Tuesday 16 July 2013

Our Singapore Conversation themes identified, dialogue to continue

Various views’ gathered during engagement, not all issues raised reached a conclusion
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 15 Jul 2013

After almost a year of the national conversation on the country’s future direction — a process kickstarted at last year’s National Day Rally — the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) committee has distilled five broad themes from the discussions involving some 46,000 Singaporeans and the project is likely to go on indefinitely, with the various ministries looking to continue the engagement.

According to committee members who attended a meeting on Saturday, the themes centred on providing opportunities for all Singaporeans, building a caring and compassionate society, allowing Singaporeans to have a peace of mind on needs such as affordable healthcare, a kampung spirit, as well as trust and collaboration between voluntary welfare organisations, the Government and the community.

The OSC was divided into two phases: The first comprised of open-ended, exploratory focus group sessions, the second distilled inputs that have surfaced and grouped them into themes for further discussions.

The 26-member committee, headed by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, comprises Singaporeans from different backgrounds, including grassroots leaders, unionists, people from the private sector, academics and political office-holders.

At Saturday’s meeting, committee members deliberated over the progress report of the OSC and what the next steps to take going forward are. Members at the meeting told TODAY that it was agreed that the discussions should continue to allow Singaporeans to enter into deeper discussions on many issues which did not yield a consensus.

The process has also given the various ministries a better idea of how to engage Singaporeans, they said.

Mr Ismail Hussein, who heads the Islamic Banking Unit of Maybank Singapore, said the engagement process has gathered various views but the process has to continue because “not all issues raised had a conclusion”.

Nanyang Business School graduate Stanley Chia cited the diversity of views and suggestions that were gathered for both short- and long-term solutions. “Ongoing conversations will allow Singaporeans to find some middle ground on key issues,” he said.

Mr Chia said that during the meeting, the members also talked about the execution of suggestions from Singaporeans.

To prevent the OSC process from being seen as just a “talk shop”, it is important to emphasis to Singaporeans the substantive “changes that have been made” either at the national or community level, he said.

The members also felt that it was important to communicate to Singaporeans that the Government will not be able to do everything and the public can also play a part to create change in society, he added.


The OSC process was expected to take about a year but Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yaacob, who is also part of the committee, stressed that the fact that the national conversation would continue should not be seen as “an extension”. Madam Halimah said: “The year of consultations is over. The question is do we abruptly stop the process?”

She added that the ministries can continue to engage stakeholders on the areas that were narrowed down in the second phase of the OSC.

The committee will also continue its work even after it submits its report. “What the committee wanted was not just to come up with the report and we wash our hands (and say) that’s it,” Mdm Halimah said. “After report comes out, committee members feel they should at least see what happen to some of the recommendations.”

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua, who is also on the OSC committee, reiterated that the OSC “should not be a one-time phenomenon”.

She said: “Conversations of such nature are crucial ... Societal issues these days are not as uni-dimensional and a lot more complex, with stakeholder groups having sometimes conflicting needs, aspirations and proposed solutions.

“Governments will have to learn to evolve to allow for greater ownership and participation by the citizenry and the OSC is one key platform.”

Ms Phua said the OSC discussions “allow people of different perspectives and needs to meet, hear out and be reminded that there are different worldviews, and hopefully arrive at some acceptable fundamental principles and solutions”. She added: “Even if there were no conclusions, agreeing to disagree amicably and respecting that we are not all the same, are useful outcomes.”

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event yesterday, Mr Heng told reporters that he was “very pleased” with the progress of the OSC.

He added that during the committee’s meeting on Saturday, the members sketched out the broad themes and how to act upon ideas that arose from the discussions. “(The OSC) is not a short-term project, but a long-term project for our future,” Mr Heng said.

Commenting on two of the themes – creating opportunities for all and building a caring and compassionate society – he said: “Those are very important themes that will undergird a lot of our work as a society - not just the Government but as a society in the coming years”.

When asked if these themes will be shared during the National Day Rally next month, Mr Heng said that the details are still being worked out.

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