The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has created the IPS Prism Project to “engage the people of Singapore to reflect on the different dimensions of governance and to work towards a future that they desire.” Between June to September 2012, it had “worked with diverse groups to identify … alternative scenarios of how we govern ourselves in 2022.”
IPS has created 3 scenarios “of how we might govern ourselves over the next 10 years based on three key driving forces — credibility of government, society’s definition of success, and distribution of resources.”
The aim of this article is to explore two other plausible scenarios that can be included in the national conversation.
Before I proceed, the IPS Prism scenarios can be found here.
The 3 scenarios that IPS has created are as follows:
- SingaStore.com (which they label as the ‘Pro-Singapore scenario‘): The public trusts the pro-business government as it prioritises economic growth and ensures better-paying jobs for Singaporeans (The Straits Times had described this as “Singapore is “the store and more” – pro-growth and pro-business”)
- SingaGives.gov (which they label as the ‘Pro-Singaporean scenario‘): The public trusts a new government that emphasises an egalitarian policy framework, promoting pro-social values, egalitarianism, solidarity and human development (The Straits Times had described this as “Low but inclusive growth through greater welfarism”)
- WikiCity.sg (which they label as the ‘Pro-active scenario‘): A coalition government is elected but public trust in government is low; no one central power dictates; this is a self-activating and self- correcting community (The Straits Times had described this as “Like online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, which has no one editor and is managed by the community, Singaporeans enjoy the full expression of their identities and potential without a strong central government.”)
I applaud the IPS for developing these scenarios to encourage Singaporeans to think ahead of a Singapore they want, so that we can collectively work towards it.
Here are some observations that I would like to make on the IPS Prism scenarios and the reporting by The Straits Times on them:
- IPS had called the SingaStore.com scenario as a Pro-Singapore scenario while the SingaGives.gov scenario is called a Pro-Singaporean scenario. I do not think that these distinctions are as clearcut as they are put out. Is a “pro-business government” necessarily one that is good for Singapore and is one which promotes “pro-social values, egalitarianism, solidarity and human development” one that suggests that it is not good for Singapore? At the core of these distinctions is – what do we define as being pro-Singapore? Is it when we value the economy over the people’s rights? I think these distinctions are necessarily pro-government distinctions and are biased.
- The Straits Times had described the SingaStore.com scenario as a ‘the store and more’ while describing the SingaGives.gov scenario as one that has “low but inclusive growth through greater welfarism”. Again, The Straits Times, I would argue, had portrayed the latter scenario negatively, by labelling the growth as necessarily “low”. The Straits Times, I would argue, had portrayed the distinctions, in biased ways, towards government groupthink. The Straits Times had also described the trust level of the government and the people in the SingaStore.com scenario as high. We are currently living this scenario as of now, and it is clear The Straits Times has an vastly inaccurate sensing of ground sentiments of the people.
- Finally, the truth is the third scenario – WikiCity.sg – has only been thrown in, but for purposes that are unclear. In no way will this scenario exist in the short to medium term in any country in the world, unless humans are able to learn to see beyond their self-centred thought behaviour overnight. When this happens, humans would be able to govern themselves without structured governance because they will be able to look out for one another. The purpose of this scenario is meant to, perhaps, shed light on the philosophy and necessity of governance. But, are there other reasons to throw in this scenario? As a scare tactic? Because there are other scenarios that can be considered, but would threaten the idea that we should eventually value the SingaStore.com scenario? I will delve into this later.
To be clear, the last scenario – Wikicity.sg – will certainly play a lesser role in future discussions by IPS, in terms of the form and structure that the governance in 2022 should take.
I would like to propose 2 additional scenarios that the IPS should consider, one of which I would suggest is more relevant for national discussion than the scenario of WikiCity.sg.
I will use the template that The Straits Times had used in their article, so that you would be able to make a comparison with how the government mouthpiece had presented the news.
(I encourage you to read the article so that you can see for yourself how biased (as I had observed) The Straits Times is towards presenting the SingaStore.com scenario in a light that is considerably more favourable than it would seem. It also negatively portrays the SingaGives.gov and WikiCity.sg in ways which do not justify so.)
For the additional scenarios proposed:
- I will label the 2 additional scenarios as Scenario A and B.
- I do not have as fanciful names as IPS have used for their scenarios, but I will describe them in plain language.
Scenario A: Singapore’s Needs Balanced (Pro-Singapore and Pro-Singaporean scenario)
- In a nutshell: The government focuses on the economic viability of Singapore but provides room for the social, psychological and welfare needs to be met.
- Trust level: Very high
The public trusts the government because the government is able to think strategically for the long term needs and sustainability of Singapore, and is yet able to ensure that the well-being of Singaporeans is taken care of and that people’s rights are treated with respect.
- Government control: Moderate
The government continues to focus on economic growth, but identifies groups of people, such as the low-income earners, elderly and disabled, where targeted financial and social-welfare assistance is provided for them. The government puts in place a systematic process of registering these groups of people who require assistance and dispense support for them in a coordinated fashion, which does not require complicated registration processes.
- Business sentiments: Good
The government engages corporations, businesses and community groups, to facilitates discussions among them to find a solution that takes into accounts the needs of all these groups. The government will then proactively educate corporations and businesses on workers’ rights so that there is support from them. The government will enact policies which protect not only the rights of corporations and businesses, but also workers as well.
In the medium term, businesses and corporations will learn that employees who are respected will be more committed in their work. Businesses and corporations will benefit from this approach where the employees’ commitment towards the company and the drive and passion that the employees have will in turn drive up profits for the company. It’s a win-win solution.
- Fiscal position: Moderate to Strong
The government has invested the people’s CPF monies in the government securities, then in GIC and Temasek, which net between 7% to 17% interest rate. It gives the people an interest of between 2.5% and 4%. In 2022, the government returns the investments of the people’s CPF monies at a higher rate to them. The government also uses some of the interests from the investment of the people’s CPF to channel it into providing financial and social-welfare assistance for a targeted group which needs the assistance.
The government raises taxes by a few percentage points to increase revenue for public spending. This is channelled into funding for healthcare and education, so that the people are able to spend lesser, out of pocket, on these necessities.
- Social cohesion: Strong
The people trust that the government will not only pander to the needs of corporations and businesses, but it would also ensure that the people’s needs are met and respected. Corporations and businesses also do their bit to protect the rights of their employees and other social interests groups.
The government encourages and educates the people to think critically and express themselves. It encourages them to be involved in critiquing the government, so that the government could be motivated to create better policies. It also encourages Singaporeans to discuss issues previously deemed as sensitive, such as race and religion, so that the people are able to have a more critical understanding of these issues, and come to better acceptance of these issues, and of one another. This will create a Singapore where there is genuine respect for diversity and various beliefs. The people also feel more involved and engaged in Singapore and are able to proactively contribute to Singapore more strongly than before.
Is this scenario plausible? I think it is a solution that can effectively address the concerns of Singaporeans, yet ensure that Singapore continues to puts economic viability as a priority. What do you think?
Scenario B: Government as Facilitator (Capacity Building scenario)
- In a nutshell: Groups form in society to proactively manage key issues that they are concerned about. The government facilitates and builds the capacity of Singaporeans to be able to independently create solutions for Singapore while they manage the broad strategic issues of Singapore.
- Trust level: High
The government continues to adopt a broad strategic oversight of Singapore. It makes key decisions which will concerns the future and whole of Singapore. It also makes decisions as to the economic viability and foreign relations of Singapore. At the same time, Singaporeans are taught the skills for macro-thinking and are able to develop their own community-based solutions towards the co-management of Singapore. The government does not see itself as being the holder to all solutions. Instead, it sincerely consults with the people and the people partake actively in shared governance.
- Government control: Shared
There is a tiered structure to the sharing of governance between the government and the people. In different times, different tiers are adopted for operational purposes. The government will continue to have oversight of all areas of governance. During peace times, the government will continue to manage the “focuses on foreign and trade relations, defence, and maintaining law and order (as the WikiCity.sg scenario proposes as well) and facilitate the management of other areas among other groups. In times of emergencies, the government will take control of all areas of governance, while the people rally around the government to provide structured support.
- Business sentiments: Mixed (Potentially good)
The government continues to layout the overall strategic direction and growth plans of Singapore. This is communicated clearly and thoroughly to Singaporeans, who throw their support behind the government. Corporations and businesses feel secure with a strong leadership and strong citizen support and continue to invest in Singapore.
At the same time, they benefit from the innovation and creativity of the people who operationalise projects in groups, and offer diverse solutions towards more efficient operations in Singapore, and which also creates a vibrant culture.
- Fiscal position: Moderate to Good
The government continues to control and manage the financial areas of Singapore. However, this would mean that the government continuously engages, consults and updates Singaporeans on the financial situation of Singapore. The government is also transparent in its financial situation, so that Singaporeans are able to trust that the government will manage their monies honestly, wisely and responsibly.
Because of the clear and consistent communication, the people trust the government, so that when the government needs to make quick decisions in dire times, the government is able to do so decisively, and with the people’s support.
- Social cohesion: Fabulous
The government recognises its roles as a facilitator and one to build the capacity of all Singaporeans. The people take an active role in governance and as they mature in their role, become more responsible and wiser in exercise their power. There is a sharing of power, that respects the rights of individuals to their own lives.
There is also clear, structured and sustained communication between the government and the people, where the communication is honest and transparent. This creates very strong trust – a trust which did not exist in 2012. There is a strong sense of community spirit and a supportive environment, where Singaporeans care for and look our for one another.
So, where does Scenario A and B sit in IPS’s scenarios. The chart below will illustrate this.
Strong government control
Singapore’s Needs Balanced
Government as Facilitator
Strong community involvement
You can see that currently, Singapore is very obviously in the SingaStore.com scenario. The suggestion from the powers may be seems to be that a move towards either a SingaGives.gov or WikiCity.sg should not be encouraged, as there are seemingly negative consequences in doing so.
However, IPS had only proposed 3 scenarios. This article attempts to highlight other scenarios that are similarly feasible.
Scenario A (Singapore’s Needs Balanced) which I had proposed is a balanced governing approach which continues to have an economic focus towards governance, but which also shifts slightly to provide for the social, psychological and welfare needs of the people, in a manner that is sustainable and viable in the long term.
This is a scenario that addresses the gaps in both the SingaStore.com and SingaGives.gov scenarios. I would also further suggest that this is a solution that can effectively ensure that the government’s priority in economic growth is not drastically shifted, while ensuring that the social, psychological and welfare needs of people are also carefully observed and respected as well.
The Singapore government has tended to take an either/or approach to governance – we have to either focus on economic growth or social and welfare growth. But is this necessarily the case? I would like to suggest that this is not.
The government needs to work a lot harder to invest in resources to allow themselves to continue in a focus that protects the long term economic interests of Singapore, but at the same time, caters to the needs of Singaporeans in balanced ways.
It is possible to find a common ground.
I had also brought out Scenario B (Government as Facilitator), so as to put it in perspective that in the longer term, governance as we know it in current times, will change. Governance as we know it will evolve, but how? That’s the question. IPS had proposed the WikiCity.sg where the community makes all the decision.
I would like to propose Scenario B, in the form of a government which takes on the role as a facilitator. When governance evolves to a situation where the people are able to responsibly manage areas of governance, the government can allow them to spearhead programmes, whilst continuing to provide guidance and to facilitate the development of these programmes.
Can this be done? It can be – with a mix of capacity building, online communication and networking and an educated peoples who are taught from young about their social responsibilities, and where autonomy is given to allow them to put themselves out for trials, before they are sufficiently ready to take on further responsibilities. Necessarily, this will require more intensive resource investment.
As Senior Research Fellow Gillian Koh, the IPS Prism Project lead had said, she “would not be pressed on which scenario she thought was most probable. “The three scenarios are necessary in order to highlight the choices that confront us. So as organisers of this, we would not pick one scenario.”
This is true. The question is not only for Singaporeans to consider what we are ready for, but also for the government to consider – how much control is it willing to share, as we move into the next 10 years, where the people are letting the government know that they want some form of responsibility passed on to them, so that they can become responsible citizens in Singapore.
- Will Singaporeans be more willing to think more broadly and strategically for Singapore’s long term future?
- Will the government be more willing to accept differences perspectives and decentralise power to the people, by educating and building the capacities of Singaporeans?
We will find out. But it is clear what needs to be done – for both Singaporeans and the government alike.
Now, what would you do?