Natcon vs natcon
The Govt has taken the initiative to start a national conversation with the people. This exercise is to engage, listen and talk with the people to find out their aspiration, what the people want for the future, the type of country and society that they can help to create for themselves and their children. It is a massive exercise involving a lot of resources and fundings.
The mission of this Natcon is defined by the Govt and the discussion would be confined to this objective. The participants are likely to be talking about an ideal, and anyone going off topic will be hauled back. The mission and agenda are all set. The participants in a way are also set, invited by the organizers. There is a feel good feeling as it is all about a dream, about the moon and the stars.
It is kind of like an academic exercise like students in institutions of learning, a tutorial that would end up with a paper at the end of the conversation. Maybe there will be prizes for the best participant or the best papers to be presented.
There is another natcon (I am using small letters) going on among the people. It is spontaneous, uncoordinated, unstructured. Anyone can participate and it is happening everywhere, anywhere. It is free, no resources are committed to such a conversation. One major difference is that the participants are people who have something to say and wanting to say. The topics are unlimited and undefined and mainly about the realities, about their life experiences and their grievances. They are talking about the now, the immediate problems they are facing. There will be emotions and pains and anger as the issues are not something airy and fairy, not something that may or may not happen in the future.
Between the two natcons, a guided Natcon and a spontaneous natcon, the Govt is likely to listen to the Natcon it initiated. It must be as it costs a lot of money to organize such an exercise. And the findings cannot be put to waste. Would the Govt listen to the other natcon that it has nothing to do with, a natcon coming from the hearts of the people, or urgent issues that the people wanted the Govt to act on?
What would likely happen is that the findings of the Natcon will be compiled and may even be discussed in Parliament as the people’s aspiration for the future. The people have spoken. And it could even be the basis for the PAP’s position in the next GE, telling the voters that it has discussed with the people and they will deliver what the people want.
As for the spontaneous natcon that is unstructured and messy, it is likely to be regarded as voices from the disgruntled, from the losers, voices from the lunatic fringe, and likely to be ignored. To the people, their natcon is real and needs immediate attention. To the Govt, it is the guided Natcon that matters.
Is there a meeting of the minds between the Govt and the people? Yes, the Govt has spoken to some of the selected people invited. And no, the Govt is not talking or listening to the other people who wanted the Govt to listen to their problems. Which natcon is important and relevant is subjective and depending on who one is.