Monday 18 January 2016

Time for a ministry for successful ageing

By Devadas Krishnadas, Published The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

Singapore is a rapidly ageing society. Despite aggressive immigration over the last decade and a half, the share of the population aged over 65 will be one in three by 2030.

The paradox for Singapore is that its economic success has translated into longer lifespans, which means that even as Singaporeans have become healthier, their retirement financing has become an increasing cause for concern. Not only is ageing an issue of personal finances, but it also touches all dimensions at the national level - political, social, economic and even security.

The Singapore Government has not been blind to these challenges. In 2007, it established a Ministerial Committee on Ageing. It embarked on an immigration drive in an attempt to inject younger people into the population in general and the labour force in particular. It is expending large amounts on research and development of ageing-related technology and medical science.

While all this has been well and good, it is time to look at the question of whether and how Singapore can better organise its response to the ageing challenge. There are four principal problems with the current approach.

First, accountability.

The ministerial committee, first headed by Mr Lim Boon Heng and now Mr Gan Kim Yong, has no mandate over resources or direct operational control of any government agency or department.

The ageing challenge is an enduring and increasingly urgent problem which should be considered a national priority.

While the Government is indeed doing many things, there is a need to pin accountability to lead the national response on a specific political office-holder. Given the scale and scope of the challenge, this office-holder should be of sufficient rank - a deputy prime ministerial level seems reasonable.

Second, rationalisation.

A cursory survey of the Government's response to ageing at the institutional level will identify several different agencies distributed over multiple ministries which have explicit mandates concerning ageing.

These include the National Population and Talent Division, the Agency for Integrated Care, The Council for Third Age, the Ageing Planning Office at the Ministry of Health, the Pioneer Generation Office and Active Ageing Directorate at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

It stands to reason that there would be advantages to rationalising across these entities and consolidating resources and authority.

Not only would that yield efficiencies and better coordination but turf issues would also be avoided.

Third, mindsets.

The ageing challenge should be framed as a collective responsibility and not one for the Government alone to manage. The individual citizen must play a part in remaining healthy, economically productive and financially self-supporting - for longer.

Rather than simply lecture citizens, the Government must find the means to incentivise people in this direction.

For instance, a way could be found to encourage people to report their fitness states digitally and those citizens found to take responsibility, exercise and eat right could be rewarded with lower premiums on their compulsory MediShield Life policy.

Another example could be to pay those who top up their Supplementary Retirement Scheme accounts a higher interest rate.

An added incentive could be bonus payments for those who do so regularly over a period of five years.

Fourth, resources.

To give the ageing challenge the due attention it deserves, Singapore needs a ministry set up with the mandate, resources and leadership to give sustained attention at the national level.

The many institutional entities which have ageing as a mandate should be folded into this new Ministry for Successful Ageing and their budgets pooled to provide critical mass in financing.

The ageing challenge is neither simple nor inherently solvable. There is no perpetual "right answer" to how best to organise and respond to the challenge. The current approach has been adequate to date.

Going forward, a more deliberate, sustained and concentrated approach to policy and operation of ageing-related initiatives should be considered. This needs "right-sizing" of the Government's response to the challenge.

Tagging accountability to a high-enough-level political office-holder, consolidating authority and resources at a time of escalating budgets but potentially lagging revenues and designing schemes to incentivise better citizen behaviour and personal responsibility are ideas which merit a rigorous debate in the present as they concern how we as a society will face the singular challenge that will define our future.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Future-Moves Group, a management consulting firm.

"Tagging accountability to a high-enough-level political office-holder, consolidating authority and resources at a time...
Posted by Devadas Krishnadas on Friday, January 15, 2016

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