S’pore Looking at Petition System That Guarantees a Ministry’s Response Should It Hit 10,000 Signatures

If you’re part of the group of Singaporeans who wonder if anyone relevant even takes note of petitions and takes the public’s opinions into account, you might get a definite answer soon.

And if you’re thinking about petitioning for a cause you believe in, you might have a local-based platform to do so soon.

Unless you’re thinking of petitioning to ban people from eating prata with sugar. Then maybe you won’t get to petition that in the near future.

Some of you may know of PetitionsSG, a platform prototype that was launched in January this year as part of the Open Government Products’ annual Hack for Public Good 2022 initiative.

The prototype, developed by a team of five, allows members of the public to start and process various petitions, but they will not be sent to the government yet.

Alwyn Tan, a senior software engineer at Open Government Products, is one of the people who contributed to the project.

Lest you’re unaware, Open Government Products is an experimental development team that is situated within GovTech. The team is responsible for technology-based issues for the public sector.

Tan recently replied to queries from The Straits Times.

According to him, the aim of the platform is to empower citizens and to let their voices for change be heard. Additionally, the platform will allow more efficient communication between the public and ministries.

As of today (5 May), there are no petitions that have been officially posted on the website yet.

How to Use the Platform

Once you enter the website, step-by-step instructions on how to use the platform will appear.

Firstly, members of the public can use the platform to “draft a compelling petition for a cause you think needs the government’s attention”.

Next, they will have to find three endorsers who must be willing to endorse the petition publicly, and the petition will be posted publicly for other people in Singapore to read and sign after this step is complete.

If the petition manages to achieve a goal of 10,000 signatures within 180 days, the petition will be handed over to the relevant ministry.

After the ministry is informed about the petition, it will have 90 days to make a response.

Other Details of the Platform

Even though some petitions may not reach the goal of 10,000 signatures within 180 days, they will still be stored in an archive that the public can access. This will allow for greater public discourse regarding the matter.

Petitions that end up being rejected due to them getting “significant reports” against them will also be stored in the archive.

Of course, both the creator of the petition and the endorsers must state their names to account for transparency and accountability.

On the other hand, members of the public can opt to sign petitions anonymously if they prefer not to reveal their names.

The website clarifies, “PetitionsSG offers the option to sign a petition anonymously, because we understand public civic participation in Singapore on certain topics could come with some social stigma attached.

“Open Government Products has engineered significant protections for anonymity on PetitionsSG, even in the event of a complete data breach of the platform.”

The website also assured members of the public that by signing a petition anonymously, even the government and Open Government Products will not be able to identify the user who signed the petition since their names will not be recorded.

This is despite the fact that all people who sign petitions on this platform will be required to sign in with their Singpass account, as the platform wants to keep trolling to a minimum, and also wants to make sure that opinions from members of the public are real.

The platform also does not record the personal data of users, such as their NRIC number or home address.

Response to the Platform

In response to the platform, Assistant Professor Saifuddin Ahmed from Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information observed that this platform will offer local petitioners a specialised and large, open space to voice their opinions.

This will allow them to have more transparency, and also be able to roughly determine the amount of public support that different causes are able to garner.

He also mentioned, “It fills a gap for Singaporeans and may evolve into a formalised petition system.

“Such systems have helped create more transparent and authentic communication between the citizens and the government in several regional and national Parliaments like in the United Kingdom.”

Apart from benefitting petitioners, Prof Saifuddin also pointed out how the platform might increase the number of people who are willing to play their part when it comes to the societal issues related to petitions.

This is especially for those who see the current process of supporting petitions too tedious, whether it is in the form of time, money or effort.

“Many citizens refrain from engagement within the public sphere because they consider the costs of participation to be high, he added.

He also noted that online petitions will greatly reduce the cost of participation for most Singaporeans, and the wide reach of these online petitions may also encourage young Singaporeans to be involved as well.

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Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University as well as a former Nominated MP, agreed that the platform could bring about benefits.

However, he also touched on how Singapore should take note and refrain from cultivating a “petitionary culture”, where people rely solely on getting signatures on their petition to garner a response from the government.

He explained, “This would be a situation where we have a mechanical process of a government response being secured with a certain threshold number of signatures obtained for a petition.

“Ultimately, policymaking cannot be a numbers game and one where a vocal minority prevails.”

Other Countries that Have Official Petition Websites

Apart from Singapore’s possible implementation of an official petition website, there are other countries around the world that also use similar platforms.

In the United Kingdom (UK), a petition platform was rolled out by the government back in 2015.

Petitions can only be created by UK citizens or residents, and the petitioner must also submit the email addresses of five supporters.

Petitions which reach 10,000 signatures and above will receive a response from the government, while those that reach 100,000 signatures and above will be considered for debate in Parliament.

Some petitions that have garnered much support in the UK include schemes to allow free parking for healthcare staff, waiving visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees, as well as to ban the shooting of badgers.

Based on their website, the UK government has responded to 657 petitions. 126 petitions have also been debated in the UK’s House of Commons.

So far, 657 petitions have been responded to and 126 have been debated in the UK’s House of Commons since the platform started operating in 2015, according to the UK government website.

Apart from the UK, the New Zealand and Canadian governments have also implemented platforms that allow citizens to roll out petitions as well.

For Canadians, petitions will have to receive 500 signatures or more before they can be presented to the House of Commons.

The government of the United States used to have a similar website for its people as well.

We the People, a platform that was operated from 2011 to January this year, ensured a response to petitions that garnered a specific number of signatures.

Over the years, the number of signatures required increased from 5,000 to 25,000, then to 100,000.

And it seems like not all petitions have to be serious and solemn.

Back in 2012, someone in the United States submitted a petition to create a Death Star, which is a gigantic planet-destroying space station from the Star Wars movie franchise.

The petition ended up getting 25,000 signatures, prompting a reply from the administration.

In response to the petition, the government replied in a joking manner, “The Administration does not support blowing up planets.”

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Featured Image: petitions.hack.gov.sg