Govt must always engage Singaporeans: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Mr Bill Chang York Chye (centre), chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic board of governors, greeting a guest at Singapore Polytechnic's 65th anniversary gala dinner yesterday.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Mr Bill Chang York Chye (centre), chairman of the Singapore Polytechnic board of governors, greeting a guest at Singapore Polytechnic's 65th anniversary gala dinner yesterday.ST PHOTO: MARCELLIN LOPEZ

He says consultative process means not all will agree with policy decisions, so Govt must do its best to explain them

For future generations of Singaporeans to remain hopeful about the country, the Government has to always engage the people and understand their concerns, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

This is why the country's leaders have shifted their governing style to go beyond working for Singaporeans to working with them, he said yesterday at a gala dinner at the Singapore Polytechnic Graduates' Guild to mark the 65th anniversary of Singapore Polytechnic (SP).

He noted that many policy proposals would benefit from public participation, citing how many ideas for education reforms have come from parents, academics and MPs.

But he cautioned that the Government always receives varied and even opposing views. Its job is to then decide on the most appropriate course, figure out how to best implement it and also explain the rationale to the public.

"In the nature of a consultative process, the decision will go against the opinions of some, and there will be a perception that the Government did not actually listen to them. But I think this problem is unavoidable," he told the gala attendees, comprising SP alumni and industry partners.

"As Government, we just have to be sincere about it and do our best to explain how we came to the decision, and get better at it over time."

Citizens can play a part by making a conscious effort to interact with people in person to understand their views, Mr Ong said. "I believe only then will society become better at managing and accepting differences in opinion, and a more consultative model will work."

He also said every government has to recognise that each generation grows up with different circumstances, pointing to how young people today are deeply concerned about issues like climate change.

IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE EVERYONE

In the nature of a consultative process, the decision will go against the opinions of some, and there will be a perception that the Government did not actually listen to them. But I think this problem is unavoidable. As Government, we just have to be sincere about it and do our best to explain how we came to the decision, and get better at it over time.

EDUCATION MINISTER ONG YE KUNG, on how the Government deals with receiving varied and opposing views.

 
 

Strengthening institutions will also sustain hope for the future, he added. This includes government organisations, institutes of higher learning and the uniformed services, which will provide the capabilities to chart the future and tackle new issues, Mr Ong said.

In his speech, he shared how a student recently asked him why the Government looked only at gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of success for Singapore. "We don't and we shouldn't," he said in response.

But a major part of people's well-being is economic well-being. That is why countries track GDP, he said, making the point that housing, the economy and education are key contributors to economic well-being.

Home ownership anchors people to their country and allows individuals to unite and collectively build something bigger together, he said.

He added that Singapore's global connections and strong economy give its people, especially the young, diverse opportunities. Meanwhile, education provides means for personal growth and opportunities.

The education system is being reformed because the environment has changed drastically, he noted.

At the heart of these reforms is the need to define a broader meritocracy, he said, highlighting the importance of recent changes that place less emphasis on academic grades, among other things.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2019, with the headline 'Govt must always engage S'poreans: Ong Ye Kung'. Print Edition | Subscribe