Sunday 19 October 2014

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's 10th Anniversary Conference

Lawrence Wong takes on some of Lee Kuan Yew's 'Big Ideas'
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Oct 2014

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong has said that opposition for its sake will not promote or strengthen democracy. He said this in a speech which touched on the "The Big Ideas" of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Wong was speaking at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy 10th Anniversary Conference on Friday (Oct 17).


One big idea was "the need for a harmonious society that functions in the best interests of the community". However, this is being challenged by the onslaught of globalisation, the ease in which radical propaganda and inflammatory remarks can circulate online, as well as the new wave of migrants into the country.

Mr Wong cited how during the population debate, some groups had called for "zero foreign worker growth". He said that "it made for a good slogan, never mind the consequences it would have on the economy, local businesses and more importantly, Singaporean jobs".

He added that such challenges are not unique to Singapore. Other countries have also seen the rise of populist movements, tapping on widespread social discontent as well as nationalist and xenophobic sentiments to mobilise the masses.

"Opposition for the sake of opposition will not promote or strengthen our democracy," said Mr Wong. "Mr Rajaratnam once noted that it is easy to win attention by disagreeing with the Government. If the Government says 'white', and you write letters or articles in the newspapers advocating 'black', then your column will be read and you will be hailed at the next cocktail reception as an original and bold thinker. But how does this sort of discourse help us in solving the real and vital problems affecting our nation?"

"This goes beyond partisan politics. It is about the kind of democracy we want to be, and that I hope we can be - a democracy of integrity, and a democracy of deeds, made up of an active citizenry who get involved in developing solutions for a better society," he added.


Another "Big Idea" of Mr Lee is that small states are inherently vulnerable and require a strategy to survive. Mr Wong noted how the world now is in a flux and borders are more porous than ever. Events and conflicts far away can also affect Singapore, as seen in events unfolding in the Middle East and the expansion of the ISIL threat.

He said: "Even if Singapore is not a direct target, foreign interests may be targeted. And we know that a handful of Singaporeans have journeyed to Syria to join the conflict there. So while the events and conflicts abroad may seem far removed from the daily lives of Singaporeans, they can easily fray the fabric of our society and pose domestic threats to our national security.

"As a small country, we must always stay vigilant and keep looking outwards, because the changes in the external environment can have a big impact on us."


Sustainable development was the third "Big Idea" - to survive as a small state, Mr Wong said Singapore needs to be exceptional, with courage and fresh ideas to stay ahead of the curve.

He said that Singapore has not reached its full potential. He stressed that while there is new ground to conquer for Singapore, it must be done while maintaining a fair and just society. In view of that, he noted that the Government is already committed to increasing its social transfers and safety nets. He said the issue is how best to spend the revenue from taxes in a "fair and sustained manner".

"In that sense, it is not so useful to think of the Government as a separate entity from the people, with its own separate source of funds, as we sometimes tend to do", said Mr Wong. "Rather, Government is about the things we decide to do together as a people. Through fiscal policy, we contribute money into a central pot through taxes and we spend that money to give expression to the shared values we wish to promote."

He cited the values of "hard work" and "personal responsibility" as the way forward for the Republic. "Singaporeans must always have this motivation to try for themselves, with the promise of a better life, and with trust in a system that recognises the necessity and dignity of work and personal responsibility. This is the only sustainable and responsible way forward for Singapore," he said.

The event also saw the launch of the school's anniversary book, which gives insight into Mr Lee and his ideas. Mr Wong said it was timely to look at some of these important ideas as Singapore prepares to usher in 50 years of independence.

Aim to be 'democracy of integrity and deeds'
Lawrence Wong urges all Singaporeans to be active in improving country
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE should aim to be a society which values integrity and deeds, and where citizens are active in finding solutions to improve the country, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"The Government will support, encourage and lead the rally - but it comes down to whether Singaporeans believe that this nation is worth striving for," he said at the launch of two books at the 10th anniversary conference of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

Noting the need for fresh ideas to stay ahead in a far more competitive world, he said Singapore has not reached the limits of its potential as a nation.

He urged Singaporeans not to think of the Government as a separate entity. "Rather, government is about the things we decide to do together as a people."

While the challenges Singapore faces are not unique, these have become greater for several reasons, including the impact of globalisation and the ease with which radical propaganda and inflammatory remarks can circulate online.

"Countries are confronting very similar issues. This is at least partly why we see the rise of populist movements everywhere, tapping into widespread social discontent, as well as nationalist and xenophobic sentiments, to mobilise the masses," he said.

Singapore is not immune to pressures, he said, citing how during the population debate, groups called for "zero foreign worker growth". This ignored the impact of such a move on the economy, local businesses and jobs.

"Opposition for the sake of opposition will not promote or strengthen our democracy... How does this sort of discourse help us in solving the real and vital problems affecting our nation?"

The solution lay in going beyond partisan politics.

"It's about the kind of democracy we want to be, and that I hope we can be - a democracy of integrity, and a democracy of deeds, made up of an active citizenry who get involved in developing solutions for a better society."

Mr Wong called on all Singaporeans to play their part.

Academics and intellectuals, for example, should present "the full complexities and trade-offs of the challenges that lie ahead".

Responding to questions from the floor, he said that while there is no question the Government has shifted its position on social programmes, there was never an obsession with any one model.

The Government chose programmes to prioritise and pour resources into, such as public housing, he said. As Singapore became more prosperous, social programmes were then expanded.

On social media and online discourse, he noted that more moderate Singaporeans are speaking up online when they see certain norms being infringed.

The books launched yesterday were The Big Ideas Of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a compilation of 10 essays from last year's conference to mark the former prime minister's 90th birthday, and Governing Asia, which is essays on research by LKYSPP scholars.

Singapore well placed to adapt to new world order: George Yeo
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

HIERARCHIES are being eroded and authority questioned as the world goes through a momentous transition. As a result, relationships are changing in a profound way, leading to a crisis of institutions, said Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo.

But cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, being smaller, are well placed to make the changes needed to survive in the new world order that will emerge, he said yesterday.

He made these observations in a rare public speech at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary with a conference.

Casting a philosophical eye on recent developments, he was his vintage self as he assessed the world to be in a period of epic change, brought on by the digital revolution. He also spoke about Hong Kong, where he is based as chairman of Kerry Logistics, and Singapore, though he was careful not to make pronouncements about policies.

Of the global changes being wrought, he said: "What we are seeing is still very much a destructive phase of old structures being brought down. New ones are being built up... on different assumptions (and) foundations, but it will be some time before those new forms become dominant."

Likening the transition to when human society shifted from a nomadic existence to a settled agricultural society, he warned that it would pose challenges to people and institutions. "The more pyramidal, elaborate and byzantine institutions are... the less the public affection. Because of their distance, they are oftentimes seen as self-serving and disconnected, absorbed in their own world," he said.

Sparking this change is social media that has kept people informed but also distorts, and is sometimes deliberately manipulated. Access to information because of the digital revolution has also played a part in causing the corrosion of hierarchies, as those at the top find their authority and knowledge questioned and challenged by those below across all manner of relationships and institutions.

So, whether one is a teacher, doctor, parent or preacher, one has to be prepared to adjust to this new reality, he said. One consequence must be that leaders can no longer dictate from on high, and learning must be among one another, not top down.

Citing his own experience, he said he has been learning from colleagues about all aspects of the logistics business, which he went into after leaving politics in 2011.

He noted, though, that bigger institutions with longer histories may find it harder to "dismantle... core architecture to adjust to the new reality". Changing would be easier for the smaller players, such as cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, which have less inertia. Singapore, he added, should always aim to be a "free city".

"In mediaeval times, the future was first to be discerned in the free cities. So the future, with all its uncertainties, is perhaps easiest to be discerned in the free cities of today, and Singapore should aspire to be one such free city."

Asked how the public service can adapt to this change during a dialogue later, he said it involves "inserting yourself into the community, into the problem".

"You cannot be bureaucratic sitting all high, reading papers, doing statistical analysis and prescribing solutions... It's very important those who are in charge do not lead and live separate lives. And to the extent that we can be one community, we will be a strong society," he said, adding that Singapore's civil service is probably the best in the world.

Singaporeans 'can weather calls for welfarism'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

ALTHOUGH striking a balance between government spending and savings will remain a political challenge, Singaporeans are pragmatic enough to weather growing calls for welfarism, said former foreign minister George Yeo yesterday.

He gave this assurance to an audience member at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's 10th anniversary conference who had asked how the country would deal with demands that the Government spend more.

"For as long as Singaporeans think the Government is rich, they will say, 'Look, pass some over'," he said to laughter. "But in fact, we've nothing. We've only a small island. We've no natural endowments, and what we have - I do not know how many hundred billion dollars we have - even if you double it, what is that compared with what others have in ground, in land, underwater?"

The Government needs to strike a balance between spending on today's generation and saving for future generations, he said. This is a political challenge every generation of Singaporeans has to contend with, said Mr Yeo, who left politics after his team lost Aljunied GRC in the 2011 polls.

But he is confident Singaporeans' practical view of the world will see them through. "They know that 'if I don't get a good education, I'll be in trouble. And I'd better save for a rainy day'."

Solution to extremism ‘must come from within Islamic world’
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 18 Oct 2014

It will be a matter of time before militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is put in its proper place, but such malignant cells may persist unless the Islamic world can find a way to immunise itself against extremist strains, said former Foreign Minister George Yeo yesterday.

“In terms of treating the problem in a deep way, the problem has got to be resolved within the ummah itself, within the world of Islam itself,” he said.

But the non-Muslim world has a vested interest in the good health of the Islamic community and should be supportive, said Mr Yeo at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s (LKYSPP) 10th Anniversary Conference, where he gave a speech on relationships and hierarchies changed by new media, before taking questions from the audience.

A visiting scholar with the LKYSPP, Mr Yeo was asked if the current approach of resolving the ISIS crisis was an appropriate one.

He expressed doubt that ISIS could succeed militarily. “For any power to prevail, it must solve two problems. First, it must be able to fight, (and) it must be able to produce. And I think, on both counts, there’s a limit to what (the Islamic State) can do.” However, the problem could recur elsewhere, he said.

Mr Yeo drew from Singapore’s experience in handling members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre.

After some JI members were arrested, the authorities here “didn’t quite know what to do because (the JI members) were living in their own mental universe”, he said.

Muslim scholars who were approached to talk to the detainees were initially suspicious, wondering why they were being associated with the extremists. But after many sessions, the scholars, or ulamas, remarked that the detainees had been invoking Islam in everything they had been doing. The ulamas then spoke to their religious communities.

“Word went around that something bad has happened and that they must be watchful and take counter measures”, said Mr Yeo. “So in a small limited way, we developed an immune system in Singapore, where the good cells identified the malignant cells, confined and attacked them.”

Military intervention by Western countries will not address the issue in a deep way, he added. In his speech, in which he used the Islamic State to illustrate the impact that social media is having all over the world, Mr Yeo said he felt the group’s beheadings of Westerners had been designed to exploit social media for political purposes— to encourage Western countries to join a coalition and create a “21st-century crusade” that would electrify the Sunni world. “Are they achieving their intended purpose? I’m not sure. They may be, because Western countries (are) recoiling in horror and responding to public pressure, one after another. Hands are raised to be part of the coalition,” he said.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Yeo said information technology is corroding hierarchies and changing relationships at various levels, causing a crisis among institutions around the world. Institutions need to adjust and it will be easier for cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong to do so, given their small size.

Referring to the ongoing Hong Kong protests, Mr Yeo said during the question-and-answer session that he was impressed by the civic consciousness of the youth demonstrators lobbying to directly elect the city’s Chief Executive. The territory has its problems and faces uncertainties, but Mr Yeo said it would survive because of its good, strong people.

“My point is this: Apart from the high politics, if at the atomic level, we have good people who are responsible, who care for one another, I think upon these bricks, we can build the most wonderful structures,” he said.

Singapore’s “special quality” is the multi-ethnic orientation of its people and its ability to connect to different cultural domains, turning this into its economic advantage, he said.

Mr Yeo, currently chairman of Kerry Logistics Network Limited headquartered in Hong Kong, was a politician for 23 years. He helmed the foreign affairs portfolio from 2004 to 2011, until he lost his Aljunied GRC seat in the General Election that year.

In a rare public engagement since he left politics, Mr Yeo showed he had not lost the common touch. Accidentally addressed as “minister” during the dialogue, he quipped: “George is absolutely fine, it happens to be my name.”

Suggestions on CPF changes raised at LKYSPP conference
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Oct 2014

Raise the CPF income contribution ceiling for employees - that was one suggestion raised by an economist at a session on inequality and social security reforms that was part of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) 10th Anniversary Conference held on Friday (Oct 17).

During the session, LKYSPP’s Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat said to help improve retirement adequacy, in particular for the middle-income group, the issue should be addressed early and when people are working.

"The amount of contribution that they are putting into CPF accounts is decreasing in real terms. That has to do with the fact that the income contribution ceiling has not kept in step with inflation. It has remained at S$5,000,” he said.

He pointed out that between the 1980s and 2011, "the real value of the income ceiling has actually been halved. As a result, our real contribution to CPF for those who had exceeded the ceiling has actually been declining over time. What is needed is an increase in the income ceiling, especially for those who are contributing on the employee side.

"In other words, we can raise the income ceiling for the employee contribution, not necessarily the employer contribution, so that it does not add to the employer's cost. For the employee, it is just increased savings which they can therefore use in retirement, and that will ensure an improvement in their retirement adequacy."

Another speaker, Professorial Fellow Mukul Asher, also noted that currently, schemes like CPF Life and MediShield adopt commercial principles - for example, with premiums varying by age and sex. He said this has not helped with ensuring retirement adequacy, and social principles should be adopted instead.

He noted: "Women live longer than men, so women are going to have to pay higher premiums or accept lower CPF Life amounts for a given capital sum. But women have a lower labour force participation rate than men. They also, as a group, on average, earn less than men. But they live longer, so they need more.

"So what we are doing with the commercial principles is making it very difficult for half of the population to have adequate retirement."

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