Public service must engage the people on all fronts

I am heartened that public officers are reinventing themselves to engage the people they serve in a changed world ("Public service wants to crowdsource, consult and co-create"; last Thursday).

Active citizenry begins with the people and many are not hesitant about sharing their views with government agencies to help make Singapore a better place.

But it is difficult to serve without knowing what the people want. Public service is about managing the expectations of the people. Therefore, continual engagement of the people by the authorities would serve the public well.

Enabling citizens to share their views would cultivate a greater sense of belonging to the country.

It gives them a sense of rootedness as they believe that their voices do make a difference in policy formulation. Public consultation facilitates this.

However, we must guard against allowing groups that are more vocal or have a vested interest to dominate public discourse. This could result in the formulation of policies that serve only a narrow band of the populace.

Neither should there be a prolonging of the consultation process unnecessarily, out of fear in taking a stance. We should not let the process bog us down, just so that we look like a consultative or democratic society.

As the ranks of digital natives swell by the day, we should not forget that the public service is a people-centric business.

Technology supplements governance, but cannot supplant it, and we should still humanise the process of engagement. There should also be timely responses to queries or suggestions to relay sincerity.

More people are turning to the Internet and social media to make their views known but they should also be engaged in traditional ways so that pluralistic views are included in formulating policies.

This is how the public service must evolve with time, and keep pace with the changing needs and aspirations of the people.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2015, with the headline 'Public service must engage the people on all fronts'. Print Edition | Subscribe