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Draft as at 12 May 1998 19


									"Consultation & Consensus vs Decisiveness & Quick Action" Introduction
1. Since our independence in 1965, the Singapore Government has run an efficient and pragmatic public sector that has been highly regarded for its adaptability and responsiveness towards new economic trends and changing social situations. The Government can act swiftly and decisively, even in the absence of popular consensus. This has laid a solid foundation for its reputation as an efficient and pragmatic government. The track record of the Government in quick actions and decisiveness has been seen as one of our strengths. According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook 1997, our economic policies were ranked number one in terms of the Government's ability to adapt its policies to new economic realities effectively. The bureaucracy or the public sector also came out top in terms of its ability to facilitate business development. The report on bureaucracy in Asia by Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Limited (PERC) in March 1998 reinforced this international standing of our public sector. It placed Singapore as the most efficient bureaucracy in Asia. According to the report, "strong political leadership has also added to the ability of the government to initiate administrative reform". Interestingly, the reports also noted the following point: “Unfortunately, Singapore’s near obsession with administrative efficiency also has a downside. Bureaucrats can often be overly officious, and businessmen frequently complain about the widespread reluctance of civil servants to make decisions on matters not specifically covered by the regulations.” 3. At the same time, the public perception on the state of consultation between the public sector and citizens is often characterised by the “black-book” and the “black-hole” syndromes. Basically, the former connotes a climate of fear among respondents that their views and feedback will be taken against them by the public sector while the latter is a skeptical interpretation of the lack of follow-up actions on public feedback. Our affluence and rising standard of living, a better educated and better informed citizenry coupled with globalisation drive and technological advances have given rise to an increased demand from the people sector to play a more active role in the discussion of public issues and formulation of national policies. This coincides with the consultative approach adopted by the second-generation of national leaders from 1990 onwards. There are now more active civic views on the national policies and issues. More Singaporeans are taking a keen interest in the direction that our country is heading. There have also been repeated calls for greater civic participation by our national




leaders. The Prime Minister, in his 1997 National Day Rally Speech, highlighted the importance of encouraging a diversity of ideas, talents and expertise beyond the public sector to keep up with the forces of globalisation and technology. He said: “ For Singaporeans to be proud of Singapore, they must feel a sense of ownership. All should participate actively in making Singapore a better place, through community work, in charities, and by contributing ideas. Singaporeans have worked hard, and we have had good leaders who have taken the initiatives to bring the country forward. But for the future, we cannot depend on just a few people to mastermind the course for Singapore……Things change so swiftly, and the task of governing Singapore has become so complex that no small team of ministers or civil servants can know it all, or react quickly enough to stay ahead of the game. We need to tap a wide range of expertise beyond what we have in the Government. We therefore welcome constructive views from Singaporeans, whether or not these agree with the Government’s own views. We need feedback, not just knee-jerk reactions and coffee-shop talk, but properly considered, informed views which can help us to improve our policies……We need to open up our management culture, to get officials to be more receptive to new ideas, to see things from different perspectives, to take a national rather than parochial view of issues.” 6. This review needs to go beyond the issue of increasing the quantity of consultation channels and activities. It must focus on the quality of the exchanges of views and ideas between the public sector and the citizens as this lays the firm foundation whereby the desired mutual trust between the public and people sectors can be further strengthened. It is also important to bear in mind that the people sector, unlike the public sector, is not a homogeneous collection of people and interests. In fact, it is typically characterised by the diversity of expertise and views.

What did our survey and straw poll show?
7. The S21 Committee conducted a large survey on a representative sample of Singaporeans. The main findings are presented below. Firstly, the survey showed that more than 83% trusted the Government's ability to run the country. This is a strong endorsement for the Government. Our drive for a closer state-society relationship is thus built on this strong foundation of confidence. Secondly, even though the S21 Survey’s respondents were divided on whether or not there was sufficient consultation, there were 3 times as many respondents who felt that the Government was willing to listen and consider differing views. These




findings demonstrate a desire by the people sector to be more actively consulted on public policies, and their hope that the Government is open to the idea of more consultation with the people. 10. Thirdly, the majority of the S21 survey’s respondents felt that the Government should consult the public before making decisions on its own. Only 13% preferred the Government to make decisions on its own. This augurs well for a people sector who desires to be given more opportunities to air its ideas and views. The survey also found that the public reactions to the dilemma differed across the different segments of the population. While one in three respondents preferred to keep silent when they considered Government decisions to be unreasonable, only one in ten of those between 15 to 19 years old was prepared to do so. Among the racial groups, only one in five English-speaking Chinese would keep silent as compared to one in three Mandarin-speaking Chinese. Analysing by education profile, the more highly-educated tended to more vocal with less than one in five graduates likely to remain silent. These findings are confirmed by a straw poll conducted by the subject committee with a random (non-representative) sample of nearly 1100 Singaporeans in early 1998 (a tabulated report of the general findings of the straw poll can be found in Annex).



What did Singaporeans tell the subject committee?
Ownership 13. In summary, most of our respondents at our public consultation forums felt that greater consultation was critical to better public policy formulation. Many of them also felt that the consultation channels and activities could give them a greater sense of participation in national issues and concerns as well as a greater sense of ownership of the challenges and problems we faced as a nation. It was a common request from our respondents to increase the open consultation channels. While many realised that it would be unrealistic to expect the Government to consult citizens on all policies, many felt that more could be initiated. From their perspective, it was important for the Government to take the proactive stand to consult them especially on policies that would affect the longterm development of our country. There were also many requests for easier access to updated public information so that the respondents could play a more active role to provide value-added and constructive ideas and suggestions to the public sector. At the same time, if they understand the constraints of the policy makers, their views and ideas would not be based on complaints and misconceptions.




Respect 16. Majority of the respondents also highlighted the issue of pre-policy consultation versus post-implementation feedback. They felt that consultation should not be seen as an afterthought or a public relations exercise. In this context, the blackhole syndrome was highlighted. Black-hole perception breeds apathy and distrust as the respondents felt that their views and ideas were not given sufficient considerations. They were convinced that a diversity of views and ideas would be useful to the policy formulation process. In many instances, it was not the extreme black-hole syndrome that turned them off from trying to present constructive ideas and views. To them, it was the swift and cold “stone-walled” syndrome of the usual “no” replies from the public sector. This was often demonstrated by the swift set answers by the public sector to the Forum Page’s letters. They felt that no one had a monopoly of wisdom and ideas. Mutual respect for others’ views and ideas was thus called for.


Trust 18. Some of our respondents felt strongly that the state-society relationship must be one built firmly on mutual trust. Most respondents felt that this desired level of trust had yet to exist between the grassroot organisations and the people sector. They felt that the current grassroots leaders did not adequately represent the interests and views of the people. They felt that this relationship of trust would only improve over time if more efforts by both the people and public sectors were committed to it. Interestingly, most of the respondents felt that the dilemma could be resolved with such mutual commitments. While some respondents agreed that there was more freedom of speech than before, there was also an element of fear. These black-book perceptions were mostly derived from well-known incidents such as Catherine Lim's articles in 1994. Others admitted that this fear was due to the lawsuits between PAP leaders and the opposition parties. They felt that these incidents formed mental barriers to civic consultation. However, some felt that respondents had to be responsible and constructive in putting forward their views and ideas. Otherwise, they feared that greater consultation would be a waste of national resources.



What did the public sector tell the subject committee?
Growing Receptiveness 20. The subject committee met some civil servants from a few government agencies to gain an insight to their views on public consultation. Increasingly, with the advent of the concept of PS21, several public agencies are conducting more regular consultation especially on new policies. Based on their experience so far, they observed that keeping the respondents or citizens updated with accurate information would help to generate more useful ideas from the people sector. It was also vital to the successful relationship of trust between the public and the people sectors.

Consultation does not always lead to Consensus 21. Due to the different sectoral interests, these public agencies felt that it was not realistic to expect consensus out of every consultation. However, greater interaction generated better appreciation of the situations and problems faced by the policy-makers. It is important to note that additional resources were needed to enable the increase in consultation activities.

Limited Reach 22. There were already many consultation channels set up by the various public agencies. Most consulted their direct clients on a regular basis and some of these consultation activities were done prior to the implementation of policies. Some of their clients were even involved in policy-formulation directly. However, the general observation was that these practices reached out to only a minority of Singaporeans by invitation and were usually done in closed-door sessions. As a result, the awareness level of these available channels was rather low.

National Interests 23. Some policy formulators also feared the high expectations placed by the public respondents on their ideas and suggestions. They highlighted that it was important for all parties involved in the consultation process to share a common set of national interests for the process to work. Consultation did not mean eventual adoption and implementation of all ideas and solutions.

What do we think?
Public Sector to be more open and receptive


Generally, the subject committee felt that the public sector believed it has a monopoly of wisdom in the formulation of public policies. We have noted that some public agencies were more open to public ideas and suggestions. On the whole, there is much room for improvement for the civil service.

Build Active People Sector 25. The public sector should view an active people sector as an asset in nation building, and should look at consultation as a process to build up an active people sector with a greater sense of ownership. It should not be seen as a public relations job.

Sincere Consultation 26. However, more consultation alone will not increase the trust between the public sector and the people sector. Public sector should genuinely be interested in hearing the views and suggestions of the people. While there are sufficient consultative channels, some are not completely effective because they are perceived to be party-partisan mechanisms, such as grassroots organisations.

"Walk the Talk" 27. The people sector must be constructive and responsible in putting forward its views and suggestions on public policies. It must not only be prepared to participate in more discussions but also be willing to move beyond the “talk-only” stage as well. They must also “walk the talk”.

Embrace Diversity of Ideas 28. There is need to embrace the diversity of ideas and views in our heterogeneous society. The public sector should not view the people sector as a liked minded entity but a vibrant and rich community of ideas, needs and views.

Wider Information Dissemination 29. The scope and reach of dissemination of public information should be improved. It will help bring about a well-informed, constructive and innovative people sector.


What is our desired society?
30. Our desired S21 society lies in the growth of an active people sector participating in community and national issues. The society will be open to a diversity of ideas. The increased interaction between the Government and the people sector will deepen the mutual trust and facilitate the Government’s decision-making. With trust, it will be easier for the Government to act quickly and decisively under imperative circumstances. The dilemma between consultation and consensus versus decisiveness and quick action is therefore apparent rather than real. This desired relationship can be illustrated below:
Decisiveness Consensus




Effectivenes s




Openness & Receptiveness
Efficient Ownership


Quick Actions



Consultation and consensus-building are the major driving forces towards the desired relationship of mutual trust between the Government and the people sector. The pre-requisite for consultation will be the absence of the “black hole”, “black book” and “stone-walled” phenomena. While consultation will not always lead to agreement or acceptance, it will lead to a better understanding of the constraints and problems faced by both the Government and the people sector.



Underpinning our desired society are 2 key factors. First, the Government must be open and receptive to ideas. Non-sensitive information should be shared with the public so that the population will be better placed to contribute constructively via the feedback mechanisms. Second, the people sector must be constructive and responsible in its actions. The ideal society will be one in which the people sector plays an active role in shaping the destiny of Singapore in partnership with the public sector. On issues which affect the long-term strategic direction of our country, the people sector should be consulted prior to the formulation of policies and decisionmaking. For issues at local community level, the people sector should be prepared to take the initiative in searching for solutions. Therefore, the involvement of the people sector must go beyond the “talk-only” stage. An active people sector must be built on the basis of being able to “walk the talk”, i.e. civic participation.


What are our recommendations?
34. Recognising the importance of consultation in building mutual trust and shared ownership within our society, our recommendations focus on increasing the quantity as well as improving the quality of public consultation and consensusbuilding. The two-pronged approach should help to redress the “black book”, “black hole” and “stone-walled” phenomena.

Increasing the quantity of consultation Recognition and Ownership To redress the “black hole” syndrome, Ministries and Government departments should be open and receptive to ideas and views from the people sector. There should also be some form of recognition for good suggestions which have been implemented. This will promote and encourage a more active exchange of ideas and views from the people sector. A quarterly feedback review mechanism should also be established to monitor the performance of the various Ministries in handling public feedback. Contest of Ideas To build a more active people sector, the society should be more tolerant towards a diversity of ideas and views. Discussions should be focused on issues rather than personalities. This will help to manage disagreements and divergences in opinion. The emphasis of consultation and consensus-building should be on constructive suggestions rather than destructive criticisms of personalities.





Well-defined OB Markers It is important to establish the out-of-bounds (OB) markers so that civic participation does not adversely affect national security and social stability. The OB markers should be limited to racial and religious issues which affect social harmony, as well as issues which threaten national security. With a common agreement and understanding of the OB markers, the “black book” syndrome will be redressed. People who stay within the OB markers need not be concerned about possible reprisals. A transparent set of OB markers will encourage more active civic participation. Stakeholders’ Network Ministries and Government departments should formalise a consultation mechanism with their respective stakeholders, i.e. those who will be affected most by their policies. There should be active prepolicy consultation with these stakeholders. The exchange of views and ideas will help to fine-tune public policies. There will also be a greater awareness and appreciation of the possible negative externalities brought about by public policies. The increased interaction between the Government departments and their stakeholders will also enable the latter to help identify problems and propose solutions. As the stakeholders may be better-placed to gauge certain emerging trends and problems, more pre-emptive measures can be implemented.



Expanding the Role of GPCs There is insufficient public awareness about the role and function of the Government Parliamentary Committees (GPCs). The GPCs should intensify their consultative efforts and act as an active feedback channel . They should hold regular public discussion sessions with interested participants from the people sector on key issues. Good ideas should be distilled and provided to the respective Ministries for their responses. Active Civic Groups For a vibrant people sector, there should be an increase in the number of active civic groups. The people sector should take the lead in organising civic group discussions and activities. The Government may also need to review the existing procedures to facilitate and encourage such civic participation. Mass Media The mass media can play an important dual role as both educator and catalyst for active civic participation. To do so, the existing perception of the mass media being tightly regulated by the Government should be redressed. Government intervention should be restricted to issues which affect national interests and security. As Parliamentary debates set the standard for the quality of public discussions, the mass media should increase its coverage on Parliamentary debates. This should be complemented by an expansion of public discussion on Government policies. This will re-position the mass media as objective peopleoriented organisations.





Re-positioning Grassroots Organisations The existing perception of grassroots organisations as a mouthpiece to disseminate information on public policies should be redressed. Grassroots organisations should not be allowed to be perceived as party partisan channels. Otherwise, grassroots organisations cannot function effectively as objective feedback channels. Grassroots leaders should pro-actively interact with and consult the residents on a broad spectrum of public concerns, without being unduly defensive about public policies. This will help to re-position grassroots organisations as people-oriented groups.


Re-inventing Feedback Unit As an existing consultation channel, the Feedback Unit can be re-positioned to increase its effectiveness. Ideally, the Feedback Unit should be perceived as a people sector organisation, with direct access to the political leadership. Therefore, feedback group leaders and members should be nominated by the relevant representative bodies, i.e. the stakeholders, rather than appointed by the Government. The status of the Feedback Unit within the bureaucracy should also be elevated by transferring it to the Prime Minister’s Office. This will increase the unit’s legitimacy and redress the negative perception of Feedback Unit as a “black hole”. Peaks of Consultation The annual National Day Rally and Parliamentary Budget Debate are the 2 key annual events of wide impact on and implication for people and businesses. They should therefore be preceded with widespread public consultation to foster a common understanding of the issues and concerns from the perspectives of both the public and people sectors. This can also be evolved into an important feedback channel.


Improving the quality of consultation


Total Consultation Effective consultation should be carried out both pre-policy and post-policy. Pre-policy consultation allows the public policies to be shaped prior to formulation so that the genuine public concerns will be addressed and good ideas can be incorporated. Post-policy consultation is equally important as a feedback channel for the fine-tuning of public policies. For longer term strategic issues, consultation and consensus-building are especially critical. Ministries should therefore publish more pre-policy papers or set up select committees to achieve more extensive public consultation. The people sector should also take the initiative in identifying problems and proposing solutions to the Ministries for incorporation in public policies. Access to Information The availability and accessibility of information affect the quality of consultation and feedback. Ministries and Government departments should consciously make available non-sensitive



information to the public. Specific targets should be set to reduce overclassification of information. The Government should also use Internet technology to enhance accessibility of public information by the people. Similarly, the non-government organisations should reciprocate and make available more of their analyses to the public. c. Balance of Interests Participants in the consultation process should act responsibly within the OB markers. National interests should not be forsaken in the pursuit of sectoral and personal interests. For example, lobby groups should be balanced in their actions so that they are not blinded by narrow, sectoral interests. Participants should also not be extremists. They should align themselves to the broader and long term interest of the people, community and nation. This will help to establish the credibility of the participants so that consultation will be more effective and meaningful. Credo A transparent set of principles of engagement should be established to facilitate the consultative process. The public and people sectors could each endorse a credo of consultation guidelines which outlines the code of conduct for both the public and people sector. The guidelines could encompass some of the preceding recommendations. For example, the public sector could commit to being receptive to ideas and accept the people sector as an equal partner. Similarly, the people sector could pledge to being constructive and responsible, and be prepared to “walk the talk”. The credo will set the backdrop for a selfregulatory environment for constructive discussions and active civic participation.



S/N 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

Recommendation Recognition and Ownership Contest of Ideas Well-defined OB Markers Stakeholders’ Network Expanding the Role of GPCs Active Civic Groups Mass Media Re-positioning Grassroots Organisations Re-inventing Feedback Unit Peaks of Consultation Continuous Consultation Access to Information Balance of Interests Credo

Follow-up PS21 Office People Sector Government/ People Sector Government/ People Sector GPCs Government/ People Sector MITA PA MCD/PMO Government Government Government/ People Sector People Sector Government/ People Sector

35. In our desired society, consultation and consensus help to strengthen mutual trust and respect between the people sector and the public sector. It will lead to a greater sense of shared ownership in public policies, and build stronger heartware in Singaporeans. Developing a vibrant people sector will imbibe a greater sense of national identity and foster stronger inter-personal relationships at the community level. These will help root Singaporeans to the country. Decisiveness and quick action remain key attributes for an efficient bureaucracy which is our competitive advantage in the global economy. Therefore, our recommendations seek to synergise consultation and consensus with decisiveness and quick action, so that Singapore will be a nation characterised by a strong partnership between a competent and responsible government and an active people sector.    


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