Engage Singaporeans in issues they hold dear

The Straits Times, 5 July 2011

SINGAPOREANS have become more inquisitive and cynical, and no longer adhere closely to the policies of the ruling party, Members of Parliament (MPs) said yesterday. They highlighted the critical need for the Government to forge deeper and broader ties with a changing electorate.

There is also a need to connect emotionally with citizens, especially when dealing with hot topics like housing and the influx of foreigners, they added.

Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, said: “Diversity should be perceived and received positively, as Singaporeans have begun to take charge of what they are passionate about.

“I believe this is good for Singapore, for the people have developed what we can call a Singapore soul.”

New MPs Edwin Tong and Vikram Nair – from Moulmein- Kallang GRC and Sembawang GRC respectively – said they were taken aback by the outpouring of unhappiness from residents in their constituencies when they walked the ground.

The perception that the Government does not listen must be changed, they said.

More needs to be done to help Singaporeans understand, if not necessarily agree, with the rationale behind policy decisions.

Mr Tong said: “We must accept that we are operating in a new sphere – a sphere which accords process and accountability with as much, if not greater,weight than the design itself.”

But he also cautioned that the Government cannot be “irresponsible”, simply bowing to all demands and embarking on “populist policies”.

“I urge Singaporeans to meet the Government half-way. They need to be rational and practical as to the limits within which the ideals are pushed,” said Mr Tong.

Yesterday’s session of the new 12th Parliament saw MPs – including those from the ruling People’s Action Party – being more hard-hitting with their words.

Urging the Government to find more ways to ensure affordable housing for Singaporeans, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Zainudin Nordin called for the pricing formula for new Housing Board flats to be made as transparent as possible.

He said that the weightage of land costs in the prices of new flats should be reviewed to see if the high costs of housing could be decreased.

“CPF subsidies are helpful, but it seems that we are just taking money from one pocket and returning it to the other,” said Mr Zainudin.

Another area in which the Government needs to be more consultative is on the topic of foreigners in Singapore.

Mr Nair noted the need for a consensus on how many foreigners are needed here, despite the fact that they add value to the economy.

Ms Sylvia Lim, who was the first opposition MP to speak, asked if it was time for the Government to focus on happiness as a national goal. She cited how Bhutan measures its country’s development with its GNH or Gross National Happiness.

In July, Bhutan initiated a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development”. It was adopted without a vote by 66 countries, including Singapore.

Ms Lim said: “Since independence, Singapore has focused on achieving prosperity and progress.

“Has happiness been forgotten, despite the words in our pledge? Or maybe it has been assumed that once there is prosperity and progress, happiness would automatically follow.”

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