June 2nd, 2015

Ministries should publish reports on impact of schemes

By Edwina Shaddick, Training Institute Executive, AWARE, and Goh Li Sian, Research And Advocacy Coordinator, AWARE

budget 2A debate has emerged, following the death of our longest-serving Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, about whether Singapore’s successes indicate that we must keep doing the same things.

On his Facebook page, Mr Donald Low, associate dean at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, argues otherwise: That present circumstances differ from those of the past and therefore warrant different responses.

Indeed, gratitude for what we have now should not stop us from debating our future. Nor should a desire to address the needs of the present be equated with ingratitude.

As Mr Low mentions, a key element of the debate is about state accountability, both procedural accountability, which means regular, free and fair elections, and performance accountability, or the “extent to which rulers advance the broader interests of society”.

Currently, Singapore does not rank very high in government transparency. A World Wide Web Foundation study published this year showed that although we scored best in South-east Asia, we came in bottom among developed countries.

Greater accountability is needed now. The Singapore Budget 2015 saw an increase in government spending in several areas.

The Finance Ministry estimated a deficit of S$6.67 billion, which is not necessarily a bad thing if the money is used wisely.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted that the schemes to help entrepreneurs were “more generous than in any other economy … when you add up all our schemes” and that entrepreneurs must “rise to the occasion”.

Likewise, he argued that Singapore already has generous transfers to low-wage earners.

However, to ensure that the increased spending is cost-effective and that implementation meets the targeted objectives, one suggestion might be to require ministries to publish annual reports on the impact of their budgetary schemes.

Ministries in many countries do issue annual reports. Public-listed companies, statutory boards and charities are required to do so. It stands to reason that ministries in Singapore should do so.

Currently, much of the information on the impact of ministry policies comes from answers to parliamentary questions.

Alternatively, the public is informed when ministries choose to release information, which is done in an ad hoc or discretionary manner, making it difficult for the public to understand how effective government policies are.

More detailed information on allocation, expenditure, implementation and impact can foster greater accountability, which should be an essential part of our society.

As we consider what steps we should take to address present needs, we must put in place monitoring and evaluation processes, with results to be made publicly available.

In this way, we as a nation can engage meaningfully in the shaping of a sustainable, inclusive future.

This letter was first published in TODAY Voices on 8 May 2015.

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