SINGAPORE – What makes a Singaporean? New citizens contemplating this are now offered some guidance in the form of a report by Singaporeans, both local-born and naturalised, that was published on Saturday (Nov 28).
The eight chapters in the 57-page report explore what it means to be a Singaporean. They share insights regarding a citizen’s values, roles and responsibilities, and contributions to society. They also delve into the nation’s art, culture and history.
The report highlights five “shared values”, including placing society above self, seeking consensus instead of conflict, and appreciating racial and religious harmony.
Coming after seven months of dialogue and deliberation by the Citizens’ Workgroup for the Singapore Citizenship Journey, the report also urges new citizens to contribute to society in various ways.
An example would be volunteering as a museum docent to improve one’s own – as well as the visitors’ – understanding of Singapore’s intricacies and nuances. Volunteering in areas such as community gardening could also help to foster connections among the community, said the report.
It also highlighted the roles and responsibilities of all citizens, highlighting how citizenship was a privilege that came with certain responsibilities beyond obeying the laws of the country.
This includes respecting those of different religions, as well as treating men and women with equal respect.
“There is no room for gender chauvinism in Singapore,” said the report. “Your responsibility is to treat and practise meritocracy at work in terms of equal pay for the same job and equal opportunities for advancement.”
In the chapter on the arts, cultures and traditions in Singapore, the authors highlighted how the scene is “a truly rich, rojak feast of East and West, ancient and modern, across many media”.
It urged mutual respect and appreciation, and also cited examples of how this may not always be the case in the past.
The report cited a 2011 incident that involved two families who were living in the same residential block. The Chinese family, recently arrived from China, had complained about the smell that wafted into their home whenever the Indian family cooked curry for meals.
The “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” scheme was soon started as a ground-up initiative to invite foreign residents and locals to start a conversation about local practices, noted the report.
The initiative was well received, and many foreign residents participated to connect with locals.
“This is the best of Singapore, where we appreciate and enjoy our different cuisines, festivals, customs and traditions,” said the authors.
A member of the workgroup, Ms Shereen Mohd Idris, said participating in the discussions and reflecting on what makes a Singaporean was a meaningful journey.
The 36-year-old public servant added: “The experience reveals how Singaporeans are culturally rich and hold an incredible repository of social capital that is always respectful, inclusive, and ever welcoming to others.”
During a media briefing held online on Saturday, members of the workgroup acknowledged that identity issues were not clear cut, and that different individuals would have different perspectives on what should be included in the report for new citizens.
For instance, workgroup members differed on what issues should be included in the chapter regarding Singapore’s future as a nation and which broad trends would have serious implications for it.
One example was bilateral relations.
Ms Shahrany Hassan, 44, founder and director of a local non-government group to promote social cohesion, said one of the members of the workgroup had felt strongly that this was an issue that should be included in the report.
“The person felt that new citizens will not understand… why our ministers or government officials strive to maintain good relations with our immediate neighbours, as you don’t see this as much in other developed countries,” said Ms Shahrany.
After much discussion, a decision was made among the group to include this in the report, she added.
Another member of the workgroup, Ms Li Woon Churdboonchart, 43, said it was wonderful that diverse views were heard and embraced during the discussions.
“We took seven months to iron out our differences, understand (one another), and we did a lot more research and read up even more,” said Ms Churdboonchart, a Singaporean who has always been challenged by many on her identity as a Singaporean due to her Thai surname.
But she said it was the group’s love for Singapore that brought them together, and also a key reason why people involved were willing to compromise. “And I must remind everyone, that it is consensus not conflict, that will bring us all together.”
Ms Jill Wong, senior director for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s (MCCY) resilience and engagement division, said the report will contribute to the mandatory curriculum which new citizens have to follow before becoming full-fledged members of Singaporean society.
While the authorities have taken in feedback from the public over the years, the workgroup, convened by the MCCY in January this year, is the first of its kind.
Its aim is to give input on the Singapore Citizenship Journey programme. A total of 93 people took part.
Introduced in 2011, the Singapore Citizenship Journey is a mandatory programme for naturalised citizens.
It is designed to deepen understanding of Singapore’s history and culture via interactive online modules on topics such as the country’s history and culture, national symbols and national policies.
MCCY said it will provide a formal response to the Citizens’ Workgroup in January 2021.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong thanked the Citizens’ Workgroup members for stepping forward and adapting to the digital sessions held amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They exemplify the ethos of Singapore Together by working with the Government, and one another, for the common good. We will continue to partner and engage Singaporeans in building our shared future.”
Singaporeans can view the report and share their responses with MCCY at this website by Dec 28.