you're reading...
The Straits Times

Singapore’s National Conversation: If Politicians Don’t Have All The Answers, Let’s Do It On Our Own?

Now, however, people’s instinct to rely on the Government has become a political liability, since even the Government knows that it cannot solve all problems. In a sense, the National Conversation is an attempt to address this dilemma by educating Singaporeans that governance involves trade-offs: no government can please all the people all the time, and long-term gain often requires short-term pain” (Accepting A Government That Can’t Solve All Your Problems, Miss Zuraidah Ibrahim).

The commentary “Accepting A Government That Can’t Solve All Your Problems” (September 16, 2012) by Miss Zuraidah Ibrahim: in her opinion, Miss Zuraidah believes that Singaporeans need to be educated on the significance of trade-offs, that our administration – contrary to popular belief – cannot pander to the desires or needs or every individual. I agree; and against the background of the ongoing National Conversation, my view is that if our politicians do not have all the answers, it would be increasingly constructive to engage citizens in participatory, collaborative sessions to appreciate these aforementioned notions.

It would be increasingly constructive to engage citizens in participatory, collaborative sessions to appreciate these aforementioned notions.

If Politicians Don’t Have All The Answers, Let’s Do It On Our Own?

The National Conversation, hence, needs to be framed around the citizen. More often than not, present initiatives are overwhelming didactic, with too much emphasis placed on a guest politician who indulges in nifty monologues and explanatory expositions instead of actually conversing with the audience. My proposal is to get participants more involved during sessions, to start talking and debating with one another. Why should our representatives and ministers take centre-stage, exploring our concerns, in such a counterintuitive fashion?

Politicians have a predilection, from my experiences in dialogue sessions or policy forums, to lament that Singaporeans do not comprehend that trade-offs in socio-economic concerns are inevitable, that it is impossible to please everyone. Yet, instead of preaching it in such a contrived manner, we should be given the chance to explore and experience. Picture a discussion session concerning education and policies, involving parents, who have been divided into smaller clusters of four or five for structured sharing. While one reckons that her child is burdened by too many school assignments and co-curricular commitments, the other feels that syllabuses and pedagogies are not rigorous enough, and that there should be more work. How can they reconcile this difference? No resolution might be reached, but through the conversation would they not see the complexities of policy dilemmas?

My point is that we should stop relying on the government, for them to handhold us all the way; we, as citizens, have the abilities and intelligence to bring something new to the table.

As clichéd as it may be, “be the change you want to see in the world. Our heightened involvement does not mean that we work independently from the government, or that policymakers abdicate their responsibilities. On the contrary, our engagement can complement, because a more informed and knowledgeable electorate would only serve as a stronger check and balance on the government, making them more accountable in the long term.

A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


10 thoughts on “Singapore’s National Conversation: If Politicians Don’t Have All The Answers, Let’s Do It On Our Own?

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Instead of being so sceptical about this national conversation, let’s contribute where we can. Griping about the government is not going to help.

    Posted by Void Decker | September 17, 2012, 3:40 pm
  2. Yes, I can provide the answers for the politicians. The million-dollar question is – do I get to share in their millions?

    Posted by The | September 17, 2012, 4:17 pm
    • Whether our politicians deserve their salaries is another question altogether; hence, if money per se is a factor that would determine whether you would like to participate, that is your prerogative. I, however, disagree with such a motivation.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | September 17, 2012, 4:44 pm
  3. On the one hand, they preached about how they are the “talents” that need huge salaries to be attracted to public office. “We know best” or “just a few good men” have permeated decision making at all levels. Because “we know best”, they have delineated many OB markers – yes, please contribute to the national conversation but do not touch this, that, this, that, this, that. It has also penetrated our mindset too – just take buying a house as an example. In any other country, you just go do it. Here, you need to study all the fineprints about the rules – then, within those detailed boundaries, we do it. Within those detailed boundaries, within those detailed boundaries …

    Its easy to throw up our hands and say, if the Govt doesn’t have all the answers, we the people will find them !! Yes, probably true in many less top-down driven societies. Especially in the USA, where the slogan is “Govt, please get out of the way!!”.

    But Singapore is a VERY top-down driven society. Its purposely designed that way. Sim Wong Hoo once contrasted USA and Singapore this way – in USA, what’s not expressly disallowed is permited; in Singapore, only what’s expressly permitted is allowed.

    To the Govt’s horror, they also now realise they can’t “turn on” / “turn off” this mindset. You can’t tell me “find your own solutions to the immigration problem you keep harping about” (turn-on mode) and then tell me “either we continue immigration the way we want it or else be prepared to send your kids to work as maids overseas” (turn-off mode).

    So when the instinctive reply is “but you’re paid millions to think about the solution”, we shouldn’t brush this out of hand and say “salary is a separate issue”. What people are really referring to is this – you have designed the country and every which way it works to be a top-down driven society. You told us the people at the top are the “few good men”. We are told we have to pay them millions. We are told in order to “succeed”, you have to muzzle the press, muzzle the opposition, curb “illegal assembly” etc etc because Our Way is the right way, don’t bother to think about other ways or hear them or talk about them. So if you’re the Brilliant Ones, why aren’t you proposing the solution. That’s what people are saying.

    Posted by JG | September 17, 2012, 5:40 pm
    • Hello!

      1. First, thank you for your comment. I thought that it’d be good if I reiterated my opinions in a more concise manner: I think our present National Conversation should be structured around ordinary citizens, coming together to exchange ideas and perspectives. Unfortunately, present signs are not encouraging, because who is to say the selected individuals are truly representative of the general populace?

      2. As aforementioned, I think whether our politicians deserve their “huge salaries” is another question altogether. At the same time, even if your proposition that decision-making is concentrated at the top, I don’t think that stops us from engaging in discourses to somehow influence them to think otherwise. I feel that we should not underestimate the potential of these true forms of citizen engagement in the long-term.

      3. Probably a few years ago, I’d have agreed that lethargy and apathy were huge obstacles. My point is not that we have to look for own solutions, but to discuss and contemplate alternatives actively. At least, that was what I thought our national conversation should be like; picture ordinary Singaporeans coming together on a Saturday morning, getting together to decide what WE – as a country – would like to talk about. Alas, now, the government is stepping in to chart what THEY want us to think about.

      So the government is really doing itself a disservice, by choosing not to focus on these opportunities presented by its own people.

      4. Now, in spite of this, can we do our part as individuals? I think so, and this was what the article was driving at.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | September 17, 2012, 6:08 pm
  4. You are absolutely right I agree with you. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by international Preschool Singapore | September 25, 2012, 4:24 pm


  1. Pingback: Reacting to other bloggers’ tots « Thoughts of a Cynical Investor - September 21, 2012

  2. Pingback: A National Conversation For National Servicemen? « guanyinmiao's musings - September 24, 2012

  3. Pingback: Our Grand National Conversation; My Little Contribution « guanyinmiao's musings - October 29, 2012

  4. Pingback: Singapore’s National Conversation: When Politicians Do Not Have All The Answers… | guanyinmiao's musings - February 25, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow guanyinmiao's musings on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,404 other followers


%d bloggers like this: