Parliament: Desmond Lee sets out how govt, civil society can work together

A bicycle shop on Pulau Ubin. The project to redevelop Pulau Ubin is a good opportunity for active citizens to work with the Government, said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee on Wednesday as he spoke about how the Government and
A bicycle shop on Pulau Ubin. The project to redevelop Pulau Ubin is a good opportunity for active citizens to work with the Government, said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee on Wednesday as he spoke about how the Government and civil society can be "strong partners" in building a better Singapore as long as both sides are open-minded. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The project to redevelop Pulau Ubin is a good opportunity for active citizens to work with the Government, said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee on Wednesday as he spoke about how the Government and civil society can be "strong partners" in building a better Singapore as long as both sides are open-minded.

The Pulau Ubin project that he spearheads, has set up a Friends of Ubin Network to facilitate open dialogue between the Government and people in the community with views on how the southern island should be developed. It has brought together conservationists, history buffs and Ubin residents among others. On Wednesday, a website will also be launched to canvas the views of a wider spectrum of Singaporeans.

Mr Lee said this was just one instance of how an active citizenry can contribute to society.

His speech comes amid calls by NMPs Laurence Lien and Faizah Jamal, who said that Singapore should welcome and encourage citizens to contribute more to society and take a greater ownership of social issues, even if this comes with some dissent.

On Wednesday, Mr Lee noted that civil society has been able to effect change in tandem with the Government when it had good proposals and was also "mindful of the sensitivities and dynames across broader society".

And while disagreements between civil society and the Government were normal in ground-up initiatives, he said, both sides can work together to find win-win outcomes through being open-minded and civil.

This cooperation does not preclude robust and passionate debate, he added.

But he cautioned that it should not lead to a situation where people are only listening to the views of those they agree with, resulting in an echo chamber effect and gridlock.

Also, when common ground is found, he added, there should not be the perception that "everyone falls in line or the people are compliant".

Mr Lee acknowledged that the Government "doesn't have a monopoly on all knowledge" and that its decision-making can "benefit greatly from wide and inclusive consultation on many fronts".

"As a whole, we are feeling our way forward as society develops and matures to find the right balance for constructive debate and inclusive decision-making," he said.