Sunday 22 December 2013

More govt not always better govt: PM Lee

Community partners complement state efforts to help less fortunate
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2013

MORE government is not always better government, and more social spending does not mean better results, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He sounded this cautionary note, even as he reiterated the Government's commitment to strengthening social safety nets as Singapore enters a new phase.

"The Government will do more, but the ultimate test of our success is not how much the Government does or how much we spend, but the outcomes of these programmes," he said at a dinner marking the 100th anniversary of St Andrew's Mission Hospital (SAMH).

Founded by Dr Charlotte Ferguson-Davie, the wife of Singapore's first Anglican bishop, the non-profit voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) runs services such as a community hospital and autism centre.

Mr Lee said the European welfare model, where government spending makes up half or more of GDP, was in "serious trouble".

More social spending was also not a silver bullet. While the United States spends 18 per cent of its gross domestic product on health care - more than four times what Singapore does - it has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, he said.

"We all have to understand this context - VWOs, community groups, the population, the Government, and... adapt our programmes to our circumstances," said Mr Lee.

Community partners like SAMH and the Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS), which provides social services like a senior activity centre at Kampong Glam, play important roles in complementing state efforts to help the less fortunate.

Their strength, he said, was the "warmth and personal touch" which cannot be replaced by government schemes, however well thought out.

Such groups can use personal and social ties to reach out to the needy, and meet the requirements of individuals and families better than national programmes.

"We will continue to work with community organisations to set up and expand social services to meet our society's needs," he told guests at the Shangri-La Hotel event, who included the Anglican Bishop of Singapore, the Right Reverend Rennis Ponniah.

He said religious institutions played important roles. They not only give spiritual and moral guidance to believers, but also tackle social problems, provide community services and complement government programmes.

They help the less fortunate and strengthen society's moral fibre, he said.

Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious nature means the Government must remain neutral and secular. But this does not mean the authorities do not engage religious groups fully.

"And it doesn't mean that the Government won't work with religious groups to serve Singaporeans, especially to meet community needs and to solve social problems," said Mr Lee.

He praised those who volunteer with SAMH and SACS. Singaporeans have to play their part and be participants rather than passengers, he said.

The "effective coming together of different sectors of society to meet human need" was also emphasised by Bishop Ponniah, the president of SAMH and SACS, in his speech.

Yesterday's dinner and an accompanying commemorative book were underwritten by the Mrs Lee Choon Guan Trust Fund.

The event raised more than $900,000, which will go towards SAMH and SACS programmes such as a new nursing home in Buangkok providing long-term psychiatric care.

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