By Jamal Ismail
The first step to solve any issue is by acknowledging that there is an issue. Belittling it, or denying it exists, is just frustrating for people facing those issues.
There will always be national issues, but these are opportunities for us to improve the system, to make things better.
However, most people tend to behave like these when faced with a problem:
- They get uncomfortable and ignore it,
- They feel pressured to come up with the right solution, or
- They look for someone to blame.
The first is typical of a voter for the incumbent party, the People’s Action Party, while the second and third are typical characteristics of an Opposition supporter.
The recent National Day Rally showed in detail how a person earning less than $1,000 a month could afford a 2-room HDB flat; the numbers are clear on the ‘affordability’ of such housing, with several pre-conditions.
The PAP voter uses this example to justify that its policies are right.
However, the Opposition supporter would argue that housing affordability is one part of a greater issue; that of low wages versus increasingly higher cost of living, which includes housing, utilities, transport and daily necessities. That old people do not collect scrap cardboard to sell for exercise, they do it because they are poor! There are many good articles arguing this position online, so I will not belabor the point here.
But here lies the rub; the PAP voters claim that the issue of housing affordability does not exist because of the example cited on the National Day Rally; delivered by the Prime Minister, no less.
On the other hand, the Opposition supporters are angry that serious issues on affordability are being dismissed so casually using a ‘perfect scenario’ model. Some would argue that there will be people who may not fit into the assumptions made in the speech, what about them?
Others would insist that a person who earns less than $1,000 may theoretically afford a HDB flat provided they have a stable job, regular CPF contributions, but would struggle very hard to afford anything else.
The PAP voter would then counter-argue the issue with another typical dismissal: that no one owes them a living. They would sniff proudly, that the low wage worker should have studied harder so as not to end up as a roadside cleaner.
Which of course would enrage the Opposition supporters even more, who would jump to offer solutions such as setting minimum wage levels, and then blame the PAP for causing the issue in the first place, the high cost of living.
So here we are again right at the beginning. But how do we begin to approach something so complex? In most problem solving approaches, there are basically four steps.
1. Acknowledge the issue.
Not just the symptoms, but an honest and possibly painful dig into the roots to analyze the cause and effect. Start by accepting that belittling or ignoring the issue does not make it go away.
Secondly, pride and ego needs to be set aside to accept that a policy may have failed and there is a need to return to the drawing board.
Everyone I know agrees that the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system has failed to curb traffic congestions. But why isn’t there an open and honest review of the policy?
2. Generate possible solutions.
Involving real stakeholders in generating possible solutions are key for a sense of ownership. It is important to gather and listen to alternative voices, even if you don’t agree with them at first.
This is where the current Parliament failed spectacularly. Alternative voices are drastically outnumbered and drowned out. The majority of the Members of Parliament belong to only one party, well known for its uncompromising adherence to its top leadership.
Wide ranging solutions can only come from diverse sources, not from yes-men.
3. Evaluate and select.
In evaluating possible solutions, we would have to think through the various consequences each different alternatives might bring. Each course of action may bring unintended results, so again, a diverse set of views are needed to weigh the pros and cons of every policy.
New laws are raised and read in Parliament sittings, and if needed, debated extensively. It is actually in Singapore’s best interests to have a multi-coloured parliament to look at each issue not just from the white-washed establishment, but from many different angles.
Diversity is Singapore’s strength, it’s time we embrace it.
4. Plan, Implement and follow-up.
Once a possible solution is found, the plan and it’s implementation should be communicated transparently, while acknowledging the potential effects that new laws may create.
The follow up is equally important, for it allows an open and honest review of what worked, what didn’t and why. And how we can learn from its lessons and make it better.
The failure of the ERP system to alleviate traffic congestion is just one example of how an honest review of a policy failed under a one-party dominated Parliament.
There are many more issues to raise. Healthcare, housing, Central Provident Fund (CPF), National Service and transport issues to name a few.
In conclusion the power is in your hands,
A very important role of a Member of Parliament is to make laws and review them. So far, under the PAP-dominated Parliament, policy failures like the ERP and the Singapore population white paper are being protected instead of debated.
This GE 2015, do not allow that to happen again. Because without a sizeable Opposition presence in Parliament, the PAP can continue to make ineffective and expensive failures like the ERP, and continue them.
An Opposition MP can debate these issues provided you, your friends and family vote them into Parliament.
As a citizen, you can help them to help ourselves. Speak to your friends and family, volunteer in their rallies and walkabouts and spread the word out.
If not now, then when?
If not I, then whom?