Singapore Conversation to hold targeted sessions into specific topics

The Our Singapore Conversation exercise changes next month, moving from open and wide-ranging discussions to targeted sessions on specific hot topics.

From next month to June, there will be a series of citizen dialogues on specific issues to take what the man in charge, Mr Heng Swee Keat, describes as a "deep dive" into topics like housing, education, health care and jobs.

As promised by several ministers in Parliament during the recent Budget debate, fundamental questions like whether public housing should be an appreciating asset or if the Primary School Leaving Examination should be abolished will get a thorough public review.

Last week, the Ministry of Education announced that its sessions will focus on two topics: stress, and an excessive focus on examinations and grades; and ensuring opportunities, social mobility, and inclusion.

Details have yet to be released by other ministries, but The Sunday Times understands that the housing sessions will be structured according to key questions National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan posed in his parliamentary speech.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Heng, who is Education Minister, said he envisions two things after the upcoming sessions: a deeper understanding of the issues at stake on the part of Singaporeans and an "action plan" on each hot topic to set out the way forward.

"Some of it may involve the Government changing policies, some of it may involve the private sector taking on certain responsibilities, some of it will involve individuals rethinking what those priorities might be and how they might approach this," he said.

He emphasised that the value of the exercise should not be measured in government policy change alone.

For example, the health-care conversation is "not just a review of the financial framework". "It's also about how we might help Singaporeans and what actions they might take proactively to keep themselves healthy," he said.

He said that channelling these fundamental policy reviews through the Our Singapore Conversation format should be the norm for all complex government decisions, where speed and confidentiality are less important.

This allows for a deeper understanding of the issues at play, he said, and the opportunity for "ground-up" solutions to emerge.

It would have been useful if the consultation process for the Population White Paper had dovetailed more with national conversation process, he said.

The White Paper sparked a widespread outcry when it was released in January, especially over its projected population of 6.9 million.

Mr Heng felt the discussion might have been more focused on the critical issues at stake rather than being dominated by the headline number of 6.9 million.

rchang@sph.com.sg

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