“Now, however, people’s instinct to rely on the Government has become a political liability, since even the Government knows that it cannot solve all problems. In a sense, the National Conversation is an attempt to address this dilemma by educating Singaporeans that governance involves trade-offs: no government can please all the people all the time, and long-term gain often requires short-term pain” (Accepting A Government That Can’t Solve All Your Problems, Miss Zuraidah Ibrahim).
The commentary “Accepting A Government That Can’t Solve All Your Problems” (September 16, 2012) by Miss Zuraidah Ibrahim: in her opinion, Miss Zuraidah believes that Singaporeans need to be educated on the significance of trade-offs, that our administration – contrary to popular belief – cannot pander to the desires or needs or every individual. I agree; and against the background of the ongoing National Conversation, my view is that if our politicians do not have all the answers, it would be increasingly constructive to engage citizens in participatory, collaborative sessions to appreciate these aforementioned notions.
If Politicians Don’t Have All The Answers, Let’s Do It On Our Own?
The National Conversation, hence, needs to be framed around the citizen. More often than not, present initiatives are overwhelming didactic, with too much emphasis placed on a guest politician who indulges in nifty monologues and explanatory expositions instead of actually conversing with the audience. My proposal is to get participants more involved during sessions, to start talking and debating with one another. Why should our representatives and ministers take centre-stage, exploring our concerns, in such a counterintuitive fashion?
Politicians have a predilection, from my experiences in dialogue sessions or policy forums, to lament that Singaporeans do not comprehend that trade-offs in socio-economic concerns are inevitable, that it is impossible to please everyone. Yet, instead of preaching it in such a contrived manner, we should be given the chance to explore and experience. Picture a discussion session concerning education and policies, involving parents, who have been divided into smaller clusters of four or five for structured sharing. While one reckons that her child is burdened by too many school assignments and co-curricular commitments, the other feels that syllabuses and pedagogies are not rigorous enough, and that there should be more work. How can they reconcile this difference? No resolution might be reached, but through the conversation would they not see the complexities of policy dilemmas?
My point is that we should stop relying on the government, for them to handhold us all the way; we, as citizens, have the abilities and intelligence to bring something new to the table.
As clichéd as it may be, “be the change you want to see in the world. Our heightened involvement does not mean that we work independently from the government, or that policymakers abdicate their responsibilities. On the contrary, our engagement can complement, because a more informed and knowledgeable electorate would only serve as a stronger check and balance on the government, making them more accountable in the long term.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.