The 28 Most Important Issues Facing Singapore

Author: Thum Ping Tjin
Published:

What do our Singaporean readers really think about the current state of Singapore and the most important issues facing the country? In stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda, we asked them to answer the following question:

In your opinion, what issues do you consider important to Singapore? What do you think the candidates should be talking about as they compete for your votes in the upcoming election?

447 people responded. Their responses were extremely diverse, intelligent, and passionate. If you’d like to see the (anonymised) raw data, here it is.

First, we read through all 447 responses. We then grouped all the responses into broad issues (huge thanks to our intern, who did half the responses and helped check my work!). Here’s an explanation of all 28 issues along with example responses. Take a look at the responses below—and then go respond to stage 2 and tell us which five issues are the most important issues facing Singapore! It’s also available in MalayChinese and in Tamil.

The 28 issues, summarised

For brevity in stage 2, we summarised each issue in under 280 characters. (This was insanely difficult!) Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • Cost of Living & Poverty: What should be done to address the rising cost of living? How do we eliminate poverty and homelessness in Singapore? Why are rents/housing costs so high? How is it we are such a rich country and yet there are so many poor people?
  • CPF, Insurance, Welfare: Is the CPF our savings, or a government tax? What principles should the CPF operate on? What about the changing nature of work? Unemployment insurance?
  • Demography: How should we adapt to an ageing population and a declining birth rate? What should our ideal population be and why? Should the state intervene in our society?
  • Destructive Politics: Why does the PAP government have such hostility towards honest criticism? How do we have respectful, constructive conversations/actions when the PAP censors/bans everything they disagree with? Why do they treat us like infants?
  • Discrimination: How do we end all systemic and casual discrimination in Singapore? How do we protect of rights all minorities (class, race, gender, LGBTQ, religious, linguistic, etc.)? Does CMIO & other official discrimination make things worse?
  • Drugs/Addictive Substances: What principles should we base our drug policy on? Can we have a more humane and effective drug policy? Consistency: why are cannabinoids & vaping banned when opiates, nicotine, & alcohol are not?
  • Economy and Jobs: How should we develop Singapore’s economy to meet the challenges of today and the future? How do we grow Singapore’s economy in a fair manner? How do we break the economy’s dependence on the state? Can we have a minimum wage?
  • Education: How do we educate people to prepare for a changing world? How do we meet the educational needs of those who do not fit into the current system? How should we fund education? How do we eliminate systemic discrimination in the education system?
  • Electoral and Parliamentary Reform: What should the voting age be? How do we make elections fair and reflective of popular will? How do we reform Parliament for better representation & checks and balances (e.g. proportional representation, Upper House)?
  • Environment: How do we deal with the impending climate crisis? How do we decarbonise? How do we end our role in the oil and gas industry? How do we meet the Paris goals? Why are we reclaiming so much land? How do we increase recyclability?
  • Foreign Policy: How do we ensure Singapore is prepared to deal with today’s global state of affairs? Can we have a clear stance on issues raised at the UN? What is our role in Southeast Asia? How do we build constructive relationships with our neighbours?
  • Healthcare: How do we ensure healthcare is affordable for all? What about issues that are currently not covered/ properly treated, e.g. mental health? Can we have more transparency in the healthcare sector? How do we provide better lives for the elderly?
  • Housing/HDB: What principles should our public/socialised housing be based on? How would you deal with the impending HDB 99-year lease crisis? How would you reform the housing system to create affordable housing for all? Are we HDB “owners” or “tenants”?
  • Human Rights and Civil Liberties: How do we protect human rights and civil liberties? Where is the line between freedom of speech and censorship? Why do we need the death penalty? How can our prisons be rehabilitative?
  • Immigration and Refugees: What is a fair immigration policy that balances the needs of Singaporeans with giving opportunities to foreigners? How do we end hostility to foreigners? Why do we refuse to take in refugees? What is our ideal population level?
  • Inequality: How do we end the systemic and structural discrimination that has led to drastically increased inequality? How do we create a fair society that gives opportunity to all—minimum wage? Social welfare? Universal income/healthcare?
  • Infrastructure and Transport: How should we improve Singapore’s transport, utilities, and other public infrastructure (e.g. libraries)? What is future of transport in SG, especially in relation to car ownership, public transport, and electric vehicles?
  • Language: Why do we not all learn and speak our National Language? Why is Mandarin only for ethnic Chinese, Malay only for Malays, etc.? What is the future of Chinese/Malay/Tamil in Singapore? Should we all be forced to speak the same language?
  • Leadership and Politics: How do we find/select good leaders? What kind of leadership does Singapore need? How can we have good leadership when the PAP openly attacks good people who disagree? How do we have more diverse voices in our policymaking?
  • National Service: How should we rethink NS in terms of changing society, technology, security needs? NS for women? Alternative forms of NS for those unwilling/unable to perform military service – athletes, new citizens, religious/contientious objectors?
  • Religion: What is the role of religion in our society? Should we permit religious exemptions to laws or alternative courts for certain religions? How do we combat religious fundamentalism/extremism?
  • Security: What can be done about the rise of regional terrorism?
  • Society: How do we improve quality of life for all? Why are Singaporeans so stressed out? How can we create a society that recognises the dignity of all individuals? What values should we collectively uphold? How far should the state intervene in society?
  • Tax: What principles should govern how we tax Singaporeans? Why is Singapore’s tax system so heavily regressive? Why do we have no capital gains tax? Can we try universal income as a reverse tax?
  • Technology, AI, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: How do we utilise new technologies to make peoples’ lives better while protecting their privacy and keeping the technology from being abused, especially by the state and global corporations?
  • The Future of Singapore and Singaporean Identity: What is your vision for Singapore’s society & how would you achieve it? Where is Singapore going? What should Singaporean identity/values be? Is the National Pledge a commitment or merely an aspiration?
  • Transparency and Accountability: How would you increase transparency and accountability from elected officials/ civil servants, and work to prevent corruption and abuses of power? How do we increase independent scrutiny of officials and expenditure?
  • Workers’ Rights and the Changing Nature of Work: How do we prevent all workers, local and foreign, from being exploited/abused? Can workers organise independent unions? How do freelancers protect themselves?

Issues Not Mentioned

Interestingly, respondents ignored many issues identified by the current PAP government as important/urgent issues:

  • No one mentioned racial or religious faultlines. Instead, race and religion were discussed in terms of reducing discrimination, increasing mutual understanding, and facilitating honest and respectful exchanges. Conversely, the PAP strategies of policing hard boundaries and suppressing all debate were often identified as obstacles to religious and racial tolerance. Religious extremism was seen as a common problem facing all religions, not any specific religion.
  • No one mentioned deliberate online falsehoods (“fake news”) as a problem, except when spread by governments. Instead, when the law to combat fake news (POFMA) was mentioned, it was typically identified as an example of PAP government censorship and overreach.
  • No one mentioned foreign funding or foreign interference in our politics.
  • Only one person mentioned a security issue. Here is the response in its entirety: “The rise of regional terrorism.” There was no further explanation.
  • No one mentioned crime, except again in the context of the unfairness/inhumanity of drug penalties.

By the Numbers

Longest response: 1,497 words. That’s about the length of journalism articles on New Naratif! It dealt with a wide range of issues, from healthcare to ministerial salaries to discrimination to the mindset of political elites to CPF. In general, many responses were very long, and dealt with a wide range of issues that respondents were concerned about.

Longest response on a single issue: 167 words, on the increasing use of technology by government to conduct mass surveillance, censorship and control. This respondent was particularly worried about the rampant, unchecked used of AI-based technologies (e.g. facial recognition from smart lamp-posts, digital records) to intrude into citizens’ private lives. They referred specifically to our article on data privacy as a good example of the reporting needed and urged for  an open, honest debate about the issue.

Shortest response: “jobs”. Two different people submitted a response consisting of this single word! They weren’t alone—a number of people submitted responses which included the word “jobs” on its own or accompanied with “job security”, as part of longer lists of important issues.

The person mentioned most often in the responses: Not a politician, but Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings. Respondents were unhappy about the conflict of interest inherent in a situation where the CEO of a sovereign wealth fund is also the Prime Minister’s spouse (and in general, about the issue of nepotism/cronyism); about a lack of accountability over her performance or any partiality in politics; and a lack of transparency, where her salary and benefits are not disclosed.

We’re not going to tell you which were the most popular responses, as we don’t want to influence your response in stage 2, but here is a word cloud (with plurals counted as the singular):

Finally, a breakdown by language:

  • English: 441 responses out of 835 unique visitors, for a completion rate of 52.8%. Average time for completion: 5 minutes, 48 seconds.
  • Chinese: 5 responses, out of 31 unique visitors, for a completion rate of 16.1%. Average time for completion: 9 minutes, 38 seconds.
  • Malay: 1 response out of 5 unique visitors, for a completion rate of 20%. Average time for completion: 5 minutes, 41 seconds.
  • Tamil: 0 responses. Interestingly, one respondent told me they appreciated the effort to cater to Tamil writers, but they didn’t have Tamil input software on their computer so they just did it in English!

Now that you’ve seen the breakdown, go respond to stage 2 and tell us which five issues are the most important issues facing Singapore! It’s also available in MalayChinese and in Tamil.

Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is Managing Director of New Naratif and founding director of Project Southeast Asia, an interdisciplinary research centre on Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, his work centres on Southeast Asian governance and politics. His most recent work is Living with Myths in Singapore (Ethos: 2017, co-edited with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Chia). He is creator of “The History of Singapore” podcast, available on iTunes. Reach him at pingtjin.thum@newnaratif.com.

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