“‘Just as a health screening report helps an individual to make wise choices that support his health, monitoring whole-of-government outcome indicators guides our understanding of current and emerging policy issues, and therefore the strategies, programmes and resources needed to address them,’ the review said” (Fewer PRs, New Citizens: Fewer Citizenships Granted In 2009, 2010, Miss Joanne Chan).
The news report “Fewer PRs, New Citizens” (December 18, 2010) by Miss Joanne Chan expounds on an important theme and outcome under the inaugural Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review (SPOR). Taking the review in its entirety, the list of indicators and desired outcomes is a positive insight into the administration’s focuses and relevant approaches, and informs concerned Singaporeans on the priorities that the Government has undertaken. In general, the review is indeed commendable for its focus on partnerships between ministries on crucial issues, addressing the laments that individual agencies tend to be insular and premised upon isolated tasks and responsibilities.
However – given that 2010 has been filled with public relations fiascos, communication and consultative missteps from the public sector – it seems intriguing that the Ministry of Finance (MOF), chiefly in charge of SPOR, has not picked up on the need for greater genuine and sincere engagement of the general public. Under “Effective Government”, there is the objective of “customer-centric and consultative government”; yet the stipulated approaches are largely limited to electronic services, and a great deal of reliance on the national feedback unit, Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH). It seems obvious to most observers that significantly more can be done to respond to public feedback more efficiently, effectively and earnestly.
Public feedback should be central to any endeavour of the public sector. Not only are services and policies catered to Singaporeans, the constructive criticisms and on-the-ground sentiments can go a long way to improve standards, reduce bureaucracy and keep officers in check. Negative and “holier-than-thou” statements made by national agencies such as the Public Utilities Board (PUB) over the flooding inconveniences raised eyebrows, and made it seem as if public servants abhor the idea of engaging the ground.
Policy issues, strategic programmes, dedicated resources et cetera… the government should be cognisant that they remain accountable to the public. It should start exploring more sincere channels to reach out to individuals and households, and have staff roam neighbourhoods to get a sense of the existing challenges or possible grey areas that may have emerged from policies or social security guarantees. Over-reliance on REACH is hardly the panacea to the host of problems. Increased number of heartland dialogues and tea sessions hosted by key personnel would heighten feedback platforms, and even create the impetus for various ministries and agencies to coordinate their efforts and roles.
Relishing in the comforts of conservatism will only spell doom in the future. If the government is unwilling or insincere in its steps for public engagement – through the Internet, on newspaper forums, on visits – levels of disgruntlement and dissatisfaction might one day spiral out of control.