Every time I’ve watched this show, I wondered how things would be like if public servants had to go undercover for a week or two and worked as ordinary people. While there are a lot of things going right about the way things are done in Singapore, there is inevitably more that can be done or be improved.
Singapore has undoubtedly benefited from being open to the free movement of people and ideas. We have been very successful at studying business and social models from around the world and adapting them to Singapore. We have been very good at buying and using technology from elsewhere.
What we have been less good at is developing anything of our own. I think of an inventor I know who proposed a solution for one of our key needs to a government agency. He was told, “Nobody else in the world has done it the way you are proposing.” His private retort was, “Nobody else is in the unique situation that we are in.”
He’s right. Singapore is a unique place with its own set of issues or at least unique variations of common issues. The solutions are not as obvious and you can no longer rely on someone else to come up with the solutions for you.
As such, anyone who is in the business of creating public policy needs to be open to as many ideas as possible. Yes, it’s important to be open to the world. It is equally as important to listen to the ground. After all, the policies created in Singapore will affect the people living there rather than elsewhere. So, where do we get these “local” ideas from?
It’s been pointed out that the government does provide feedback channels. There is also the Meet the People Sessions, where Members of Parliament meet ordinary folk.
Unfortunately, people have a way of hiding things when it comes to dealing with those in authority. Let’s face it, many of us won’t tell our bosses everything, let alone to a minister.
Think of the number of times schools and army camps have put on a show for visiting dignitaries.
I suspect the solution may be to create a compulsory “undercover” week for senior public servants. This should be a period for them to go down to the ground as "ordinary people". This will allow them to stay in touch with and understand how their policies affect the ground and create better policies for the future. This will require hard work and financial resources may be expanded. However, it would be a worthwhile investment in helping the governed and the governing classes understand each other better.
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