MCI Response to PQ on Plain Language Legislation for Clarity and Accessibility
Parliament Sitting on 27 February 2023
QUESTION FOR ORAL ANSWER
2. Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information whether the Government will consider introducing plain language legislation to ensure clarity and accessibility of Government communications, as has been passed in the United States and New Zealand.
Mr Speaker, Sir, we do want to achieve better government communications through plain and clear language. However, there are no plans to pursue this aim through legislation. Our public communications policy calls for plain language, so that messages are clear and accessible for members of the public. The Government Instruction Manual requires all public servants to write well and speak clearly. Communication is an essential function of public service, and we need to do so in all four of our official languages.
2. Mr Speaker, the Government acknowledges that not all of its communications are written in a simple, concise and clear manner. However, introducing legislation is not the answer. Instead we will pursue this aim through education, training, role-modelling, and holding ourselves to high standards. The experience in other countries where legislation has been introduced suggests that our approach has merit.
3. This is ongoing work with no short cuts. We will continue to remind ourselves and colleagues within public service to communicate in language that is simple, clear, precise, accurate, and ideally concise.
Mr Speaker: Mr Leon Perera.
Mr Leon Perera: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I appreciate the Senior Minister of State’s reply. I just have one supplementary question, which is that, would the Government consider launching a whole-of-Government movement to simplify language in Government communications in a very concerted manner that is regularly reviewed. Mr Speaker, Sir, with your permission, could I just read out one sentence from a letter I received from the Attorney-General’s Chamber (AGC)?
Mr Speaker: If you keep it concise.
Mr Leon Perera: Yes. I received this letter from a particular agency and I am just going to read out this one sentence: “We have reviewed your case and we regret to inform you that we are unable to accede to your request as the evidence supports the offence disclosed.”
I do not mean to be too prescriptive, for example, you could reword this and say, “We have reviewed the facts and we are sorry that we cannot agree to your request because there is not enough proof.” This is an example. For many Singaporeans who receive Government communications, English may not always be their first language. So, I think my clarification is, would the Government consider implementing much more simplified communications in its letters and so on to Singaporeans, as a whole-of-Government effort.
Dr Janil Puthucheary: Mr Speaker, I agree with Mr Leon Perera that we do need to simplify our communications and aim for clarity, wherever possible. We also do have to make sure that there is precision and accuracy in the statements. These are tensions that Government officers will require training and support, but I can assure Mr Perera we have the same intent.
Mr Speaker: And the same in Parliament as well.