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  Straits Times 14 Sep 07
Faster feedback on issues with new system
Revamped feedback unit Reach forms specific policy study workgroups based on concerns that crop up
By Jeremy Au Yong

FEEDBACK from the public can now get to the Government faster and so have a more immediate impact on policy.

Dr Amy Khor, chairman of Reach - the Government's revamped feedback unit - said this is possible as the unit now forms specific policy study workgroups on an ad hoc basis, depending on issues that arise. In the past, there were eight permanent groups that looked at a broad range of topics.

Speaking at the launch of Reach's first five workgroups, Dr Khor, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, said: 'We hope that they will be able to come up with more timely, more relevant and useful feedback and recommendations. And the possible adoption of such recommendations will be more immediate and obvious.

'In that sense, we hope that we bring the level of engagement (with the public) to a much deeper, higher and more productive level.'

The workgroups will draw feedback from the public through various ways, including focus groups, dialogues and surveys.

The five workgroups launched yesterday will focus on issues flagged by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally Speech last month. These are: ageing and health; education and human capital; economic and employment opportunities; physical and environmental sustainability; and population and integration.

Speaking at the event, Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the groups were a platform for 'interested and committed individuals' to work on issues and make a difference for their fellow Singaporeans.

'Feedback and complaints are valuable, but we shouldn't be stuck at that level only. In other words, we want Singaporeans to have a sense of ownership in the formulation and refinement of government policies,' he said.

Associate Professor Goh Lee Gan of the National University of Singapore's community, occupational and family medicine department, chairs the workgroup on Ageing and Health Issues.

He sees the chance to work with Reach as a valuable opportunity: 'We are able to reach a whole cross-section of the community. I think the power of Reach is the ability to reach everybody. We all form part of this big society and that's very powerful.'

Agreeing with Dr Balakrishnan's point about public involvement, he added: 'Getting the community to have a say, to tell us how they feel about various things, is the essence of feedback.'

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