Monday 17 December 2012

'Some ideas can be acted on now'

Heng Swee Keat says there is no reason to wait for report at the end of mass consultation exercise
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2012

Policy changes that emerge from the national conversation will be rolled out when ready, rather than grouped into a report at the end, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a citizens' dialogue, he said that ideas have surfaced that "we can act on now" and there was thus no reason to wait until the end - which is what past efforts such as the Remaking Singapore Committee in 2003 had done.

"There are measures, big and small, which we can take even as the conversation continues," said Mr Heng, who is leading the current effort. "Some of this will be addressed in the coming months."

He pointed to one that should be moved on quickly: the inclusion of neo-natal and congenital diseases under MediShield, the national health insurance.

This has been raised "quite a bit" by participants in the Our Singapore Conversation exercise, and would give parents peace of mind, he said.

So, instead of a set of policy suggestions, he said that the national conversation will likely end with a set directions for the country and the type of broad measures it should take to get there. But he added that the project is not a one-off exercise.

"The conversation continues even after we formally submit the report," he said.

In fact, he noted that the mass consultation is already functioning as a feedback loop to the civil service.

"When we collate the inputs at these sessions, they are fed back to different ministries so they can examine ideas and look at concerns and aspirations.

"If we do this well, we are going to come up with better policies and programmes," he said.

In the three months since the national conversation was launched, 10,000 Singaporeans have participated in the conversation whether in face-to-face dialogues here and overseas, or online. Another 4,000 are being polled on their aspirations for the country in a national survey, with preliminary results to be announced next month.


Yesterday, Mr Heng also laid out a road map for the process in the coming months. The current open-ended first phase, where Singaporeans gather to discuss the Singapore they want to see in the future, will last until February.

In March, themes grouped under three broad umbrellas of "Hope", "Heart" and "Home" will anchor discussions.

Under Hope, topics will include how to keep Singapore vibrant and how to create opportunities to fulfil both material and non-material aspirations, said Mr Heng.

Under Heart, issues such as how Singaporeans can better care for the vulnerable and disadvantaged among them will figure.

Under Home, discussions will focus on the values, national identity and culture of Singaporeans.

Asked what he has found most unexpected about the conversation thus far, Mr Heng said that the emergence of common themes cutting across different conversations has reflected "a certain set of common aspirations" among Singaporeans from all walks of life.

These are, for example, a desire for different definitions of success in Singapore society, rather than one focused on wealth. "I know for reporters that can be boring," he joked. "You're thinking, 'What's new?' But for me that pattern is interesting."

Another unexpected development has been the way that participants have come "not to advocate their personal interest but to contribute to a broader community", he said.

At yesterday's session, 23-year-old Neo Yu Zhen, who works in an art gallery, told her 47 fellow participants that she considers herself "anti-establishment" and disagrees with the Government on several issues, but decided to attend the dialogue anyway.

She said she hoped that this sort of face-to-face feedback sessions would be a continual effort from the Government, rather than end with the Our Singapore Conversation exercise.

Responding, Mr Heng said: "The fact that you've come despite your reservations shows that you do want to make this a better country and society. In that sense, we are all in this together."

S'poreans, Govt 'share same ideals'
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2012

What Singaporeans want is not that different from what the Government wants, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday at an Our Singapore Conversation session held by the Marine Parade grassroots organisations.

"I was listening to see whether you have very different ideals (from the Government)," Mr Goh said.

He noted that they could, for instance, have wanted an equal society in the communist mould, or a welfare state.

"But fortunately, none of you espouse that kind of ideal," he said.

He told reporters that this makes it easier for the Government and citizens to work together in achieving goals.

ESM Goh and fellow grassroots adviser Lawrence Wong, who is Acting Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, attended the session in the Scoop of Art cafe at Marine Parade Community Club.

Over gelato and nachos, 48 residents discussed their ideal Singapore in 2030, as well as what the future will be like for Singapore's young people.

Across the groups, similar themes arose: the hope for a more compassionate society, the fear of a stressful and competitive future, and the need for values such as graciousness and filial piety.

Mr Wong, who has attended many such sessions, said: "One thing that comes across is there is actually a broad consensus in terms of what Singaporeans want for the future, in terms of their aspirations, their concerns, and the emphasis they place on values."

Polytechnic student Chan Jun Hao, 20, said he found the perspectives of the older participants interesting, as they had grown up in very different times.

A national conversation was also held in Bukit Batok yesterday, attended by Minister of State for Social and Family Development Halimah Yacob and 32 members of the Malay-Muslim community.

There, participants raised concerns about issues such as the cost of living, population growth and the need for an inclusive society.

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