Saturday, 30 August 2014

Tharman lists ways to address inequality

S'pore must ensure its people have chance to reach full potential, he says
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

WHILE harsh poverty might not be a problem here, Singapore, like all other countries around the world, has to ensure that its people have the chance to achieve their full potential, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

This can be done by providing access to quality infrastructure for all sections of society and by ensuring that learning and developing technical skills can be a pathway to success, he added.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking in a dialogue session with social enterprise consultant Crystal Hayling at the Base of Pyramid World Convention and Expo, held at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio.

The inaugural three-day convention is focused on how to alleviate poverty for those living at "the base of the pyramid" around the world, through innovative products and solutions.

Ms Hayling noted that of the three billion people in the world who live on less than US$2.50 (S$3.12) a day, none of them is in Singapore, but that the issues of rising cost of living and income inequality are heating up here.

The first thing that Singapore has to do then, Mr Tharman said, is to ensure that not just the average Singaporean, but also the lower income, can have a better life.

This means growing incomes and providing access to high- quality housing and high-quality and affordable public education and public health facilities. And this is a challenge.

"You need insurance systems, you need public subsidies and you also have to have sustainability built into the system," he said.

Singapore has had reasonable success so far and can share its experiences with countries that might need help, while learning from them in return, he added.

"It's not just about exporting lessons from Singapore. It's also about learning ourselves, because each time we... get involved with a project (elsewhere in the world), there's a lot of learning involved," he said.

"Some innovation might be required in a new environment, some rethinking, and even when we come back to Singapore sometimes those innovations can be adopted. Participating at the base and all levels of the pyramid involves learning. So we can never get too caught up in our own successes. We can always do better."

Another aspect of helping all citizens achieve their full potential involves ensuring that people do not get locked out of the marketplace, Mr Tharman said. This means developing the technical education system and working with employers to ensure that people with technical skills can find good jobs.

"In Singapore we started off with a rudimentary vocational educational system. We developed it and enlarged that space," Mr Tharman said. "We've wanted to be very clear particularly in the last 15 years that this is a jewel in our system, this is a pathway to success. The best chances in life are not achieved by just drifting towards the more academic pathways but to discover your own talents and skills. And the job market has to reward them."

Mr Tharman also expressed his passion towards education at the start of the dialogue, when Ms Hayling asked what profession he would likely have taken up if he had not become a politician.

His answer: the principal of a secondary school, so he could work with students at a critical stage of their lives.

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