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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ministers turn to web to connect with citizens

Ministers turn to web to connect with citizens
By Faris Mokhtar | SingaporeScene – Mon, Jun 13, 2011.. .

Ministers are taking to social media to enagge citizens and gather ground sentiments on policy issues.

Ministers from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) are increasingly taking to social media to engage the public and address issues in relation to their respective ministries.

Political observers who spoke to Yahoo! Singapore said the initiative to engage the online community comes in the wake of the General Election on May 7, during which one of the key grouses was that the government failed to sufficiently engage and elicit feedback from citizens.

But all that seems to have changed.

In recent weeks, no less than three ministers have taken to blogs and Facebook to connect with netizens and explain their polices directly to the web community.

Among them is new Housing Minister Khaw Boon Wan who has been actively posting articles on his blog called "Housing Matters".

In one of his recent posts, Mr Khaw — who has been an active blogger since his days as Health Minister — sparked debate on the culling of cats, urging the AVA to seek out new approach to handle the stray cat population.

In an article posted on June 6, Mr Khaw also called on netizens to propose alternative solutions to tackle the problem of strong wind wetting the floors of HDB apartments.

Through his blog, Housing Minister Khaw Boon Wan shares his thoughts on housing issues and solicits feedback from …

Unknown to most, new Environment Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has also been updating his blog regularly — even prior to the General Election this year.

Two Sundays ago, the Minister addressed the issue of flooding which affected several parts of Singapore, including the badly-hit Tanglin Mall.

Among the five key issues addressed in his blog, Dr Balakrishnan called on the country's national water agency Public Utilities Board (PUB) to "systematically review every single flood prone area and take all necessary action to ensure public safety". This he said must be done urgently and comprehensively.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has increased engagement efforts to his Facebook page. He can be seen personally responding to queries and suggestions posted on his Facebook 'wall'.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has also been using his Facebook page 'MParader' to gather feedback on pertinent issues. Previously, he had asked the public to select the top two hot-button issues.

After tallying the total number of comments received, foreign immigration — which garnered 81 responses — was ranked as the number one issue followed by housing and education.

Based on these findings, the senior minister has already set up plans for a "chit chat session" in which 40 respondents will be invited to attend a face-to-face meeting.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has set up a dialogue to discuss hot-button issues with Facebook users. …

Political watcher Eugene Tan, said the trend of leveraging on social media is a sign of the changing times, where Singaporeans expect the politicians to communicate online.

This he added, provide a more direct and personal access to Singaporeans.

In contrast, the conventional methods of disseminating government-related information through press releases and statements by civil servants are regarded as "faceless modes, lacking in accessibility".

"A Minister's use of online media enables the Minister to not only communicate directly but also to seek feedback and get a sense of public sentiment," said Tan who is also assistant professor at the Singapore Management University.

Efforts to engage those online could also be attributed to the recent general election, said former editor of Today newspaper PN Balji.

This he added, has shaken politicians — especially those from the ruling party — into action.

However, he noted that the government is still "very hesitant" to fully latch itself onto social media, referring its policy of not responding to views on online websites — other than those of the mainstream media — as an "archaic policy and unsustainable".

"The more it stays away, the bigger the loser it will be," he said.

Now that the communications paradigm has changed and with social media now part of politics, Balji said the government has no choice but to adapt.

And to communicate with those online — especially the youths — requires a new set of skills, which he added, the government has yet to understand.

"The government is not used to engaging the public in such a high-profile way. The language has to be different, the attitude has to be different," said Balji, who is currently director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

"You can't be defensive, you need to be empathetic. You will step on wrong toes, learn from mistakes, make up and continue to dance. I don't think the government understands this part of the game yet."

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