Workers’ Party on Hijab Issue: Government Should Conduct Constructive Public Consultations

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Office: Member of Parliament
District: Aljunied GRC
Party: The Workers’ Party

By MP for Aljunied GRC, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap
[Delivered in Committee of Supply on 12 March 2014]

Since 2011 the government had set out to foster social cohesion and to build an inclusive society through the budget. While an ‘inclusive society’ means different things to different people, it is important to know that a fundamental tenet of an inclusive society is the tolerant and respectful embrace of the cultures and values that each community in Singapore holds dear.

In the context of the ‘new normal’ in Singapore society, Singaporeans are increasingly more vocal and want their views to be heard. I believe that in fostering multiculturalism, public dialogue and constant consultations are the way forward. In the case of the recent hijab issue, to the best of my understanding, the dialogue that was conducted with representatives of the Malay community was more of a platform for the government to convey its stand, rather than a dialogue. This is because the government has already came to the decision of not allowing hijab to be worn prior to the dialogue session instead of making decision at or after the session. I am of the view that the government should enhance not only the manner in which it communicates but also its attitude when performing the communicating. At the same time, consultation with one community alone is inadequate as it may lead to hasty conclusions and unnecessary assumptions. A more constructive approach would be public consultations conducted with different stakeholders, and the different ethnic communities. The Singaporeans I meet from the different ethnic communities understand that the final policy outcomes may not go according to their preferences. Nonetheless, they hope that the government should also understand that the process is equally important to them.

It is the responsibility of any government not to overtly impose its assumptions on any issue, particularly on sensitive and emotional issues. Rather it should base its understanding on scientific findings and in the event that such information is not available, commission a study on the matter. The government should also make available the information that it has. Public engagement and consultations that adopt a more transparent, forthright and comprehensive approach would allow us to better understand the issue at large and the context and the nuances behind each issue. I hope the Minister would agree with me that such an approach would bring us closer to a consensus that is workable, productive and acceptable by the various stakeholders involved. That should be the way forward towards an inclusive society and a multicultural Singapore.

Source: Workers’ Party

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