Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Be careful of wanting slower growth: Vivian Balakrishnan

By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Nov 2012

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has warned about wanting slower growth for Singapore in the hope that social inequality might be reduced.

He said if the country does not seize growth opportunities, it could mean fewer and poorer quality jobs for people.

Dr Balakrishnan was asking Singaporeans to think carefully about what they want for their future, in a dialogue with residents on Sunday.

Should Singapore hold on to the values which brought the nation to where it is today?

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan posed this question to Bukit Panjang residents in the ongoing National Conversation.

He said the rapidly evolving global landscape means values in Singapore are also changing.

But the anchor, he suggested, is a fair and just society, so Singaporeans should have their chance to speak up.

Issues raised by residents at the session included overcrowding on public transportation, the adequacy of healthcare facilities, and stress brought about by the education system. 

Some also suggested solutions to the problems.

"Subsequently, what the government is going to follow up on these issues are what I would be very concerned about," said resident Alice Lo.

"Because we don't want it to be empty talk, (with) no action or no follow up."

Dr Balakrishnan said there is good reason for Singaporeans to be anxious about the future, as the country is facing intense global competition not witnessed before.

He added that people have to be equipped through education, to take on the jobs of tomorrow.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The fact that the changes are occurring so rapidly is very unsettling for many of us. So that's the backdrop behind the anxiety which we can feel on the ground. It's important that the conversation, however, leads to a positive conclusion and brings us forward."

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore has to ensure its family structures and social safety nets are ready, for a future where the population is ageing and communal relations may not be as strong as before.

Specific National Conversation themes to be annouced by 2013
by Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Nov 2012

The themes that the committee spearheading a national conversation about Singapore's future will focus on are expected to be announced by early next year, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat today.

Mr Heng, who heads the committee, said that besides education, other themes include the value of a Singapore identity.

The committee comprises of Singaporeans from different backgrounds, including grassroots organisations, the private sector, unions, voluntary organisations, academia, the sports and arts communities, and political office-holders.

Mr Heng also emphasised that the conversation is a people-to-people conversation, not a Government-to-people one.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of an Environmental Watch Group in the North East District.

The Environment Watch Group is a joint initiative, involving the North East Community Development Council, the National Environment Agency (NEA), Housing Development Board (HDB), Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the various town councils.

By early next year, the group, formed by residents and grassroots leaders, will take on issues such as anti-littering, dengue prevention, energy efficiency and resource conservation.

The group will patrol estates to educate the residents as part of the Clean & Green Singapore 2013 campaign.

The group was first initiated by Punggol North in February this year, where 30 trained volunteers conducted monthly educational rounds in their precinct to educate dog owners to maintain good hygiene and cleanliness standards.

Mr Eric Goh, chairman of the Punggol North Oceanus Residents' Committee, said: "We expect more cleanliness in our estate but it's not an overnight thing. It's a long-term process."

Mr Heng, who is also a Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC, said: "I think the littering habits, unfortunately, seems to be coming back. It is very important for us to maintain a high standard of cleanliness and maintain a clean and green environment.

"We live in a very compact city, and the quality of life can be significantly improved if we keep Singapore clean, green and gracious."

Mr Heng said he hopes to see the watch group initiative extended to all districts.

A series of community programmes will also be introduced to encourage residents to take action for the environment under the "Green Tampines" initiative. These include gardening, landscaping and a book recycling programme.

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