Kenneth Paul Tan: 'OSC Committee made difficult interventions'

In part 1 of the interview with Our Singapore Conversation committee member Kenneth Paul Tan, he talks about his experience on the committee, how the committee felt about the Population White Paper and whether the national conversation is an "instrument for the political establishment".

Q: What did your work on the OSC committee involve?

A lot of the hard labour was done by the secretariat. But we attended committee meetings and were asked to advise on various aspects of the OSC process and outcomes. We were also expected to participate in as many forum sessions throughout the year as possible.

People often ask if anything really surprising was said during these forums. Many of the issues raised I knew about cerebrally of course, but I really value hearing the concerns being played out in stories that were very personal. When people became confident to share their stories authentically, you get to hear the reality and depth of these concerns in more nuanced tones. Otherwise, the concerns remain abstract.

Q: What were some decisions the committee had to make?

The final report had a lot of editorial input from us: What to call it, what look it should have, whether the voices we heard were as accurately and authentically reflected in the writing. We did not want it to be a policy document but a faithful record of the concerns and aspirations of Singaporeans that could guide actual policymaking.

We refined the questions of the survey that was done. We thought about what the implications of asking questions in a certain way might be. So we had that type of input, too, in the survey process.

In the transition into phase two of the OSC, the secretariat also presented to us their efforts at codifying the dialogues into 12 perspectives, to see if they matched what we heard on the ground.

Q: Was there any that attracted a bit more discussion?

Yes. It's a very vocal committee that made many suggestions, sometimes difficult ones. The secretariat was quite responsive to the interventions of the committee. The fiercest intervention, though, came during the announcement of the White Paper on Population in January. I remember at that committee meeting, some members felt let down.

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