By Jack Sim –
The following is a letter from Jack Sim to our readers at TOC. Jack is the founder of the Restroom Association of Singapore and the World Toilet Organization. He was recently the featured in a TOC report here.
We speak up because we love our country. Our intentions are good. By speaking up, we bring attention to neglected issues, service gaps, and other hot issues close to our hearts. We care enough to take the risk to surface the truth even though we know it might have repercussion on ourselves. But we only live once and it's better to take responsibility as a citizen to make a difference than to be indifferent.
Our voices get louder the longer when we are not heard. And eventually, shouting and tonality become harsh and rude when nobody is listening anymore.
Now let us pause for a moment and look at things from the government’s perspective. The government and the civil service are also interested in improving the country. They also have good intention. Sometimes there are different views in what defines progress and what improvement is but the intentions of both sides are aligned most of the time.
The largest problem is we lack effective communication channels and efficient dialogue. We still do not have good mechanism to handle citizen’s feedback. We also need moderators for a constructive conversation.
I spoke up recently at TOC and also made several comments on DPM Tharman's FaceBook which received enthusiastic responses. I asked to meet the DPM himself for a discussion and very pleasantly, he agreed and we met on 2 Oct evening for a friendly chat.
He advised me that I would be more successful engaging the bureaucrats if I was more polite and stick to the facts. He reminded me that bureaucrats are human too and we should have mutual respect when seeking solutions.
I agreed with him but also told him that I was usually always polite during the first meeting. However, after many failed attempts things can become frustrating and my tone evolved accordingly to reflect the pain of the situation.
What we need is effective dialogue with mutually satisfying conclusions.
To cut a long story short, we agreed to “Reset” the relationship and go forward positively.
I agreed to send over all the proposals I had and DPM would find channels and mechanism to address them. If any of the proposals are not feasible, I'd be informed why and perhaps can adapt new solutions so that it might work better or to accept that the findings with better understanding and appreciation of the constraints.
The conversation with DPM was very satisfying for me and I hope it can serve as a model for other conversations from other citizens. I don't expect a Minister to meet every complainant personally but I think the opening up of dialogue channels and handling mechansim facilitating 2 ways communication is the solution to our current misunderstanding between government and people.
Some rules are needed to make this work:
Identification of Problems should come with some Proposed Solutions to start the process of responsible dialogue.
Both sides should listen to the context and constraints and agree to continue to work together till either a solution is found or an acceptable conclusion is reached.
If readers are happy with this way forward, websites like TOC and others can act as honest brokers to moderate the conversations both ways in a balanced manner.
Both government and people are not monoliths, so it is OK that some will accept this conversation and some will be cautious or skeptical on both sides. But this effort should be a good start to make things better.
I think if we all engage each other this way, the Singapore Conversation can achieve its real meaning and we can all build our country together with conversations that are mutually respectful and constructive. Our people and government will then be able to converge and deliver the through meaning of One People, One Nation, One Singapore.
I hope to hear from TOC’s readers about what they think about the above.