The post went viral, setting cyberspace alight. The student was then counseled by his school and subsequently he called on the minister in person and apologised.
Much has been said about this incident. However, everyone seems to have missed the point, whichwas not so much about what was written but about the way people reacted to it.
It seemed the fixation was with the use of the “f” word, rather than the more important central complaint raised in Reuban’s blog post, which was an important social point - the way Singaporeans view the role of government.
In his article, Reuban complained that the DPM had answered many questions with a question of his own. It seemed Mr Teo’s key answer to the questions thrown at him was, “What do you think?” Reuban argued that this was effectively “cheap” politics to fob off young kids with little life experiences.
Reuban’s outburst stems from what many Singaporeans expect from the government – namely to provide answers. For the longest time, Singaporeans have expected their leaders to provide the vision and leadership.
Just look at the first two Prime Ministers. Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team first set the vision for Singapore as a safe haven of stability and predictability in a region filled with instability and uncertainty. His successor, Mr Goh Chok Tong, set the tone with his call for a “kinder, gentler, Singapore.” Under these two men, politicians took the lead and the rest followed. The leaders had the answers. I think of my last days in the army when we were talking about career options. Everyone wanted to be an engineer. The reason was simple – the government had predicted then that there would be a demand for engineers and studying engineering was the way to get and stay in a lucrative job. The government had given everyone an answer.
Unfortunately times have changed. Globalisation and technology have made the “old play book” obsolete. While Singapore remains an attractive destination for multinationals, the key markets are now places like China and India which have a larger pool of people and will continue to make and do things cheaper than Singapore ever can. The Internet has also hastened the pace of change.
As such, the government no longer has the monopoly on ideas and it needs to move from a one-way dialogue to a two-way interactive paradigm with its citizens. The flow of ideas has to involve both the governed and those who govern.
If you look at DPM Teo’s answer, it sums up this situation perfectly. The government has to ask citizens, “What do you think?” It has to be ready to accept the answers.
Instead of castigating Mr Teo for asking us what we think, it’s time for us to answer the question for him. Even 17-year-olds with little life experiences can have a dream for the Singapore they want to have. They should be encouraged to chase that dream instead of having answers spoon fed to them.
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