Stand Up and Make a Difference

Posted by Lydia Lim under Public Forums on 28 November 1999

The Singapore 21 vision encourages people to be active citizens and make a difference to society. But how far can an active citizen go in commenting on policies without overstepping the boundaries? Three speakers discussed this with a 50-strong crowd at a political forum on Friday.

Citizens Can Give Feedback to Effect Change

Viswa Sadasivan, chairman of Feedback Unit's political matters

CITIZENS can bring about change by giving feedback through government channels, he said. "Before I joined the Feedback Unit, I did not have much faith in it. But I joined because I felt it was better to be in the fray than to be a spectator." Contrary to popular perception, he said, the Government is open to different views, citing an independent paper which his group had written on Singapore's relations with Malaysia and Indonesia which went up to the Prime Minister's Office. But he cautioned against expecting immediate changes. "Some of these things need to to-and-fro for a while. If you want to see change, you must suspend... cynicism and keep trying." Singaporeans have to stop using fear of the Government as an excuse to be passive. "'This paranoia has become a shameless epidemic," he said. He added he was living proof citizens could speak up and not be punished.

Canvass For Change, MP Urges

Low Thia Khiang, Workers' Party MP for Hougang

GIVING feedback is not enough as it means citizens allow the Government to decide what is best, even when they disagree with its policies. Active citizens should go beyond that, he argued, and canvass for change. "One way is to hold peaceful demonstrations," he said, adding that in 1988, the NTUC had done so to protest against US interference in Singapore's domestic affairs. He said Singaporeans will have to fight for the right to participate fully because he does not think that the Government is ready to grant more political space. He said in a civil society, citizens should be free to criticise government policies. It should not be confused with a civic society where people volunteer with groups such as Community Development Councils to implement government policies. He accused the Government of blurring the line between the two to direct people to participate in non-political ways.

Opt For Middle Path To Active Citizenry

Assoc Prof Kevin Tan, president of The Roundtable

EVERY citizen has a right to comment on politics and one way to do so is to form a non-partisan group like The Roundtable, he said. It is not right, he added, to say that those who comment on politics should form political parties. "Why must you be a politician to participate or to comment? The Roundtable's mission is to demonstrate that there is a middle path." He argued that "politics permeates every policy" and it is not possible to keep out of politics and yet participate meaningfully in a civil society. Yes, there are still obstacles to active citizenship, he said, including tough laws such as the Internal Security Act. But Singaporeans should be excited by the Singapore 21 vision and do something about it. "The Government says it wants active citizens so let's take them seriously. Let's not say all this is very vague and suspicious, so better wait for instructions.


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