Wednesday, 30 March 2016

K Shanmugam at NTU Ministerial Forum 2016

Four key challenges for Singapore in next 50 years
Shanmugam cites balancing of Budget, an ageing population, competition, terrorism
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2016

Four key challenges confront Singapore in the next 50 years, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

These are: balancing financial prudence with higher social spending, a rapidly ageing population that does not replace itself, competition from abroad and terrorism.

Speaking to students at a forum in Nanyang Technological University, where he also answered questions on a range of issues, Mr Shanmugam outlined the "sobering reality" that the Government has in recent years been spending more than it collects.

This, he added, is possible because earlier generations of Singaporeans had saved enough, allowing the Government to tap on the income derived from investments.

He noted that whenever the Budget comes around, MPs, whether from the People's Action Party or the opposition, will "stand up and talk about how the Government should be spending more, because that is popular".

But he added: "Always ask yourself, every time a proposal is put forward, where is the money going to come from? Who is going to pay for it?" He warned the students that their generation will end up having to pay more taxes to clear the debt.

Singapore is one of the fastest greying populations in the world.

Besides raising healthcare costs, an ageing population will affect the country's economic vibrancy and tax base, and result in fewer young people available for a defence force.

Mr Shanmugam shared a news article on how adult diapers will soon outsell baby nappies in Japan, and noted that Singapore is ageing even faster than Japan.

Abroad, Singapore faces both regional and global competition, with many countries trying to eat its lunch, he said. Whether it is Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong vying to be the next top financial hub, Thailand trying to overtake Singapore as the region's largest air hub, or countries like Indonesia and Malaysia moving up the petrochemical value chain, Singapore cannot afford to take its position in the world for granted.

On terrorism, he said the Government views the threat of a terror attack as the highest it has ever been for Singapore.

He also said there was a limit on how much Singapore can do in working with its neighbours in tackling the problem of radicalised fighters returning from the Middle East.

"Sovereignty means they decide for themselves what their laws are," he said. "We work closely with them on intelligence, on other issues, but we can't decide what they do with their people, that is an inherent problem."

Amid these challenges, there are also opportunities for Singapore, Mr Shanmugam noted.

While efforts to integrate ASEAN have yet to bear fruit, Singapore is well-positioned to be the financial centre for the region "if we can get that project going", he said.

As a small and nimble economy, Singapore is also well-placed to take advantage of opportunities offered by China and India.

Singapore's continued emphasis on education means a people who can think on their feet, which will be a crucial skill in a more unpredictable world. "They will also be adaptable. In fact, they will become the disruptors of other people," he said.

Singapore is also confronting the terrorism problem head on, said Mr Shanmugam, who emphasised that the country's security is the responsibility of all Singaporeans.

To this end, the new SG Secure initiative will train people to be better prepared for crises.

Noting that the goal of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is to divide societies and alienate Muslims to fuel its recruitment drive, Mr Shanmugam called on Singaporeans to resist Islamophobia even as the Government continues to be tough on extremism.

He added that Singapore manages to maintain a harmonious community - by and large - by getting people of various faiths as well as agnostics and atheists to "think of ourselves as Singaporeans and we have to work very hard at that".

On Government and foreign workers...
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam fielded questions from students at the NTU ministerial forum. Here is an edited extract.
The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2016

Q Singapore has enjoyed an efficient government with leaders of integrity for the past 50 years. Will there be regulations to ensure that leaders can keep to this standard?

A The key ingredient of our success was that we were very lucky to have a set of leaders who came to power in 1959 who were men of outstanding integrity. You can't have laws which legislate integrity.

Second, they were extremely competent.

Third, they were also good at winning elections. You had in Mr Lee Kuan Yew a very charismatic leader who could appeal to the population, who could convince, who could cajole, who could often threaten as well... There is no law that can say you must have a Mr Lee Kuan Yew, or only people like Mr Lee can become prime ministers. That run has lasted for more than 50 years because he chose the successors, and the successors were in his mould. People who are clean, people who think of the country. It doesn't mean they are right all the time, but they are right most of the time.

Q Should we move to become a more inclusive society that includes the rights of transient workers, who are here to do essential jobs?

A Why do you think foreign workers come to Singapore? They can go to Malaysia, they can go to the Middle East, they can go to any other country. They are making the choice to come to Singapore on the terms that we are offering. I went to the dorms to talk to them. They said they come to Singapore because the salaries are higher, because there is rule of law. From the day they land, they are given a foreign workers' booklet, at the back of it is a telephone number for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). You can make a call and MOM will investigate.

Q There are people who said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) did not do enough in the case of Private Dominique Sarron Lee, who died as a result of a training incident. Should the Government have done more?

A The coroner's inquiry was public, it was in the newspapers and exactly what happened was set out. Is it MINDEF's fault that people don't remember what happened two or three years ago? If MINDEF tries to explain too much, it will be faced with the charge that it is too defensive. Sometimes, it is a no-win situation.

The fact is there has been a death under unfortunate circumstances. Nobody wanted it, the family is grieving. The best thing MINDEF can do is do what it did, accept that the family is very deeply affected and they don't have legal recourse.

In terms of the compensation it has offered, MINDEF did everything it could in the circumstances. But maybe it is not wrong to say that there will be public sympathy and there will also be some people who misunderstand because they don't remember what happened a few years ago.

University students had an engaging dialogue on Progressing Towards SG100 with Home Affairs & Law Minister K Shanmugam Sc at the #NTUsg Ministerial Forum 2016. Check out the event highlights in this album.
Posted by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore on Monday, March 28, 2016

Excerpts from Minister K Shanmugam’s Q&A with university students
TODAY, 29 Mar 2016

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam addressed university students at a two-hour dialogue session on Monday (March 28) at the Nanyang Technological University Students’ Union Ministerial Forum, on the theme “Progressing towards SG100”.

He talked, among other things, about Singapore’s ageing population and low birth rates, the geo-political realities in the region and the threat of terrorism.

Students also posed a range of questions to him; they asked about the death penalty, how the Government implements hard policies, the rights of migrant workers, the environment, and whether the Government could have done better in the deaths of the two SMRT employees and the late Private Dominique Sarron Lee.

Here are some highlights during the Q&A segment

Ms Saevaal Meenakshi, 23, fourth-year student in chemical and biomedical engineering: My question is about the death penalty. In Singapore we’ve already eased it a lot for the drug traffickers and murderers. Is there any chance in the future that we will abolish the death penalty entirely?

Mr K Shanmugam: There is no right and wrong answer to this — it’s really a question of choice. So, let me put the choices to you: When we talk about death penalty for drug traffickers, what are we talking about? The person brings across heroin enough to feed 950 people for one week, that person faces death penalty. People look at the drug traffickers that we impose a death penalty on. Very little of the literature focuses on the death penalties that drug traffickers impose on society…

Then ask yourself, if you can believe that because you have the death penalty, the number of deaths actually goes down. For example, we used to arrest about 7,000 people a year, in the mid-2000s if I’m not wrong. We then tightened up our enforcement and laws considerably. It’s come down to 2,000.

I visit the prisons, I visit the families, as I said, father is in prison, mother is 20-something, two children — three years old, two years old — second husband is also a drug addict, what future do you think those children have?

So where are your sympathies, are they being misplaced? How many more of such families do you want? As I said we used to arrest 7,000, now it’s down to 2,000. Our law enforcement has remained the same, that means 5,000 lives have been saved every year, over a period of 10 years. Do you weigh that as being important, or would you want to spare the life of a drug trafficker who wants to destroy our lives? There’s no right and wrong — you choose.

Ms Ong Liyan, 22, second-year student in public policy and global affairs: Do you think we should move to become a more inclusive society that includes the rights of transient workers? Essentially they are here to fill the 3D jobs — dangerous, dirty, demeaning jobs. It’s essential for the economy. Do you think they are well taken care of, considering you’ve visited them in their dorms after the Little India riot…?

Mr Shanmugam: Why do you think they come to Singapore? They can go to Malaysia, they can go to the Middle East, they can go to many other countries.

They are making a choice to come to Singapore on the terms that we are offering, so what’s wrong? That’s the first point.

Now, I went to the dorms to talk to them. They said they come to Singapore because the salaries are higher, they come to Singapore because there’s the rule of law.

They come to Singapore because on the day they land they are given a foreign workers’ permit. At the back of it, there’s a telephone number to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), you can make a call and MOM will investigate. You try doing that in the Middle East…

If you look at their dorms, they’re clean, functional. If you look at the rights they have, it’s according to the contract. So I struggle sometimes to say what else do you want us to do.

That does not mean everything is perfect nor does it mean there are no employers who take advantage. There are always employers who will take advantage. Then it’s for us to charge them. But at the same time, there are employees who take advantage as well. So that’s life and we have to have laws which are clear, and enforce those laws. The question is, are our laws fair and do we enforce them fairly?

Mr Daryl Thong, fourth-year psychology student: There are a lot of unfortunate incidents... I’m talking about the more sensitive issues, for example, the most recent one is (the deaths of two SMRT employees), there’s also (the deaths of) Private Dominique Sarron Lee and (schoolboy) Benjamin Lim… For Private Lee’s case, there were people who said the (Defence Ministry) did not do enough… there’s only so much the ministry can do. Do you think that the ministry has done enough? Is there anything the ministry could do better?

Mr Shanmugam: I think in all of this, the fog of untruth clouds what actually happens, and then the debate carries on with the assumptions which are factually inaccurate.

So if you go back to what actually happened, any training death is something that is of deep concern. Every Singaporean male does National Service — you would have done it, I have done it, our children do it, and we obviously have to take safety very seriously. But however much you try, you know that in the end, there will be the rare occasion that there’s a fatality, not just in the Singapore army, but armies throughout the world.

Some have a worse safety record, some have a better safety record.

The question is, what framework did you have in place to make sure that the environment was safe? So the army has to make sure of that.

Second, what did you do when something happened? My understanding is that they had the proper processes in place.

In the particular facts, there was a Coroner’s Inquiry. I think people have forgotten that there was a (an) inquiry a few years ago. So the full facts were gone into…

After the coroner made the findings, I know for a fact that MINDEF (Defence Ministry) made an offer of compensation which was quite substantial, that was rejected by the family. The two officers were punished. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), which is independent, took the view they ought not to be charged in court, but they faced punishment…

The family then sued MINDEF, after all of this and sued the officers involved. In those circumstances, the High Court ruled that the family cannot bring (on) such legal proceedings. I think the facts are quite involved and too technical for the average person to understand. It’s much easier to just realise some of the basic things — which is, well, they sued and they didn’t get justice... a lot of things had gone on beforehand...

I’m not blaming the family, just setting out the facts. And when they sued the Government and they were ordered to pay legal costs, the Government then waived the legal costs…

What else could they (the ministry) have done? I think what they could have done perhaps, with hindsight, is come out to explain there was a Coroner’s Inquiry, come out to explain what the punishments were, come out to explain that the (AGC) has looked into the culpability of the officers and what their role was — they could’ve explained it better... all of this came out some years ago, but has been forgotten. I think we have to see how we can handle these things in a way that people understand.

... I do not think there was lack of grace or humility on the part of MINDEF… I think the best thing MINDEF can do, is do what it did.

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