Wednesday 20 January 2016

Singapore Perspectives 2016

IPS Singapore Perspectives Conference 2016: Governance

Policies and leaders must keep up with the times
Political parties must evolve so that country can thrive and survive, says Chan Chun Sing
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2016

What keeps Singapore leaders awake at night is not whether the People's Action Party (PAP) rules forever but whether Singapore will last forever, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

And at the heart of ensuring the country thrives and survives is good governance, he said.

This, in turn, requires Singapore's leaders to know when to change policies, and themselves, to keep up with the times.

Mr Chan, who is also the labour chief, made the point at a think-tank discussion on how to maintain good governance in an increasingly diverse society.

Panel moderator Warren Fernandez, The Straits Times editor, had asked Mr Chan to define good politics in the light of President Tony Tan Keng Yam's address last Friday. President Tan had said the Government will study ways to improve the political system.

Mr Chan, in his reply, said good governance is crucial if Singapore is to defy the odds of history as small states tend to be short-lived.

"Our concern is not whether the People's Action Party will rule forever. Our larger concern is whether Singapore will last forever.

"Political parties are there to lead, but political parties must evolve in order to make sure the higher goal of sustaining the country is achieved," he said.

This focus on improving Singapore lies at the core of the Government's approach to accommodating the growing diversity of voices in politics here, he said.

The discussion was among four held yesterday at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual Singapore Perspectives conference, which examines the public policy challenges facing the country. About 900 academics, public servants and students attended the conference.

During the discussion, panellist and political commentator Eugene Tan asked Mr Chan for his views on the political system, which Associate Professor Tan saw as one in which all eggs are put in one basket.

Prof Tan noted that key sectors like the trade unions are "very intimately tied to the ruling party".

He asked: "In the event that the ruling party becomes incompetent or corrupt, something which even the founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew didn't exclude, how do we then prevent Singapore from going through a systemic collapse?"

Mr Chan replied that this was a concern of the PAP as well: "Institutionally, how do we bring in people with diverse perspectives?"

This was why the Government started the Nominated Member of Parliament and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament schemes, although it did not need to, he said.

Both schemes guarantee a minimum number of non-PAP representatives in Parliament, even if the PAP should win all 89 elected seats.

Picking up on the theme of political diversity in the context of a dominant party, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh asked Mr Chan if the PAP was a victim of its own success.

He likened the PAP to a banyan tree that can stifle the growth of smaller entities beneath its large canopy. "Is the party aware of the need to trim the banyan tree further in the new Singapore? Would it give more room to civil society and reduce the role it plays?" asked Prof Koh, a point that panellist and Drama Box artistic director Kok Heng Leun also picked up on.

Mr Chan said the Government must know the plethora of options available, pick the most appropriate at the time, and be ready to jettison outdated ideas.

Good governance, he said, includes meeting aspirations for more plurality in politics.

Good governance should also involve people acting together to achieve shared goals, he said in response to panellist and Lianhe Wanbao editor Lee Huay Leng, who asked how the Government is taking a more collaborative approach.

Medical professor and opposition electoral candidate Paul Tambyah asked whether good governance should be for the benefit of foreign investors or Singaporeans.

At the heart of it, Mr Chan replied, Singapore's politics should be driven by the desire to improve the lives of its people: "The purpose of governance is, first, to improve the lives and livelihoods of our people and, second, to be good stewards to leave behind a better Singapore for the next generation."

Enjoyed an engaging Institute of Policy Studies’ Singapore Perspectives session to discuss the future of Singapore and...
Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Monday, January 18, 2016

IPS Conference: Diversity

Debate on whether race classification model is still relevant
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2016

Academic Elaine Ho feels it may be time to do away with the Government's model of classifying people by race.

The Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) classification, in place since the first Census in 1824, has been put to use in housing and education policies, noted the National University of Singapore's associate professor in geography.

"I think the CMIO model has served its purpose," she said.

Although a 2011 change allowed double-barrelled race classification for Singaporeans of mixed parentage, she would "like to see these categorisations dissolved even more".

With more inter-racial marriages and immigration, Singapore has become more diverse, she said, adding: "I wonder if (CMIO) is still a good way to manage ethnicity and intersecting types of identities."

But Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said discarding the model runs the risk of impinging on minorities' rights.

"When we, as the majority race in Singapore, want to blur it, then who would represent their interests?" he said, asking how Singapore would design inclusive politics to make sure Malays and Indians are represented in Parliament.

Fellow panel speaker David Chan, director of the Singapore Management University's Behavioural Sciences Institute, also warned that some aspects of a person's identity cannot be chosen, and that policies should be careful not to land such people in particularly advantageous or disadvantageous situations.

He said: "If we didn't want to talk about male or female (differences), there wouldn't be the Women's Charter. Similarly, if we don't want to talk about CMIO, what kind of policies would we be erasing?"

He did not think the CMIO model impedes national identity, citing surveys that show one "can be very Malay and very Singaporean" at the same time.

"I'm not saying everything is fine, but be careful what we're doing away with," he said.

The CMIO classification and gay rights were the leading topics during yesterday's panel discussion on cohesive diversity at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual conference.

Earlier, in a speech, Mr Ng underlined the need for inclusive policies and politics that help the country become "one united people".

While such policies will evolve as society matures, core elements such as education, meritocracy and the goal of leaving no Singaporean behind must remain, he said.

"As a society, Singaporeans must respect our differences and proactively defend our common spaces.''

As for gay rights, he urged patience in letting society come to its own consensus.

"It may not be satisfactory... but given human dynamics, sometimes time is a great resource," he said.

Rounding off the discussion, Mr Ng, a key member of the People's Action Party's fourth generation of leaders, said his generation would have to earn Singaporeans' trust with regard to their integrity, competence and ability.

"Hopefully, over time, our track record will allow us to continue this relationship, where inclusive politics would be necessary (for an) environment where we have all these diverse viewpoints... and in that conversation derive the energy and strength to position Singapore for SG100."

Had a lively exchange with some 800 guests at the annual IPS Commons Singapore Perspectives conference yesterday. I met...
Posted by Ng Chee Meng 黄志明 on Monday, January 18, 2016


In some sensitive issues, there may be no definitive consensus today even as we recognise that a new equilibrium may be needed in the future. What do we as a society need to do in that process? How can we be more resilient as 'one united people', harness strengths from our diversity, and not let it pull us apart?

- MR NG CHEE MENG, Acting Minister for Education (Schools).

IPS Conference: Inclusive growth

Disney 'offers important lesson' on transforming economy
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2016

Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung believes that the way Hollywood movie giant Walt Disney Company has changed over the years holds an important lesson for Singapore.

Initially, the focus of the United States company was on cartoon characters Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. But today, the spotlight is on the superheroes of Marvel comics fame and the Star Wars series.

Similarly, Singapore's economy needs to transform itself to be more competitive and attractive so that it does not fail its young.

"For the young, their biggest concern is their jobs and their careers. What are the opportunities for them?" he said yesterday.

"We cannot fail the young," he added, his mind on the projected growth slowdown and Singapore's drive to restructure its economy.

Mr Ong, who helms the higher education and skills portfolio, was speaking about inclusive growth at an annual conference on Singapore by the Institute of Policy Studies.

He cited strategies that will play a crucial role in Singapore's economic transformation.

These include the five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 scheme that will pump $19 billion into science and technology, and SkillsFuture, which promotes lifelong learning for workers to stay skilful and relevant.

But two experts said they worry Singapore's sputtering productivity will be a blight on its economic future. They are Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin and former government chief economist Tan Kong Yam.

Mr Ong said he shared concerns that "the Committee on the Future Economy (will) end up just tinkering and not doing something bold that can transform us just like Walt Disney". He is a member of the committee, led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, that will produce plans for Singapore's next phase of development.

"We must find a way to translate research to innovation, innovation to enterprise," he said. "Research converts money to discovery, and innovation, discovery to business ideas. Enterprise converts business ideas back to money, hopefully more than when we started. So we have to push forward."

In his speech before the discussion, Mr Ong said Singapore's progress and prosperity have raised incomes and helped lower-income families.

But he also acknowledged the prevailing concerns over social mobility and income inequality.

The question of how to achieve inclusive growth - which he said is "elusive" - points to the need for a system that best delivers dignity and pride for its people. This is regardless of whether government policies lean left or right, he added.

While the Government has taken steps to help those left behind, such as the Workfare Income Supplement for lower-wage workers and the Silver Support Scheme for poor elderly people, Mr Ong said: "If you look further left, there are still more left policies on the table for debate."

These include a national minimum wage as opposed to a sectoral one as is the case now, or defining "absolute poverty", he added.

At the other end are extreme right policies, like further restricting - or freezing - the inflow of foreign workers or nationalising some firms and having them contribute to national coffers, he said.

"Ultimately, we don't move left for the sake of moving left. We don't move right for the sake of moving right... We decide on what policies will best serve the welfare of our people and help achieve that elusive inclusive growth."

Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, former chief economist of sovereign wealth fund GIC, argued that more could be done for the lower-income earners by, for example, increasing payouts of redistributive schemes.This will cost 0.7 to 0.8 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product, he said.

Replying, Mr Ong said it is not that straightforward: "You need to ask how to implement, at what cost, who pays and in the long term, what is the impact."

But, he added, "this is the direction the Government has been moving towards".

At the IPS Singapore Perspectives 2016 today, I talked about Inclusive Growth as articulated in our pledge to pursue “...
Posted by Ong Ye Kung on Monday, January 18, 2016

IPS Conference: The future

Singapore must be confident to chart own path: Heng Swee Keat
First World nations do not offer all answers to Republic's challenges, says minister
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2016

Developed countries are not always the "gold standard" to measure Singapore against, and do not offer all the answers to the country's challenges, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

As Singapore starts on its next lap, the country must decide on its own what the best solutions are and be confident enough to chart its own path, he added.

Mr Heng was speaking at the annual Institute of Policy Studies Singapore Perspectives conference and responding to a question posed by a panellist, Ambassador-at- Large Bilahari Kausikan, on what "good politics" should be.

It was a reference to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's address to Parliament last Friday, when he spoke on the need for good politics to deliver good policies.

Mr Kausikan also suggested that the "Third World to First" narrative is outdated, as many First World countries are not doing well or are even dysfunctional.

For instance, European countries have been unable to deal with religious extremism, he said, because they have "handicapped themselves with their own ideologies".

Agreeing that Singapore should not be working blindly towards what other First World countries have achieved, Mr Heng said: "Every society must decide for itself what is it that it wants; what are the challenges that it faces; what are the circumstances; and then have the courage and conviction to know how to get there."

This, he added, can be achieved only if Singapore expands its common spaces where different groups can communicate and come to a shared understanding of Singapore's future direction.

He urged Singaporeans to start dialogues on what kind of society they hope to build.

But any dialogue must be conducted with a firm grasp of the fundamental realities that the country is small, with no natural resources except its people, and that race and religion would always need to be handled sensitively, he said.

When Mr Kausikan noted that many Singaporeans would dismiss such talk as "just another ploy to keep the People's Action Party (PAP) Government in power", Mr Heng agreed that "sometimes, people get very cynical". But, "however difficult it is to get the message across, I think that it is part of the responsibility of our leadership" to try, he said.

He added that there is enough evidence on these issues for people to determine whether "it is all a whole load of rubbish, or you can come out with fairly reasoned analysis and say, indeed, those are the facts of life".

However, there is still reason for optimism for the future. He noted the discussion's theme, The Future Of We, focused on what sort of future Singapore wants, and not whether the country has a future.

Mr Heng spoke at the final session of the day. The panel - which was made up of Mr Kausikan, Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee and hotelier Ho Kwon Ping - raised wide-ranging topics such as education, freedom of information, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Professor Chan said many young Singaporeans are not aware of Singapore's history and asked about ways to better educate them about pioneer leaders such as Mr S. Rajaratnam and Dr Goh Keng Swee. The two men were mentioned "only once or twice" in textbooks, she said. Hence, their significant role in the nation's founding is not widely known.

"How do we overcome this? We have to teach history objectively. Which means you talk about Lim Chin Siong when you talk about the PAP," she said, referring to the late Barisan Sosialis leader who broke away from the PAP.

Mr Ho said the future will involve an increasingly active civil society, which needs information.

Information is the lifeblood of dialogues, he added. He suggested having guidelines that would prioritise the release of information to the public, unless it deals with sensitive topics like national security.


I would not want to prejudge how the discussions will go. I think the President has mentioned that... the Government will study this and there will be a discussion on this topic. In the last few days, in fact, there have been a number of interesting opinions which have been aired.

As to the question of confusion (caused by having an elected) president in our prime ministerial system, indeed, there is the risk of that.

But I feel that the elected presidency (plays) an important function of stabilising our system... and really acting on the interests of Singapore.

The question is, how do we ensure that that remains relevant? How do we minimise potential negatives from having a system like that?

- FINANCE MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT, in response to Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, who asked whether the elected presidency will be reviewed when the Government studies Singapore's political system to see if it needs to be refreshed.

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