I agree entirely with Jeremy Au-Yeong’s column in ST today. Go buy ST. Or go read online since it is now added to circulation numbers…
Jeremy talks about how the G should get out of sports (I’m paraphrasing loosely), because its overwhelming presence tends to complicate feelings people have towards, among things, sporting achievements. So Feng Tianwei’s Olympic bronze looks tarnished because people tend to mix it up with the G’s policy on foreign talent. That heads of NSAs are predominantly men-in-white is another example of the G’s all-pervasive influence.
The thing is, Singapore is G-directed. Whose fault is this? The G who thinks that people wouldn’t come forward if it didn’t take the lead? Or the people who want the G to do everything? It’s mutual reinforcement. Why should people, or local companies or local titans etc do anything when the G is there to do it? It is everywhere, at the grassroots, in the unions, on GLCs, as patrons of charities, dispensing largesse, dishing out penalties, intervening in the bedroom….you know what I mean.
Some people think that the civil service is subordinate to political control more than before, and that it does not function as the independent bureaucracy political and management theory would have. MInisters are said to be extremely interventionist and top civil servants mere drawers of water and hewers of wood. It doesn’t help when you see civil servants at political events. It raises the question of whether they are there to serve the G or the party. (ok, you can argue that a minister’ walkabout in his own constituency is in his capacity as a minister rather than a Member of Parliament. But..really?)
I suppose it’s normal for a political party in power to want to control as many levers as possible, whether to mobilise opinion or votes or carry out policies. We’ve taken the G’s presence for granted. That’s why we keep running to the G and say “The G should be doing this and that…” or we blame the G for every single thing that goes wrong in our lives – which we demand that the G fix. NOW.
I have always taken the view that this is all pretty unhealthy. We should have less G, not more. And the people should DO more, not demand more. Citizens have entitlements, but it doesn’t extend to abdicating our responsibility for this country to the G. An election every five years does not mean we have delegated our brains to the elected (even if the G does think so). BTW, it doesn’t do the G any good either, to be the source of all woes…
I think re-calibrating the G-citizen relaionship is one big part of the national conversation that we want to have following PM’s message on what sort of Singapore we want to be. I dread thinking that the results of the conversation will boil down to: The G should do this or that – whether to get Singaporeans to have more babies, integrate better with foreigners, provide social safety nets etc. Then it’s back to the old days of Remaking Singapore, Singapore 21 and those other national conversations which I find pretty forgettable. The thing is, are we, as citizens, up to the job of looking after ourselves and our country?
I read the pieces in ST on expert views to get Singapore and non-Singaporeans to integrate better. Useful views, but many require the G to take the lead (again!) – like national level programmes to have newcomers do community service, limiting foreign children from enrolling in international schools. having an “immigration bonus” for Singaporeans. And when it came to organising SPORTING activities at the grassroots – look who’s doing the talking, its the politicians being interviewed again..Let the G go calibrate its immigration and work permit regime, can we the citizens of Singaporean take on the ground level work of dealing with newcomers? A man I respect gave an idea recently: He said the workplace is the right place to start. Getting Singaporeans to open their doors is too difficult. After work, we want to rest in the castle that is our home. But the workplace is where we spend most of our time, and that’s probably where we meet foreigners. Daily interactions over lunch, around the water-cooler, bitching about bosses and work - and hopefully leading to visits to each others’ homes, joint outings. Employers can take the lead. A happy work environment is surely a bonus. No need for the G to do anything at the workplace level.
So in this national conversation, deciding on one fundamental value from which all/most approaches should spring would be this: How much Government do we want? To this end, I recommend a feature in ST in its Saturday section written by an expert in parenting. Go buy ST.