Change Starts From the Top Part II: Can Singapore Govt Trust Its People?

In February this year, The Edelman Trust Barometer released its survey results which “measures attitudes about the state of trust in business, government, NGOs, and media” in 2012. The survey was only conducted in 25 countries. The results were also reported in The Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia.

Singaporeans Trust the Government?


Apparently, Singapore was ranked 3rd, where 73% of the respondents said that they trusted the government. 

However, in the same report, the two other countries where respondents had said that they trusted their country more were people of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China. 78% and 75% of the respondents trusted their governments respectively. 

There were other surprising statistics:

The report also indicated that 65% of respondents in Singapore trusted the media.

In China, 79% of respondents trusted their media. 61% of respondents in the UAE trusted their media. 

What makes this even more surprising is that, in the Freedom of the Press 2012 survey:

Singapore was ranked one of the lowest in press freedom, at 150 out of 197 countries. 

In comparison, China was ranked even lower at 187 and the UAE at 161. 

So, who is right?

Not Really. Singaporeans Do Not Trust Government Leaders

Ironically, the Edelman report continued to say the following:

Only 15% of respondents in Singapore would trust their government leaders to tell the truth. 

Only 17% of respondents in Singapore would trust business leaders to tell the truth. 

Singapore rank the lowest for both of these trust areas. This wasn’t reported in the news by Channel NewsAsia. Neither was it reported in the free-access online version of The Straits Times. 

In fact, the UAE ranked at second lowest and China ranked at fourth lowest. 

Based on the findings, I will suggest that:

Even though 73% of the respondents in Singapore in the Edelman survey said that they trusted the government, what this really means is that they trust the government institutions to function. 

However, they do not trust their government leaders – as can be shown by the only 15% who trust our leaders to tell the truth.

Indeed, if you do a scan of online forums, you will be able to find discussion threads of how Singaporeans do not trust the government, or perhaps the ruling party.

But Does the Government Practice What It Preaches?

In 2010, then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had accurately reflected that, “Building trust between government and citizens is a continuous process,” and that, for the new generation of Singaporeans, “Their starting point in life is today’s high-water mark, not yesterday’s low tide.” He added that, “The new generation of Singaporeans wants not only to be heard, but also to participate in the decision process.”

Mr Goh had also said that:

Instead of regarding this development as a vexatious demand for Government to be more open, transparent and accountable, it should be regarded as a positive sign of the citizens wanting to join in to build a better society.

On a separate note, Mr Goh “cited a few recent examples to show how the Singapore Government continually re-established trust with the people”:

During the 1985 recession, for instance, union leaders agreed to a painful cut of employers’ Central Provident Fund contributions from 25 per cent of wages to 10 per cent.

Whether this was done to establish trust with the people, or for the higher probability of favouring businesses is open to question. If the government had really wanted to establish trust with the people, it would have cut employees’ CPF contributions and kept those of the employers. Obviously, the trust it wants to establish with is not with the people. 

Finally, Mr Goh “summed up the core principles of trust-building: incorruptibility, speaking the truth, giving equal opportunities, doing what is right instead of what is popular or politically expedient, and understanding people’s aspirations.”

Indeed, this has become a common theme among the government leaders in Singapore in recent years.

Our Government is Not Transparent

However, has anything changed? Can we trust the government?

The government has not conducted open discourse with us on how our CPF monies are being used, and actually invested by GIC and Temasek. I had written a few articles about this, which can be found here, here, here and here

Also, it has been shown that the income inequality in Singapore has continued to rise over the past few years but the government has been reluctant to do anything aggressive to overhaul the system .

Has the government changed?

Trust Us First. We Will Think About Trusting You Later


At the Singapore Perspectives conference titled, Singapore Inclusive: Bridging Divides, which was held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy:

Mr Peter Ho, Senior Advisor at the Centre for Strategic Futures, cited the existence of a small, but highly important yet contentious set of issues, like the policy on ministerial salaries, which could only be resolved on the basis of a trust-rich context. What was needed was not a greater level of “communcativeness” by the government, but a sense among citizens that the government was sincere and authentic in recognising its need for public involvement because it too was finding its way forward in a changing world.

Indeed, government discourse has started to veer towards how, instead of how the government should learn to trust its people, the government leaders have started to remind Singaporeans that they should instead learn to trust the government.

Our government leaders, such as Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen and Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing, have reminded us that “It takes two hands to clap” and that we should “do our part”.

As the government has rightly pointed out, trust works in both ways.

However, question is, does the government expect Singaporeans to ‘learn’ to trust them, without changing? How can Singaporeans be expected to trust the government when we know the government is not listening to us.

Government Has to Earn ‘License to Lead’: Be Bold

At the Singapore Perspectives conference:

Associate Professor Cherian George, from the Division of Journalism and Publishing at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, NTU and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Policy, pointed out that in a changing world, the government would need to engage citizens more deeply and within a climate of trust in order to foster a consensus about the way forward… People needed to know that the government was on the same level with them about its interests, about the situations and policy dilemmas that the country faced.


The Edelman report had also concluded that businesses (and governments) have to earn the license to lead:

  1. Exercise principles-based leadership, not rules based performance
  2. Recognize that operational factors responsible for current trust won’t build future trust, societal and engagement behaviors will

The government needs to take the right steps. The government needs to practice what it preaches. 

I have argued that our government needs to relook their governing principles. The government needs to understand how the principle of meritocracy have resulted in not only income inequality, but also social inequality, and the government needs to take bold steps to address this. 

Our government has wasted enough time mopping around, doing everything else it can – increasing migrant flow, increasing support for companies – except to look directly into its peoples’ needs and actually addressing them.

My government, our people want to be treated equally, fairly and with dignity – as humans. We know you’ve said you would but have you? We want you to take us seriously now. We want you to start now and do something. We do not want to wait until the next elections. More and more of us are getting angry, at having our rights violated. If you do not take action now, people’s anger will only boil over. 


  1. Pingback: PAP, Do You Still Care About Us? « The Heart Truths
  2. C

    Your facts are wrong. It’s 15% who do not trust them to tell the truth (Singapore Leaders), so that’s 85% who trust them to tell the truth instead.

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