By Trinity Chua and Nicole Chang
A vast majority of participants in a 100-people poll carried out by The Independent Singapore believed they had no say in the government’s decision-making processes.
There were no fence-sitters They either said Yes – 26 per cent. Or they said No – 74 per cent.
Among the 74 was a civil servant who preferred not to be named: “I do not think we have a lot of say in the government’s decision-making process and policies.
“Take, for instance, the current immigration policies, which many Singaporeans do not agree with. It is a hot topic among us because we feel the policies dilute Singapore’s culture. There are too many of us [Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans] here and it becomes increasingly difficult to define who we [Singaporeans] are,” said Anonymous, 20.
The Independent Singapore conducted the poll last week to measure public perception of governmental bodies.
Most of the respondents acknowledged that some decisions on the government’s part were “for our own benefit,” but presumed most decisions were made before consulting the public.
The poll also established that 56 out of 100 respondents viewed the Civil Service as one and the same with the elected government.
The findings came in the wake of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech at the Administrative Service dinner on March 26, which stressed that Civil Service must retain the public’s trust.
He urged the Civil Service to involve the public more in working out solutions. “Policy is implementation. People will believe what they see and experience, not what is announced as policy intent,” added Tharman.
However Tham, 27, a financial analyst, said: “It is for show, you know. We can say what we want but I think the decisions were already made.”
Tan, 26, accountant, added: “Now with the news, media, there is a lot of form, but whether they are actively trying to do anything… For now, this society remains one economically driven, rather than driven by public interest.”
Eugene Tan, associate law professor at the Singapore Management University, cited the historically dominant presence of the PAP government as the main reason for this conflation of the Civil Service and the elected government.
“The mistaken perception is a consequence of the PAP government being the only government Singaporeans know, the fact that the Civil Service remains a popular recruitment ground for the PAP, and that the Civil Service has a very strong working relationship with the PAP government.
“The Civil Service will have to work very closely with the government of the day but they should not be conflated.”
But given the relatively high number of Singaporeans who did not distinguish the Civil Service from the elected government, would sentiments for the government always be reflective of the Civil Service?
“It would not be in Singapore’s interest if the people’s trust in the Civil Service is tied with that of the PAP government. Regardless of the government of the day, the Civil Service must continue to excel and offer impartial and robust advice to the government.
“The Civil Service needs to ensure that, even as it needs to work closely with the government of the day, it is not a mere “hired gun” and must keep its bearings on what is best for Singapore and Singaporeans.”
With that said, Tan added that the government of the day must not bend to populist views, despite the survey’s results.
The PAP government, according to Tan, has garnered “goodwill and legitimacy” from the people for a very long time and must now not bend to populist policies.
“All governments need to be popular but to be populist is to go against the PAP government’s creed of doing what is right for the country and Singaporeans even if it means having to be put in place unpopular policies.”