Reaching out to citizens an ongoing challenge

ESM Goh notes growing individualism can make it hard to reach common ground

Growing individualism and a more educated citizenry can make it hard to reach common ground at times - that is the challenge faced by the Government, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

While it is good that Singaporeans are able to pursue their own interests, he said, one negative outcome is that it is difficult to get them to move as one people - and not just as a collection of people.

"The task of creating a national identity, creating a national conversation is much more difficult because each one of us has our own interests," he said at the annual Reach Contributors' Forum at Holiday Inn Singapore yesterday.

"We have to now evaluate how we can then get people to listen to the same channel. Not all the time but from time to time," he said.

He noted that Reach has come a long way since the days of its predecessor, the Feedback Unit, which was set up by Mr Goh in 1985.

SAME FREQUENCY

"The task of creating a national identity, creating a national conversation is much more difficult because each one of us has our own interests. We have to now evaluate how we can then get people to listen to the same channel. Not all the time but from time to time."

EMERITUS SENIOR MINISTER GOH CHOK TONG, at the annual Reach Contributors' Forum

The Feedback Unit was restructured and renamed Reach in 2006.

Over the years, Reach has gone from just having face-to-face engagement sessions to the creation of Listening Points, which are booths in public areas such as shopping malls and transport nodes.

It has also created "digital engagement platforms" on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Yesterday, Reach launched its revamped website, which is compatible for use on mobile devices as well as allows contributors to upload photos, videos and website links in discussion threads.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor, who is also chairman of Reach, said that more Singaporeans are turning to online platforms to stay informed and comment on government policies.

Reach received 27,140 items of online feedback in 2014, more than twice the 11,797 received in 2009.

The revamped website has ensured its relevance to citizens, said Dr Khor.

Mr Goh said that the next stage for Reach is to look at how the platform can be further improved to facilitate more active participation in policy decisions.

"The more informed we are as citizens, the more we want to participate in government," he said.

He noted that politics in Singapore is getting more diverse, with most people wanting to express their views constructively, though a minority does so negatively.

"The country is moving in the direction of many other Western countries where the population is divided," he said. "So Reach therefore has to look at how you can bring everybody in."

He stressed that it does not mean people who do not vote for the Government are wrong. He said in his speech: "No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying you have to take into account their views...

"How do we then bring them in, and have a discussion, and then forge consensus to move forward."

Dr Khor agreed.

"Truly and sincerely, we welcome naysayers who make reasoned comments on any policy, and are unafraid to speak their mind on issues that they are fired up about," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2015, with the headline 'Reaching out to citizens an ongoing challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe