The way the Government engages the public has come under fire in recent times. The most prominent instances include the Bukit Brown cemetery issue, the building of proposed nursing homes in housing estates, and students at a pre-university forum. These have got Government critics huffing and puffing. “The so-called engagement is a wayang (a show) rather than a genuine empathetic engagement process,” they say.
However, it would be wrong to dismiss all the engagement that the Government has embarked on as nothing more than a “wayang”. There have been fruitful dialogue and exchanges, many of these not seen by the public. Some are, as in these examples: Law Minister K Shanmugam lending his voice to Acres; Minister of State Tan Chuan Jin on the culling of cats in housing estates; MCYS Minister Chan Chun Sing’s monthly forum and engaging bloggers about the Internet; MCYS MOS Halimah Yaacob’s constant dialogue with HOME; MOS Tan’s exchange with migrant aid group TWC2; Shanmugam engaging NGO Aware on the sexual assault legislation and declaring that the Government would abolish it; and most recently, the Government said it is reviewing the proposed nursing home in Bishan after feedback from residents.
These are just a few examples. There are many other instances of Government (ministers and MPs) engaging in dialogue with the public, even at individual levels, such as this one.
This is not to say that all the issues brought up are resolved or even considered. I do not know how these are dealt with. The individuals or groups involved in these exchanges would know better. Still, the point is that the Government is engaging more. There is no question about this.
And there have been hits and misses, as expected.
The problem is that some of the more high profile “misses” have taken the spotlight, and perhaps even blown out of proportion, such as the pre-university forum where DPM Teo Chee Hean had participated in. And this is then used to dismiss all of the Government’s effort, which I feel is unfair.
For the longest time, one of the main criticisms of the Government is that it was holed up in its “Ivory Tower” and does not “come down to the ground” to speak with the commoners, let alone engage them in dialogue and exchange. This has changed somewhat and those of us who have been privileged to be involved know that more is going on than the headlines and soundbites we see and hear.
So, I would be fair and see things in the broader sense – that there is more engagement going on (much of it behind the scenes) than what many see or know. And I am glad that the Government is doing this, after all the criticisms we have laid at its door for being out of touch and elitist.
Of course the criticisms will continue, and there will be further “misses” and failures. But that just means we have to continue to fine-tune the process (on both sides) and work towards something more genuine, concrete and workable. I do not think that it is only the Government which has a role in this. I feel we, the public, also has one to play – and that is to step up and be counted too, instead of just sitting back and criticising and pointing fingers.
A friend said to me just 2 days ago: “I wonder how many of those criticising Chan Chun Sing for not doing enough about the poor and elderly would actually help to do something about them. If they all contributed a little effort, perhaps these people whom they seem to care for would be in a better situation, even if it’s just a little.”
There is some merit in what my friend said. Everyone has a role to play, especially when we are also asking the Government not to be so involved in running our lives. If that is what we want, then we should step up and do things for ourselves and those around us whom we care for too.
But as far as the Government engaging the public is concerned, I give the Government credit for this. And I hope it will continue to do so, and not be discouraged or be dissuaded by the criticisms of the few. It is a work-in-progress, and we will have to ride the bumps along the way until we come to a comfortable equilibrium for all sides.