Two-way process between govt and people important: PM Lee

Melissa Aw

The government has improved its approach to Singaporeans in several areas -- especially in terms of engaging the electorate and in policy outcomes -- after last year’s General Elections, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lee was speaking at a media conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the end of the 20th ASEAN Summit.

According to Channel NewsAsia (CNA), PM Lee affirmed that this was a necessary change to help Singapore succeed, but added that it is a two-way process.

“It’s not just what the government does,  it’s also about how the electorate sees its role in the new environment, and how it sees it can contribute and what it thinks its responsibilities [are] towards making the system work in a different way,” said Lee, as quoted by CNA.

Lee then cited ways that Singaporeans can engage more with the government, such as speaking out more, increased participation in public affairs as well as feeling the responsibility to do their part.

An example of this would be the public’s call to build studio apartments for the elderly at Toh Yi estate, where Lee felt that “speaking out and working together fell short”, CNA reported.

“People respond more articulately now, they organise together more easily… and people are much more educated and vocal… [but] we must not go into a position where NIMBY (not in my backyard) becomes a general attitude amongst Singaporeans,” he explained, adding that if we continue to be “self-centred”, the community will not excel.

Lee also said that having a dialogue is important as opposed to saying “No”.

“We have to consult… you look at Bukit Brown, you have to talk, you have to explain. But if at the end, we cannot move at all, you will not only not have tomorrow’s Singapore, we wouldn’t even have today’s Singapore,” CNA quoted Lee as saying.

Lee was also reported to have said that Singaporeans should be mindful to not let issues of race, religion and language affect social cohesion, especially in a digital age where people are easily upset about such subjects.

Citing the example of the National University of Singapore scholar Sun Xu who made the derogatory remark about Singaporeans being “dogs”, Lee said, as quoted by CNA, "You look at the Sun Xu incident, he shouldn't have made that blog post. He did. He has been chastised. He has been disciplined. He has expressed his contrition. He's sorry about it. And I think we should accept that. We should have been able to move on from that and deal with it as one person who mis-spoke.”

"We should not because of one incident make that into an issue - that all immigrants are like that, or all Singaporeans should feel like that towards not even immigrants, but towards non-Singaporeans who are in Singapore, either studying or working here. That is something we have to be conscious of."