Monday, 19 November 2012

Cynical ground better for Govt than apathy: Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

THERE may be cynicism about the Government's engagement efforts, but that is still better than apathy, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said last night.

"I'd be more worried if there was no response, just deafening silence or apathy - that's even worse."

Mr Tan was speaking at the National University of Singapore's monthly U@live forum, which features prominent members of the university community. He is an alumnus, having done a master's degree at the university's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

After speaking to an audience of about 130 students, staff and alumni about Government engagement, Mr Tan sat down to an interview with the forum's moderator, former Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan.

Mr Viswa's first question was: "Do you think the ground is cynical?"

Mr Tan said there are many perspectives around, including cynicism. Referring to efforts like Our Singapore Conversation, he said people wondered if it was "just a big 'wayang' show... are they just going through this because they have to, there's no choice."

But while such concerns are legitimate, said Mr Tan, "I think we just need to participate in the process and individuals have to decide whether they sufficiently trust the process or not."

Mr Viswa suggested that cynicism was better than no response, to which Mr Tan agreed, noting that cynicism "indicates you bother enough to think about the issue, you care enough to read up about it and have a perspective."

Later, during the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience bemoaned the Government's decision to build a road across the Bukit Brown Cemetery.

After explaining the Government's reasons, Mr Tan added: "My lament is that there are not enough people like you."

He noted that when it comes to such issues, the Government is "better off having an apathetic population who doesn't really care".

But that would be a sad state of affairs, he added. So while rising citizen activism "makes it uncomfortable" for the Government, "I think it's better that it develops that way".

Yet, engagement cannot go on indefinitely. The Government will ultimately have to make a decision, even if a full consensus is not possible, he said.

Student Chua Yuan Cheng, 22, asked whether Singapore might one day hold referendums on issues like the minimum wage.

Mr Tan said: "I believe that it's important to have that process of dialogue and conversation, so different views can be surfaced.

"But leaders... (must) be able to make sense of all the different views, and make a decision."

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