When perception is not reality

When perception is not reality
On national service (NS), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen clarified that Malays are today deployed in all services within the Singapore Armed Forces.

The words "realities" and "perceptions" were heard frequently in Parliament yesterday as ministers and MPs sought to separate fact from fiction.

On national service (NS), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen clarified that Malays are today deployed in all services within the Singapore Armed Forces, whether as pilots, combat engineers or artillery men.

He was addressing a concern of Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC).

Similarly, PAP MP David Ong (Jurong GRC), refuted Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam's claim that Singapore had "crony capitalism" simply because The Economist magazine index ranked it high in that respect.

"The index is too simplistic," he said, to nods from Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

"It does not examine or identify actual cronyism or rent-seeking behaviour in each country."

Of course, some misperceptions such as these can be corrected with data and explanations.

Other forms of misperception can be quashed simply by people bothering to find out more information first.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), for example, recounted a story of a resident who wanted the Government to buy a motorised wheelchair for an elderly news vendor, as he seemed to be struggling with his manual one.

But when the MP went to visit his resident, he found that the man already had two motorised wheelchairs. He used the manual wheelchair instead to strengthen his arms through exercise.

"Sometimes we jump to conclusions without knowing the full facts and point the finger at the Government. Let us be fair and make the effort to find out more first," Mr Baey said.

One reason for this tendency could be that the trust in the government of the people could be fraying and so more people readily believe untruths or misperceptions to be reality.

Indeed, a recurring topic of the parliamentary debate on the President's Address this week has been the need to strengthen trust between the Government and the people.

Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) pointed to the Public Service Division's recent edition of its in-house publication that had several articles discussing the topic of trust as evidence that it is something the Government is working on improving.

Certainly, trust is important. But at the same time, trust in the Government remains high compared to other countries, as shown in an Edelman Trust Barometer.

More than just a simple issue of trust, why misperceptions may be rising is a result of several factors. One is that the needs of people are becoming increasingly variegated, and policymaking and policies themselves have become more complex.

Mr Baey compared the example of the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system here to London's Congestion Charge. It required 16 spreadsheets to explain all the different ERP charges, he said, waving a few pages of printouts in front of the Cabinet ministers.

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