The Straits Times says

Dialogues for a post-Covid-19 future

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to prove to be a watershed in contemporary Singapore. The Great Depression and the Japanese invasion and occupation were fundamental markers of national history which determined the experience and memory of life in Singapore for current and future generations. Likewise, Covid-19 is the defining crisis of this generation. It will provide them and successor generations with markers with which to judge their own existence, aspirations and values. It is essential, therefore, that Singaporeans today be engaged, comprehensively and deeply, on what they are living through, and speak of their hopes for the future. That way, this current adversity can be turned to advantage.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat took a step in that direction when announcing on Sunday that the Government will start a series of dialogues to give Singaporeans a platform to reflect on their experiences during the pandemic, and to hear from them on potential action to improve society. The Emerging Stronger Conversations - part of the broader Singapore Together consultation exercise - will also enable participants to explore how Singapore can become a more caring, cohesive and resilient society. New networks will be formed to bring together community partners and the Government to devise solutions to key issues that surface from these dialogues.

The new series, which presumably will continue after the general election is held on July 10 and a new government is in place, will keep up the tradition of consultative leadership that was underlined by Our Singapore Conversation. Initiated in August 2012, it involved more than 47,000 Singaporeans who participated in over 660 sessions throughout the country. That year-long exercise resulted in several policy changes. The SG Future series of engagements in 2015, too, displayed the readiness of Singaporeans to participate and take charge of their future and make their own contribution to society. Those were stable times when citizens could articulate their vision of the future from a high baseline. This time, the Emerging Stronger Conversations will have to grapple with the challenges brought on by the coronavirus whose economic impact has yet to be felt fully here, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned yesterday.

The stakes are high. So must be the need for a new national conversation. Indeed, the dialogues must be both comprehensive and deep in order to reflect the varied experiences of individuals, groups and businesses during the pandemic, and what needs to be done going forward. Everyone here was affected in different ways - and some more intensely than others. All of them now have a chance to make a contribution, large and small, to an agenda and a future that lies beyond the coronavirus.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2020, with the headline 'Dialogues for a post-Covid-19 future'. Print Edition | Subscribe