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This article was first posted on Funkygrad Forums
In the beginning in the days when Uncle Lee was still the big boss, we had the Courtesy Campaign. We thought that by making a big hoo-ha out of being courteous, with banners, catchy tunes and a cute-looking lion, we might actually turn out that way eventually. It seems that time has proven us dead wrong, if the stories of people fighting over old school textbooks are anything to go by. However, with the change of command to Mr Goh Chok Tong, we have the S21 Committee. David Lim, if you’re reading this, I’ve got something to ask you: Any luck recently?
Now *drum roll*, we have the Remaking Singapore Committee.
Why can’t they stop forming committees and torturing us with mindless slogans? “Courtesy, it begins with me” makes me puke big-time. Didn’t they realise after countless years of campaign after campaign, Singaporeans’ don’t respond well to social engineering, nor calls to altruism, especially if they come from the government?
So how do you get an entire people to change their mindsets, to make them act in a different way which they are used to? Didn’t they realise that to change a peoples’ mindset, one has to adopt a long term solution, which is not just simply a one month affair? Don’t they know that it has all got to start from bottom up, not top down. The government has this queer way of going about things: If there’s a problem, set up a committee, find a young newbie minister to train him up, get him to head it and he BETTER solve the problem. Bureaucratisation seems to be the panacea of all social evils.
So is there a better way to doing things than to set up committees and wasting valuable public resources doing something which will end up as nothing eventually? In my honest and humble opinion, YES!
Civil Society the key to Singapore’s future?
Civil society has got to be given a chance to grow. The government has simply got to wake up from its 1960s nightmare that if we give power to the people, they’ll run havoc. The world has changed since 1965. We’re now no longer the knife wielding, dialect-speaking men in khaki shorts of the sixties. The typical Singaporean today boasts a healthy income in the region of $3000 (I think), stays in a well-renovated, with a prospect of upgrading at 5-yearly intervals (if the opposition gets too strong in that constituency lar), cosy HDB flat. May I humbly ask: Why do you think he will want to participate in a riot or kill any member of a minority group which he knows that by so doing, he will jeopardise his country’s future, and hence possibly his own.
Alright, enough ranting about excessive governmental regulation, so back to my main point: How does opening up civil society help to foster a kinder and gentler Singapore?
Closer to the ground
Well, firstly, civil society is more responsive to what is happening on the ground than Dr Vivian Balakrishnan could possibly be at the top. Hence, they know what is the best way to connect with people around them.
Furthermore, by being closer to the ground, prominent members of civil society can actually serve as role models to the young since people in the heartlands are able to identify themselves with civil society better than a government bureaucracy far away in the CBD.
Growing a stake in our country
Secondly, by involving Singaporeans in making a difference to the people around them, people will also feel a greater stake in the community in which they live in. Surely there are times in our lives where we feel that we have a greater obligation towards a certain organisation if we have a chance to change the course of how an organisation would behave eg. being in the organising committee, or having your rewards tagged to the performance of the organisation. The same psychological motivations apply in this case. If we feel more inspired as Singaporeans, it may occur to us to treat our fellow coountrymen a bit better than how we’re treating them now.
Away from controversy
Thirdly, the government is too controversial for people to be inspired by what they are saying. To illustrate this, let me ask a simple question: How many of us would still believe in the altruism spirit of the government after the ministerial salary fare increase controversy? No doubt their arguments were sound (which I totally agree with) but how many people would share their point of view. The standard reaction I hear is: They’re so rich already, why do they need to make themselves richer? As public servants, shouldn’t they sacrifice their material well-being for the sake of the country?
So what is the moral of the story: No matter how right you think you are, impressions do count, especially if it’s public opinion you’re talking about.
Therefore, I conclude my case that for the reasons given above, in order to foster a gentler and kinder Singapore, the government should first deregulate control of civil society and give people a greater stake in their welfare. When I say give people a stake in their future, I don’t mean giving out loads of cash in the form of New Singapore Shares and expecting people to be happy with it. Instead, give them concrete means to speak out, organise demonstrations against policies they don’t like. Look at United States. Demonstrations are rife, yet you don’t see the Americans being as materialistic as Singaporeans. No doubt there will be unrest now and then, but all this contributes to the growing of a nation. In order to grow, we must take the risk that unrest may result.
Come on, how long are we going to artificially shelter ourselves in cosy Singapore. Someday, economic forces may cause this bubble of prosperity to crack (which civilisation ever lasted forever). When the time comes, it is the stake which we each have in our country that we emboldens us to struggle to make sure Singapore stays afloat, like our forefathers in the past.