What about Govt's trust in its people?

What about Govt's trust in its people?

With all the fuss over trust in the Government, what about the Government's trust in its people?

Signs point to the contrary. Censorship is a perpetual bugbear, and the recently proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act have rankled many.

That "Singaporeans are not used to their new-found freedom to express themselves, especially in the online space", as editor at large Han Fook Kwang puts it, is unfortunate too ("When mistrust is the new normal"; last Sunday). Some will inevitably cross the line.

Should the Government always determine what is "good" or "right" for Singaporeans? Can Singaporeans be trusted to make their own decisions - collectively? How can the Government show trust in its people, if it wishes to?

It starts with proper communication, then engagement and consultation. More views from the ground should be sought.

The move from rhetoric to popular action is more challenging.

While the Swiss models of direct or semi-direct democracy - where any citizen can draft petitions, and referendums can be arranged if a set number of signatures is obtained - have been cited as a linchpin of political stability, its implementation here seems improbable. The Government could cite the fragility of racial or religious ties and the need to protect minorities, the influence of specific demagogues, and the disruptive nature of these diverse referendums.

Perhaps the "We the People" platform in the United States is a more realistic inspiration. If an open petition reaches the signature threshold, the petition will be reviewed and responded to by the White House.

If this is implemented in Singapore, focus group discussions could be organised before concerns are published.

Critics might lament such populism. The Government might end up pandering to whims and fancies, they posit.

Yet, trusting the people is just one part of the decision-making process.

Kwan Jin Yao

This article was first published on June 29, 2014.
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