On Monday, I was invited to a dialogue session – organised by Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH) – with Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports MG (NS) Chan Chun Sing. Two distinct reasons made me quite excited for the session: first, this would be the first time I hear Minister Chan speak live; second, the corresponding relevance of the theme, “active citizenry”. The discussion was premised upon three aspects: nurturing active citizenry, engaging a more politically-aware populace, and creating a constructive climate of opinion.
Moving Beyond The Rhetorical Dimension
I posed a question to Minister Chan, on the subject of active citizenry and the need to spiral upwards from the status quo of “all talk and no action” to generate real change. Evidently, there has been the proliferation of avenues and platforms – from policy forums to assorted websites – for individuals to express their views on different socio-political issues; on a personal note, I pen commentaries and write occasionally to the local papers.
However, the question is whether we as contributors can begin to move beyond these rhetorical forms of discussions, and actually spearhead discourse – or even tangible recommendations – for the amendment or implementation of policies? And with this group of Singaporeans who are both informed and passionate, can the Government catered more customised programmes for the soliciting of feedback and ideas?
The Policy Trade-Off
Minister Chan – as well as Dr. Amy Khor – went into a lengthy explanation on the trade-offs in policy-making: the need to balance pragmatism and popularity, taking into consideration time and objectives when policies or recommendations were implemented, how it is impossible to please every single constituent et cetera. These were valid assertions, and it is not difficult to empathise with these predicaments; however, as citizens seek to become more involved, unaccepted suggestions cannot be conveniently rejected on the basis of utility, without appropriate follow-ups or explanations.
A degree of cynicism manifests if a person feels like his points have not been adequately addressed, and that the relevant ministries provide perfunctory replies to these concerns.
I felt this was a second aspect of the session that was not sufficiently talked about; on how perspectives can be articulated and consolidated in a more enthusiastic and professional manner, particularly will the follow-up procedures. These measures can be subtle incentives for contributors to remain interested in the long-run, as they seek to shape their activism more responsibly on varying domains. No policy is sacrosanct; so once the population gets a firm grasp of circumstances, contexts and relevance of the subject-matters, conversations must take root with clear end-results in mind.
Other Pertinent Issues
The question on social services (whether it was adequate, well-rounded) was answered quite routinely by Minister Chan. He expounded upon the individual challenges inherent in the respective public, people and private spheres, and remarked upon the “Many Helping Hands” approach as well as the need to customise solutions for households based on different scenarios and circumstances. These are valid proposals, but I do feel that case-by-case matching systems can be improved, and the state can assist voluntary welfare organisations to build up economies of scale to heighten levels of services.
He also replied the question on National Service (NS) and sporting commitments quite astutely. Encompassing “sports and training” for top sportsmen as a form of NS will yield its benefits, but the proposal will be widely unpopular for those who do not gain from the change (as evidenced from the informal poll during the session). Not only would it be difficult to define what “top sportsmen” entails, but it also raises further questions, on whether other talents – including music, academic – should be exempted as well.
On Minister Chan
Before the session, I had a vague impression of Minister Chan and his background (not exactly a positive one, following the General Elections); but to be honest, he is very polished rhetorically, pleasantly entertaining as a speaker, and gives very structured answers to the questions raised. In his own exposition, he has employed his personal “awareness, analysis and applicability” methodology very well during his presentation.
For many, such sessions will be a good starting point to encourage interest in these issues; but I strongly believe that we have the impetus to move beyond existing frameworks to create a more wholesome climate of opinion in Singapore.