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Shift more power from the top to citizens

Editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang's assessment that constantly waiting for and acting on commands from the top is increasingly irrelevant for the rapidly changing society we live in today is correct (Don't wait for instructions from the top; March 19).

Currently, the elite and experts are the minds behind many of our big decisions.

It is true that their education credentials are impressive and they are highly experienced in their respective fields, making them highly knowledgeable.

Unfortunately, the fact that many of them come from similar backgrounds, whether it is top universities or prestigious neighbourhoods, means there is a real risk of groupthink.

This is present in many other countries as well, but what is sorely lacking in Singapore is a strong counterbalance of empowered self-organising groups making their voices heard.

Most power in the decision- making process here rests at the top. This was helpful in the past to get unpopular but right decisions for our survival approved quickly, given that we were newly independent and society was less well-educated then. But that is no longer the case today.

Delegating powers to budding citizen initiatives will excite those in these groups to contribute further. This can also encourage new people to start their own groups, because they feel they have greater ability to make a bigger difference.

Self-organising communities may have hiccups and not everything will go as planned.

Well-intentioned policymakers may be tempted to get these problems fixed by directly intervening immediately.

Unfortunately, this may deprive the self-organisers of the process of learning from their problems and mistakes, and make them dependent on experts and the Government, rendering the whole movement unsustainable.

Policymakers should take an approach of minimal intervention, and allow disputes and problems to be resolved fairly and peacefully. These can become good learning points for civil society.

Singapore can be a self-organising society only if people feel their voices count.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas, and we must seek to engage more people to get involved in the decision-making process, regardless of their background.

This is the only way this movement can stay sustainable.

Lionel Loi Zhi Rui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Shift more power from the top to citizens'. Print Edition | Subscribe