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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Strong society

There have been a few articles in the press over the past few days which made me think about the Singapore I would like to live in. The first had to do with the cyclists who’ve come up with a map on safe cycling routes. The second is about a pre-school teacher who has set up a network of some 2,000 colleagues to talk about their work.

This is Singapore at work – where people do not wait for the G to take the initiative or ask the G for something for themselves. They see a need (sure, it might be self-interest) but they take it upon themselves to do it and inform others. Good on them! There is a third article on social enterprises which seem to be shying away from nominating themselves for an award. They are too busy, they say, to go chasing after an award. Good on them too!

But I also read about one woman complaining about her neighbours in Opera Estate blocking pavements etc. Hmm…do we really want the G to step in on something like this? Must her complaint go to the press which then goes about finding out about the law and the fines etc? Looks like something for the neighbourhood to settle. And you needn’t even involve the MP!

A couple of posts back, I wrote about how I thought the G should get out of our lives a little more. And how we should not always be looking to the G to solve everything. Perhaps, I should have framed it this way: We have a strong Government, but not a strong Society. In fact, some people, including me, would say that the G was too strong – too much executive fiat, fingers in so many pies, hands on so many levers of control. With politicians dominating so many aspects, from the unions to GLCs, from sports associations to grassroot groups, it’s no wonder people say that the G should go do everything. And should take the blame for everything that goes wrong.

(In fact, I keep wondering why no one is fingering the NTUC for the current income gap. Surely. the unions should be at the forefront of wage matters and shouldn’t have let the gap widen so much? Didn’t the labour movement see this coming and flag its urgency? Wages is a fundamental issue for unions, never mind if it’s in a tripartite partnership with the G and employers.  )

Anyway, back to my point….I recall going to Switzerland a couple of times on assignment. Each time, I was amazed at how small a role their G had to play in their lives. Their politicans seem to have little say over things. They are self-effacing people, not self-important. It comes across when they talk to you. The people, though, are paramount decision makers. You can tell when you converse with the Swiss, and from the way they carry themselves, It’s funny that we once said we should achieve the Swiss standard of living, but didn’t and still don’t say very much about its level of societal participation.

A Government pull-back here is probably anathema to those who think we need this kind of leadership to get things done on a small island. Maybe on some matters, only the might of the G will do. Not the free market. Not civil society Maybe there are those who think Singapore will unravel and things fall apart if the centre (the G) does not hold. Or that most people don’t know what’s good for them, they think for themselves only and short-term, not national and long-term.

Maybe. Maybe not.

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But I think in this national conversation we are going to have, we should re-look fundamental values, not get obsessed with nitty-gritty policies. One big one is the G-people relationship. (Ok, I am repeating myself here…but like the G, I also think messages have to be reiterated…so there!)

The Singapore I want to live in is underpinned first by a strong society, then a strong Government. Get the basic relationship right, and hopefully, the rest will follow.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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