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Musings, The Straits Times

When Government Consultation Is Not Populist Appeasement

“Getting All On Board In Steering Singapore” (June 25, 2011) by Miss Li Xueying: the debate on how to resolve the multitude of policy dilemmas is a tremendously challenging one, primarily because no single decision made – be it in terms of sustainable fiscal growth, grassroots activities, public transportation et cetera – has the potential to please every and all Singaporeans alike. Therefore, socio-economic policy direction and discussion should not be perceived as being mutually exclusive; instead, based on the characteristics of the concerns, its level of urgency and the group of Singaporeans involved, policymakers must customise their methodologies appropriately.

Socio-economic policy direction and discussion should not be perceived as being mutually exclusive.

Clearly, the actual decision-making processes should continue to be managed by parliamentarians, who have been given the mandate to do so, who will also ensure that efficiency is not compromised. However, prior to these exchanges, the representatives have the responsibility to proactively solicit feedback from their constituents effectively for assorted perspectives to be taken into consideration during debates. This particular role of the politician has remained largely unchanged throughout the years, but varying local circumstances – especially after the General Elections – have presented a significantly new landscape for our ministers and Members of Parliament (MP).

First, there has been greater diversity in the stakeholders involved and interested. Traditionally, feedback and opinions have been gathered from a select group of professionals – from academics to private sector experts – through policy study workgroups and various feedback sessions. Now, given the rapid dissemination of information and the increased literacy and current affairs understanding of the Singapore population, more individuals are desirous of having a say through engagement platforms. Second, there has been a rise in the number of platforms and corresponding responses offered by the users; most notably, communication through the Internet has evolved to be more of a necessity rather than an option. Even though new media channels per se are not the most productive avenues to articulate public policies, the administrators should have the abilities to sieve out constructive criticisms and raise consultation rates.

Government consultation cannot be casually dismissed as being populist appeasement; otherwise, the incumbent administration would be conveniently accused for being laissez-faire and insincere in hearing on-the-ground voices. The trick is to develop a diverse range of feedback forums to cater to respective groups of Singaporeans: FaceBook pages, spontaneous emails and website-blogs would appeal to on-the-go professionals who simply want to express their two cents’ worth; while carefully crafted online policy workgroups would attract serious-minded Singaporeans who wish to engage in sustainable conversations, and simultaneously develop recommendations or resolutions to the host of observations.

The proliferation of personal views has only gathered pace even in the previous absence of government involvement; it would be a pity if the departments continue to relish in the comforts of the status quo, and staunchly refuse to acknowledge the value of these points.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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