There’s three types of people who may be interested in the national ‘conversation’. Unfortunately, only two types have shown up, while the third feels distinctly uninvited.
The first (and largest) group are those with day-to-day concerns. They want to talk to the Govt about healthcare, costs of living, transport, foreign ‘talents’, stressful education system, etc. For them, the ‘national’ conversation is a chance to ask Ah Gong to do more to help them with their current problems.
The second is the activists for various causes. Abolition of death penalty. Gays. Women’s rights/equality. Etc. They’ve been wanting to have a ‘conversation’ with the Govt for a long time, and to them, this is a golden chance to push their cause. Though they’ve not been invited to the televised forums, they’ve written extensively in blogs and online media, and they’ll certainly want to join the roving conversations Mr Heng wants to hold all over Singapore.
The third are the ones who really want to talk about what kind of Singapore we want in 20 years. They want to talk about the big picture. For example, it’s not just about the death penalty, it’s about the justice system as a whole. Should we continue to have such harsh punishment for criminals? Why? Should we bring back the jury system? What kind of legal powers should the Govt have? How should the rights of the accused be protected?
Such people question also PAP’s fundamental assumptions. How much should we spend on defence—because every dollar on defence means one less dollar for something else. What kind of military posture should we adopt? How big a military do we need? Should we scrap NS and go for an all-volunteer force? Or, if we’re short of babies, should women do NS too? Etc.
The list of fundamentals we can question in each area—from housing and transport to law and politics—is nearly endless. Each topic in itself can take a good few months to discuss. They cannot be discussed properly in a one-hour forum on TV, not even in a half-day session with Minister Heng.
Unfortunately, most of these topics would appear to be the stones which PM says he’ll put back after taking a quick look. No one seriously expects the PAP to give up its fundamentals, to change its values. Their sacred cows— focus on GDP, strong and powerful military, secrecy instead of openness, strict and harsh criminal laws, Govt control of big business in Singapore, Govt control of the media, etc—are truly sacred and will never be touched as long as PAP is in power.
Since the PAP has indicated no interest in discussing the fundamentals, the intellectuals who could contribute most to what Singapore should look like in 20 years have not bothered to join the national ‘conversation’.
At the end of this ‘exercise’, we’ll get a a re-affirmation that the ‘silent’ majority agrees with the Govt, that our model is the envy of other countries, that our existing policies have ‘served us well’, we just need a bit of ‘fine-tuning’, we’ll get few tweaks here and there, some apparently ‘sacred’ cows (eg HDB discrimination against singles) may even be slain, and the PM will give everyone a pat on his back.