When I was in my first year of College in Hwa Chong, there was a general invitation to understand more about Reaching Everyone For Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH) through the inaugural Junior REACH Ambassador (JRA) programme. At that point of time, besides knowing that REACH was a revamped agency replacing the antiquated Feedback Unit (FBU) in 2006, we really did not know much more; still, the five of us from the institution decided to give it a shot. Furthermore, during the final 2 weeks of December in 2008, I was given a deeper insight into the administrative workings of REACH and its staff as a student intern.
Much has been commented about REACH, with a collection of criticisms directed at a variety of issues and approaches in which the agency has dealt with the processes. Here are some of my personal perspectives:
Credibility? More Than A Mere Revamp
The greatest issue that is plaguing REACH is one of credibility: Singaporeans and naturally going to be skeptical about a government-based unit tasked with gauging ground sentiments and gathering public feedback. There is a lingering atmosphere of amazement for many to see the government being receptive towards comments; yet the general populace pulls back with suspicion and uncertainty. There is a mix of public and private sector professionals on the forum (though politicians do helm it), but a government presence not only makes individuals feel that the agency is redundant – since feedback can be channelled directly to the departments – but also question the desired impartiality of REACH in its delivery.
Any proper feedback unit should be independent in political affiliation, even if it might bring about challenges in terms of funding, manpower and administrative functioning. Any government effort in this sense would lack objectivity, given the lack of political diversity within Parliament.
REACH staff do close threads and acknowledge the replies made by the various contributors on the different on-line and physical platforms that it offers. More importantly, it does organise get-together to acknowledge the efforts and time of the contributors for their insights and commentaries in terms of providing constructive feedback.
Nonetheless, it is crucial to quantify and qualify what the agency has tangibly accomplished since its establishment: and this should go beyond mere figures of increased web traffic or numbers for comments and blogs. Since REACH prides itself as a feedback unit, it could provide instances in which comments have been taken into consideration and possibly even turned into action. Even for collated points that might not have been feasible or adopted, it would be nice to explain, provide some genuine rationale and acknowledge their efforts.
More Staff, More Resources
During my internship, many of the staff were juggling multiple tasks at one go; and with REACH opening up so many channels, it naturally becomes difficult to juggle so many aspects simultaneously. It would be wise to empower the agency, should feedback and on-the-ground sentiments be considered as important, with more staff members and additional resources in the future.
Stonewalled? Overwhelmed? Don’t Be Afraid To Apologise
If mistakes have been made, it would be wise to acknowledge them and subsequently apologise instead of keeping mum or glossing over them. Similarly, if misunderstandings have been wrongly developed, do not be afraid to clarify them.
The incumbent administration needs to understand that unless its direct association with REACH is significantly reduced, the disillusionment with the latter would only manifest; and its effectiveness, gradually eroded.
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Are you a spy from REACH, Young PAP, PAP et cetera?
No, I am not part of any political organisations, including the subsidiary youth wings. My tenure as a JRA officially ended in December last year.
Are you proud of what you have done with REACH?
Yes, though I maintain my opinions about how things could have been done differently (as expounded above). I think our team would be rather pleased with our two “Kopi With The MP” sessions: closed-door discussions on wide-ranging issues with selected politicians. The sessions were in line with my general vision for future forums and dialogues.
Do you have any regrets?
I wished I had more control over how Youth Vibes would be managed and designed, especially since I was quite prominently promoted as an editor and contributor in the beginning. The establishment of this website has been quite cathartic – in terms of having a platform to express – but also to make up for the mistakes made (as I perceived it) during the Youth Vibes journey.