Friday 10 August 2012

Team to engage Singaporeans on ideals

The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2012

EDUCATION Minister Heng Swee Keat has been tasked to lead a committee to take "a fresh look" at Singapore's approaches and policies, as part of the Government's aim to prepare the nation for future challenges.

The committee, to be made up of younger ministers, will engage Singaporeans and "build a broad consensus on the way forward", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

While he did not specify what the committee would cover - or what it would be called - he indicated that Singapore needed to review its policies, especially in the social and education sectors, if it wanted continued success.

"To still be a shining red dot 20 years from now, we must rethink our approaches, and reinvent ourselves," he said.

He stressed that Singaporeans would "remain at the heart of all that we do", and that core values like meritocracy, multi-racialism and financial prudence would remain.

"But within these broad principles, we should review what needs to change and where we should act more boldly."

The last time the Government made such a move was in 2002, when it set up the Remaking Singapore Committee to review the nation's social, cultural and political features and policies.

Mr Heng, who is chairing the new committee, said that apart from ministers, he would rope in a wider group.

"I will announce all the names when everything is ready in about two to three weeks," he told reporters at the opening of a school yesterday.

He also said in a statement that the team will engage Singaporeans in a "broader conversation about ourselves".

"What do we want our country, Singapore, to be in 2030?" he asked.

"What are our ideals? What principles should underpin our public policies and what values should guide us as a people? What attributes will enable us to attain our ideals?"

It was too early, he added, to set any timeframe for any reports.

"Let's begin with the end in mind... that sets the direction that will (take) us there," he told reporters.

"But to do that, we need as wide an agreement among Singaporeans as possible that this is the direction we should be heading towards."

"BY THINKING ahead and acting together, we can create a better future for ourselves, our children and our communities. We need to rethink our approaches to many issues, examine what remains relevant and change what needs to be changed. 
However, before getting into the specifics of policies, we should have a broader conversation about ourselves: What do we want our country, Singapore, to be in 2030? What are our ideals? What principles should underpin our public policies and what values should guide us as a people? What attributes will enable us to attain our ideals? 
I will be forming a team to engage Singaporeans, through different platforms, in this national conversation. The aim is to foster a shared understanding of our challenges and opportunities, our hopes and aspirations, so that we can create, together, a better future for all." 
- Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, in a statement on his plans for the new committee

Singaporeans welcome PM's call to think about the future
But they want new committee for this to include broad range of views
By Matthias Chew and Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2012

POLITICAL observers and ordinary Singaporeans welcomed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call to think about the future they wanted, saying it was timely.

By inviting Singaporeans to the debate, they said, the Government was showing that it genuinely wanted to consult them on the country's future direction.

But they also stressed that a committee being set up to review policies and national philosophies should include a broad range of views, and come up with innovative ideas and solutions.

Undergraduate Ng Jing Song, 23, was one of those who hailed the questions PM Lee raised in his National Day message, such as what kind of home Singaporeans want for their children.

"Every society will have to ask those questions, but the fact that he did, showed that it's not just a government-directed approach - he wants to consult us," he said.

Nominated MP Eugene Tan also said that by addressing divisive issues like immigration and social inclusiveness, PM Lee showed that he was paying attention to the hot-button issues preoccupying Singaporeans.

"These are the issues that have provoked, enraged, and troubled Singaporeans into thinking about what makes us special," he said.

But observers that The Straits Times spoke to also wanted to see more come out of the committee to be chaired by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

CIMB Research executive director Song Seng Wun said that it should address younger Singaporeans' needs and expectations, whilepolitical scientist Gillian Koh suggested that it try to break new ground in coming up with novel solutions to contemporary challenges.

"The younger ministers will be expected to move well beyond commonly understood and accepted policy paradigms," she said.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan expressed hope that the committee would consult a broad range of Singaporeans, and not just those from the establishment.

"It's very hard for us to think outside the box, when we ourselves are grown in the box," she said.

But some suggested that even if the committee ultimately concluded that Singapore need not depart from its current fundamentals, the exercise in soul-searching in itself would be useful.

It could reaffirm core values such asmeritocracy and multiracialism, they said, or provide a chance to unite an increasingly complex and polarised society.

"Singaporeans should not be afraid of opposing differing points of view, but we must have something bigger, better that unites everyone above all," said doctoral student Syed Munir, 28.

But he did not have an answer for what that unifying factor was, adding: "What is it?"

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