“Without missing a beat, Mr. Lee replied that MPs understood the sentiments on the ground through their grassroots work” (MPs Not Out Of Touch With Singaporeans, Mr. Cai Haoxiang).
The news report “MPs Not Out Of Touch With Singaporeans” (April 17, 2011) by Mr. Cai Haoxiang: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes the proposition that incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) – through an assortment of grassroots and community activities – continue to be engaged with on-the-ground Singaporeans. From his perspective, regular events such as Meet the People Sessions (MPS), gracing festival celebrations or award ceremonies, block and estate visits et cetera provide consistent platforms for exchanges and interactions. These initiatives do heighten the MP’s vis-à-vis opportunities with his residents; however, this does not necessarily mean that the politicians would understand the various worries comprehensively.
The incumbent administration should also be cognisant that Singaporeans – facilitated by the way they vote in the upcoming elections – would be in the best positions to determine whether their representatives have satisfactorily executed their roles and responsibilities. When they are making the decision at the polling booth, not only would they judge individual candidates based on their exposure in the constituencies, but also evaluate the current administration’s performance through the actions of its agencies and staff. Through online commentaries and print articles, lacklustre responses to issues such as the pertinent public transportation squeeze, the relentless rise in housing prices and the cost of living, as well as the presented helplessness in the face of the successive flash floods have got Singaporeans wondering whether complacency and inertia has set in.
Engagement does not cease with the mere understanding or comprehension of various dissatisfactions or unhappiness; the politicians must have the ability to turn rhetoric into tangible actions. Current programmes do provide sufficient avenues for households to seek help for bread-and-butter issues; nonetheless, more channels can be instituted for the area’s MP to facilitate dialogue and discussion on significant national issues.
Still, it is not fair to assert that MPs have to “live in public housing” and “take public transport” before they can sufficiently understand the people they are serving. More importantly, the politicians should heighten their on-the-ground sensitivities and awareness through first-hand contacts. For instance, a MP can make unannounced trips on peak-hour trains to tangibly realise the crush-loads and inconveniences; and also go on unaccompanied block visits to understand the struggles of low-income families.
Politicians can ill afford to relish in the comforts of conservatism, and take the status quo – as well as the people’s sentiments – for granted. Otherwise, each and every General Election would be a painful learning experience for the candidates.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.