Let us face it: the incumbent administration – largely dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) – is definitely facing an uphill challenge in the next General Elections (GE) to retain its overwhelming mandate that it has firmly held on to for the past decades. Even with the accusations of subtle gerrymandering and the traditional reliance on carrot-and-stick strategies, the assortment of displeasures and unhappiness – further proliferated with the advent of the Internet and the rise of socio-political websites and weblogs – has contributed to an atmosphere of suspicion, and strengthened the desire for change. The increased accessibility has galvanised individuals and groups into action, and crucially provided the impetus for the Opposition parties to capitalize on such sentiments in the hope of yielding greater political power.
As a young Singaporean, how does one grapple and comprehend the aforementioned complexities? Even though I would not be of voting age for the next elections, measures and directions chartered this moment would naturally have considerable ramifications.
The Fodder Of Our Public Service
As young Singaporeans graduate from Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL), many government ministries and important administration-linked agencies swarm down to poach many bright, scholastic talents to join the ranks of the public service. Because of the stringent selection process and the purported pool of talent, many of these individuals – having been awarded prestigious scholarships and study awards – are fast-tracked within the organisations, and would eventually helm key positions to drive Singapore forward. However, there is one important point: academic talent and co-curricular achievements do not automatically equate to genuine ability in serving the people.
Given the implications of these selection processes and awards, the Public Service Commission (PSC) should give its interviews and methodologies more serious consideration. Besides identifying uniqueness and individuality, the system should strive to ascertain interest and passion in serving the people and the nation; otherwise, these scholars – to-be public administrators – would merely be empty shells with no form of constructive resonance with the ground.
Many on the ground should be cognisant of the fact that the entire interview and selection process has been tainted by pragmatism and self-serving concerns. Academic and out-of-school accomplishments are viewed as a means to an end, and there is an obvious lack of vision, purpose and passion when many apply for their coveted scholarships. High school graduates are often enticed by the lucrative packages, the waiver on tuition fees, the all-expenses-paid grants et cetera. While the public sector should be one that has its intentions directed outwards to the people, its fodder is inevitably filled with “scholars” who are more concerned about power, prestige and stability than the actual career. Is this how we want our public administration to be run and engineered?
The Frustrations With The Government
Let us be honest: it is not that the administration is doing a shabby job; in comparison to many countries struggling with pertinent global challenges, Singapore’s socio-economic progress is fairly commendable. Singaporeans’ general frustration with the government stems not from the perceived ineffectiveness and inefficiency per se; more significantly, the empowered generations – with the growth of the Internet and other physical platforms for engagement and discourse – are lamenting the sense of distance between the people and the authorities. Naturally, the common criticisms of ministers and high-level public administrators relishing in their ivory towers are not without their justifications.
During the floods-fiasco, Singaporeans were enraged with the Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) poor handling of the incidents, as well as the laissez-faire attitudes adopted by the relevant personnel; when in fact citizens were asking for greater accountability in terms of taking responsibility for the damages, and proposing more tangible solutions for the future. Likewise, all we were asking for is for the administrators in the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) to experience first-hand the rush-hour squeeze on public transportation, instead of developing policies based on fuzzy statistics and mere academic information.
Are our agencies and public service really listening? They think they are. Whenever they are posed similar questions, they quickly point to the plethora of community surveys and outreach programmes to garner feedback through their established platforms; but honestly, superficial “public engagement” is not the answer. Public administrators and even politicians need to shed their apathy and lethargy in their domains, cease frowning upon tasks as careers and laborious commitments, and be more genuine and honest in their policy-making. Listen to the sentiments on the ground, on websites, in the newspapers, and even involve yourselves in grassroots and community activities; and instead of dismissing commentaries and suggestions wholesale, take more time and effort in sieving the gems and putting them under consideration.
The Importance Of A Substantial And Credible Opposition
The ruling party likes to refer to the maxim, “change from within” to reaffirm how its members are not simply yes-men, but individuals who have the liberty to challenge policies or initiatives introduced. Yet such measures are clearly insufficient. If an organisation – including a political party – has had a relatively easy ride for an extended period of time, complacency and contentment with the status quo would naturally set in, and its members would often see no need to challenge something that has been working for considerable years. They would much rather relish in the successes of the past and present, and see no necessity to upset the current equilibrium.
Nonetheless, the rapidly globalising world means that: i) political policies for socio-economic reform need to be more dynamic and wholesome, and blind adherence to tried-and-tested methods would not necessarily yield the greatest net result; and ii) the people would no longer willingly rest on their laurels: for the empowerment they are imbued with has galvanised them to have the desire to be seen and heard.
Checks and balances must come from within and without; who knows how much further we might have progressed if the Opposition was given a greater space to stake their claim and present their manifestoes. While the dual-party stalemate in the United States and the United Kingdom should be another extreme that we should shy away from, the incumbent administration must be prepared – yet not fear – the encroachment of a more substantial and credible Opposition. Rather than seeing it as an unfriendly threat, treat it as a much-needed stimulus and form of competition; especially both sides genuinely wish for nothing more than the continued progress and prosperity of our Singapore.