth, he said. And it entails involving more people as well as getting more feedback from the ground” (It’s About Doing The Right Thing, Says Tharman, Mr. Saiful Bahri Ismail).
There has been considerable fanfare with the shuffling of Singapore’s Cabinet; with many observers expressing interest over the respective appointments and resignations of various office-holders. However, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s appointment comes as little surprise to many: he had achieved commendable results as Education and Finance Minister, and conducted himself respectably in his debates and speeches during the recently-concluded General Elections (GE). With his recent comments on the need for increased consultation and heightened transparency in policy-making – as expounded in the news article, “It’s About Doing The Right Thing, Says Tharman” (May 21, 2011) by Mr. Saiful Bahri Ismail – it seems that the confidence of Singaporeans’ has not been misplaced.
The key reason for the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) reduced mandate – in terms of overall vote share in the GE – can be attributed to the disconnect experienced by the population at large with its elected representatives. The circumstances were compounded by the plethora of problems – with transportation, cost of living, public housing et cetera – and the sense that the administration was steamrolling proposals without being appropriately cognisant of the needs of its constituents. Trade-offs, especially with regard to policies on immigration, were not properly explained; consequently, individuals overlooked the benefits, and never ceased highlighting their ramifications.DPM Tharman’s proposition on the need to “tell people the truth about every policy choice” is well-intentioned, and will definitely go a long way in terms of enhancing the credibility of the government. The accessibility of the Internet and various media sources has facilitated the flow of information, and proliferated dialogue and discussions on policy recommendations and proposals. If the policy-making process is not made to be inclusive, dissatisfactions and voices of dissent would continue to be unheard.
Making policies accessible and easy to comprehend for the on-the-ground citizen does not mean the convenient omission of important details or dismissing queries in a laissez-faire manner; it means taking more time and effort to simplify the explanation, and to maintain a viable two-way channel for engagement or communication. Different groups and different households have dissimilar characteristics, so the challenge is for the government to cater an assortment of platforms for feedback collection and analysis.
Of course, the challenge now is to put rhetoric into action; DPM Tharman has asserted that he will not yield to populist sentiments, and simultaneously strike a balance between interacting with the ground and managing expectations realistically, but only time will tell if these processes would generate the desired results.