A racially-reserved presidential election. A highly-charged family feud between Prime Minster Lee and his siblings punctuating concerns about governance. The stepping down of Low Thia Khiang, a major opposition party leader. These were just some of the stories that Singaporeans woke up to in 2017, so it is not surprising that the general population, on average, trust their government less than ever before, down four points to 65 percent. However, Singaporeans still believe government will lead them on the path to a better future. Overall, Singapore’s Trust Index, an average of trust in the institutions of business, government, media and NGOs, also slipped a further two points and dropped into the “neutral” territory for the first time.
Trust in business in general and across various sectors also saw declines this year. The technology sector fell seven points to 74 percent, an all-time low for the sector. For one, Singapore’s Smart Nation push has raised concerns around loss of privacy among citizens, with recent global and local scandals regarding data breaches and cyber crimes prompting fresh concerns around data protection. The Monetary Authority of Singapore has also urged “extreme caution” about buying cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. Education is one of the brighter lights and remains the most trusted institutions in Singapore at 83 percent, with both The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) continuing to rise in global rankings and prominence.
Singapore reflects the global trend of increases in credibility among authority figures. The credibility of a CEO jumped nine points to 45 percent; the credibility of a successful entrepreneur increased seven points to 50 percent. In 2017, we have seen the rise to prominence of local CEOs and homegrown technology companies. For example, entrepreneur Min-Liang Tan, the CEO of Razer, has rallied behind the city-state’s Smart Nation push by driving Singapore’s first unified e-payment system. While credentialed voices became more credible, the credibility of “a person like yourself” fell 10 points to 41 percent, well below the global average of 54 percent.
Fake news and the resurgence of online phishing scams continue to plague official government voices, corporations, social media, messaging apps and alternative news sites. The Ministry of Law and Home Affairs shared the results of a government poll in May 2017, which showed that more than 90 percent of Singaporeans supported stronger laws to remove or correct fake news. In 2017, Singapore saw a rise in disinformation, such as the claim posted on alternative news site All Singapore Stuff that the roof of Punggol Waterway Terraces, a housing complex, had collapsed; the Housing Development Board later revealed that the story was a hoax by an anonymous contributor. In response to these and other false stories, the Singapore government is now reviewing laws on how to combat fake news, with legislation likely to be passed in 2018.
With the advent of fake news, Singaporeans continue to trust journalism over platforms for credible reporting. Trust in journalism, both traditional and online-only media, climbed 10 points to 66 percent. This is timely with the ongoing restructure of major media houses, such as Singapore Press Holdings, to ensure quality reporting and coverage.
Looking to 2018 and beyond, each institution has a role to play in building trust in Singapore. Business’ top trust-building mandates include driving economic prosperity, investing in jobs and investigating corruption. Media focus should be on educating Singaporeans on the issues and guarding information quality. Both government and NGOs have shared responsibilities of supporting the poor and providing social services, in addition to government’s role in building infrastructure and NGO’s of preventing discrimination in society. Together, the institutions can collectively reverse the declines in trust seen in Singapore.
Amanda Goh is chief executive officer, Singapore.