Our Singapore Conversation: What do we want?

SINGAPORE - The end product of a year-long process involving 47,000 people at 660 dialogue sessions chatting for a combined total of 1,645 hours?

For one, a report that crystalises the diverse hopes, aspirations and views of people here.

Called "Reflections of Our Singapore Conversation", it tries to capture what people want and think through five main "aspirations" and it is fairly reflective as a snapshot of people here, said Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat, who steered the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) process.

Plus, a survey they commissioned of 4,000 people threw up the same findings, he said.

People wanted a Singapore that allowed her people to succeed and live fulfilling lives, with safety nets that give peace of mind especially when it comes to health care and housing.

What kept cropping up was also this notion that the kampung spirit, encapsulating the notion of mutual support and help, be kept alive.

This snapshot view of what people want has already been informing policy changes. Specific changes have been instituted, including extending MediShield to neonatal conditions. And there is more to come.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will announce more changes at the upcoming National Day Rally, changes that were influenced by the OSC.

One major change will be to the Primary School Leaving Exam, Mr Heng revealed.

Organisers said the year-long dialogue had been a "learning lesson" and had shown the way for constructive engagement.

People were also more aware that there were very different opinions out there.

Plus, being a participant in the dialogue improved the Government's ability to consult and engage, said Mr Heng.

Visit www.oursgconversation.sg/reflections/

5 Core Aspirations of S'poreans:

OPPORTUNITIES

• Good jobs in a strong resilient economy

• Everyone can pursue their ambitions and excel

• Respect for all, regardless of jobs and qualifications

PURPOSE

• Redefine and broaden what constitutes success

• Strengthen shared national identity by preserving heritage

• Embrace diversity

• Foster a passion to contribute to society

SPIRIT

• Reinforce family and community values

• Take care of the disadvantaged

• Respect for every S'porean's dignity

TRUST

• Constructive and meaningful citizen engagement on policies

• Increase trust and accountability between govt and people

• Promote mutual understanding between S'poreans

ASSURANCE

• Affordable housing, healthcare and public transport

• Enough support for people who meet with unexpected shocks

• More and early investments for life's uncertainties

Sceptical at first

Mr Goh Hong Yi was a self-confessed sceptic about the process.

The 40-year-old occupational psychologist thought it was a waste of time, and says he actually didn't want to attend his session.

But soon, he was won over by the passion of people at the OSC dialogues, whether it was over the topic of raising the pay of preschool teachers to scrapping the Primary School Leaving Examination.

From a participant, he moved on to help as a facilitator. And he says it was a fruitful information-gathering process, even though it was challenging to bring participants to acknowledge there were opinions other than their own.

While he is reserving judgement on how effective the whole OSC will be when translated into a proper action plan, he says it struck him that he had to participate.

The different voice

He may be 72, but Mr Tan Teck Kwong was determined that his views be heard and counted.

So before he attended his first OSC session in late November last year, the retired school teacher did some homework talking to people about their frustrations and suggestions, and came up with his own four-page report.

Among the suggestions he collated were an ethnic ratio for private condominiums and "portable and truly affordable" life-time medical insurance schemes.

He was a little disappointed with his session, he admits, because he did not think that it moved towards constructive suggestions then.

He now hopes that his views are taken into account.

Reformed offender finds it meaningful

As an ex-offender who spent about six years behind bars, Mr Nelson Ong was surprised by the sense of solidarity among the participants and the sense that everyone shared traits and interests.

"It was quite heartwarming," he remarks.

"I wasn't seen differently just because I had been to jail. In fact, I discovered that many of us had common concerns as Singaporeans, whether or not we had a coloured past. All of us are worried about the rising cost of living and our salaries not rising at the same rate. Medical costs were also high up on the list of concerns," he says.

Mr Ong was imprisoned in 2001 at the age of 27 for drug-related offences. Turning over a new leaf, he took his O-level examinations while incarcerated and scored seven straight As. He had set out to turn his life around upon his release in 2007.

But getting a job was a discouraging process initially. "When I went for interviews, they would only focus on the offence, instead of trying to find out about how I could add value to the company."

Eventually, he found a job at a finance company and impressed his bosses so much that they encouraged him to pursue a diploma in business administration, which he completed in 2009. He also met his wife during his studies.

The father of a two-year-old son wanted to be at a voice for ex-offenders in Singapore. He found himself talking with people from all walks of life, staff from government bodies and community agencies.

"I shared about the kind of challenges ex-offenders face. If the cost of living is a concern for a regular Singaporean, imagine how much tougher it would be for someone who struggles to get a job after release," he says.

Asked if the session was beneficial, he said yes.


Get The New Paper for more stories.