Smoking Age Reform: A Better Consultation Process Needed

Good governance requires a faithful adherence to accountability-enhancing procedural requirements during policy-making. Parliamentary speeches are insufficient. Consultation costs are unsubstantial compared to the costs of a wrong decision, or the unquantifiable costs of a departure from the principles of representation, accountability and transparency 

Is anyone else disappointed at the lack of public consultation and transparency concerning the Singapore government’s decision to raise the legal age for smoking to 21? This announcement was truly out of the blue. I don’t need to be a smoker to believe that good governance requires a faithful adherence to accountability-enhancing procedural requirements during policy-making, especially for policies that concern large numbers of people. In this case, there should have been a process of public consultation – views of members of the public, including smokers and non-smokers, should be taken into account, alongside the views of healthcare professionals. A report concerning the consultation process should then be published online for public viewing. For an example, see [1] below.

Alongside the consultation process, the Ministry of Health should conduct its own research, and publish a policy paper containing its research, and explaining in detail the reasons why it decided on a particular course of action. For example, see [2] below.

Some might ask: aren’t Parliamentary speeches enough? Due to time constraints, speech-makers will omit substantial amounts of information. Furthermore, both the members of the public and backbenchers in Parliament can better scrutinize the Ministry’s claims and the content of its research if they are presented via a policy paper. Important elements such as citations and graphs are absent in a Parliamentary speech, and the rhetorical character of speech-making provides speech-makers the opportunity to mask the substance of their arguments behind a grandiose and spurious narrative.

the ultimate question we must ask ourselves is: what kind of governance we want, and how much do we value transparency and accountability?

Some might argue that the raising of the smoking age is a small policy, with little impact, and therefore taxpayer’s money should not be wasted on public consultation exercises and the conducting of detailed research on the issues. Indeed, these procedures cost money; but I have two responses. First, this policy does affect many people. Second, and more importantly, the ultimate question we must ask ourselves is: what kind of governance we want, and how much do we value transparency and accountability? Surely the costs of consultation and research are unsubstantial compared to the costs of a wrong decision, in addition to the real but unquantifiable cost relating to the departure from the principles of representation, accountability and transparency which supposedly form the basis our modern democracy. [3]

R

First published on Facebook on 10th March 2017

***************************
NOTES
[1]: In August 2016, the UK government published its response to its public consultation concerning how to keep health risks from alcohol consumption to a low level: https://www.gov.uk/…/attachmen…/file/545911/GovResponse2.pdf
[2]: In October 2016, the UK government published a policy paper justifying its decision to reform the pharmacy sector: https://www.gov.uk/…/561495/Community_pharmacy_package_A.pdf
[3]: Speaking of which, it would be ideal if the government release more publications, and that there was some accessible database where we may view those publications. Currently, Ministries do release publications, but these are few and far between, and are hosted separately on each Ministry’s website. Furthermore, the publications tend to be informative – telling the public about existing policy, rather than consultative (reporting on public consultation) or justificatory (the reasoning behind a policy). For comparison, have a look at the UK’s database: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications…

***************************

Editor’s note: some readers have informed me that there was in fact a public consultation exercise carried out by the Ministry of Health. However, I have not yet been able to find the original report detailing the consultation process, and the responses received. Neither is there a single database through which any member of the public can retrieve such information.

Advertisements

Author: Rio Hoe

Rio is the chief editor and co-founder of Consensus SG. He is a recent law graduate from the University of Oxford. His interests include politics, sociology, legal theory and political philosophy.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s