Deepening citizen participation for effective and inclusive governance
Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community & Youth and Transport at the IIAS-Lien Conference 2019, at Nanyang Technological University
19 June 2019
A very good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my pleasure to join you today. We have a diverse group of local and international policymakers and practitioners here, and I look forward to the rich discussions ahead. Thank you for being a part of this conference.
Better understanding different groups of citizens
At the heart of effective, accountable and inclusive governance must be our citizens; our people. We have noticed the significant shifts in the expectations and aspirations of our people over the years. More and more citizens now wish to have a say on policies, and collaborate with the Government to co-create solutions. So, we are working towards opening up more opportunities for stakeholders and citizens to play a bigger role in addressing the issues that affect us collectively.
REACH, which stands for Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry at Home, is the Singapore Government’s policy feedback arm under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI). So my Singaporean friends would know that REACH actually started as the Feedback Unit in 1985 before being restructured in 2006. Over the last thirty-odd years, REACH has continuously improved the way it facilitated how the public could provide feedback, give ideas, and suggestions to our government.
In recent years, REACH holds regular ground engagement sessions called Listening Points at various, high human traffic locations across the island. At these roving feedback booths, government officials will interact with members of the public, listen to their sentiments and concerns on policy issues of the day, and engage as many Singaporeans as possible - especially the younger population. REACH also has multiple online feedback channels; including email, the REACH Facebook Page, and Twitter. REACH also organises Live Chat sessions for more interactive engagements.
Beyond these platforms, there are also many ways that we can hear from our citizens. We strongly encourage all government agencies to actively reach out to different segments of citizens to understand their perspectives. At my ministry, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), our National Youth Council (NYC) organised a series of youth engagements called Youth Conversations in 2018. More than 8,000 youth came together with policymakers, as well as one another, to discuss issues that are close to their hearts – such as social inequality, mental health and environmental sustainability.
This year, we are engaging youths on the SG Youth Action Plan, starting with their vision of Singapore in 2025. We would like our youth to spark the next wave of positive change in Singapore, and the Action Plan will identify the areas of change to turn their vision into reality, either in policy areas, or through projects to benefit our communities.
One of the key projects under the Action Plan is to shape the Somerset Belt into a vibrant youth district. For those who are not familiar with Singapore, the Somerset Belt is located within our prime shopping area of Orchard Road. The Belt has been designated to have a stronger youth focus as part of Orchard Road’s longer-term redevelopment plans. I am co-leading the Working Panel for this project and along with members from the people, private and public sectors, we will be carrying out both face-to-face and online engagements with young Singaporeans from different backgrounds. So, as we undergo the rejuvenation of Somerset Belt and Orchard Road, I would like to invite our international friends to visit Orchard Road, the prime shopping belt. We are also starting our Great Singapore Sale very soon - from 21 June to the end of the conference - so please visit Orchard Road and contribute to Singapore’s economy.
In my other hat at the Ministry of Transport, we launched the Land Transport Master Plan 2040 just last month. The plan encapsulates our Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) long-term plans to build a faster, more convenient, well-connected and inclusive land transport system. The plan was made possible by many Singaporeans who came forward to share their ideas and hopes, and this helped to shape our vision for the future.
During the engagement sessions which were held over six months, we had the chance to hear from more than 7,400 commuters, transport workers, academia, industry partners, and interest groups. These conversations are just the start of many more we are having, to empower Singaporeans from all walks of life to drive change in the areas that they care about.
Deepening our partnerships across sectors
Deepening partnerships and opening up more opportunities for citizen participation does not mean that the government will take a back seat. The government remains accountable to the public. It is responsible for delivering core services; housing, transport, healthcare and education, as well as implementing policies and programmes that serve the collective interests of our society. Even so, in areas where the government leads, it still needs to consult citizens to better understand the concerns and lived realities. This will also help in better communicating the intent and rationale of these policies.
Where there are issues that need a shift in societal norms to succeed; such as recycling, or where more customised solutions are required; such as locale-specific programmes - there is scope to involve citizens and stakeholders much earlier and more extensively in the planning and implementation process. In such instances, the government’s role shifts from that of a service provider to that of a facilitator: by framing the issues, identifying the objectives, establishing the processes and rules of engagement for various stakeholders to iterate on ideas and build consensus. In a more collaborative governance model, the government is also responsible for providing opportunities, resources and tools for a more active citizenry.
We are rallying Singaporeans to build a more caring and compassionate society together with the Singapore Cares - or SG Cares - national movement. SG Cares serves as a common platform for all Singaporeans to work together in meeting community needs. Many community partners have stepped forward to take up roles for the common good and we wish to further support them. Our SG Cares Local Community Network Sessions, for example, allow stakeholders within local towns to come together and exchange knowledge and ideas, coordinate and develop volunteers, and refine service delivery processes together.
Moving forward, we want to be even more intentional in our approach in engaging both current and emerging groups of citizens and stakeholders. We have made some progress in the economic sector through partnerships with trade associations, unions and other professional bodies. These partners have come together to transform their respective industries to take our economy forward.
At the same time, as issues and our populace constantly evolve, this might pose even more complex challenges. So, improving our outreach must be a continuous process. For instance, with the growing gig economy, it has become increasingly important to understand the needs of freelancers – or gig workers - to ensure they are adequately resourced to sustain their careers.
In a series of engagement sessions organised by the National Arts Council (NAC) in 2017 and 2018, I was involved in speaking with arts freelancers from various art forms and disciplines to gain a deeper understanding of their needs. Later this year, we will be launching a dedicated website for arts freelancers and providing other shared resources and services. These will be introduced progressively, including physical hubs for training and networking.
Inclusive governance in our mindsets and policies
In Singapore, we strongly believe that no one should be left behind, not only in opportunities to grow and thrive, but also in the services, programmes and systems that we interact with every day.
With regard to our Land Transport System, we have learnt through our conversations that many of our commuters are passionate about being more inclusive. This will require contributions from all stakeholders. The government will do its part to continue enhancing our infrastructure. For instance, all our MRT stations and bus interchanges are already barrier-free, and all our public buses will be wheelchair accessible by 2020.
But hardware enhancements are not enough. We recognize the need to upgrade our “heartware” and cultivate a gracious commuting culture, so all commuters can enjoy their journeys. LTA is working with operators and transport unions to equip public transport workers with skills to better help commuters in need. But beyond that, we all have a part to play in creating a society where everyone looks out for one another. Our Public Transport Council, for example, has been promoting this through the Heart Zones initiative, which connects commuters who need help with volunteers. We are heartened to have received international recognition for our efforts. LTA’s Mobility Assistance for the Visually-Impaired and Special Users (MAVIS) mobile app which alerts commuters who are visually or hearing impaired to board the right bus. This app has just won a Special Recognition Award at the International Association of Public Transport’s Global Public Transport Summit held in Stockholm earlier this month.
We will continue to do more to ensure that our policies and initiatives reach out to as many Singaporeans as possible, regardless of age or background.
Finally, I would like to call upon ourselves to shape systems and implement policies that make a difference to the citizens whom we serve. And the way to do it is to work hand-in-hand with our citizens, so that we can build a home that we care about and feel proud of. As what Deputy Prime Minister Heng said over the weekend, and I quote, “we need to shift from a government that focuses primarily on working for you, to a government working with you, for you.”
I would like to thank the Nanyang Centre for Public Administration and the International Institute of Administrative Sciences for making this conference possible. Thank you for inviting me, and I wish you a fruitful conference!