Singapore’s listening

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on August 15, 2013

The Government is involving its people closely in its exercise to make the country future-ready.

A social process has just been concluded in Singapore, which tells us a great deal about not just how a society is striving to renew itself, but also how other societies are not taking steps to tackle social problems.

In Singapore, at last year’s National Day rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to begin “Our Singapore Conversation” involving the people in an effort to find out what they thought about the problems they faced and how they felt the Government could act in improving the situation. Around 47,000 people took part in the year-long exercise, which formally concluded on August 9 this year, yielding a corpus of ideas.

At a crossroads

Among the leadership in Singapore, the general perception today is that the island-nation is at a crossroads. Uncertainty envelops its future. The leadership would like to involve the average citizen, particularly the young, in the problem-solving exercise. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong called for a need to forge a “new social compact between the Government and the people” in the absence of which he feared that “Singapore will begin to go downhill”.

Specifically, he asked for Singaporeans to “recapture the ruggedness and can-do spirit of earlier generations”.

Combating corruption

One of the “core aspirations” thrown up by the Conversation is deeper trust “between the Government and the people, as well as among Singaporeans”, which appears to have been hit hard by the series of corruption scandals involving senior Government functionaries in the recent past. The scandals have touched a raw nerve; senior leaders apprehend that without “mutual trust” among the Government and the people, Singapore will not be able to forge ahead in the phenomenal way it has done since the seventies.

As Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament recently, although the statistics do not indicate an uptrend in the incidence of such corruption, “we are concerned that these cases should not undermine public confidence, or convey the impression that standards have slackened”.

Teo also said: “We have prevented corruption from becoming a way of life in Singapore, and succeeded in keeping Singapore clean. This differentiates us from many other countries and is a distinctive part of what makes us Singapore”.

In India, the truth is that it would be highly imaginative for us to even contemplate attaining a position comparable to the standards set by Singapore.

The danger signals are looming ahead when, instead of following the lead given by the Supreme Court to cleanse our legislatures of corrupt people, the political class itself, led by the Government of the day, is keen on taking up the cudgels to protect itself, even by going to the extent of amending the Constitution.

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Published on August 15, 2013
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