- POSTED: 30 Sep 2013 22:23
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Observers said it will take time to rebuild trust in the public service as a new social compact is forged between the government and citizens.
SINGAPORE: Observers said it will take time to rebuild trust in the public service as a new social compact is forged between the government and citizens.
Observers Channel NewsAsia spoke with agree that public officers need to adapt to a new electorate even as the government makes strategic shifts in policies.
As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, Singapore is entering a new phase. The country is seeing a new electorate that is diverse, more questioning and demanding, creating more challenges to governance.
Observers said it is no longer that 'the government knows best" and the people should follow. These days, it is about getting buy-in from the electorate on policies.
Associate Professor Reuben Wong from National University of Singapore's political science department, said: "They've seen that things have gone wrong so the relationship between the citizenship and the government is not what it used to be where people trusted the government to make the right decisions for their interest and were willing to let the government make decisions without very much public consultation."
Experts said there are merits to having diverse voices in public opinion.
And if trust is needed both ways, citizens should then step up to offer solutions, and the government and public officers should listen.
Assoc Prof Wong said: "If civil service and civil societies can interact in constructive ways, form joint committees for example, to talk about national development, joint committee on environment, on manpower issues, then it's a win-win situation.
"You're not working in your own ivory tower and silos, you're trying to find solutions from different perspectives, different viewpoints and each one of course has expertise which is useful in putting a composite fuller picture together."
Assoc Prof Wong added it is also about getting civil servants to be more flexible in administering their duties.
"There are many jokes about bureaucrats being very inflexible and pen pushers and they don't want to change anything and they wait for next government to be elected and they stick to their own principles. In Singapore, we see that civil servants are basically told that they need to change with the times just as government or elected officials are adapting to this kind of electorate.
"He (PM Lee) is also telling civil servants that they also need to change and the kinds of things that they have been doing many years, the Standard Operating Procedures, some of these need to change as well. If something doesn't fit a certain rule… then they have got to figure out what's the spirit and intent of that law and then adapt policies accordingly for the individual or for the community that's affected."
Assoc Prof Wong added that it is a very important message for civil servants to be more flexible and more adaptable.
Observers acknowledged that there will be added pressure as the government seeks to be more "customer-oriented".
Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, said: "We also have to avoid a situation in which that social compact becoming transactional. In a sense, citizens view one transaction as the only means to judge government so you have to look at things in entirety."
He added: "I think we also need to communicate with citizens better, engage them better but also set expectations. There are many stakeholders involved in any policy change, in any policy for that matter. There has been a maturity within government but also with citizens as well.
"As we build that social compact, it is about that scope of government as a whole and not just based on one transaction, whether you're unhappy you got summoned, whether you're unhappy you didn't get a flat for example, but the whole compact."
The issue of trust was also a key feature in the recently concluded Our Singapore Conversation sessions. Participants had said that they felt that trust between the government and people can be deepened.
One way to do so was to have greater access to government data so that policies and trade-offs can be better understood.
"I think there are expectations in terms of increasing transparency. You can't just tell a citizen 'No, you can't do it. You go and appeal to an MP'. You can't just do that," said Mr Zaqy.