“The economy and urban infrastructure like transport are naturally closely-watched as they are tangible aspects that will affect daily lives” (Vital That Diverse Views Are Heard, Say Analysts, Ng Jing Yng and Siau Ming En).
Calls “for views to be gathered from avenues beyond government-endorsed dialogues, such as blogs, forums, or civil society” (TODAY, Jan. 16) have existed for some time, even before President Tony Tan, in his opening address to the 13th Parliament, highlighted the need to refresh Singapore’s political system. What is less clear is how these aspirations will be achieved, beyond the convenient – but tired – strategies of dialogues or public consultations organised by the government.
I was a participant of the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) process in 2012 and 2013, as well as the subsequent sessions by the education and defence ministries in 2013 and 2014 respectively. While the OSC gathered and consolidated broad Singaporean aspirations, few would disagree that the government has not taken advantage of the momentum. The new SGfuture dialogues feel like half-hearted extensions, with scant details or communication of the expected outcomes. Recommendations from recent ranging from proposals for a new volunteer hub (which already exists) to vague encouragements for less consumerism have not been groundbreaking either. And in the first place, beyond these tried-and-tested platforms, what other avenues are available for diverse discourse?
For instance socio-political commentaries or sites on the Internet – premised upon efforts to promote media literacy as well as to encourage constructive interactions – could be engaged, yet the lack of regulatory specificity is a problem. In fact a review of the Broadcasting Act, which will have implications for online news sites, has not happened, seems more pertinent with a more diverse media landscape.
And when considering “other possible tweaks when it comes to refreshing the political system”, it may perhaps be useful for political analysts to consider the performance of respective actors, before mooting more structural changes. When evaluating the effectiveness of the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) and Nominated MP (NMP) schemes – for example – besides proposing arbitrary expansions or reductions, or changes to the selection process for the latter, how individual NCMPs and NMPs have performed in Parliament should matter too: attendance, the number of speeches or questions, their quality, and even resonance with Singaporeans. Such developments in the legislature gain the most national attention, and members should be called out if they are incapable of contributing to robust debates.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.