Recently Jack Sim, the founder of WTO (World Toilet Organization) posted a comment on Tharman Shanmugaratnam's Facebook Wall. About "Civil Service's Low Absorption Capacity for Social Innovation."
This was what was posted.
Civil Service's Low Absorption Capacity for Social Innovation.
For many years, I've tried to contribute useful ideas to improve Singapore. These ranges from how to clean up hawker center/cofeeshops toilets; designing a 100% return tray layout (I can send you the design if you like), inventing conservation rooftiles for heritage districts, improving sub-contractors productivity in construction industry, resurrecting the 1880 Fort Tanjung Katong buried underneath Katong Park, exporting our 3rd World to 1st World Model by making Singapore a Global Trade Center for Poverty Alleviation- Designing Business to End Poverty, etc.
Most of the time, the bureaucrats has no capacity to absorb these ideas. They are not empowered to challenge the status quo. They are in fact incentivize to protect the status quo and defend it against all new ideas. The only advices they listened to are White Professors from Top Western Universities. Why do we still have this colonial mentality that West is Best and Locals are Not Good Enough?
Why do we have terms like 'Foreign Talent' but no such term as 'Local Talent'? Why do we instead always say "Ugly Singaporeans"? Are we really that bad? Why does the government always want to portray locals as Soft, Complacent, Lazy, Uninventive, Complaint King, etc.
My grandma taught me that the one who criticize the goods are the genuine buyer. This wisdom can be applied for those who complains and gave feedback. They are the real interested citizens. It'd be much easier to be a sycophant but that contributes nothing.
Writing this passage to you will immediately qualify me as an Ugly Singaporean who is unappreciative of all the other good things that the government has done. Of course, I appreciate and love my country. That is why I am interested to make it better. That is why I speak up even though it disempower me to do so. I just hope the government can start seeing the wealth of goodness in Singaporeans. Afterall, we built this beautiful country together with the PAP. Could the PAP have built it all by themselves without the citizens hard work?
Forsaken by my own country, I spent the last 15 years contributing overseas. I founded World Toilet Organization, broke the taboo on toilets and sanitation globally, started 19 Nov as World Toilet Day every year. It reaches 1 Billion people last year. I felt welcome outside my country and rejected in my own homeland. It is a very painful feeling when you love your country. When you see so many things that can be done and felt powerless to do something about it.
Lastly, Singaporeans are not against foreigners. We are fed up because you've failed to supply sufficient housing, transport and build social trust. It is the government that fuel the poor social cohesion by comparing local students agaisnt the top Chinese and Vietnamese students in our local schools; by praising the foreigners and condemning Singaporeans as troublesome, negative and selfish.
If you start to see Singaporeans as good natured human beings, we'll also see you as kind and caring.
So why in the first place did the PAP MPs and leadership think Singaporeans are Ugly?
I suspect it is because the only Singaporeans the MPs got in touch with face to face are the ones they meet at the Meet-The-People sessions. This group are not representative of the whole Singapore. They have personal issues. MPs compare notes with each other and concluded that ALL Singaporeans are demanding, selfish, unreasonable and sometime violent.
Please broaden their exposure to ordinary folks as well.
Thank you for listening.
Of course there is some response, not by the Minister, but rather, others on the ground.
I feel that this is spot on. I feel that there is genuine interest to fix the broken system, however, the Ego from those who never failed (i.e. the Elite Ministers) who were once from the scholar system often makes things complicated.
The first generation of ministers in Singapore are very resourceful men, problem solvers who can react to problems and find solutions, and get necessary help when needed. However, as time goes by, when people are placed into the system because of academic achievements or certain relationships, there seems to be a shift of focus by the government from "serving the people" to that of "remaining in power"
I would say today, and in fact for the past 20 years, Singapore has made it. Singapore can be considered first world, however, the government still rules the country as though there is only third world citizens.
The education level of the citizens are much higher than what it was 30 years ago and people are willing now to engage and participate in nation building. I feel this is very positive as people do feel belonging when they participate in the planning process, and the government is seemingly interested to crowdsource for solutions, however, some people in power still have the mindsets that the citizens cannot decide for themselves, and everything needs to be done for them.
I feel that today, many positive changes are starting to be seen, many people like Jack Sim, Lim Swee Keng are stepping out to volunteer in Nation building, however, as they are not from the system, their advice are not taken in, and the government would rather pay foreigners millions to do consulting, which would yield the same results. I'm sure a local Singaporean who went to MIT could produce better results than a stranger who came from western countries.
At times, I'll pitch ideas, and see the same ideas used several years later when the government decide to hire foreign consultants to do the same thing which I was not allowed to do.
To be fair, I feel that most of the problems come from the middle management. They are not empowered to take risks, and failure will cost them more than "doing nothing". This is not specific to Singapore, but I've seen many other countries like Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and even Indonesia taking positive steps and experts from overseas come back to their own country (even China) and be part of making the country a better place.
A forward thinking country would bring these people with external knowledge after being out in the international industry to help steer government departments in the right direction, however in Singapore, the expensive foreigners are seen to have better knowledge than locals who are returning.
For many things that are top down, with the government not trusting locals, the SMEs and local companies seem to follow suit, hiring foreigners. I've not seen much successful local companies, and even with a population of 5.26 million, many local companies find it hard to make it in Singapore. As for Spring Singapore and many other government initiatives that are supposed to help Entrepreneurs, they seem to be run by bureaucrats, and these organizations are hard to navigate, and they generally do not help much in supporting the businesses locally.
In fact, for such an advanced nation, why is there so few companies online? Don't they do business in the region? The Internet penetration is about 80% in Singapore, however, very few SME's in Singapore have online presence and the government initiatives WDA or WSQ which funds training in Singapore does not seem to be working, but rather the government just pays more and expects the broken system to work.
There are many broken systems in Singapore. There is uncontrolled inflation due to the shortsightness of the leaders to attract investors but with no tangible investments, the floodgates go to property and the locals will definitely find it hard to buy a home with salaries stagnate and cost of living escalating.
There is plenty of traffic jams which definitely affects productivity, and the monopolized transport system, telco system and many other services in Singapore seem to seek profits rather than providing good service.
So now with "national conversation" where the government invites their own people to speak about national issues, shouldn't it be called echo chamber?
Jack Sim has pointed out many interesting observations and posted on the minister's Facebook wall. Will there be engagement or will the minister just censor and ignore the problem and pretend that everything is fine and dandy?
-- Iron Bowl