Policy changes coming up: Heng

Key concerns raised by 47,000 people who took part in the Our Singapore Conversation exercise will see a substantive government response, says the man who drove the year-long series of citizen dialogues, Mr Heng Swee Keat.

Expect policy changes centring on housing, health care and education - issues that cropped up time and again at more than 660 sessions where citizens discussed the future Singapore they wanted to see.

Mr Heng did not give away the details, saying these will come in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech next Sunday.

Pressed by reporters he met last Tuesday, Mr Heng, the Education Minister, only gave away that one announcement would concern a change to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Many parents criticised the high-stakes examination for placing unnecessary stress on children because it decides which secondary school they will attend. But others felt the PSLE played a role in encouraging excellence and building fortitude in children.

A PSLE review, as part of an overall relook into the education system, started last year.

In housing, a common theme throughout the exercise was whether the Housing Board flat is a home or an asset. A survey showed six in 10 wanted their flats to be homes first, then assets.

In health care, they looked for assurance that there would be access to quality health care, particularly for vulnerable groups.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the suggestions are being sieved through. He told The Sunday Times: "We hope to share with Singaporeans soon how we can make our health-care system a better one for all."

Mr Heng, who was tasked by PM Lee to steer the Our Singapore Conversation exercise at last year's National Day Rally, said: "Tune in to NDR and maybe you will feel that (the exercise) has been quite impactful."

Already, there have been some tangibles, such as free museum entry for Singaporeans, an idea that came up from dialogue participants' desire to strengthen national identity.

Mr Heng said the conversations have also thrown up five core aspirations which will serve as a guide for government policy from now on. They are:

"Opportunities" in a competitive economy;

"Assurance" that housing and affordable health care will always be within reach;

"Purpose" in lives that celebrate achievements beyond the economic, and that value shared memories and heritage spaces;

"Spirit" in communities that organise ground-up initiatives and take care of their most disadvantaged; and "Trust" between the Government and the people, as well as among Singaporeans.

Beyond policy outcomes, Mr Heng felt the exercise succeeded in bringing together diverse groups of Singaporeans with competing desires.

Committee member and theatre practitioner Kuo Jian Hong, 46, noted that learning to accept the "messiness and chaos" of disagreement between different groups in a mature society was a necessary skill that the exercise has helped grow.

The Our Singapore Conversation conclusions were also informed by a survey of 4,000 people, conducted to reach the "quiet majority" who may not have shown up for the citizen dialogues.

The full results will only be released next month, but overall, the top three concerns across income levels were public health care, public housing and job security.

Asked if they preferred infrastructural development or the preservation of green and heritage spaces, more respondents plumped for the latter.


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