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Our Singapore Conversation is a national conversation initiative first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2012 National Day Message.

Mr Heng Swee Keat, the current Singapore Minister for Education was appointed to lead the committee that will participate in the conversations with Singaporeans to create “a home with hope and heart”.[1]

The committee held the first of an estimated 30 dialogue sessions with Singaporeans on 13 October 2012, involving "about 60 people from all walks of life, including taxi drivers, professionals, full-time national servicemen, university undergraduates and retirees." [2]

According to Kenneth Paul Tan of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy:

"OSC (Our Singapore Conversation) was the latest in a series of national-level public engagement exercises that began in earnest in the lat 1980s. In my research, I have been interested in this transitional period that witnessed subtle but profound changes in developmental Singapore's strong state as it negotiated and adapted to opportunities and threats that accompanied economic, social, cultural, technological and political transformations within a rapdily globalizing neoliberal city-state."[3]

"Although OSC took plains to explain how the perspectives, aspirations, and ideas of almost 50,000 participants had filtered into the policy process that culminated symbolically in the Prime Minister's National Day speech, it seemed to me that we needed to understand OSC as more than just a mechanism for collecting and aggregating policy input from a citizenry that had become more able, interested, and motivated to participate in the policy process."[4]

" I carefully studied OSC's predecessors such as The Next Lap in 1991, Singapore 21 in 1999, and Remaking Singapore in 2003. Each of these exercises had a roughly similar form and occurred not long before or after critical general elections and during a period of some economic of political turbulence (turbulence by Singapore's standards, that is).[5]

"There was clearly a pattern. First, OSC may be viewed as a high-profile activity designed to satisfy a more assertive middle-class desire for recognition. This is a familiar liberalization story about Singapore's evolution into a global city, where more globally exposed citizens have become equipped with knowledge and experience to participate productively in the policy process and the desire to be recognized as autonomous individuals populating the higher reaches of Maslow's hierarchy."[6]

"Second, OSC may be viewed as a state-led public ritual. Rapid modernization, urbanization, globalization, and liberalization have all induced alienating tendencies, ontological insecurity, and a loss of community, history, and certainty. As both a global city and a nation-state, Singapore needs national narratives to animate the Singapore identity and provide coherent frameworks of meaning and value to orientate and motivate its citizens and their government towards the achievement of a collectively desirable future. By stimulating widespread, open, and heartfelt dialogue on issues of national importance, OSC was in effect an exercise in collective national storytelling, drawing out tens of thousands of personal stories that intertwined with one another to create a richer and more complex Singapore Story."[7]

"Third, OSC may be viewed as a spectacle of nationhood and active citizenship, produced as part of distractive strategies that were, in turn , a part of broader ideological work needed for politically and economically challenging times. One version of this idea is to say that OSC served ideologically to repair a social compact that had weakened over recent years as indicated by widespread dissatisfaction with rising inequality and costs, rapid demographic transformations, and infrastructural strain in a crowded city. Perhaps the most pronounced expression of this dissatisfaction came in the form of the 2011 General Election that yielded the worst result the incumbent had ever achieved since Singapore's independence."[8]

"All in all, it would hardly be a surprise to argue that OSC performed a conservative ideological role. But I would also argue that the exercise was productive of new conditions of possibility for political change. Compared to previous national-level public engagement exercises, OSC reached out to a significantly larger and more varied group of Singaporeans. The dominance of committee meetings and top-down forums in previous exercises gave way to peer-to-peer engagement through creative, less hierarchical, and more skillfully facilitated forums that made ever effort to stimulate imagination and not to close off discussion, no matter how tempting it might have been to do so. The context of a more diverse and critical citizenry and an active social media environment raised the bar for OSC, since its efforts had to pass the scrutiny of skeptical public."[9]

CommitteeEdit

In PM Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Message, he promised that the committee leading the national conversation would be representative of the different segments of Singapore's society. This full list of 26 members of the committee was only announced later.[10] Apart from 7 political office holders, the committee also included a taxi driver, a polytechnic student, an artist and a television host.[11]

PlatformsEdit

Various offline and online platforms have been set up to facilitate the conversation process, including a website and a Facebook page. The FB Page has since “garnered close to a hundred responses” as of early Sep 2012.[12]

Local political observers have stated that for the National Conversation to be successful, it will be important to reach out to the silent majority.

Participation by civil servantsEdit

On 11 October 2012, Singapore media reported that the country's 76,000 civil servants would be allowed to contribute to the Our Singapore Conversation with the lifting of a long-standing gag order preventing public servants from speaking publicly on government policies, although they are still not allowed to talk "about their current work or policies they worked on."[13]

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit


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