Government-public engagement needs to be two-way to identify issues people care about: Iswaran

Government feedback unit Reach managed to engage 56,000 Singaporeans this year by going digital and conducting its surveys online. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Public engagement cannot be one-sided, and the Government must listen to ground sentiment to identify the issues people care about, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran.

At a ceremony on Friday (Dec 4) to mark the appointment of supervisory panel members to government feedback unit Reach, the minister said this two-way engagement is needed for two reasons.

"On the one hand, the priorities that the Government has identified but, at the same time, also to engage the broad base of citizens to understand what their concerns are, and what are the kinds of issues that they would like to address," he added.

In his speech at the Ministry of Communications and Information, Mr Iswaran highlighted the role Reach played during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The unit tapped technology so citizens' views could still be heard despite social distancing measures, he said.

By going digital and conducting its surveys online, Reach managed to engage 56,000 Singaporeans this year.

They include those in sectors badly hit by the coronavirus, such as the aviation and food and beverage industries.

With large physical dialogues disallowed due to social distancing, Reach has been conducting virtual sessions to ensure that it keeps its ears to the ground, shared Mr Iswaran.

Some of these dialogues were held in hybrid ways that mixed physical and online interactions.

Said Mr Iswaran: "These new conversations on webinars and hybrid approaches that are taking place are very good examples of how we are adapting and we need to continue to adapt.

"And I think this is something that is not just Covid related, but it should survive Covid, because it gives us a completely new and dynamic platform, which we can use."

Youth members included

The Reach supervisory panel, which sees changes to personnel every two years, now has 39 members, including 27 new members.

The new panel, the eighth since it was launched in 2006, was appointed in October.

It is the largest in the unit's history. The previous panel had 29 members.

Reach started out as the Feedback Unit (FBU) in 1985, before being restructured and renamed in 2006.

The unit is chaired by Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of National Development Tan Kiat How.

He is assisted by three vice-chairmen: National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay; Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam, and Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth and Social and Family Development Eric Chua.

In a statement on Friday, Reach said that it will continue to deepen engagements with Singaporeans.

In particular, the unit will focus on three groups: community and interest groups, whose engagements will be led by Ms Rahayu; youths, who will be overseen by Mr Chua; and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET), with Mr Tay in charge.

Among the 39 Reach supervisory panel members are 15 young people representing the six autonomous universities, five polytechnics and three Institute of Technical Education (ITE) colleges, as well as the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Commenting on the new panel composition, Mr Tan said: "Singapore today is more diverse than ever before.

"But we are committed to listening to the views of all Singaporeans because every voice matters."

Reach said the young panel members will have many opportunities to run ground-up engagement initiatives with Reach's support.

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