POV: To succeed, Forward Singapore has to win over sceptics
Forward Singapore – the latest public engagement exercise fronted by prime minister-in-waiting Lawrence Wong - rings not just a bell, but many.
It follows The Next Lap in 1991, Our Singapore Conversation in 2012, and the Emerging Stronger Conversations (ESC) launched in mid-2020 by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he was still the frontrunner to succeed PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Naturally, scepticism towards the latest exercise launched on Tuesday (June 28) has arisen, with some calling it "more of the same" or potentially a "paper exercise".
But are these valid?
First, it is important to note some subtle differences. For now, Forward Singapore is aimed at reviewing and renewing the social compact, which comes under threat from changing demographics and external factors like geopolitics, unlike its predecessors aimed at finding solutions.
Also, it would be remiss to not highlight achievements of past exercises to better gauge their significance.
The ESC, which attracted the participation of 16,900 people, birthed Alliances for Actions comprising representatives from the public and private sectors that examined wide-ranging issues and came up with proposals in tackling them.
The five-day work week we enjoy now stemmed from Remaking Singapore, another exercise that began in 2002.
So, if one were to hold out hope for such tangible outcomes, then now is as good a time as ever to give such national conversations a serious shot.
Yes, some may view these public consultations as a show of bureaucratic exercise, and that policy developments could be attributed to a myriad of other factors.
But sceptics need to consider: in the absence of such open dialogue, would Singaporeans be better off?
Otherwise, how would the wider society benefit if people with good ideas and constructive views choose to disengage, and leave the usual groups of people and networks to influence decisions that can impact a shared future?
The government can do more too to win over the sceptics.
The onus lies on the 4G leaders to address any misgivings on the part of its citizens so that they can take civic participation more seriously.
This cannot be engendered merely by telling the public that the government is “sincere and committed to listening to and partnering with Singaporeans”. It needs to be demonstrated day to day.
To get the people's buy-in, there must be trust and evidence that their feedback will be and is taken into serious consideration, and not only during state-sanctioned national conversations.