Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Bilahari Email

I think the exchange between Gayle Goh and MFA Perm Sec Bilahari Kausikan will mark an important juncture in how the government engages the public, and young Singaporeans in particular. More important than the issues raised (which -- at the risk oversimplification -- boils down to whether Singapore should take a nicer and less selfish approach in its foreign policy) is the fact that a senior government officer is willing and able to have a candid exchange with a JC student, and to have these views published for public scrutiny. The much-touted "e-government" should be about such exchanges ... and not just whether you can renew your road tax online.

In Bilahari's email to Gayle, he says that he prefers disagreement to indifference, and that "those who have advised you (Gayle) to 'be careful,' tone down your criticisms or lie low have given you bad advice and do yourself, the government and Singapore no favours."

Such words are comforting (esp for bloggers), but one must also realise that the people/context Gayle describes do exist in Singapore. I believe that Singaporeans don't want to write to the government only to receive a cookie cutter reply, or worse, mildly-disguised criticism (or even worse, a lawsuit). It's good to see a 17-year-old with the cojones (figuratively speaking), intellect and writing ability to engage a prominent government official. It is even better to see said government official reply in a forthcoming and sincere manner.

IMHO, Singapore could benefit from a few more Gayle Gohs, and more than a few more Bilahari Kausikans.

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