Government has changed how it engages Singaporeans, says PM Lee

Apr 4, 2012

Government has changed how it engages Singaporeans, says PM Lee

By S. Ramesh

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says one year after the General Election in Singapore, the government has changed its approach in many areas - particularly in the process of engaging the electorate and in policy outcomes.

Mr Lee said this was a necessary and helpful change.

As Singapore enters a new phase, this two-way process should result in both sides working together to make Singapore succeed.

Mr Lee was speaking to the Singapore media in Phnom Penh at the end of the 20th ASEAN Summit.

The 6th of May 2011 will be a year since Singapore had its last General Election.

After the polls, Mr Lee had spoken of greater engagement with the people, and he says the process has been helpful.

Mr Lee said: "It's a necessary change, I think it has been helpful. But it is something that must work in a two-way process. It's not just what the government does, it's also about how the electorate sees its role in the new environment, and how it sees it can contribute and what it thinks its responsibilities towards making the system work in a different way.

"Because this is not about what more the government can do - of course the government must do all it can, that is its responsibility. But it's also how we can work together to make Singapore succeed. And that calls for Singaporeans to not just speak out, but also to participate and to feel the responsibility to do their part to make things happen the right way."

As for how Singaporeans have done on this count, Mr Lee thinks the process is still on-going.

Mr Lee said: "I believe that after a year there is a certain stability which has been restored in terms of the mood and the expectations. But it will take some time more and the balance between speaking out and working together is something which still needs to be worked upon."

He cited the example of the feedback on building studio apartments at Toh Yi for the elderly as one where speaking out and working together fell short.

Mr Lee said: "Look at the recent Toh Yi Drive case of the studio apartments and other cases where we have had senior citizens, day care centres, nursing homes that need to be built.

"People respond more articulately now, they organise together more easily, the Internet has enabled this to happen much more readily than before, and also people are much more educated and vocal. And so we have to manage this.

"We must not go into a position where NIMBY (not in my backyard) becomes a general attitude among Singaporeans because then we will stymie ourselves.

"If we take this self-centred approach to problems, we will not be able to do the best for ourselves as a community."

"It's one of our major strengths over the years, that we have been able to take it overall, rough and smooth. So on a particular project, one group may gain more than another, some groups may have some adverse effect, because there are some consequences and side effects that you live with - noise, dust, or inconvenience.

"But taken as a whole, because we have been able to go on this broad approach, Singapore has made a lot more progress and you have a much better Singapore than if we had stayed put and everything had been "No".

"And we must make sure we don't end up a lot of things "No". We have to consult, we have to adjust - you look at Bukit Brown, you have to talk, you have to explain. But if at the end, we cannot move at all, you will not only not have tomorrow's Singapore, we wouldn't even have today's Singapore."

"You will be where you were in the 1960s, and I think it will be a very unhappy state," said Mr Lee.

He said Singaporeans must also feel together ethnically so that race, language and religion do not become sensitive issues, especially in the Internet age where it is easy to get people upset about such subjects."

He also addressed the furore over blog posts by NUS scholar Sun Xu, who is from China.

Mr Lee said: "You look at the Sun Xu incident, he shouldn't have made that blog post. He did. He has been chastised. He has been disciplined. He has expressed his contrition. He's sorry about it. And I think we should accept that. We should have been able to move on from that and deal with it as one person who mis-spoke.

"We should not because of one incident make that into an issue - that all immigrants are like that, or all Singaporeans should feel like that towards not even immigrants, but towards non-Singaporeans who are in Singapore, either studying or working here. That is something we have to be conscious of."

- CNA/de