The Online Citizen

Of politics and policy, canvassing and engagement

October 10
12:24 2011

~by: Howard Lee~

By the time you read this, Parliament would probably be in session, or maybe over. Following a startling year of general and Presidential elections, we now have a President that has a questionable mandate, a record number of elected opposition candidates, and a ruling party that has barely two third of the nation’s vote. All makes for interesting politics.

As such, many are expecting that Parliament would never be the same, not to mention the fringe excitement of the fireworks expected of an emboldened opposition sparing with many a newbie from the ruling People’s Action Party thrust into key political appointments.

But to think so would really be to extend the hype and excitement of the elections. It is interesting to note that even the Workers’ Party has categorically declared that it would not oppose for the sake of opposing. It would appear that the impending fireworks will be rather civil, and by all counts it should be that way.

It should now be a time for our elected representatives to roll up their sleeves and get down to doing what they have been elected to do. In other words, it is time to get out of politics and into policy. This should be realised in changes and updates to existing policies that Singaporeans so wanted to see, which I believe drove the decisions that many voters made in this election year.

To their credit, some Ministries have been ahead of others. The Ministry of National Development, for instance, has been quick to tweak policies that made it easier for aspiring flat owners. It does not solve the fundamental issue of what many believe to be the root causes of housing costs, but killing some cow is better than killing none.

The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources have convened an international panel to study urban flood mitigation.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports has initiated at least two public consultation exercises, the Enabling Masterplan and Vision 2030.

But these efforts, while progressive to varying degrees, lack learning from two key lessons of the 2011 elections: Transparency, and perceived responsiveness.

For too long, the ruling party has been wont to push out policies with little or token consultation, and those that did reside in controlled environments, such as REACH and face-to-face channels. Actions have been public suspect because there was no clear documented proof that they were the wishes of the people. The “we do things this way because, while we have heard you to the contrary, we ultimately know better than you” has been used once too often. So we can’t really blame Singaporeans for being critical of their intent, no matter how consultative they have been.

If anything, the 2011 elections have also proved that online conversations have the effect of enhancing transparency. When Channel NewsAsia interviewed a number of our Ministers about their online engagement efforts, they might really be on to something. Because the proof for policy decisions can no longer be “Minister knows best”. Increasingly, our elected representatives must demonstrate that what we bother to voice out to them in the public domain needs to be accounted for in their policy decisions, or risk ridicule for being arrogant, self-serving, or any combination of bad vibes.

And it is clear that cyberspace has an ever increasing influence on Singaporean lifestyle and how we negotiate and navigate our public space. Believe what you like about the latest survey by the Institute of Policy Studies, 2010 statistics from the Infocomm Development Authority indicated that more than 80 per cent of the populations is connected to the Internet. Separately, more than half of our population is on Facebook.

So as we roll into a new political landscape – or to be exact, roll out of the political landscape into a working policy one – our elected representatives need to realise the mandatory transition into an open and honest engagement with their constituents. In this new environment, function matters more than form. It is not just sufficient to be seen online. It is more critical to demonstrate that what goes online is taken as valid feedback and in turn informs policy decision.

And in this new environment, we find the same efforts by those interviewed by CNA lacking.

Khaw Boon Wan’s blog technically did not feel very different from his predecessor’s – a mono-directional rambling with comments disabled.

Lui Tuck Yew’s Facebook page held many discussion threads, but he demonstrated little participation, much less an indication of how he plans to incorporate feedback into his policy decisions.

Tan Chuan-Jin’s Facebook page, while a great representation of his grassroots work, does little to expand on his take on policy issues, and his interview with the Straits Times describes this reluctance as much.

Chan Chun Sing’s Facebook page documented a number of discussion topics, until you realise that they are event postings for face-to-face forums, without any discussion records.

And if you take a closer look at the Facebook activity of many Members of Parliament, it is clear that they continue to be elections-driven, playing up grassroots activities and interactions with residents through meet-the-people sessions. If our elected representatives are permitted to do some naval-gazing online, these pages best describe it. The problem is, these ramblings are too painfully obtuse to even be amusing.

Least you think I’m taking on just the juggernaut, a quick browse of WP’s website and Facebook page (as well as the pages of its elected representatives) and the Singapore People’s Party’s website and Facebook page yielded similar results.

These online engagement efforts begs a few questions: How does the discussion here advise how you formulate your Ministry’s policy? How does your online activity guide your decisions in Parliament sittings? If I was unable to attend all your face-to-face dialogues, how would I judge your effectiveness as a policy maker to give you that vote of confidence again? Most importantly, as a netizen, how do I participate in what you have planned for our country?

Perhaps I am being too demanding, and these will in no way reflect what we will see on 10 October. Perhaps even public figures deserve their private time online. Perhaps it would be too difficult for our elected representatives to respond directly to each and every suggestion. And in truth, having a totally open discussion on everything might not always lead to the most constructive policy outcome. But if so, why open the channel to begin with, when your policy formulation clearly remains anything but transparent, multi-directional and citizen-driven?

If our political leadership wishes to engage Singaporeans online, let’s do it with efficiency and not let it unravel into idle chatter, and still claim it to be “engagement”. Otherwise, nothing has really changed, and we cannot be blamed for seeing these efforts cynically as advance canvassing for the next elections.


The writer apologies that he is unable to trawl all sites to fully evaluate examples of transparent policy engagement online. But if you come across any, please post them here.

 
  • facebook says

    I do not want Tin Pei Ling in Parliament on facebook says:

    Tin Pei Ling will be sworn into Parliament as an elected MP today. I wonder what she will say?

    Don’t wonder. We know you do not want her in parliament. This is showing that your opinion does NOT matter. She will be put in parliament, and we will promote her husband, and there is nothing you can do about it.

  • Titiana Ann Xavier

    Transparency is a double-edged sword. Used appropriately it builds public confidence. When used improperly, it is nothing but empty words resulting in loss of credibility.

    Deceptive transparency is mere emphasis of form but ignoring content. The flip-side of transparency is not making what is strongly demanded by the public but making the inconsequential public.

  • lim

    The President’s mandate is not in question. It was organised in a constitutional manner and in accordance with election laws, Dr Tony Tan won. Under the current constitution, if a winner wins by just 1 vote, that person still has the legal mandate to be president. This applied to Geroge Bush Jnr who won the electoral vote but had a lower actual number of votes to Al Gore. Bush Jnr’s mandate as President was unquestioned as well.

    I fail to see why does the ToC need to twist facts to create sensationalise news? It creates questions on its credibility.

  • iVOTEahMENG

    lim
    I fail to see why does the ToC need to twist facts to create sensationalise news? It creates questions on its credibility.
    …………………
    and you would pay that bloomin idiot presidente over $100,000/month
    doin NOTHIN?
    credibility? are you really frickin blind or too damn STUPID?

  • tom lim

    We have problems when Policies are interpreted and implemented without proper consultations with the electorate.

  • popcorn

    Doubts are swirling on the 0.4% win for Tony, it’s too close for comfort.
    When you draw a man on paper, you dun have to draw the man’s innards to make a guess.

  • HL

    lim – Tks for your comments, and I admit I was not clear with my definition of what I meant by a “questionable mandate”. By this, I was referring to the close margin with the next candidate, as much as the PAP’s usual assertion of their right to govern through their high percentages. These views are not TOC’s but those of people that I, as much as I believe you, have spoken to. There is no need to sensationalise coffeeshop talk.

    Titiana – A very good point. But at this stage of our political maturity, I would rather we have greater transparency and for the people to be the judge of the worth of such information (or the worth of the opposition politicians that choose to use them as they see fit). :) I’m not advocating a Wikileaks, but transparency measured by accountability. The ISA detention of the “Marxist conspirators” is one example where I believe transparency would do us more good than harm, if only to further national awareness of the issue. It is also one possible example where a lack of transparency can actually undermine public confidence in the credibility of our public institutions.

  • Engric

    Dear Titiana

    I cannot agree with you more. With the MSM under tight state-control, deceptive transparency will continue to flourish. The public will only get to read half-truths and government spins.

  • Maria Elena

    This unscrupulous man has the audicity
    to want to be The President of Singapore!
    A man with no integrity and conscious.

    He caused so much miseries to the locals
    by;

    Using taxpayers money to:
    1. educate and allow foreigners to
    replace locals their rightful
    places in the Universities;

    2. lost $60/-billions in investments;
    And the list goes on.

    Such a crying shame!!

  • tan

    /lim 10 October 2011 The President’s mandate is not in question. It was organised in a constitutional manner and in accordance with election laws, Dr Tony Tan won. Under the current constitution, if a winner wins by just 1 vote, that person still has the legal mandate to be president./

    of course you are right. that’s the rule. however the moral authority may not be as strong than if it were 50% or 60%.

    likewise, someone who topped the school or cohort each & every year may be offered scholarship while someone who passed with 50 marks or 30 marks may be just so so.

    & it also depends on the level playing field because deep inside everyone’s heart, people will have their own personal algorithm to give ‘handicap’ points to those deserving underdogs.

  • rockabyebaby

    Dear Maria Elena,
    And he TT has been a Christian too for many decades too. Holding a bible in one hand and at the same times the devil’s advocate too? Let Almighty God through His son Jesus Christ be TT’s judge on Judgement Day.

    Why do I say this? The tingy part is he worships his cousin-in-law we know who. The one who misused the ISA via an ISD for political mileage. A Taiwanese student here I asked what would he called someone who simply call a political opponent or even just a policy differing person a Marxist-Communist aand lock them up for years without a shred of proof of hearing, he replied “marxist-Communist”! Lor I added! He broke into laughter. So, here is an example of foreigners who are here for a free expenses ride with our money at our expense by the ‘grace’ and ‘expretise’ of one call TT now become ‘our’ for only 35%. And shouldn’t we not call him a “35 sen President”. And this is because according to his counsin-in-law we all know who, such things ‘deosn’t’ happened in Singapore! But has now!

    And so Dear @lim,
    While TT win ar just 0.4% with a total vote of also just some 35% may be legal by default, is the law funny, laughable, partisan for politcal mileage and cowardly or not? If not, please tell us what is the spirit of that law for EP win? And if it’s moral and ethical valuyes are not or are in question!

  • Get Rid Of This “Intimidate Singaporeans Act”

    PAP can do whatever they want to please Singaporeans, but they will score zero point unless they get rid of the ISA aka Intimidate Singaporeans Act.

  • notanotherspinstory

    I wouldn’t fault the ministers for disabling comments. Most comments are negative anyway.

    I’m eager to hear WP proposing alternative policies and serious debate. No more yes-men in parliament!

  • Ex Singaporean

    @lim

    Yes,George W. Bush won the electoral but not the popular vote. The process was done fairly. The problem with the election in Singapore is so lobsided that the final result would be the PAP’s election and triummph even though a single ward and a GRC were taken by the opposition. Imagine if the process is fair, the PAP, if not voted out, would lose more seats than now. So, think carefully before you compare apples and oranges. It amazes me even now the PAP continues to ignore the aspirations of the citizens to have a creditble voice and to be listened. The oppsotion MPs were elected with greatest odds and please give respect and dont ridicule them when they speak in Parliament. Just like what they did to the late JBJ and Mr. Chiam.

  • Alienated

    With a mainstream media (actually lame is more like it) that is muzzled, circumscribed and controlled – one is never going to get fair reporting or analysis.
    To assume that otherwise is deluding onself.

  • since u like ahmeng, then follow him

    iVOTEahMENG 10 October 2011
    …..and you would pay that bloomin idiot presidente over $100,000/month
    doin NOTHIN?
    credibility? are you really frickin blind or too damn STUPID?
    —————-
    seems to us that ah meng’s follower just like to bash others who are for reasonable argument/s. No one seems to care to comment on his’, and I wont bother to see his supposedly ‘stupid’ reply ie bashing others.

  • http://= samaorangkita

    you say..”If our political leadership wishes to engage Singaporeans online, let’s do it with efficiency and not let it unravel into idle chatter, and still claim it to be “engagement”. Otherwise, nothing has really changed, and we cannot be blamed for seeing these efforts cynically as advance canvassing for the next elections.”

    NOTHING WILL CHANGE. LETS NOT KID OURSELVES.

    THIS IS PAPPIES COUNTRY. IT BELONGS TO THEM. WE ONLY LIVE HERE. TOGETHER THE PAPPIES and THE LAP DOG ST WILL CONTINUE TO RAM DOWN OUR THROATS WHATEVER THEY WANT..WHENEVER THEY WANT.

    NOTHING WILL CHANGE UNTIL THE MAN GOES TO THE HAPPY HUNTING FROUND AND LHL STEPS DOWN.
    THEN ALL CHANGE. THEN ALL THE OLD FOGEYS AT THE LAP DOG ST WILL BE NO MORE TOO.

  • turtle speed

    The Worker’s Party has the stamp of approval from the PAP. It received the most among the opposition, of media exposure. This was effective and it resulted in their winning their consituency. The SDP/Reform party received the hatred of LKY and the resultant lack of media exposure resulted in their losing their constituency. The monopoly of the mass media must be eliminated.

  • Lets do our part..

    Lets do our part by telling our kids why we need an Opposing voice in the parliament,why WP’s presence in so very important, and tell our kids why WP deserves our support.
    Oh, and also tell your kids that nut TPL and that what Put indian man who did not do NS cannot command our respect.

  • yeoman

    trnasparency is ,for instance,not telling worreid citizens thta we are ‘slowing the intake of FTs’ but tell them HOW MANY MORE FTs we are going to import still?

  • rockabyebaby

    Let’s get it straight that CSJ is no bimbo or bump as many seem to think of him. And all because they think he is uselss because he can’t even win a seat in parliament.

    In fact, let me tell you that you who think of him are the real bimbos and bumps! BECAUSE, CSJ has tried so very very hard to wake you sleepy and LKY’s daft buggers up BY inciting LKY to bash him again to expose the LKY brand of unjust, unqualified, cowardly, immoral and unethical self-serving politics in treatment of anyone who DARES TO differ from him!

    Get this straight and into your heads for yours and Singaporeans good!

    As like @since u like ahmeng, then follow him 10 October 2011;

    Who said the following I quote. To you I say why, if slighting is bashing as you said, then the late Ah Meng is definitely adorable nut not you with LKY’s daft mind!

    QUOTE
    iVOTEahMENG 10 October 2011
    …..and you would pay that bloomin idiot presidente over $100,000/month
    doin NOTHIN?
    credibility? are you really frickin blind or too damn STUPID?
    —————-
    seems to us that ah meng’s follower just like to bash others who are for reasonable argument/s. No one seems to care to comment on his’, and I wont bother to see his supposedly ‘stupid’ reply ie bashing others.
    UNQUOTE

  • blacktryst

    I like all members of parliament to do their job and ignore partisan politics. If we feel that the government has been doing their job well we will reward whichever party that did the proper job. As for MPs responding to Facebook or Twitter interactions, well, honestly not many MPs who are middle aged will be tech savvy to be on the ball responding all the time. Furthermore, I do not think most of them have iPhones, Blackberries or Android phones as their primary phones. However, I do like the government to be as transparent as possible. Allow parliament session to be broadcasted for free for all SIngaporeans. Why not do that? If the MPs and PM have nothing to hide from the citizens, let us see what happens during parliament sessions rather than just the sound bites that Mediacorp choose to show us.

  • aziz kassim

    No comment on lky, peasent chinese uniform? as they say the older u r the more childish u became. showing his chauvinistic sides.Heh! u r not clever, Ho jinx lost our monies with the white guy, smooth talkers and indian snake charmers. Malaysia displays their traditional malays costumes. Even communist china wears weatern clothing. From here we can see his darksides. Trying to competes the neighbours? I wonder how the botak tharman looked with white Indian sarong, more like cheti? hehe. What I c, lky clowns antics, steve jobs looks cools in jeans and turtle neck, trying to get a turtle neck t-shirt, would not suit me, I am chubby.

  • Tan Tai Wei

    Mustn’t play into the PAP’s hand by agreeing so readily that there had been “criticism for criticism’s sake”.

    This is yet another example of a fallacy our school going pupils doing elementary “thinking courses” are first taught. If they use a pompous term to describe it, it is “the ad hominem fallacy”. Simply put, it is, when instead of replying to a criticism, one attacks the person.

    And so, when faced with an objection, you attack the objector’s motive, charging that he isn’t sincere, but only criticising for the sake of criticising.

  • Lianaz

    Is lky still mp of tjpg?
    If so wp mp questions should be addressed to him more if not all so that before he …. I mean …. before erm… he …., i mean before he …. Erm…. I mean before he calls it a day.

  • iVOTEahMENG

    since u like ahmeng, then follow him10 October 2011

    seems to us that ah meng’s follower just like to bash others who are for reasonable argument/s. No one seems to care to comment on his’, and I wont bother to see his supposedly ‘stupid’ reply ie bashing others.
    ………………
    lets see..i don’t remembered bashin you on this nick.. i bashed ahlim which if i am correct..you are ahlim’s shadow…
    and last butt not least..you said you don’t bother yet you still 1st to counterbash moi?

    you know what you are?
    you are liked a neglected splinter whom no ONEs 1st..even with FREE coe issued..
    yet you still tried to entice me to give you a virtual sex orgasm drive…

    do you know i am the most tukoed humsiap bloke in singapoor..today for no apparent reasons 1 of the cina higher end chiobus smiled @ me givin me the LOOT of love/lust…my eyes contract is more xpensives than a mastercard…

    whatever you do..please don’t blamed the other forummers ere..they too feel the burdens of bein poor and seen the facts of lives…

  • Kumar

    lim 10 October 2011
    The President’s mandate is not in question. It was organised in a constitutional manner and in accordance with election laws, Dr Tony Tan won.

    ………………………………………….

    Yeah, and without a doubt, he has the mandate to confiscate your CPF and sleep with your wife. Or does CPF not matter since u work in some big shot position in big 4 earning big bucks, or perhaps your wife would voluntarily whore herself anyway?

  • js

    I don’t see why internet is the only avenue to showcase engagement. There’s also a sizable population that doesn’t use the internet but needs help from the government. I would rather MPs spend more time engaging them than posts ramblings on FB.

    Case in point: I’m really not interested in how long a MP waited for a bus on a particular weekday morning with the accompaniment of a senior public servant, who both weren’t rushing to work, unlike 99.99% of the other riders.

  • calibri

    You are taking on a juggernaut. Many are stuck in an age where ‘engagement’ is a codeword for ‘sales’.
    ————————————–
    ….function matters more than form. It is not just sufficient to be seen online. It is more critical to demonstrate that what goes online is taken as valid feedback and in turn informs policy decision.
    ————————————–
    This.

    It would be really useful to explore online engagement as a channel for direct participation.

    Yet truthfully, channels for feedback exist. It is primarily an issue of acceptance or not.

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