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Closing Address by Minister Lawrence Wong at the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum Session 2

We have spent two productive days talking about trust. There have been many suggestions. I would like to think that the suggestions can be categorised into two broad areas. Two words – process and actions.

First, on process. Building trust requires a process of engaging people, listening to people and, as the Governor of Jakarta reminded us, collaborating with the people. That is all about public engagement. It is about the process of doing things. It often sounds easy to do, but it is actually very challenging because we have to ask ourselves who we are engaging and who we are collaborating with. Is it only the vocal minority, who are making more noises and amplified by the echo chambers of social media today? Are we only working with interest groups who are better organised, better resourced, and better able to lobby the government to achieve the interests that they are advancing which may not necessarily be the interest that the rest of society shares? These are difficult issues, which I think all of us grapple with.

Technological tools and big data do help us to understand better the different segments of the population – their concerns and their interests – so that we can have better engagement. But we all recognise that inherently, public engagement is a complex and messy process. There is no substitute for us being on the front line, engaging with different groups of people, negotiating differences, and working out compromises.

As the Mayor of Antwerp shared in his example of dealing with congestion in the ring road, it is a very involved process. It takes time and effort, but ultimately, these efforts pay off in the longer term because this is what helps to build healthier civic discourse, and helps to strengthen and build more robust democratic institutions – which in the longer term, leads to trust in our societies. That is the first part of process.

The second part relates to actions. I am glad that during our conversations, there was a lot of emphasis, not just on words, but tangible actions that lead to results. Words without action are not credible, and they do not build trust. It is a bit like a parent telling the child, “Please eat your vegetables,” and the child looking back at the parent and says, “But Daddy, there are still vegetables on your plate!” When you do not act in accordance with your values, when your actions are not authentic and your actions deviate from your words, then there is no trust. We need to have both words and actions; actions that are aligned with values and vision, actions that lead to concrete, tangible results in a consistent manner.

Some of the actions are reactive because we have to deal with immediate issues, hot button issues or pain points that residents and citizens are surfacing. Some actions are longer term in nature; they may not lead to visible results. For example, dealing with protecting the environment, taking action to promote sustainability and tackle climate change – these may not result in very visible short-term, demonstrable results. But over a longer period of time, they will yield benefits, and people will see and appreciate these benefits.

There is a series of actions that we all have to take – some are shorter term, some are longer term in nature – but best of all, these actions should not be done in an ad hoc manner but they should be done as part of a coherent action plan, and articulated as part of a longer term vision in a coherent and integrated manner.

These are my takeaways, thinking from the various comments and suggestions that all of you have made. The secretariat to the World Cities Summit have tried very hard to summarise these points into a declaration on building a high trust city.

We hope at the end of the day, all of you can endorse this declaration. We can put it out as a public commitment from all of us, as city leaders, to build high trust cities that are liveable, sustainable and resilient. Thank you very much.