By Terry Xu
The SG conversation has been criticized as a sham by many netizens/citizens alike. This is especially so after the telecast of the first SG conversation with PM Lee revealed a significant number of grassroots members and members of PAP affiliated organisations taking part as participants in the TV forum.
I recently attended a SG conversation discussion and write to share my experience. I was pleasantly surprised.
Being the one who compiled the infographic on the much criticized PM Lee forum, I had my reservations on whether this conversation was a real attempt to listen to the general public or simply a desperate PR attempt to show to the voters that the government is interested in hearing the opinions and ideas of the Singapore population.
Signing up as a participant for the forum was a fairly easy process with prompt mails confirming the attendance of the participants even when I specifically identified myself as a representative from The Online Citizen (TOC).
A wide diverse group of individuals turned up in the session which I was in, ranging from fund managers, engineers, home makers to students. A sceptical me still pondered if these people were somewhat affiliated to the government or the ruling party in one way or another. Even the participants themselves were asking the volunteers facilitating the forum if they were part of any government bodies or statutory boards.
At this point, I still had not identified myself as being part of TOC.
For the first time, I met up with Ms Sim Ann, (Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Education). She sat down with our group and introduced herself to every one of us. When it came to my self-introduction on the reason for coming to this forum, I felt it was appropriate to introduce myself as someone from TOC.
Instead of a sudden change in reaction as how our writer Benjamin Cheah experienced from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, a pleasant surprised look came out of her. “This is the first time I am meeting up with someone from TOC”, she said smilingly.
She asked why our site have not asked her for any interviews nor contacted her, which I then explained the standard procedures of communicating with political parties would be via the party’s PR department.
Hopefully someday our journalists from TOC could get the party communication approval to offer her an interview.
The session comprises of two parts where the participants would identify their key areas of concern aided with the 9 commonly identified areas by the facilitating volunteers and further elaborating on the identified areas in how to about improving the areas of concern.
Participants were vocal in their personal opinions and surprisingly quite in tune with one another about their suggestions. It was pretty uplifting to see so many fellow citizens with various constructive opinions and personal life experiences to share with one another.
You do not really hear much praise in how well the government did and on the contrary, more of how the government had lost its direction in the midst of promoting growth and how Singapore has lost its identity. This issue of identity came up quite a bit, and I got the sense that most participants felt Singapore is pretty much a very lost child.
My personal take with the conversation is that it does present a genuine outreach to citizens for their suggestions and input, trying to get a feel of the real ground after many years of losing touch with the actual ground, an attempt awoken by the surge of unhappiness shown during the recent general elections.
But along with many participants, I feel that ultimately with all the valuable inputs from individuals from many walks of life in Singapore, it would be up to the key forces or individuals within the government to take in the suggestions and implement changes that would address the concerns of the normal citizens in the country for all these to make a difference. More importantly, it would be up to us to do the convincing.
So, can the average Singaporean help the country by contributing their suggestion(s) to the government via the SG conversation? What do you think?
For people who are interested in voicing or sharing their personal opinions in the SG Conversation, you can sign up via this weblink.
By Terry Xu