Monday, September 10, 2012

Letter to the press: The Government’s National Conversation Programme

MPs should also respond to questions on Facebook

My letter to The New Paper on the above matter is published today, Monday 10th September 2012, page 17.

In an effort to reach out to all sectors of the population, the Prime Minister has initiated the National Conversation programme. 

It is encouraging that hundreds of our citizens have answered the call by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to participate in this exercise.  This is a good sign that Singaporeans are showing a keen interest in building a better future for our country.

But although there are assurances that at least 30 dialogue sessions are being planned, the Government needs to respond to queries online where citizens are waiting for answers.

Questions that have been posted on the Facebook pages of our ministers and Members of Parliament sometimes go unanswered.  This defeats the whole purpose of the national conversation programme.

I have responded to the Education Minister’s call for feedback both on Facebook and directly to the ministers on some social issues which are close to my heart, but no one has responded. 

I have not received even an acknowledgment or an interim reply.  Yet with technology, this can be done in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

I agree with Mr Heng that nobody should feel intimidated about participating in the national conversation.

But the Government should also not cherry- pick what issues it wants to address and tackle, and what it does not.  No one should feel that they are being left out.

Poor communication or the lack of it can lead to a great deal of misunderstandings and unhappiness.   Responding to queries or feedback is not only gracious, but it helps to improve the communication process.

Effective communication can help to build trust and consensus. In order to have creative effective dialogues, all parties must be able to express themselves clearly and listen for understanding. 

Together, let us have a good two-way communication system that cuts across every sector of the population in order to make the Singapore National Conversation a resounding success.  Otherwise, as many already believe, this project will be seen as just another public relations exercise by the ruling party.



P.S: (1) I had written to the Education Minister about the 26 members committee : This was my query, but have yet  to receive a reply.
"Dear Mr Heng,
I’ve noticed that there are a large number of people in your National Conversation committee from all walks of life that includes the President of the society for the Physically Disabled, and even a taxi driver. But I have not read of any one representing people with psychiatric conditions & their caregivers. I’d like to know why this is so, given that there are hundreds who are in this group. Is anyone looking into the welfare/interests of the mentally ill & their family members? Can you kindly enlighten me, Mr Heng. Thank you.
Raymond Anthony Fernando"

(2) NMP Eugene Tan in his recent commentary & analysis to MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper  said, & I quote,” Looking at the committee's composition, the accent on youth is also evident. Most members were born post-1965 and the oldest (actress Lim Ru Ping) is a relatively youthful 61 years of age. But the dialogue about our future has to include the past, present and future. Any vision outlined will be path-dependent on the past and present. Furthermore, there will be far more Singaporeans aged 60 and above in 20 years' time than there are today,” unquote.

I agree with Eugene’s observations. Just look at the committee’s composition. Even though suicide is on the rise (last year there were more than 900 people who were arrested for suicide attempts), hundreds suffering from depression and other types of mental illness, with caregivers struggling to cope in caring for their loved ones, I do not see anyone who is representing this marginalized group in the National Conversation Committee. How can we then say, in the Prime Minister’s own words, “No one will be left behind”.

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