People and government must pull together as a family: ESM Goh

SINGAPORE - Loosening ties between people and government could pull Singapore apart unless Singaporeans demand as much of themselves as they do of the Government, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned on Saturday.

Unrealistic demands and frequent criticism of the Government are straining the cohesiveness of the Singapore family, he said.

"This state of relationship between the people and the Government is part of the so-called new normal," he said.

"But if this new normal leads to fractiousness, divisiveness and estrangement in the Singapore family, then we will be undoing what the pioneer generation had painfully and diligently built over many decades."

He was addressing about 1,000 residents and volunteers from his Marine Parade constituency at a National Day dinner at Roland restaurant. Manpower Minister and Marine Parade GRC MP Tan Chuan-Jin was also present.

Mr Goh said a good bond between people and government was one of four "goods" crucial to a country's success. The others are good leaders, good governance and good social cohesion. These qualities paved the way for Singapore's survival, he said, but being man-made, they could also be "unmade by man".

Speaking at length on people-government ties in family terms, he said that just as parents do for their children, the Government imparts values and sets norms for society through its policies and creates opportunities for people.

People cannot choose their parents but they can choose their government - a privilege they do not always value and "sometimes decide with less care than we should".

Singaporeans also demand much more from the Government than their parents, accepting their family's situation but not the constraints faced by the Government.

And while they do not criticise their parents' imperfections, when it comes to the Government, they "see only warts... and freely criticise it for its slightest mistakes or when we disagree with it".

Mr Goh worried that people today are pulling in different directions, there is more navel-gazing, and the common space for all is shrinking instead of getting bigger. If this continues, he warned, there will be a high price to pay.

"That is how many countries fail. Across the world, intractable political gridlocks and a deficit of leadership have become the new normal. Countries lurch from crisis to crisis," he said.

To get through the challenges that lie ahead, the Government must prove itself worthy of its citizens by being compassionate, willing to listen and engage, yet also be firm enough to do what is right.

But the next generation of Singaporeans must also pass the "family test".

"They must demand as much of themselves as they do of the Government," he said. "As a family, we must also pull together, accommodate and look out for each other, and trust one another."