SINGAPORE: The ongoing Our Singapore Conversation came under scrutiny at a forum involving tertiary students and representatives from Singapore’s ruling party and opposition parties.
Issues raised at the forum include whether it is representative of Singaporeans from all walks of life.
The forum, organised by the Political Association from the National University of Singapore, is an annual event for tertiary students from various universities to engage politicians in Singapore.
The topic this time focused on the government’s public engagement following last year’s General Election.
Questions were raised about Our Singapore Conversation — which aims to seek Singaporeans’ views on the country’s future.
This includes the role that opposition parties can play and how all Singaporeans are being engaged.
The ruling People’s Action Party Ms Indranee Rajah said the approach is meant to be fluid.
"This particular exercise came about I think because what the government really wants to do is to get a sense of what Singapore do we want to be and what Singaporeans want," said Ms Indranee who is also a member on the National Conversation committee.
She added: "This exercise is actually something for everybody to participate — whether the opposition, in personal capacity or party capacity, ordinary citizens — everybody. So it takes the form of engaging different groups at different times. It is a very free flowing type of activity and really meant to be a national exercise."
Others like Singapore Democratic Party’s Dr James Gomez felt views—seeking can go beyond the dialogue sessions.
Dr Gomez said: "The national conversation as it is structured now, by the current government need not be necessarily be the only conversation, I think we can have many conversations at many levels so I think if we find that certain conversation processes are structured in a particular way, that’s fine I think we should not see that as a hurdle.
"I think we should be innovative and try to kind of look at more pathways. I think the main thing is to put up good policy ideas that will work for Singapore and I think that is the conversation we all want to have."
The Workers’ Party’s Yee Jenn Jong also gave his views.
Mr Yee said: "We all have our different ways of engaging in our own conversation so, there is a government’s initiated national conversation going on right now and the Workers’ Party has always believed in positive engagement, in whatever we can to contribute towards the general good of Singapore."
And there were calls for Singaporeans to be given better access to information so that they can express their views more effectively, or even be given a chance to vote on issues close to their hearts.
Hazel Poa from the National Solidarity Party said: "Talking about public consultation, the public needs information as well, to engage in a meaningful conversation, so for the public engagement to be effective, that is also going to be a necessary ingredient."
Reform Party’s Kenneth Jeyaretnam said the national conversation should also asks "fundamental questions that are troubling Singaporeans".
"I mean some of the questions that people will probably like to vote on is should we have a cap on total population size? Should HDB owners be allowed to buy or given a free hold of their properties? Should National Service be reduced? Should Singaporeans be able to choose the level of CPF savings that they want?" said Mr Jeyaretnam.
He added: "If there are enough signatures or enough support, we should have a referendum on these issues."
The People’s Action Party Edwin Tong felt it’s still early days yet to judge if Our Singapore Conversation is effective.
Mr Tong said: "It’s what you make of it and I do hope that Singaporeans will see it as such, because if you are close to the idea that they could be anything productive out of it, then you would have set the destiny of the national conversation before you even get off the ground, and that would have been unfortunate. I do encourage views to come forward.
"A national conversation is not carte blanche to being populist. I think one cannot confuse the two. You can bring up the ideals, bring up the suggestions, but at the end of the day, someone has to decide, and there would have to be decisions that would not be entirely popular, but we have to be united as one and look at the entire basket."
Some 200 students attended the forum.
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