Sunday, 7 April 2013

SG Conversation 'will be road map'

Govt will focus on issues raised in dialogue: PM Lee
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2013

SINGAPOREANS can expect a clearer picture to emerge by August on the measures the country will need to take in its new phase of its development.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the point as he noted the difficult transition Singapore is undergoing.

"We are not a teenager, we are maybe a bit more than a young adult... The sort of anxieties and issues which arise will be different," he said, adding that the national conversation will play a key role in drawing up the road map.

To that end, he said the Government's focus for this year will be on the consequences of the issues that Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) will surface in its current second phase.

"If we can... develop the consequences of the issues that we are discussing there, I think those will be very significant moves," he added.

The OSC's second phase involves taking a deep dive into specific policy areas: health care, housing, education and old age.

Other issues, however, would pop up and these will be fixed along the way, added PM Lee, noting the search for improvements to public transport and housing.

"But basically, we need to gear ourselves up for the next phase of our society," he told the Singapore media on Thursday in a wrap-up of his four-day US visit.

This phase is marked by slower growth, more unequal incomes, an ageing society with greater need for social services, and greater importance of maintaining social mobility and enabling people to move up and do well, said Mr Lee.

"What changes do we need to make? Not just policy changes, but changes in our philosophy, in our approach, in the way we define the compact, the balance between the individual and society, between what the person does, and what is the state's responsibility.

"We need to consider this carefully and think how we will move, so that we can meet the challenges of this new phase."

A major review of health-care financing is being done, while suggestions for significant changes to housing and education policies have been put forward - developments that give an idea of what the Government is thinking about, he said.

While difficult, the challenges are not unique to Singapore, the Prime Minister noted.

Issues like income inequality plague the US too - a superpower of more than 300 million people.

He said he was reminded repeatedly about it by Americans he had discussions with on his working trip, which ended with him meeting the Clintons, having lunch at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation and dinner with the G100 group of top chief executives.

"The Americans are very worried, they want to have ideas, (to know) what others are doing.

"That is what we are trying to do - to get ideas from other countries and put together a set of approaches which will fit together and work for Singapore."

These changes cannot occur "just by edict", he said.

"There are things which we can do, but the most important thing is we want to make lives better for all our people, whether you are low-income, middle-income, high-income."

While slowing the foreign worker inflow will cause Singapore to miss some growth opportunities this year, Mr Lee stressed that growth is still important.

"I keep emphasising this. I come back to this again and again. It's not the only thing, but it is important because without growth, without development, you don't have the resources to do any of the good things we'd like to have."



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