SINGAPORE: A movement that sees the Government partnering with Singaporeans to shape the nation has seen “good progress” across various projects, said Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah on Monday (Dec 30).
The Singapore Together movement was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in June, when he outlined the fourth-generation leaders’ new strategy of working with Singaporeans to design policies and creating more community-level partnerships.
At the Singapore Summit in September, Mr Heng said that allowing Singaporeans to play a part in building the country’s future was “key to growing their sense of ownership and commitment towards Singapore”.
READ: 4G leaders will work with Singaporeans to design and implement public policies, says Heng Swee Keat
Ms Indranee and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee were speaking to journalists on behalf of the 4G leaders as part of a progress update on the movement.
They also explained the 4G leaders’ rationale for this new consultative governance style.
The Government “doesn’t have a monopoly on ideas and our ideas should come from people too”, said Ms Indranee, adding that as “people are the beneficiaries of these ideas”, they should have a say in them.
“What we’re seeking to do is actually quite remarkable. Because when you look at other countries … there’s a lot of polarisation … there are interest groups pitched against each other, and a lot of stress and strain on society as a whole,” said Ms Indranee.
“For Singapore, we hope to be different because we firmly believe that if Singapore is home, then everybody is invested in this home. Singapore is actually the sum total of the ideas, passion, beliefs and contributions of all Singaporeans. Singapore Together is a way to harness that,” she added.
Singapore Together would “create opportunities for people with diverse viewpoints and interests” to “converse with each other and with the Government”, Mr Lee elaborated.
So far, the approach has borne fruit, the ministers said.
“We’ve seen Singaporeans from all walks of life actively stepping forward, coming together and recognising that there will be other people in the room - not just the Government - who have different points of view,” said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.
Projects that have seen some success are the Recycle Right Citizens’ Workgroup and Citizens’ Panel on Work-Life Harmony.
The Recycle Right workgroup was formed in September to improve household recycling. The workgroup delivered nine proposals to the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, from which the ministry will develop four pilot projects. The scope of these projects will be finalised in the first quarter of 2020.
The work-life harmony panel came together between September and November, delivering 17 recommendations to the Government. The Government will provide its response to the recommendations early this year.
Existing projects have also made progress under Singapore Together.
Ms Indranee noted that Community Link, which supports families in home rental, and UPLIFT, which supports students from disadvantaged families, have been in the process of improving coordination.
“We’re looking to see how we can do better coordination on the ground (for UPLIFT),” said Ms Indranee. “In fact, the entire concept of having better coordination of the different agencies came from one of the consultation sessions,” she said.
With Singapore Together, the Government would be able to tap on Singaporeans’ passion and expertise, as it does not have all the answers, said Mr Lee.
“If the Government implements ideas together with people, the ownership quotient is even greater. People will feel committed to doing it, especially if the solution to the problem involves changing mindsets and viewpoints,” he said.
Ms Indranee said that the movement could change not just other people’s mindsets but the Government’s as well.
This has already been done through several ground-up initiatives, said Mr Lee.
He pointed to the Ministry for Social and Family Development’s partnership with the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) network, which befriends and works with rough sleepers, many of whom are homeless.
Mr Lee said that the Catholic Welfare Services put into practice their own solution for rough sleepers, which the ministry took on board and implemented on a broader scale.
NO TOPIC DEEMED TABOO
If there is interest from the public, the Government will not shy away from holding debates on controversial topics such as the 99-year HDB housing lease and those involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, said Ms Indranee.
In fact, Singapore Together is not the first platform on which such controversial issues have been discussed, said Mr Lee, citing dialogues conducted as part of the Youth Action Plan.
Ms Indranee said the key is to ensure that these discussions can take place in a “safe common space”, where people feel they can speak out without it turning into a fight.
“We should keep the discussions and the ideas respectful, open and safe, so that as a country, you can move forward together with a shared consensus,” she said.
THE ROAD AHEAD
While there has been progress on the projects under Singapore Together, there is still more work to do, said Ms Indranee.
“The next thing is actually synthesising (the ideas and suggestions from participants), trying to summarise and make sense of them, and then seeing how we can translate that into concrete action,” she said.
For instance, UPLIFT will look for a coordinator who can form a bridge between the Ministry of Education, Ministry for Social and Family Development and the community, so that it can better support students from disadvantaged families and reduce long-term absenteeism.
She also said that moving forward, the Government hopes to engage citizens on all issues - except highly sensitive topics such as security - which impact them. This includes topics such as climate change, healthcare, education, and the Budget.
“DPM was very clear in the upcoming Budget that he wanted the Budget measures to include feedback from citizens and different groups,” she said, adding that relevant and timely ideas raised during citizen engagement sessions could be included in the upcoming Budget.
Ultimately, said Ms Indranee, the measure of success for these engagements would be the “automatic reflex action” for Government agencies and citizens to work with each other on future ideas and policies.
Success could be measured quantitatively - whether it be from the outcome of the projects or even increasing the number of engaged citizens - or qualitatively, where people “feel that they’ve had the opportunity to participate in coming up with a solution”, said Mr Lee.
But it is still a process of experimentation.
“We’re examining different ways, trying out different models, piloting different platforms, to work with Singaporeans,” he said.
Singapore Together is a “new way of engaging” and “an evolution of the way Government has been engaging the citizens and carrying out policies, and designing and working through policies and programmes”, said Ms Indranee.
“It’s not the sort of thing that has a time limit. It has a start point but there’s hopefully not going to be an endpoint, and it’s just going to become part and parcel of the fabric and the way we engage,” she said.