Lack of public engagement by PAP is disturbing

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The Third White Paper Protest. Photo: Ng Yi Shu - Source

By Jose Raymond

The Government’s lack of engagement and consultation with Singaporeans ahead of critical policy changes is baffling, and bares its insecurity.

Since 2015, there have multiple changes in policies and the lack of engagement and consultation before implementation with citizens is apparent.

Just a few examples of major policy changes and shifts since the last General Elections include the changes to the Elected Presidency to allow for reserved race elections, the increase in the prices of water by 30 per cent, the introduction of a cashless system for transportation, are just a few.

This is not consistent with what current Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat said just immediately after the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) landslide victory at the 2015 General Elections, when he announced that the efforts to listen to the voices of the people will continue “even more extensively and even more deeply” going forward.

A Young Nation

A roof over humble heads. Jobs to feed their young families. Some savings for retirement.

These were needs of a population when Singapore achieved independence in 1965.

And the PAP government led by Lee Kuan Yew delivered a nation’s needs through its early policies like the introduction of the Central Provident Fund contributions, the establishment of the Housing and Development Board and rapid industrialization which ensured its citizens had a stake in the development of a young nation.

To move Singapore from a third world to first, there were sacrifices made, not just by the government by also by the people who called Singapore home.

Citizens trusted that the government’s narrative, in that the harder one works, the better the returns in wealth. There was rapid development and any semblance of social mobilization or demands for civil liberties were struck down.

It was through performance legitimacy that the PAP continued to win at every single Parliamentary elections since Singapore gained independence in 1965. This essentially meant that the PAP continued to harp on their track record to ask for continued faith in what they stood for.

Times have changed

However, it is very obvious that times have changed. And so have people’s needs and desires.

Today, Singapore is made up of a highly educated citizenry who obviously wish to feel engaged in the running of the country they call home, and not just through the crossing of a box on a ballot paper once every four or five years.

But is there enough engagement and consultation of Singaporeans before key policy decisions are made? Or is the government still only using its usual outreach arms like the People’s Association grassroots organisations?

Or worse, is engagement, in the eyes of the current government, just a case of mere tokenism?

American public policy analyst Sherry Arnstein’s 1969 study on community engagement and participation and the “Ladder of Citizen Participation” gives an indication of how views of citizens are being taken into consideration according to eight different steps. (see diagram below)

This ladder which is still referred to as a pillar by many community engagement groups.

Where exactly does the government’s engagement with its citizens stand “Ladder of Engagement”?

Is there enough electoral and democratic accountability?

As stated earlier, just a few examples of major policy changes without consultation include the changes to the Elected Presidency, the increase in the prices of water, the introduction of a cashless system for transportation and the need for a cashless society without options.

And in cases where supposed engagement with stakeholders had apparently taken place, the government had to backtrack after severe backlash and pushback by members of the public.

The furore over the naming of the “Syonan Gallery” and its subsequent rescinding, and Ministerial apology by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim is one such example. In this case, there needs to be questions asked about the value of the engagement process, and whether the right or relevant stakeholders were consulted. Or was the engagement process merely cosmetic.

Also, was the “Syonan Gallery” embarrassment an isolated incident in public engagement failure or is it highly symptomatic of the current state of engagement practice which is conducted by government and its agencies where consultation is done just to tick a box.

If critical policy changes were to be introduced and instituted during this current term of government, then why did the PAP not bring these proposed policy changes up for debate by all political parties and for consideration by Singaporeans before they cast their votes at the last General Elections?

Why did it not feel the need to explain its future policies especially when it would affect all aspects of Singaporeans’ lives – from households to businesses. Afterall, isn’t long-term planning a hallmark of the PAP government?

True Passion, Made Possible

Anecdotally, there is a growing number of Singaporeans – both young and even the not so young – who are getting involved in multiple causes such as environmental protection, migrant workers’ rights, care for the destitute, promotion of the arts, LGBT rights and many more. Thanks (or no thanks) to social media, anyone can also have their views published without having to wait for their voices to be carried through the mainstream media.

There are also people who are willing to take leave of absence from work just so they can pursue their passionate causes for personal satisfaction. This is the true essence of Passion Made Possible, and not one which is engineered.

And because people have become a lot more connected to the outside world and issues faced by other countries, there is a growing desire for Singaporeans to want to play a part in the way their country is shaping for the future.

As citizens who play a part in the development of Singapore, it is important for the government to engage its citizens at multiple levels, and a lot more deeply.

Rethink the use of PA, and REACH (reach everyone for active citizenry @home), as these only have limited impact.

Continue denying Singaporeans an opportunity to be involved in the shaping of the country’s future will only lead them taking their frustrations out at the ballot box.

Jose Raymond is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He is also Vice-Chairman of the Chiam See Tong Sports Foundation and a Vice-President of the Singapore Swimming Association.

87 COMMENTS

  1. Likely but may not be immediately. The Opposition needs to brush up and show that it is ready to take over. At such a time, what are we waiting for? Let’s say, Singapore is begging for an alternative.

    • None in the opposition parties are responsible n good to manage our Country.

      Can anyone of you here named a team of 15 Ministers to take charge..
      I bet you can’t even named one fit to be Prime Ministers or Minister..

      Opposition parties have zero Institutions of their own, where PAP have it all that they created/built over the years n keep improving..

    • Your kind of mentality is exactly what the whites want. Fear of change. Have you never thought about the possibility of having enough oppositions to vote against unfavourable policies? They dont have to be the majority to make the cabinet you know.

    • Mr Ang do you seriously think that Singapore would collapse overnight when the opposition forms the government? Please give me credit to the civil servants who are your fellow Singaporeans. What you are saying now is that as long as the pap ministers are around , it’s ok to just follow even if they are bad policies. No one including the pap has a monopoly for wisdom and far farsightedness.

    • Melvin Wong Monopoly for wisdom? You are giving them too much credit. They are last in this part of the world to realize their folly. But Opposition parties must really up their ambition and offer an alternative government. A coalition government won’t do.

    • I had penned before:
      If the Oppositions were to win the majority & hence to set up the govt…The big issues would be: Who will be the Minister of Finance? Who will be the Minister for Defence? Who will be the Minister for Foreign Affairs? Etc..
      Suggestions:
      1) Invite Perm. Secretary of respective Ministries to take over the posts of Ministers.
      With this, numerous promotions for the Civil Service as many would move up vertically to replace the posts of their seniors.
      2) Invite senior lecturers of related subjects to become Ministers.
      Example : Senior lecturer in Economics & Finance can be invited to become Finance Minister. Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences can be invited to be Minister for Community Devt, Manpower. Permanent Secretary of Defence/Chief of Defence Forces can become Minister For Defence. Again, promotions for various staffs due to the process of taking over of superiors.

    • Tham Swee Weng Unfortunately that is not how our political system works. The winning party must have elected members who must the role of being Ministers. The permanent secs and deputy secretaries etc are all there in the civil service unless they do not want their jobs. If the party they have loyalty to is no longer in government, they will have no other job except to go into the private sector, not even GLCs. The Ministers have to be elected.

      Otherwise you have it changed to the Presidential system like the US, where you pick the President and then the President can then pick the staff and secretaries (i.e. Ministers) of the White House. The House of Representatives is like our parliament and the Senate is the upper house. The two houses are responsible for the passing bills i.e. laws. The White House is responsible for coming up with the policies and in most cases the bills except for certain cases like financial related bills they might delegate to party members to draft it.

  2. Why opposition ?? U think all opposition parties owe u a living ?? Use ur idiotic brain to think for a moment, opposition members are also humans and need to work to support themselves and their families in this most expensive city. They so free to come up with solutions for u to bitch at ?? U must be one of the 70% idiots who voted for this misery and now push it to oppositions to solve. Guess what ? Idiocy has no cure LoL !!

  3. 50 years of PAP landslide elections say no. Editorially speaking, these articles are pointless preaches to the converted. What you really need to explore is this curious dichotomy of why the majority consistently vote for policies which arguably make their lives harder.

    An exploration of the “no credible alternative” narrative could shed some light on the masochistic voting tendencies.

    • LKY’s book “Hard Truths”, mentioned the INEVITAILITY of PAP’s fall… or at least his fear. I am a big belliever of history, and no ruler or party stays in power forever! I only wish for the people to wake up sooner and understand they need to vote objectively in the next GE. Is PAP doing a good job? If not, vote against the party. It is that simple. Cast the vote from the heart, be honest with yourself, and hope for the best. It is our duty as citizens to vote against a party who has exploited the people.

    • Re your last para ….chicken or egg come 1st question in a repressive system….it is never a level playing field. Simply said , the ruling party has 50years of track record supported by a mass of majority that subscribe to “kiasuism”.

    • I’m afraid that it’s too little too late. Undesirable and nefarious elements have settled in and taken control. It’s just a question of time before an event like the little India riot happens and the whole government just crumbles like a sandcastle in a wave of water

    • Chong Win @ Pls wake up soon for other ignorant and stupid people. People who admit and recognised they made a mistake and corrects it has wisdom and want to improve. Those who thinks like you, have no hope.if u are from a 3rd world mentality I understand. u all want to screw yourself and your own kids future.

    • Real Sinkies will suffer as we are displaced and kicked down the ladder. PAP will rule another 50 years. If the going is bad, the new Singaporeans will leave and we will sit in the dirt. Look how Sinkies watch the Parliamentary hearing like a show. We are condemn due to 70%.

    • PAP will never fall (at least not for another 30 years) as they control the electoral system from multi decade campaigning, to big data, to representation system. 70% means 90% of the seats and that is ultimately what counts the voice in parliament.

    • Tham Swee Weng… I say again, it is the duty of a citizen to exercise his/ her rights to drive out any party which exploits the people… IT IS A DUTY!! Time to serve your country fellow Singaporeans!

    • am wondering on the people. 2.5 m voters. How many work indirectly for PAP eg GLC, civil servants, contractors.. they think i) fear ii) and WIFM. Perhaps 1 million. Next the over 60s who think i) fear ii) no choice .. perhaps half million then the new citizens a few hundred thousand. So it will take time.

    • Andrew Berks… it has been slow boil for many years. For many decades, the name PAP has been accepted as the government to many people both consciously and subconsciously. Recalling what you mentioned about the rioting in Little India…, may be this is what it takes to wake people up. However, I hope through education and awareness building, Singaporeans can raise their level of political awareness, and also realize the importance and power of the vote. And also to vote from their hearts instead of voting under the shadow of something which doesn’t exist. We do have the numbers, a large number of disgruntled citizens!! The nation needs them to be honest with themselves at the next GE!!

    • you know to some extent the government can control the placement of these groups eg. by allocation of HDB by demographic if not more granular, location of work, location of top schools, allocation of electoral boundaries.

    • im asked the solutions whenever i make such comments. And as you say education and the national narrative. Along with this is development of critical thinking and opinions which needs to be made a life skill. A life skill not only for social and community outlook eg politics also for lifelong learning.

    • Jonathan Austin…Critical Thinking you say… and Singaporeans in general do not think critically. They are numb and have been conditioned to be contented with what they have, and there is nothing they can do about their discontent. Our oppositions have been trying to Champion many movements but have been seriously challenged to create a critical mass.

  4. PAP kept winning even when they mess up big time. The reason being :-
    50% of Chinese think their wealth is safe with PAP around.
    90% of Malays vote for them because majority works for public sector.
    50% Indians support them because all govt svt.
    PAP will continue until the country go down. Nothing can be done. Change is only think permanent in life. Our kiasu citizens with narrow mind set n fear will keep doing the same. Results is predictable. If Man Utd keep playing with swindon town , it can never win Champions league. Opposition should not bother n just watch. Everything has its end. So is Singapore’s glory. Our state of football team is a good example.

    • If you think out-of-the-box, other factors that help them to win big are:
      1) Excessive anti-smoking measures. 8 out of 10 voters don’t like/hate smoking.
      2) Excessive/Repetitive promotion of the most popular mother tongue Mandarin.
      Example: If you tell a group of Malay that you admire their culture and love their ‘beautiful’ language, and you spend millions every year to promote it’s use, for 40 years, even if 80+ % are using it, you will sure get warm supports from the Malay during GE. And Chinese make up 60+ % of the population – and hence the electorate.
      3. Award millions of our prestigious Citizenship (of course subsequent to giving them employment and housing priorities)

  5. Unfortunately even though Singaporeans are more educated they continue to believe that the next 20 years will continue to be like the last 40.
    In terms of political awareness they are numbed by years of hypocrisy of the PAP and they continue to live in a make believe world. A world where motherhood statements abound and where there is a mismatch of reality and make believe. A make believe road to Utopia which is continuosly being built with slime, mud and treacheous crevices filled with quicksand leading to a shifting gate.
    A sorry state is being created but oblivious to dumb and educated 70%.

  6. This article tells me, they want the majority Chinese to have a great advantage in open election…

    Just 20% Chinese voted on racial line, they will have a 400,000 votes advantage,,

  7. You can see PM praising outgoing president and he in return praising pm during the farewell ceremony. So disgusting…wayang to the max….but they got no other ideas…got to keep up the show in order to hangon to their millions salaries which are paid for by us…haiz

  8. A strong leader must be the Alpha male type and LHL is not one. Even worse, he has surrounded himself with people who are even weaker and so cannot challenge him.
    We are doomed.

  9. Yes , at the moment Singapore doesn’t has capable opposition to run the country , but we should vote in some opposition MP into parliament to voice out the concerns of low income citizens n also do not to hold more than 2/3 majority in parliament to pass n changed constitution easily.

  10. PAP won the last election with a good margin because they choose the year after LKY passed away the people still love LKY for all he done for Singapore, this next election will not be the same PAP will not win with a resounding victory if PAP gets 51-52% they should be happy.

  11. After Oxley saga, there is no need to hide anymore. Their true colours have been revealed for all to see , so no need for justification. We all know what they are now. It is as simple as that.

  12. They surely do not want to disturb their own hornets nest..when they could ownself check ownself.. paying their ownself billion dollars without seeking public opinions,, would they?

  13. This pap Govt best performance is breeding and propagating corruption. There will come a time when pap will not hesitate to use force against the people to hold on to power and to enrich themselves as seen in many developed corrupted regimes.

  14. Democracy is a failed experiment. Despite the grouses, Singaporeans still vote in the ruling Govt. This article doesn’t say much beyond what we already know.

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