Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Public consultation not a populist measure

Jun 29, 2011

I REFER to last Saturday's report ('Getting all on board in steering S'pore'). The debate on how to resolve policy dilemmas is a tremendously challenging one, primarily because no single decision can please everyone.

[Right. Taxing cigarettes is neutral to most people but makes smokers unhappy. Taxing rich people more makes most people ambivalent or even slightly happy, but unlikely to make rich people happy.]

Socio-economic policy direction and discussion should not be perceived as being mutually exclusive.

[And here you miss the point totally. It's not about direction and discussion. It is about decisions, and the rationale for the decision.]

Policymakers must customise their methodologies based on the characteristics of the concerns, their level of urgency and the groups of Singaporeans involved.

[When the objective criteria should be the nature of the problem, the reasonable options and feasible solutions.]

Clearly, the actual decision-making process should continue to be managed by parliamentarians, who have been given the mandate to do so, and who will ensure that efficiency is not compromised. However, prior to that, they have to proactively solicit feedback from their constituents, so that different perspectives can be taken into consideration.

This particular role of the politician has remained largely unchanged throughout the years, but varying local circumstances - especially after the recent general election - have presented a significantly new landscape for our ministers and MPs.

First, there has been greater diversity in the stakeholders involved. Traditionally, feedback and opinions have been gathered from a select group of professionals - from academics to private-sector experts - through policy study workgroups and various feedback sessions. Now, given the rapid dissemination of information and the better-educated population, more individuals are desirous of having a say through engagement platforms.

[Just because they want to have a say, doesn't mean they have anything meaningful, intelligent, objective, informed or salient to say or add to the discussion. Just read any damn online comments on any news story.]

Second, there has been a rise in the number of platforms and corresponding responses offered by their users. Most notably, communication through the Internet has evolved to become more of a necessity than an option. Even though new media channels per se are not the most productive avenues to articulate public policies, their administrators should have the ability to sieve out constructive criticisms and raise consultation rates.

The trick is to develop a diverse range of feedback forums to cater to different groups of Singaporeans: Facebook pages, spontaneous e-mail messages and blogs would appeal to on-the-go professionals who simply want to give their two cents' worth, while carefully crafted online policy workgroups would attract serious-minded Singaporeans who wish to engage in sustainable conversations, and simultaneously develop recommendations or resolutions to the host of observations.

Public consultation cannot be casually dismissed as being populist appeasement.

[But it is. Two cents worth? Not even that at most time. Most feedback are self-serving at best.]

The proliferation of personal views has gathered pace even in the previous absence of government involvement; it would be a pity if the authorities refuse to acknowledge their value.

Kwan Jin Yao

[Opinions are a dime a dozen and during the GSS, buy 12 get 1200 free.  Most people are uninformed and are unmotivated to be informed beyond where they want to go for lunch and where's the best place to get a good deal on an iphone.  Ask anyone about nuclear power in Singapore and most will say NIMBY.  Politicians need to sell their idea, and more importantly, they need to get the people to buy into their idea. Consultation is one way to get buy-in.  If consultation is to get ideas, we obviously need to get better experts if the hoi polloi can come up with better ideas.]

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