Content in this post:
1. Definition of Civil Society
2. The link between Advocacy and Social Work
3. Dialogue Session with Minister Tan Chuan Jin
4. Personal Reflections (Operation Spectrum, Operation Coldstore, Governmental fundings)
5. List of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) / Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) / Non Profit Organizations (NPOs) / Communities / Causes in Singapore
6. Quotes on Civil Society and Singapore
7. Additional Reads on Civil Society and Singapore
8. Additional Reads / Videos on Operation Spectrum, Operation Coldstore, and political detainees [*Recommended Read]
What is Civil Society?
Definition: A community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity.
How is Advocacy relevant to social work ?
According to the content in the book “Letters to social work students” written by Ang Bee Lian, Director of Social Welfare (MSF):
is certainly one of the key values social work adheres to..mission of social work which is to right the wrong or address social injustice or to uplift the disadvantaged and work towards a level playing field.
It is about working towards a society where one’s opportunities to improve one’s life is not deterred by where you are born and your socio-economic status. Advocacy is very tight up with the social work role of being a change agent.
is acting on behalf of a client in order to access needed resources, services, or to influence policy changes...seek consideration for the circumstances of a client..one important conceptual misunderstanding about advocacy is that it has to be contentious and be about giving up of ideological positions.
This would be a wrong starting point..it.. involve listening and being respectful of differing and divergent views..understanding an issue in great and deliberate thought.
To some extent we can say that case advocacy is about a change for the individual and cause advocacy is about a change in the system and raising awareness of a cause…it happens when the larger system of organisational, community, and societal practices have adversely affected the functioning of a group of clients.
.. It is rarely about large systems change through class action lawsuits and successful policy reform..case to cause advocacy is and should be in our daily social work practice with clients, influencing the change in the agencies we work with.
..cause advocacy is not solely something that only the executive leadership, administrators and policy discussants can initiate. Social workers as change agents can be effective case and cause advocates..As social workers, we are educated and trained to have the skills and abilities to advocate and bring about improvements.
Minister Tan Chuan Jin’s Dialogue session with NYP Social work students
*Q = What I asked Minister Tan Chuan Jin, our current Minister for the Ministry of Social and Family Development
*A = Minister Tan Chuan Jin’s reply
Q: In 1987, 22 activists who were helping and advocating for the vulnerable workers, and their 2 lawyers were detained under ISA as they were suspected to be a security threat, and for being Marxist.
I’m wondering how has that incident impacted the relationship between civil society and the government, and looking forward – is the government going to provide fundings for Civil Society, like how you all do for (some) mainstream VWOs because for some of them (Civil Society), they depend only on external fundings and donations, and it might be hard for them to sustain their operations. Thank you.
A: On the Marxist conspiracy. I’m not sure what is the thrust of your question because is it about the issue itself, or whether we should fund civil society? But that is a very broad issue because we actually fund different groups, different VWOs today; and for a lot of the FSCs, we actually also provide fundings.
Q: I mean not for VWOs but for Human Rights NGOs and NPOs. [*I had meant to say “mainstream VWOs”, and “NGOs or NPOs in Civil Society” instead]
A: So you feel that taxpayers’ money should go for some of these specific groups who are promoting whatever issues they feel that they should?
Q: I think it is good to do that.
A: Well, that’s one perspective. I think we choose to fund various groups, and we don’t fund all VWOs, we fund only some. So it depends on your angle, and what you are raising. We will have different perspectives about that particular issue (Marxist Conspiracy). I remembered that issue because I was in JC, you were probably not born when that incident happen. And one could argue whether it was true, or whether it was not true.
I’ve look at some of the presentations from ISD as well. Some of them were classified, and did not come out – about what happened, the connections, and so on. Obviously there would be people who insist that they were not involved, and the links weren’t as what it claims, some of them are pre-motivated, but as far as the security agents..
Q: My question was “Did it impact the relationship between Civil Society and the government?”
A: So let me get to that, that is one part. There are different perspectives. Did it affect? Erm, no, as I think there will always be tensions between mainstream society, government, and different groups. Because there are many different interest groups, not just in terms of Human rights. That is one group, and I don’t not fully subscribe to some all these.
They advocate and fight for some of these issues. They have their own stance and their own angle. There are also different causes, different groups that are fighting e.g. whether it is LGBT and so on, there are a whole range, in every society there will be that.
Does it then mean therefore government should support? I will tell you in a lot of other countries, government do not provide support for a lot of groups. We are probably one of the few countries that provide a lot of fundings for different social and interest groups as well.
But for some to us, frankly these are taxpayers money. You can come up with your budget. Do we provide this system for some all these groups? If they want to, they can raise their own money and champion their causes. They are free to do so, and can continue to do so.
But we support a whole range of social issues because we feel that these are important, and we look out for the less privileged. So it depends on what you want to fight on. I think at the end of it, do you look out for those who are disfranchised? Or those who have difficulties and challenges?
And we do what we do to fund for these groups. You may we should fund some of these groups, but I don’t personally think I should fund these people who are claiming for human rights and various issues; but what exactly are they actually doing? And a lot of it has a political stance to it, that’s the one thing.
I was quite nervous and spent the night before thinking how to appropriately phrase the question to Minister Tan. I was actually more interested on how the Marxist Conspiracy has impacted the relationship between the government and civil society so far, which was why when he elaborated more on his opinion towards the Marxist Conspiracy instead of answering the former, I unintentionally cut him off.
I should have let him speak finish as a form of respect, and it would be a rare opportunity to find out more in-depth on a minister’s stance of the matter. I should also have been more straightforward and clear in the direction of my question. He was very opened to share, and even encouraged us to raise up any burning questions even though his visit had over-ran.
*This perception I have now is based on what I have briefly researched, watched, or read online on Operation Spectrum and Operation Coldstore. So pardon me if my opinions are not as well-read and knowledgable as it should be towards the matter of ISA and its relations.
The presence of Chinese individuals with Communists beliefs, or those who were sympathetic to its cause was definitely present in Singapore, most likely due to the generational ties some of the Chinese community might have felt towards their homeland China.
From hearsay, my grandfather did hold communist beliefs. However, I do not think ALL who were caught under the ISA for their alleged communist beliefs or activities were definitely communists. Some could have been, some could also have been not, which gives rise to the possibility some could have been wrongly accused and detained.
According to Infopedia which we should read with a pinch of salt – Said Zahari was in PRS, which had Malay nationalist roots but had been “supposedly” infiltrated by communist elements. Said planned to restructure the party and take it into an alliance with the Barisan Sosialis.
I remember what Said Zahari said in his interview (Zahari’s 17 Years (banned in Singapore). He did not blame LKY for arresting them, as he believed the latter did that for his own reasons – difference in political ideologies.
Based on what I researched online, Operation Coldstore could have been a result of various complex and possible factors e.g. influence of the western powers, Tunku, fear of communist threat, weakening of political oppositions.
Even if an ex ISA detainee like Said Zahari who was kept in prison for 17 years can be that understanding, maybe we can also more open-minded and look at the bigger picture e.g. the other factors and influences that lead to Operate Coldstore instead of blaming it solely on Lee Kuan Yew which is not really fair and accurate. As quoted by LKY – “I did what I thought was right, given the circumstances.. knowledge..pressures at the time”.
Cases of political detainees being held for long periods do actually happen in many systems around the world, with some in other countries facing a far worse fate and treatment than ours.
However, what I don’t get is why LKY chose to keep some of them detained for so long, even many years after Singapore was free from western powers, and separated from Malaysia. 10 years is very long, but you chose to keep some in prison, or with external restrictions for more than 20, 30 years. You took away more than half their life, and that of their families.
Possible reasons to why some of the political detainees were kept detained for so long:
- Want to induce fear, reduce their resilience and mental grit as leaders afraid ex-political detainees would speak out on the matter which might look back on LKY and PAP.
- Do not want them to stand in for parliament, as their opposing accounts from the government could negatively impact PAP’s image and their performance during elections
- LKY realized that not all he ordered to be caught, nor all the decisions he made was right, but he does not want to admit it, nor do he want the public to know about these mistakes.
Marxist Conspiracy (Operation Spectrum)
For the Marxist Conspiracy, you have 2 sides with opposing acounts. The government claims of the individuals being marxists. The fact that the Catholic Church, and foreign media were intertwined in the saga was quite surprising for me too. There were claims of Chuan Lai Mei being linked to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, and a picture of her holding a gun.
Some of the political detainees have however came up to say that Marxist conspiracy ceased to exist, that they were forced into doing the TV confession in return for their release, and some were tortured during interrogation – some made to seat under very cold air conditioning, thrown with cold water, slapped, or punched in the stomach.
Similar to my view on Operation Coldstore – the public will never know whose accounts are true, false, or exaggerated as two sides have opposing stories. For both matters – I still take the stand that even if some arrested had held intentions to revolt against the government or were indeed a security threat, many could also have been wrongly implicated into the matter.Ho Kwon Ping views on Lee Kuan Yew (Nov 25, 2015):
Ho maintains his position that he was arrested wrongfully, but here’s what he has to say about it:
“With all due respect to the government and to (the late) Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who I deeply respect and admire… I do not believe Mr Lee Kuan Yew was correct. I was not a communist, but what I do believe was that he honestly believed that I and other persons that he arrested were a threat to Singapore, for whatever reasons. I do not believe he detained me for his own personal gain, because he was corrupt and I was going to expose him, like 1MDB. He detained me because he thought he had to do it.”
How do we progress forward?
Ultimately, we cannot change our political history but what we can do is to learn from our past, and also let Singaporeans be more informed of both sides of the story by removing history and political censorship in both our educational and media landscape.
There are many individuals calling for the abolishment of ISA. But the thing is, we cannot just abolish ISA without coming up with a possible alternative. We have to come up with an alternative law first to tackle national security threats like Terrorism. Or not, the focus can be to fight to implement a fair trial instead of abolishing ISA, or adapt ISA to be used only for Terrorism, and not for political agendas.
The same also goes for the NCMP role. There are areas to be improved on in the system, but if you want to abolish it, not only are opposition parties left with little constitutional voting power, they will also not have a chance to voice out their views in parliament. We have to come up with an alternative to replace it.
- Prioritising fundings provision to more relevant and needy groups
I understand where Minister Tan is coming from because taxpayers money comes mostly from citizens, and many of us would want our money to be used to help mainstream needy communities e.g. elderly, special needs, families, children and youths, instead of causes which we may not support or feel aligned towards, which is why the bulk of fundings goes to mainstream VWOs. Also, it is already a struggle for the government to fund the wide spectrum of mainstream VWOs as they can only do so for some.
And in terms of the issue of Human Rights groups, what they fight for may at many times, not be aligned to the government’s interest e.g. fighting for abolishment of ISA, death penalty, removal of media and political censorship, repeal 377A. So why would the government funds such organizations whose stance goes against theirs?
Corporates themselves may also not be that opened to funding such non-mainstream groups due to the nature of their work they carry out – which are for non-mainstream communities, or issues they work on that may not align with mainstream or government interests.
- Collaboration with Civil Society
Having said that, the government and their related agencies actually do collaborate with, and provide fundings to different social or interest groups like what Minister Tan mentioned above. Some of these organizations may be non-mainstream too. E.g. working with Civil Society when doing up the Anti-human trafficking laws last year, or during policy revisions, providing support to Action for Aids, Acres, ECO Singapore. There was also the very recent EcoFriend Awards, which were awards given to 8 individuals for their environmental efforts.
- Social Work in non-mainstream communities
The role of Social workers are to advocate for disadvantaged clients. Communities like maids, migrant workers, sex workers, and LGBT are also entitled to advocacy just like their mainstream counterparts.
Cause advocacy for these niche communities might not be aligned to mainstream interests at times, but that is what the role social workers can play as “change agents”.
Also, not all Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are only focused solely on fighting for human rights (*Cause Advocacy). What some do are also at times, connected to direct social work practice.
This is where we come back to Case advocacy – niche communities also require social works services or programmes just like any other mainstream groups e.g. HOME/TWC2 work with Migrant workers, Project X with Sex Workers, OOGACHAGA with LGBTQ community, various animal welfare groups helping animals.
The external fundings they receive from the public (or at times with corporates too) helps in maintaining their daily operation costs, but with increased collaboration with the government, I think it will assist Civil Society in helping cover their service gaps, and improve on their existing programmes with the additional resources inplaced, instead of just working together on enhancing policy reforms.
# Example 1
322,400 – Work Permit (Construction)
227,100 – Work Permit (Foreign Domestic Worker)
Citizen Population – 3.375 million
We have over five hundred and forty thousand foreign domestic workers and construction workers combined. Some may face injuries, abuse and issues, and require social work services support as such.
Yes, we have a lot of organizations assisting our mainstream communities and the presence of MOM to tackle labour policy issues but still, there are very few NGOs are aimed at helping these niche communities in terms of social work services even though they make up a significant population in our little red dot.
MSF can consider partnering up or collaborating with such organizations who assist migrant workers – e.g. consider providing additional resources or fund their direct social work services or programmes.
Maids help us look after our younger generations.
Construction workers help build our infrastructures.
They may not be Singaporeans, but they are part of our community.
- Funding Process
But having said all these, I understand that getting funds can be quite a complex process – having to go through, and collaborate with different parties, as well as informing them of your progress. It has to go both ways.
Before corporates and the government agree to fund an organization, you have to first set a clear and purposeful objective, show how you are going to measure the effectiveness of your programme, while meeting your intended goals – backed up with statistics and numbers by maintaining the KPIs set in the long run, in order for fundings to be sustained.
“Civil Society does not always have to be politicised unless we choose to take on that perception. It can just be referred to a group of people passionate in advocating, supporting, contributing or promoting for their causes and communities. If we can view it this way, the relationship between the government and Civil Society can progress with lesser tensions and unease from both sides. After all, both have to work together for the continual growth and betterment of society.”
List of CSOs / NGOs/ NPOs / Communities/ Causes in Singapore
*Some were, or are still affiliated, and receive fundings from the government, some are charities, while many depend on kind donations by the public or corporates, and others may not need fundings*
+ Ultimately, what they hope is to – raise public awareness, advocate, promote, protect, or provide welfare support to their respective causes, issues, or scenes.
Social / Political Landscape
MARUAH is a Singapore human rights NGO. One of it’s aims is to promote and raise awareness, knowledge and understanding of human rights and human rights and related issues at the national, regional and international levels, in Singapore, ASEAN and elsewhere.
Function 8 is an initiative by a group of citizens who believe there is a need to facilitate the sharing of social, political and economic experiences of those who had, or are eager to contribute to society through reflection and civic discussion.
We believe in Second Chances advocates for the abolishment of the death penalty in Singapore.
AWARE aims to remove all gender-based barriers so as to allow individuals in Singapore to develop their potential to the fullest and realise their personal visions and hopes.
UN Women Singapore Committee is working towards women’s empowerment and gender equality in the region.
Alternative Media / History
Singapore Rebel hopes to build a democratic society based on justice and equality. Articles on alternative insights and information of Singapore’s political and media landscape, history, media censorship.
Think Centre aims to critically examine issues related to political development, democracy, rule of law, human rights and civil society. Think Centre’s activities include research, publishing, organising events and networking.
Let Me Decide says NO to media Censorship.
The Calling it out Talkshow aims to discuss and promote current affairs among Singapore’s youths.
Living with Myths is a forum series unpacks the myths of Singapore history. By myths, we do not mean fabrications, but discursive devices that have become accepted as part of our ‘common sense’.
“The History of Singapore” is a weekly radio show and podcast, hosted by PJ Thum, about the history of Singapore’s independence.
50 / 100 commemorates Singapore’s 50th anniversary: Alternative Narratives, New Perspectives, Different Truths”.
The Online Citizen hopes to provide an online platform for Singaporeans to champion causes and values that promote justice, openness and inclusiveness.
Happy-TV.com is a network producing original local content for the Internet focusing on the appealing aspects of Singapore life and identity, providing a “space” where people can think, laugh, celebrate, and let their hair down without apology or self-censorship
Workers / Human Trafficking
Project X is a sex workers’ rights group advocating for a fair & safe sex industry and human rights for all.
SDI Academy believe that our Customised English proficiency courses incorporating the usage of their native languages will help to increase productivity and reduce workplace injuries by solving the language barrier prevalent at workplaces across Singapore’s construction, manufacturing and marine sectors.
TWC2 promotes equitable treatment for migrant workers in Singapore.
Advoc8 aims to empower youth leaders to truly understand the pandemic problem of modern slavery and be at the frontier of advocacy against trafficking.
EmancipAsia mission is to combat human trafficking by raising awareness, advocating change and empowering communities, businesses and individuals to take action to end this horrific crime against humanity.
HOME is dedicated to upholding the rights of migrant workers in Singapore, including victims of human trafficking and forced labour.
Cat Welfare Society believe in saving the life of every cat and this means campaigning against the inhumane culling of cats.
Acres is an animal protection organisation, driven by our concern for animals. We adopt research projects on the use of animals in various fields.
HOPE Dog Rescue is a group of animal lovers who strongly feel that all animals should be treated with love and respect. We help animals who are abused, neglected or abandoned.
Causes for Animals support the needs of local animal welfare in Singapore. To employ programs and policies to promote best practice, ethical, sustainable and compassionate treatment of these animals.
Mercylight are a group of believers who have a strong desire to care for the animals, by helping them to find the right homes.
SPCA Singapore hopes to promote kindness and prevent cruelty to animals through education, advocacy and action.
Action for Singapore Dogs aims to improve the welfare of stray and abandoned dogs in Singapore.
Agency for Animal Welfare Ltd seeks to improve companion animal welfare in the heartlands, and actively engage the government through various platforms to achieve this goal without being extreme and aim to strike a balance.
Bunny Wonderland is a unique home environment created by Ms Jackie Fang for the care of rabbits. Through this community, Jackie & her small team of volunteers hope to advocate rabbit welfare, care for those in need and find forever homes for the lovelies.
Voices for Animals are a group of animal lovers who are passionate about animal welfare in Singapore, and strive to be the Voices for Animals to tell their stories. Actively involved in animal rescue (dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and other domesticated pets), stray feeding and re-homing of the animals.
House Rabbit Society Singapore (HRSS) is dedicated to rabbit welfare and awareness.
Environment and Nature
All Things Bukit Brown hopes to reach out to individuals, especially educators and students. We hope a.t.Bukit Brown will be the starting point for individuals to begin their own journey of discovery, to bridge their past to the present.
ECO Singapore aims to challenge youths of age 17-35 to adopt a sustainable lifestyle and embrace environmental issues holistically, drive local and global environmental initiatives, and support environmental activities/initiatives as a resource platform involving other environmental stakeholders.
Nature Society Singapore is dedicated to the appreciation, conservation, study and enjoyment of the natural heritage in Singapore, Malaysia and the surrounding region.
Veggie Thursday has the idea of an one veggie day per week (every Thursday).
The last train into Tanjong Pagar is a celebration of a century and a little more of train travel out of and back into Singapore that will draw to a close on the 30th of June 2011.
Willing Hearts Kitchen Garden hope to build an inter-generational community of volunteers from all walks of life who would bond over food gardening. We also encourage sharing of nature’s lessons so we become more mindful of our environment.
Singapore Heritage Society is dedicated to research, education and advocacy on issues relating to Singapore’s history, heritage and identity.
Vegetarian Society (Singapore) aims to promote vegetarianism through research and education, and linking individuals and organisations that believe in the principles of vegetarianism.
Pavilion’s edible garden wants to create a garden where it is a space for not only neighbours to meet, but also where anyone can come to learn & grow food, so that we have fresh healthy food on our table, know where food comes from, and can re-connect with the soil & nature.
We support The Green Corridor in Singapore Nature Society (Singapore) submitted a proposal to keep the Railway Lands as a continous green corridor.
Kampung Temasek looks to become THE go-to destination for people gungho about integrating exciting curriculum and programmes with nature and sustainable technologies.
People’s Movement to Stop Haze is a movement by a group of ordinary people in Singapore who believe that everyone can help stop the haze.
I’m Not Racist, But – Racism and discrimination happens on an everyday basis in Singapore. It’s time to speak up about it.
The CEMS is made up of ex-Muslims atheists, free thinkers, and humanists taking a stand for reason, universal human rights and secularism.
Stop Racism Singapore is a platform to share your confessions and views about racism in Singapore anonymously.
Humanist Society is a community for humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and other like-minded people. A community guided by reason, informed by evidence and driven by compassion.
I want Hijab (*The title can speak for itself)
The Artists Village foster and develop an increased consciousness of the importance of the arts and their contribution to Singapore society. This to be achieved by engaging in active dialogue with the public through the production and exposition of works of art.
Substation is Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre. We promote research, experimentation and innovation in the arts, and have worked with some of Singapore’s finest artists, writers and intellectuals.
Objectifs is a visual arts centre dedicated to promoting photography and film.
Singapore Writer’s Festival hopes to present the world’s major literary talents to the people of Singapore and Asia, and promote new and emerging Singapore and Asian writing to the wider public.
The Singapore Malay Film Society (SMFS) hopes to support and develop the rapidly growing & vibrant film industry in Singapore.
Singapore Film Society promotes film appreciation in Singapore as art and entertainment with year round screenings, festivals & events.
Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society is devoted to the teaching of the classical arts in a non-formal environment.
Brack is a platform for socially engaged artists and their work, gathering projects, people, and ideas that feed a progressive philosophy of life.
Sexuality and Sexual Health
The Purple Alliance is made up of a group of young Singaporeans committed towards nurturing LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, and Asexual) individuals. Our guiding principle is “Include, Nurture and Respect”.
T-Project has a shelter for homeless Transwomen which is food and rent free.
Pink Dot Sg was started by a group of individuals who care deeply about the place that LGBT Singaporeans call home. It is a group for everyone, straight and gay, who support the belief that everyone deserves the freedom to love. With openness and acceptance, we hope to bring LGBT Singaporeans closer to their family and friends.
Come Out is a movement which will give LGBTQ persons considering coming out the encouragement to do so, thereby changing society’s perception of the LGBTQ community.
Break the Binary is a privately-supported informative resource with focus on enhancing the lives of transmen (FtM) in Singapore.
Sayoni is a community-oriented organisation committed to making the lives of lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender women better.
Indignation is the LGBT Pride season in Singapore, reaffirming our participation in the intellectual and cultural life of this country, reminding all that we are as much a part of Singapore as anyone else.
SGRainbow hopes to provide a platform for GBQ men to navigate their identities within the LGBTQ and larger community through personal and social development programmes.
Oogachaga is a community-based counselling, support and personal development agency for LGBTQ individuals, couples & families.
Pelangi Pride Centre is a physical space where LGBTQs can come together for social support.
Young Out There aims to provide a platform for LGBTQ youths to foster healthy identity building, secular and inclusive thinking, enthusiastic learning and moral responsibility through sharing sessions.
Action for Aids is Singapore’s only charity dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS, and aim is to maintain and strengthen our daily programme delivery and extend care and support to individuals and families who are affected by HIV/AIDS.
gayhealth.sg aims to provide up-to-date information and facts about Sexual Health, to preserve health and to forge closer connections within our community.
Singaporeans Against Poverty campaign aims to raise awareness about poverty in Singapore. It springs from our concern for those in Singapore caught in the cycle of poverty despite the country’s economic success.
Humans of Singapore is a project dedicated to documenting the stories of the people of Singapore
Telling Stories Live features 4 different storytellers every month, whose stories range from heart-breaking and thought-provoking to hilarious and hearty, come experience live storytelling at its best. it is a platform to showcase true stories told in front of a live audience.
Singapore Red Cross Society is an independent humanitarian organisation dedicated to protecting human life and dignity, relieving human suffering and responding to emergencies.
ONE Singapore is dedicated to raising public awareness and taking concrete actions to create The World We Want and Make Poverty History.
I’m very sorry if I have missed out on any movement, organization or causes. Feel free to inform me – firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to be included into the list 🙂
Quotes on Civil Society (2014 – 2015)
There is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Singapore Government is now more prepared to engage and work with civil society than it previously was.. government has worked with non-government organisations (NGOs) such as the Singapore Environment Council to reach out to the community. Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has benefited as new committees to tackle animal welfare issues have been formed with the help of government agencies.
– Jose Raymond (TODAYOnline)
Civil society may not always agree with government, or indeed with each other, or in certain groups even among their own members..it is well recognised that government decision-making can benefit greatly from wide and inclusive consultation on many fronts. By having a mature and robust conversation, government, civic groups and Singaporeans can move towards common ground and win-win outcomes, even on difficult issues..
..There are many recent examples of government and civil society engaging more deeply and constructively on a range of issues. As a whole, we are feeling our way forward as society develops and matures, to find the right balance for constructive debate and inclusive decision-making.
– Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee
Singapore can embrace ‘more deliberative form of democracy’ where the Government, private sector and civil society meet as equals and propose and justify decisions that are generally acceptable.. This is why strengthening Singapore’s civil society is in its long-term national interest: “We need all our engines – not just the government and private sector engines – firing,”..He went on to dispel the notion that civil society is about government-bashing and navel-gazing..civil society should just be about citizenship – ordinary citizens doing their part to help with the social and economic progress of our nation,”
– Mr Laurence Lien (Chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and former NMP)
..the growth of civil society in Singapore cannot and should not be seen as being adverse to the sustenance of the PAP government or as being in support of opposition parties. This is a commonly suggested fallacy that the incumbent party, opposition parties and society must avoid.
It is worth noting that opposition parties in Singapore have struggled as much as, if not more than, the PAP, with regards to taking positions on contentious, divisive issues such as those pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
The positive effects of such difficulty has been that the major contentious issues brought up by civil society has not been painted in the colours of any particular political parties and have instead been debated as issues of national interest. This is a trend that must be advocated and indeed protected.
– Pravin Prakash (TODAYOnline)
Civil society organizations (CSOs) can in many ways contribute to public policy, democratic practice and more effective governance. CSOs help to disseminate information and to educate citizens..broaden political agendas.. improve dialogue and strengthen communication.
CSOs prepare the ground for future public policy.. Increasingly, in the new Singapore, academics and public intellectuals are generating new ideas and theories, but it will depend on the CSOs to give these ideas and theories publicity and currency, and by those means, help to change attitudes and help with the formulation of public policies.
But civil societies are not like instant noodles. Societies need time, space, civic education and experience to undertake civic functions and to broaden citizen participation in policy-making. Nor are they born with a mature set of civic norms and democratic values.
Mrs Constance Singam (Former president of AWARE)
A culture of participatory democracy..could only work if civil society is actively engaged in decision-making.. called for information to be made freely available and for this to be largely unrestricted for civil society players.. rather than a Freedom of Information Act, Singapore should instead have a Code on Information Disclosure.. would enable and encourage critical enquiry and may also result in different interpretations of data and information..
– Ho Kwon Ping (Chairman of the Singapore Management University and Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings)
.. is important to celebrate civil society activists. “They do good work in changing attitudes and bringing forth sensitive issues.. “The longer you talk about it and have these debates, you start opening people’s minds to these issues and break down the apathy.”
Mrs Constance Singam (Former president of AWARE)
“There is more active scrutiny of government policies, and more active listening by the Government. But, it will do Singapore good if we also have more debate and peer review within civil society itself … This debate, which does not depend on only the government responding to arguments being put forward, will help us mature as a society.”
– Tharman Shanmugaratnam (Ex Minister for Finance, current co-ordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies)
She wanted the “people in power” to consider the treatment of the civil society activists in the 1980s who were labelled as Marxists. “Have a look at that again”..“and see if there really was a conspiracy, or whether they were being penalised because they were supporting the Workers’ Party”. “There needs to be closure”
– Ms Margaret Thomas (2nd Vice President of AWARE)
Singaporeans still have a murky understanding of human rights and perceive these issues to be divorced from themselves or consider exclusively within the domain of activists..The task for Civil Society Organizations now is to increase public education on human rights issues among Singaporeans..Beyond affecting the targeted group, human rights issues also have repercussions for the rest of society. It is hope that the government, civil society groups, Singaporeans and residents will work together to form a more compassionate and just society.
– Alternative Voices Forum 2015 Programme Booklet (Yale-NUS) International Relations and Political Association (Oct 31 2015)
Bharati: How else would you like the government to step back and empower citizens meaningfully?
Lien: I think the government can see the non-profit sector, and civil society as a resource. Sit down as equal partners to discuss problems together. Quite often there is that distance, and it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think that civil society cannot be trusted, because they have got their own agenda which is narrow, which doesn’t take into account the broader interests, based on the whims and fancies of just specific founders and individuals. And once you start assuming that, every interaction will get reinforced with that mindset and with looking for the behaviours that fit into your bias.
Bharati: Confirmation bias.
Lien: Confirmation bias, absolutely. Government needs to sit down with non-profit organisations as equal partners, share information and work together. If these non-profit organisations have a narrow view, it’s only because they have not been exposed to your perspective, the government perspective and that is worth sharing and telling people about. These non-profit leaders will start to appreciate that. Working together is important, allowing the private and non-profit sectors to experiment to fail, and to succeed is important too.
– Laurence Lien (Former NMP)
Operation Coldstore, Operation Spectrum, Political Detainees
- Accounts of abuse
Other relevant Offbeat Perspective’s articles
Article for reading: 1994 – 2015: A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore
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Top picture taken from: NYP Social Work (*During the dialogue session with Minister Tan Chuan Jin)