Saturday, 13 August 2016

Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum 2016 with Lawrence Wong

Making Singapore a home for all
Minister fields wide range of questions at forum, from housing to rising cost of living
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2016

The possibility of bringing HDB living right to the heart of the city, such as in the Greater Southern Waterfront project when it is developed, is something the Government is mulling over, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong revealed yesterday.

But a key concern is how to ensure equity, as getting such a flat - which will be heavily subsidised and will have a high value on the open market - will ultimately boil down to chance, he said.

He was speaking at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum at the National University of Singapore, and responding to a question from an undergraduate about preventing stratification in society.

Mr Wong said: "Somebody who gets it by the luck of the ballot eventually ends up with a significant windfall gain, making it unfair for the person who doesn't get the flat in the city centre, which will be highly sought after.".

The Greater Southern Waterfront, a development three times the size of Marina Bay, will be built on land freed up when the ports in Pasir Panjang and Tanjong Pagar are relocated to Tuas by 2027.

Mr Wong suggested that one way of getting around the problem is for the Housing Board to impose different requirements and lease periods for such flats.

But he said there was no good solution yet and the Government is thinking through different options.

During a question-and-answer session that overran its allocated time of one hour, he gamely fielded a wide variety of questions.

Another undergraduate raised concerns that polarising issues, such as homosexuality, would undermine national unity.

Mr Wong said there was a need "to understand that if one side pushes too hard, the other side will push back and sometimes when we do that, it becomes more divisive (and) counterproductive". He added that attitudes on sexuality "will evolve, as they have in all countries".

Students also asked what more can be done to foster the spirit of enterprise, with some suggesting that schools should help develop entrepreneurship and critical thinking.

Mr Wong, pointing to how the Government is providing more pathways such as in technical learning, said this will hopefully bring about a mindset change on the definition of success and encourage more risk-taking.

He also addressed the topic of the rising cost of living. On the recent increase to carpark charges, he said it was necessary so as not to pass on rising maintenance costs to taxpayers in general.

He said public spending had to remain low if the country wanted to keep taxes low and not incur budget deficits. "We have an important cultural mindset, which is that today's generation is prepared to make some sacrifices so that the future generations can have a better life... I hope we continue to preserve this," he said.

Building on how Singapore has transformed over 50 years
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Aug 2016

A distinctive global city

Plans to move the port from Tanjong Pagar to Tuas will free up 1,000ha of prime waterfront land to expand the Central Business District (CBD) and have more residential and commercial spaces there. A second CBD is being built in Jurong Lake District, which will have the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail terminus.

It will be surrounded by beautiful greenery and waters, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum yesterday.

Endearing homes for all

The Government will keep building beautiful, well-designed and affordable homes for Singaporeans as it has done for the past 50 years, Mr Wong said.

It will try to do even better in the next 50 years, he added, citing the evolution of Punggol new town, which will be expanded to Punggol North and house the Singapore Institute of Technology campus. Upcoming Tengah new town will be a forest town with a large central park, and will be part of the Jurong Innovation District.

City in a garden

Singapore aims to be not just a modern city, but also one that is green and friendly to the environment.

It can also be a leader in vertical and skyrise greenery.

Great effort is also being made to preserve biodiversity, such as in Kranji, whose marshes are home to over 170 different bird species, and on Pulau Ubin, where another otter species lives.

Mr Wong quipped: "We not only build homes for people. We build homes for animals too."

Shared culture and identity

Singapore has developed a shared culture, from hawker centres to the Botanic Gardens, and local movies like Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men. There are also more local bands like the Sam Willows, proof that Singapore's cultural scene has become more vibrant, said Mr Wong. An open, inclusive identity is taking shape, and a distinctive Singaporean culture will evolve with time. But it has to happen organically, he added.

Prime areas eyed for public flats, to make city ‘accessible to all’
By Tan WeiZhen, TODAY, 12 Aug 2016

The Government is looking into building public flats in prime areas, such as the planned Greater Southern Waterfront, to ensure that the city is “accessible” to all, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong during a forum with National University of Singapore (NUS) students yesterday.

Such flats could have different requirements such as varying lease periods, said Mr Wong, as he responded to a question from a student on how to make public buildings and new economic icons available to all Singaporeans. The student had pointed out that although Marina Bay Sands, for example, is an icon of Singapore, “it is not really a place for all Singaporeans because of the high cost of enjoying such a place”.

Mr Wong was addressing some 170 students at the annual Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum, during which he also touched on other issues, such as addressing fault lines in society and the need to maintain social mobility.

Noting that there are common areas and green spaces within areas such as Marina Bay that Singaporeans can enjoy for free, Mr Wong said: “That has always been the basis of building our city, that it cannot be stratified, we don’t want a city that is exclusive. You cannot have a person living in a three-room flat or an HDB flat saying: ‘This is not accessible to me, this is a city that’s only for the elites, and it’s not for me’.”

In planning Singapore’s new “Central Business Districts” in Jurong or the Greater Southern Waterfront extension, the Government will be “very mindful and conscious of this — be it having a hawker centre there, having gardens and parks, or even having HDB flats there — so that you have HDB residential living right in the city”, he said.

The idea of building more public housing in prime areas to increase interaction between the haves and have-nots had been floated last year at a Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore event. Then, Mr Chan Chun Sing, who was Social and Family Development Minister, said simply doing that would not bridge the rich-poor divide.

Earlier last year, a paper published by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy had also raised the question of whether less public housing being built in Singapore’s city centre could lead to “enclaves” of wealth and social stratification.

Yesterday, Mr Wong acknowledged the difficulties of building public flats in prime areas. “People who successfully ballot for highly subsidised flats in the city area would have a ‘huge gain’”, he said, adding equity also had to be ensured for those who do not get the flats.

The Government does not have a good solution yet, but different options are being thought through, he added. But “the basic imperative to make sure our city is accessible by everyone, is something that we fully agree” with, he said.

Before the question-and-answer segment of the forum, Mr Wong also spoke on future developments in Singapore. Commenting on the planned Tengah town, envisioned as a “forest town”, Mr Wong revealed that a green corridor would link residents to the western and central catchments. The first batch of flats will be sold from 2018 onwards, he added.

Other topics raised by students include how to reconcile different groups of Singaporeans with different ideologies, including very “emotional” issues such as homosexuality, and rising anti-globalisation sentiments.

On reconciling fault lines, Mr Wong said such fault lines, which span race and religion, and sexuality issues, exist everywhere. “Attitudes on sexuality will evolve. Let them evolve naturally, because if you push too hard, it will create more tension, more pushback, and it may be counter productive,” he said.

On anti-globlisation sentiments, Mr Wong noted that countries have tried to uphold the international order, and push for trade and inter-dependency among economies, such as supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As the economy slows, Singapore will not be immune to such sentiment if unemployment rises and wage growth slows. “Things may not go the right way, we have to be nimble and keep watch on the external environment ... within Singapore, we can make sure we look after those with lower incomes, the vulnerable ... and make sure we have social mobility.”

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