As the fourth year-long SG conversation in just over 20 years draws to a close, a look back at the last one - Remaking Singapore (2002), and its major recommendations.
The nation waits eagerly for the coming Sunday's National Day Rally speech by Prime Minsiter Lee Hsien Loong. It was almost two years ago, when on a Sunday morning, just after the elections results were announced, PM Lee assured his fellow Singaporeans, “we hear all your voices”. He followed it up last year, when during his National Day Rally speech, he announced the decision to start a national conversation on all issues concerning Singaporeans, to be called Our Singapore Conversation (OSC). Now, after one year of OSC, and close to 47,000 participants in over 660 sessions, Heng Swee Keat, Education Minister and chairman of the OSC committee, has indicated the possibility of PM announcing major policy shifts, especially in the areas of healthcare, housing and Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), on August 18.
It has been just over 10 years when the government last undertook such an exercise. The year was 2002, when the Remaking Singapore (RS) committee was set up under the chairmanship of then minister of state for national development, Vivian Balakrishnan. The committee submitted its report titled, Changing Mindsets Deepening Relationships, on June 19, 2003, to the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. In all, about 10,000 Singaporeans were consulted and four themes were identified for renewal and change. These were – a home for all Singaporeans, a home owned, a home for all seasons, and a home to cherish.
Some of RS recommendations in education, which are relevant even today, included broadening the definition of success to celebrate and appreciate non-academic attainments, modification of school ranking system where academic performance draws disproportionate attention, enhance diversity of the school curriculum through elective modules, and allowing schools and universities greater flexibility to admit students.
The RS committee also advocated a lighter touch in regulation to promote creativity and added, “It is timely to calibrate the government’s approach towards public expression to promote a more creative and innovative society and culture. We need to find a new balance that maintains law and order and yet does not stifle the creativity of our people.”
Thus, the committee added, “In line with the principle of having a more green-lane rather than red-lane approach, it is recommended that the authorities remove the requirement for prior vetting of all scripts, and instead set out clear guidelines on what constitutes objectionable content.”
In another recommendation to enlarge space for expression and experimentation, the committee urged the government to define “political” OB (out-of-bound) markers. “There is much ambiguity as to what constitutes being engaged in the discussion of 'political' issues. This has created the impression that the discussion of political governance is tantamount to engagement in politics. One proposal is for the government to define 'political' clearly to mean action and speech that directly engage in electioneering and party politics, that is, within the arena of the contest for political power. Discussions in all other contexts should be allowed so long as they do not compromise sovereignty, security and religious/ethnic harmony.”
Noting that the desire of citizens to contribute must also be matched by willingness on the part of the government to share information, listen and accommodate, the committee “proposed that the government draw up a Code of Consultation, which should be a a public document providing guidelines and minimum standards on when and how the public should be consulted.” “Presently, information sharing and consultation on government policies and programmes are left to the discretion of government agencies, leading to a variety of practices and standards,” it said.
Acknowledging that the participation of Singaporeans in groups and associations indicate their desire to contribute to the society, which if allowed also deepens their attachment to the country, the committee advised for easier registration of groups and associations.
Also, in a bid to promote self-reliance among Singaporeans, it recommended that unemployed individuals could be allowed, on a very limited and exceptional basis, to tap available resources in their CPF accounts to support themselves through spells of unemployment. Similarly, “HDB should consider allowing Singaporeans to re-mortgage part of their assets to meet urgent cash requirements rather than for them to be forced to sell their flats.”
The committee also proposed to expand the role of insurance in healthcare financing. “While it may not be feasible (nor palatable) to impose compulsory coverage at this point in time, initiatives and incentives can be put in place to provide better coverage.”
Furthermore, the committee said that even though Singapore has made a very good attempt at recreating street life, at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, success may unwittingly be limited by the contrived environment and regulated, organised setting. “We should allow people to hawk their wares creatively, either with or without a small licence fee on a vacant piece of land. We can encourage flea and antique markets, or entrepreneurship through ‘car boot sales’ on empty JTC or state land.”
In conclusion, the RS committee noted that as “Remaking Singapore” must be an ongoing process, it must involve everyone who calls Singapore home.