Friday 21 September 2012

First citizen dialogue early next month

While exact date, venue not known, some 100 people have shown interest
The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2012

THE first of at least 30 citizen dialogues being planned for the national conversation will be held early next month, and some 100 people have already expressed interest.

A spokesman for the Our Singapore Conversation secretariat told The Straits Times that the session is expected to take place in a few weeks, but could not yet say exactly when and where it and the following sessions will be held.

Each session is expected to involve 50 to 150 people, who will be split into groups of eight to 10, with a facilitator encouraging deeper conversations about the country’s future.

Other groups, including some community groups, unions and grassroots organisations, have also indicated they may organise their own dialogues, with a Singaporean in Beijing even offering to run one in the Chinese capital.

That offer has been accepted, said the Our Singapore Conversation spokesman, and the Overseas Singaporean Unit will be working on the event.

The dialogues were first announced by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat nearly two weeks ago, when he unveiled the 26-member committee tasked to oversee the national conversation and its plans.

Meanwhile, the panel, which includes young ministers, professionals and students, has already started work. Last Saturday, it held its first meeting, where members got a taste of how the dialogues will be facilitated.

One activity was to come up with a “story headline” for Singapore 20 years on, recounted Mrs Jessie Phua, Team Singapore’s chef de mission at the London Olympics.

“Since I’m involved in sports, I wrote: ‘Singapore won the bid to be host city to the inaugural Senior Olympics’,” she said.

“We have the dubious honour of being (among) the fastest ageing countries. Instead of preparing the aged to die, why not prepare them to live life on a greater scale?”

Like other panel members, she has also found it a challenge addressing scepticism among her friends and contacts. Said the former Nominated

MP: “The minute my friends hear about it, they say: ‘Alamak, Jess, why did you get involved?’ I said: ‘Why would we not want to get involved to make Singapore a better place, not just for ourselves but for our loved ones as well?’”

She added: “I’m under no illusion of bringing 10,000 things to change in Singapore, but every baby step we make is one step to making Singapore a better place.”

Fellow member Noorul Fatha As’art, who sits on the board of the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association, too had friends questioning the make-up of the panel and wondering if all segments of society would really be engaged.

“Some pointed out the online comments about the lack of opposition participation, and some pointed to the high level of ministerial participation in the committee,” she said.

She hopes to invite cynical friends to join the conversation, along with people she meets in her work. “It’s important to bring on board people who disagree with us,” she said. “

The fact that they made such comments show they do care about what is happening in Singapore.” At the dialogues, participants will get a chance to rub shoulders with high-level panel members such as the ministers.

And while the panel members will nominate names for the dialogues, the public can also sign up.

They can call government feedback arm Reach on 1800-353-5555 or e-mail

Details of the sessions will be posted on

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