“The Government has refuted author Catherine Lim’s claim in an open letter to the Prime Minister that Singaporeans no longer trust it” (Government Refutes Author’s Claims Over Public Trust, Miss Tham Yuen-C).
Talk about trust – and the trust deficit – is not new. In a letter to The Straits Times after the haze last year consultant Mr. Devadas Krishnadas defined trust as “the confidence and conviction that the government is competent and committed to ensuring the well-being of Singaporeans”. At Singapore Perspectives 2012, a conference by the Institute of Policy Studies, academic Mr. Cherian George identified three barriers to building trust in Singapore: the credibility problem of the mainstream media, the lack of independent voices in public debates, and the conflict between national interest and interests of the dominant People’s Action Party (PAP).
In this vein the quibble between consul-general Mr. Jacky Foo and writer Dr. Catherine Lim appears trivial. Determining the precise degree of trust in the government is also impossible.
That segments of the population view it with suspicion is not lost on the government. The controversial Population White Paper rankled many, and the Our Singapore Conversation process sought to convince Singaporeans that their parliamentarians were open to dialogue. Surely the government is cognisant of the recent events in 2013 – from the haze to the riot to the corruption cases in public agencies – the perpetual frustrations with infrastructure and public transportation, as well as the cited problems of income inequality and social mobility.
Mr. Foo mentions that Singapore scored a respectable 75 per cent in the Edelman Trust Barometer. But take this “international benchmark of trust” with a pinch of salt, even if it is statistically significant. There is very little detail about the methodology, especially on the questions asked. How was “trust” operationalised and contextualised? Was there a distinction between the leaders and the institutions they represent? 33 per cent trusted the government to “make ethical and moral decisions” a great deal, though what were the other options, and what was the breakdown?
Moreover Mr. Foo’s argument that “in countries where lies and false accusations are the stock in trade of public debate, people have a low opinion of all politicians, and a very low trust in their governments” should be challenged too. What are these countries he speaks of?
Yet Dr. Lim’s anecdotes were hardly convincing too. Citing the case of graffiti targeted at the PAP, the protests at Hong Lim Park, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against blogger Mr. Roy Ngerng, she claimed that Singaporeans “no longer trust their government and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust”. Some Singaporeans are disgruntled, but it would be a stretch to say a majority feel the same.
I think the difficulty is that “trust in the government” is reductive. People have dissimilar expectations, and experiences shape perceptions differently. I mean I trust the general efficiency of state agencies, the tenacity of Home Team officers for instance, but lament the government’s occasional cynicism of the Internet. Would this qualify as “trust”? Can “trust” even be aggregated and quantified?
And with all this talk about trust in the government, what about the government’s trust in its people?