Saturday 19 May 2018

Debate on President's Address 2018

4G leaders will listen to people's views, launch discussion series: Heng Swee Keat
Heng Swee Keat pledges they will consider all views from various groups with open mind
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

The debate on the President's Address wrapped up yesterday with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announcing that 4G ministers will launch a series of discussions with various groups in society to share their ideas and listen to Singaporeans' views on them.

Disclosing this in his speech wrapping up the week-long debate, he pledged that the younger ministers would consider all views with an open mind.

"We will partner Singaporeans each step of the way in our journey of building our future Singapore. The fourth-generation leadership will listen with humility and respect.

"We will consider all views with an open mind, and adjust our course accordingly. We will communicate the thinking behind our decisions clearly. We will bring Singaporeans together and give everyone a role to turn good ideas into concrete action."

Details on the discussion series will be given after the Government takes stock of the parliamentary debate, he added.

The need to keep their ears to the ground and foster trust between the 4G and the electorate was a theme that emerged in the debate the past five days.

About 70 MPs and ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, spoke.

The House discussed issues highlighted in President Halimah Yacob's speech last week on behalf of the Government, setting out its plans for the rest of its term.

These include growing the economy, reducing inequality and leadership transition. The 4G leaders also set out their plans to deal with geopolitical shifts, technological disruptions and social schisms.

Mr Heng, the last among them to speak, sought to elaborate on how they will achieve their vision for Singapore.

Each generation of Singapore's leaders has, at critical junctures, worked to strengthen this trust, he noted as he vowed the 4G leaders are as committed to doing so.

Equally important for the Government is to bring out the best in every Singaporean, he said.

It is "the central question that should occupy each generation of leaders... 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G or 10G", he added. "Because Singaporeans are at the heart of everything this Government does."

Harnessing the strengths of people will become even more crucial as Singapore faces ever more complex challenges, Mr Heng said.

While he focused mostly on the big picture and the future, Mr Heng also assured MPs that the Government will address the issues of immediate concern to people, such as jobs and the cost of living.

"These are important. I am glad MPs are listening to and reflecting the views and feelings of their residents.

"We hear you, we are taking action to address our people's needs and concerns, including the cost of living," he added.

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan), who moved the motion for Parliament to thank Madam Halimah for her speech, cheered the Government's promise to better engage the people, as she summed up the debate.

She urged people to share their views in order for Singapore to achieve the "optimum outcome".

Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad, when asked about the debate, said 4G leaders had deftly dissected the inequality issues, which many MPs had spoken about.

He was also moved by the "grand vision" in the President's Address, drafted largely by the 4G leaders, and added: "I wish to see them crystallise this vision."

Government will not have all answers, says Heng Swee Keat
Wider society to be tapped amid more complex challenges
Govt will have to harness diverse strengths of people, says Heng Swee Keat
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

As the challenges that Singapore faces become more complex, the Government will not have all the answers, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. Instead, it will have to harness "the diverse strengths of our society".

"By working together, we can achieve something greater than the sum of our parts," he said in Parliament yesterday.

This means that the Government must go beyond political leaders to "develop and embrace leadership in every sector" - from unions and trade associations to non-governmental organisations and voluntary welfare groups.

These leaders must be united by a sense of common purpose to take Singapore forward, he added.

Mr Heng cited existing examples of such leadership.

For instance, during the Our Singapore Conversation dialogue series he led in 2013, he met many who cared deeply about an issue or a group of people, and took proactive steps to make things better.

"This is leadership," he said.

More than that, they appreciated different viewpoints, engaged in honest dialogue and worked with others.

"This is partnership," he said.

Another example is the Community Networks for Seniors - where government agencies, voluntary welfare organisations and community groups work together to help the elderly stay healthy.

"It will be a big step forward in building a caring society," said Mr Heng. "It will be a big step too in building our Singapore culture of partnership and trust."

The Government will seek to nurture more such leadership and partnerships across society, said the minister.

This, said Mr Heng, is critical for building new ideas, bonds and connections between the fourth-generation (4G) leadership and the public.

Acknowledging the public interest in the leadership transition, he added: "The public is interested in how the fourth-generation political leadership is taking shape. They recognise, rightly, that this is important for our future."

In her address last week, President Halimah Yacob had said the 4G leadership "must grow with the people they represent, embrace a diversity of views and ideas, and yet forge a clarity of purpose and unity of action".

The topic of forging bonds between the 4G leadership and the people was a consistent theme throughout this week's debate.

On leadership renewal, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday that new ideas, new bonds and new connections are needed with every new generation of leaders.

In his speech, Mr Heng acknowledged the calls made by both the President and Prime Minister. "The fourth-generation political leadership is committed to building this partnership and growing the trust."

A new slogan for a new generation
By Elgin Toh, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

Every Singaporean is a good Singaporean.

This was a golden thread running through parliamentary speeches yesterday, the last day of the debate on the President's Address.

Rounding up on behalf of the Government, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat joked that after he, as education minister, coined the phrase "Every school is a good school", it has become a meme of sorts - with spin-off uses in good nature, such as "Every hawker centre is a good hawker centre" and "Every MP is a good MP".

So, why not: "Every Singaporean is a good Singaporean"?

Consider "good".

An adjective, it describes goodness in values.

Speaking on what it means to be Singaporean, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah listed important Singaporean values: Honesty, striving for excellence, pragmatism and stewardship. To that list, Mr Heng added openness, and Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) added treating everyone in society with an equal measure of respect.

These values form the foundation of Singapore's success. Singapore is admired and trusted not simply because of its competencies, but also because of its values, which run deeper.

Ms Indranee said: "People know they can trust us. In global and regional trade, many accord a premium to dealing with Singaporean businesses... Investors invest (here) because they know we can be trusted."

Consider "is".

A verb, it makes a statement one of fact. But also one of potential and aspiration. Every Singaporean is a good Singaporean - yes - but he also needs to be nurtured to fully realise his inner goodness.

Thus, Mr Heng spoke of developing each child to his fullest potential. He stressed the creation of "multiple ladders of success" and "multiple peaks of excellence". This means moving away, he said, from an overemphasis on grades.

People, after all, are born with a plurality of talents. To have one definition of success is to force that diversity into a cage.

"Life is full of wonders and possibilities. To be Singaporean must mean to have the opportunities and abilities to see, to seize, and to seed more of, life's possibilities," he added.

Consider "every Singaporean".

A phrase with double meaning, it can refer to all the individuals or to the team of all Singaporeans, taken as a whole. Both meanings are vital.

On the one hand, the Singapore ecosystem brings out the best in each - the high-quality schools, the egalitarian workplaces, the well-funded skills upgrading schemes. On the other hand, there must be a unity of purpose - a coming together as one orchestra.

"Unity matters," Mr Heng said. "Other countries watch us. If there are divisions, these will be exploited. You see this in many parts of the world. If we stand united, we stand tall among nations."

Mr Heng also called for unity across the political divide.

"In this House, we have government MPs, opposition MPs, Nominated MPs... and we engage in vigorous debate, as we should. But when it comes to the crunch, there must be no doubt... that every single one of us is totally committed to the long-term interests of Singapore and Singaporeans."

Furthermore, he pledged that the fourth generation of ministers will build a strong partnership with people from all segments of society. They will kick this off with a series of conversations with them.

Emphasising the need for humility, he said: "The Government will not have all the answers.

"We need to harness the diverse strengths of our society, through leaders... in different parts of our society. By working together, we can achieve something greater than the sum of our parts."

The late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew used to make observations on why a society succeeds.

America, for example, is remarkable for its ability to get the best talent - from within as well as from the rest of the world. It creates an environment conducive to success, one that is exciting, dynamic, vibrant and diverse.

Japan, on the other hand, is a team. He once famously said the Chinese were equal to the Japanese, person for person. But as a team, the Japanese were unmatched. He noted the level of discipline and cooperation during the 2011 Japanese tsunami: They stayed calm; there was no looting - instead, there was mutual help.

What should Singapore be? Judging from the remarks of Mr Heng and others, Singapore should strive to stand out both as a team and its people as individuals.

A small country, it cannot allow any of its talent to go to waste . (At the risk of commoditising talent, one analogy for this is how Singapore also cannot allow any drop of water to go wasted, due to its geographical constraints.) But also due to the same smallness, it is more vulnerable to external threats than other societies, and has to close ranks at certain times to overcome those threats.

The industry transformation maps are an example - society uniting to draw up an action plan on the change needed to take the economy to the next level, instead of leaving it to the free market.

Every Singaporean is a good Singaporean - as the 4G leaders take over the reins of government, their task in the next phase of development may well be encapsulated in this phrase.

To be Singaporean is to act on problems we see: Indranee Rajah
Young people needed to help write next chapter of Singapore story
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

To be Singaporean is to care - about family, about others, about the country.

But more than that, it is to take action when we see a problem that needs fixing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said in Parliament yesterday as she spoke about national identity.

She noted that over the past week of debate on the President's Address, much has been said about challenges such as social mobility, inequality and the lack of social mixing. "These are real concerns," she said. "However, in the context of identity, the real point to note is... that we care that it is becoming a problem and we are determined to do something about it."

That is the essence of being Singaporean, she said.

"We care enough to want to do something. If we see something wrong, our first instinct is to help, to fix it, to improve the situation."

But another Singaporean trait is to also be pragmatic and to make sure that things actually get done, she added. "Empathy without outcomes achieves little. Care has to be deliverable and sustainable, both operationally and financially."

Furthermore, Ms Indranee said, Singapore's "preoccupation with the future is driven by our sense of duty and stewardship - that we must not only tend to our own generation but plant seeds that will bear fruit for the next".

She called on the next generation to write the next chapter of the Singapore story, saying they have the qualities, values and opportunity to accomplish it.

"No matter what our background, each of us has a role to play, each has something to contribute to make Singapore a better place," she said.

Looking back at Singapore's history, Ms Indranee noted that its independence was hard-won, and that is why securing its place in the world is one of the Government's priorities, and the reason it does not allow external interference with local politics.

As a small country, Singapore is often subject to external pressures as countries larger and more powerful may, from time to time, try to dictate what Singapore should do, she said.

"However, we will act only in accordance with the best interests of Singapore. This takes courage, deftness - and a healthy sense of realism," she said.

"We advance and defend our right to self-determination through diplomacy and deterrence. That is why we act on principle and support a rules-based international order, where states must act in accordance with agreed rules and not purely on the basis of might or size."

Singapore's ambition on equal access 'cannot be left to chance': Cheryl Chan
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

Singapore wants to ensure equal access to education for every child, as well as homes, jobs and a safe environment for every citizen, an ambition that cannot be left to chance, Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) said yesterday.

It requires meticulous planning, putting in place social strategies and precise execution, she added when rounding up the week's debate on the President's Address, which sets the targets for the second half of the Government's term.

Ms Chan distilled three broad areas focused on by the 70 MPs who spoke in the five-day sitting. These are: Singapore's future society, future economy and national identity.

In her address, President Halimah Yacob called for bold changes to help Singapore face a different future. But in responding to her call, Ms Chan said the Government must not make changes for their own sake. "We need to get the basics of the society right and not discard what works, just to be bold."

It is the Government's duty to ensure every Singaporean has a home to live in, and every child grows up with equal access to education, jobs and a safe environment, she said.

She also pointed out the need to reduce income inequality and enhance social mobility - two issues highlighted by many of the MPs.

"Be it through education, jobs, housing or urban planning, our future should be one that embraces diverse ideals and uplifts fellow citizens from different backgrounds, a society in which every generation has equal opportunities to achieve their dreams and to do it better than the previous generation."

She said efforts to build an inclusive and cohesive society need to include the formulation of new economic metrics beyond the usual ones that measure gross domestic product and jobs growth - an idea mooted by some MPs.

Ms Chan noted several MPs suggested ways to help local firms be more innovative and seize opportunities overseas so they can drive economic growth and create good jobs. While building the future economy amid technological disruptions and digitalisaton, Singapore also needs to cultivate local talent even as it attracts foreign ones, she added.

Ms Chan also said the Government must strengthen its engagement with people so that there will be a greater sense of alignment of concerns and aspirations, and a stronger sense of shared ownership.

"As citizens, we should also share our views and ideas, endeavour to work with the Government in the spirit of encouragement and experimentation for an optimum outcome each time," she added.


Extending leases of older HDB flats involves serious trade-offs and ramifications to consider, says Lawrence Wong
Lease extension a complex issue, says Lawrence Wong
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday offered a word of caution on the issue of automatic lease extension for older HDB flats.

Addressing Parliament, he said: "It will be easy for me to give you a politically expedient answer now and try to wave away the problem. But there are serious trade-offs and ramifications to consider."

First, he said, it should not be assumed that this was what everyone wants. Second, much more maintenance is needed for older flats, and this would be costly for residents.

Third, despite Singapore's best efforts at planning, it was still severely constrained by space.

"If there is no more land to recycle for future public housing, then what will happen to our children and grandchildren? How will they have access to subsidised housing in the future?" he said.

Noting that it is a complex issue, he said: "The Government must grapple with these questions, study the matter and do the responsible thing."

Mr Wong also noted that the oldest Housing Board flat today is around 50 years, and most have more than 60 years remaining on their leases.

"So, this is not an immediate issue at all," he stressed. "We still have time to do this work."

The lease issue became a hot topic following a blog post by Mr Wong last year when he cautioned that not all old flats will be eligible for the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme, and those left out will be returned to the state when the 99-year lease matures.

Yesterday, he assured home owners there is still value in older flats, stressing that even for these flats, "CPF can still be used but under certain conditions to safeguard home buyers' retirement adequacy".

Meanwhile, he had two pieces of advice for would-be home owners: Don't buy or sell based on speculative information and do your homework carefully and choose something to fit your needs.

He also assured people that "the Government will continue to provide affordable and quality homes for all Singaporeans - both now and in the future".

There is still value in older HDB flats: Lawrence Wong
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

Owners of older HDB flats today have become "overly anxious" about how much their flats can fetch in the resale market, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted in Parliament yesterday.

This is a reversal of the situation some time back when people were speculating in such flats, hoping to benefit from the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, he said.

But Mr Wong does not share the current sentiments, saying the older flats still have value that can be unlocked for retirement.

Giving transaction data of the past year, he said an older four-room flat with a lease of less than 60 years would sell for around $300,000, and a five-room, for around $400,000 in non-mature estates.

In more popular locations, prices are more than double those: above $600,000 for four-room and over $800,000 for five-room flats.

The length of the lease is just one factor as location, storey height and the condition of the flat are also relevant, he said.

He also said the sales proceeds would be more than enough to buy a smaller flat, say, a two-room flexi flat with a 40-year lease that costs around $100,000, while a three-room resale flat is around $250,000 depending on location.

For those who want to stay put, there are programmes such as the Lease Buyback Scheme, in which home owners can sell part of the remaining lease to the Housing Board. They can also rent out a bedroom.

The monetisation schemes are working, he said, adding: "We will continue to review and enhance the schemes, and help our elderly unlock the value of their flats for retirement."

The issue of the value of older flats was raised this week in Parliament by several MPs, including Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera of the Workers' Party (WP).

Mr Wong said that he looked forward to the opposition party's suggestions on the matter, which Mr Perera said the WP is studying "very seriously".

He also called on all parties and Singaporeans to give their views and feedback to the Government, saying that "it's a matter that all Singaporeans care about".

Mr Wong noted that HDB leases are for 99 years: "That is a long time - it covers two generations."

Meanwhile, the Government is looking into the issue, he said. "Our duty is not just to the current generation who already own homes, but also to the future generations - those not yet voting and those not yet born, whose lives and future depend on us making the right decision on their behalf.

"At the end of the day, we want to ensure every generation will be able to have an affordable and quality home in Singapore."

For now, what's important, he said, is that people do not speculate or spread information that can impact the market.

He referred to recent online speculation that the Government would stop the use of Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings entirely for the purchase of HDB flats.

This stemmed from a Straits Times report last week on an idea from Singapore University of Social Sciences labour economist Walter Theseira.

He had suggested a redesign of the CPF so that people no longer need to pay for housing out of CPF, by cutting contribution rates to focus on retirement and health.

As the values of homes may dwindle as they age, this would mean less retirement assets for people, Dr Theseira had said.

Some people had taken the article, which initially did not fully reflect his views, to mean that the Government intends to stop CPF savings from being used to buy HDB flats.

Restrictions on the use of CPF saving kick in when the remaining lease is less than 60 years.

Mr Wong reiterated that the Government wants to make the resale market work better for potential buyers and sellers, saying that the HDB resale portal has simplified and sped up the resale transaction process.

He pledged that the HDB will do more, including providing more information on available flats in the market and helping people make more informed decisions.

Mr Wong said the Government is also watching the private housing market, and that it cannot control or fix prices.

"We recognise that there may be over-borrowing in a very low interest rate environment, and that sharp price changes that run ahead of fundamentals can be destabilising to the broader economy."

He added that the Government will "make use of various policy levers to ensure a stable and sustainable property market".

HDB to go one step further to integrate rental and sold flats in same block: Lawrence Wong
Three BTO blocks to have mix of rental and owned units
Move part of efforts to tackle inequality; more such blocks likely if feedback is positive
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

To tackle growing inequality and stratification, the Government is "going one step further" by having rental and purchased flat units within the same block, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Currently, there are no Housing Board blocks designed to have both rental and sold flats. This is changing with three Build-To-Order blocks in Woodlands, Bukit Batok and Sengkang that will feature such integration from the outset. These blocks are being constructed.

Speaking on day four of the debate on the President's Address, Mr Wong outlined his ministry's efforts to build a better city that is more innovative, inclusive and resilient. President Halimah Yacob had cited housing as one of the ways the Government can "tackle inequality vigorously".

Mr Wong said: "We have been building more rental flats with newer, better designs, alongside the sold flats in various HDB towns. This means that families grow up in the same neighbourhood, and the residents share the same common areas and facilities. Now, we are going one step further."

Mr Wong said in March that more of such blocks will be built if feedback from residents is positive.

There were around 58,000 rental flats as of March last year.

Various MPs have mooted the idea of integrated blocks, including Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC).

On Wednesday, Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) voiced his concern that standalone rental blocks are "sometimes built at the fringe of the housing estates", and run the danger of becoming ghettos.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Wong said an outstanding city is one that is not only economically vibrant, but also socially inclusive.

"Our housing and urban plans must continue to push back against the growing pressures of inequality and social stratification. We cannot just leave things to chance, we must deliberately plan for a more equal and inclusive society," said Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance.

In addition, Mr Wong said the Government is also doing more to help families living in rental flats.

It supported about 1,000 households last year with housing grants and new programmes like the Fresh Start Housing Scheme. This helped rental households become home owners, he said.

Besides families in rental flats, Mr Wong said the elderly living in studio or two-room flexi apartments must also be taken care of.

He highlighted Kampung Admiralty, a development which integrated these flat types with community services, medical facilities and shared spaces. The complex officially opened last Saturday, and more such kampungs will be planned in other HDB towns.

Singapore does not want a situation where lower-income or elderly residents inhabit "deteriorated neighbourhoods or towns", he said.

To that end, town councils, the Government and residents must take on the shared responsibility of renewing the buildings and infrastructure continuously, he added.

Mr Wong also outlined his ministry's plans to realise the vision of Singapore as a Global-Asian node of innovation and enterprise, listing future developments such as Changi Airport Terminal 5 and the Greater Southern Waterfront.

"When we say we are not done building Singapore, it is not a slogan. It is a single-minded commitment and mission to keep building and improving our city," he said.

"I can confidently say that over the coming years and decades, Singapore will be undergoing its most extensive urban transformation yet."

Lawrence Wong rebuts Workers' Party on tapping reserves to meet growing spending needs
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

The issue of whether to tap more of the country's reserves to meet growing spending needs emerged on the fourth day of the debate on the President's Address, with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong crossing swords with two Workers' Party (WP) MPs.

WP chief Pritam Singh and Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera both highlighted the size of the returns from the reserves. Mr Perera called for the share of returns that can be spent on current needs - now capped at 50 per cent - to be raised.

These returns have "put more money and by extension more political capital in the hands of the current government... than any other generation of People's Action Party leaders", Mr Singh said on Monday, as he questioned the Government's line that the country's fiscal position will become more difficult.

Rebutting the WP yesterday, Mr Wong pointed to considerable investments needed for urban transformation as well as other needs. Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance, said Mr Singh "forgot to mention" that current fiscal commitments and spending are at their highest-ever level.

"Without additional revenues, how are we to meet the growing healthcare needs as well as the many other proposals that various people, including the WP MPs, have been asking for?" he asked.

The Government has said it plans to raise revenue through a 2 percentage point increase in the goods and services tax (GST) in the next decade, a move the WP opposes.

On the WP's call to relook the 50 per cent cap on spending from the returns of the reserves, last debated in 2016, Mr Wong said: "What does it say about us and our mindsets... if the minute we need the money, the first thing we do is to relax the rules? Surely, that would be ill-disciplined, imprudent and unwise."

While these returns are the biggest revenue source now, Mr Wong does not expect it to rise as a share of GDP. In fact there is a risk that it may come down, due to historically low interest rates, he said.

"So if you look at this overall picture, spending beyond this term of government going up... revenue uncertain (with) more downside risk than before, then I think you will appreciate that our fiscal position is in fact not that strong," he said.

Asked by Mr Perera if the GST hike could prove a drag on growth, Mr Wong replied that it could. "So what I would very much like to hear from (MPs), if you think that this is a concern, please let us have proposals not to spend more, which we keep hearing, but to spend less for a change."

Singapore needs to meet needs of young individuals and families
Call for society that caters to both young and old
Youth aspirations, elder-friendly transport the focus of 4G leaders
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

The three students who started a microbrewery in their university residence hall - but were stopped - have a risk-taking, enterprising spirit that society should support.

Making this point, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said he has taken a personal interest in helping Binjai Brew grow its business legally.

Mr Chee was one of three senior ministers of state from the fourth generation of leaders who yesterday spoke in Parliament about the steps they felt Singapore should take to become a society that meets the needs and aspirations of its people. The others were Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary and Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman.

Mr Chee recently met Binjai Brew founders Rahul Immandira, Heetesh Alwani and Abilash Subbaraman to discuss how to reduce red tape for start-ups like theirs.

"I have tried their beer; it is very good," he said.

Their microbrewery began at their hostel in Nanyang Technological University but was shut down as it is illegal to brew alcohol on campus. Mr Chee said he and a Pro-Enterprise Panel made up of civil servants and business leaders have offered their help.

They had a good discussion on how the licensing regime could be reviewed to lower the barriers of entry for microbrewers to test out new products in an initial trial period, before more rigorous rules kick in when they scale up production and sales, he said.

"My colleagues and I are looking into this suggestion, and we will discuss with the regulatory agencies... We will give it a shot."

Speaking more generally, Mr Chee said cutting red tape, listening to feedback from businesses and allowing experimentation are key to keeping Singapore pro-business. Doing these will drive economic growth and create good jobs as the economy matures. Developing local talent while attracting foreign talent is also critical for Singapore, he said.

Dr Maliki, meanwhile, said the young today have different aspirations, encapsulated in phrases like "Yolo" ("You Only Live Once") and "Fomo" ("Fear Of Missing Out").

The journey matters more to them than the destination and they do not want to miss out on exciting experiences, he noted.

Home ownership and stable employment might hence not keep them anchored, as they seek to "revisit the social compact, where the Government had a monopoly on masterplanning the public good".

They do not want to miss out on having a say in policies, he added.

To forge this new compact, the Government also stands ready to "revisit the current balance between meritocracy and compassion", he said, as this will help build a sense of common destiny and win the confidence of the young.

Dr Janil said Singapore's long-term transport needs will require forward planning. He called for a transport system that caters to the diverse needs of all commuters - especially one that is elder-friendly and allows seniors to commute independently, he said, adding that this will have an impact on resource allocation. "How do we do this in a way that is fair to Singaporeans?"

The Government will also build connectivity to regional centres like Jurong, Punggol and Woodlands, to bring jobs and daily activities closer to home, he added. To do this, "we may have to invest ahead of demand for our transport connectivity".

This will have an impact on the Transport Ministry's overall plan and priorities, he noted. "We need to have that conversation."

4G leaders ready to take Singapore forward: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
More than one candidate qualified to be next PM; leader will emerge before next General Election, he says
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

As Singapore undergoes a significant generational change, it needs a new leadership with fresh solutions to challenges ahead, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

And the fourth-generation ministers are ready for the task, he said, outlining key issues the country faces, which span geopolitical uncertainties and stalling social mobility. Within the team, there is more than one qualified candidate who can be the next prime minister, said PM Lee. This person will emerge before the general election due by 2021.

Yesterday, he acknowledged the widespread concern over the question of who the next leader will be.

"I know everyone is anxious to know who the next PM will be," he said. But the person must command his team's respect and enjoy the masses' support, he noted.

"These things take time; they cannot be forced. I do not believe we are ready to settle on a choice yet."

What is more crucial is for the younger ministers to win the trust of Singaporeans as a team, he said in Parliament, on the third day of debate on the President's Address.

"Without trust, the Government can't govern. It won't dare to do painful but necessary things."

This is particularly so given looming challenges for the country.

In an hour-long speech, PM Lee set out the challenges that Singapore faces and what he saw as the 4G leaders' responsibilities.

They will need to reinvent and grow the economy amid an uncertain external environment. For one thing, the relationship between the United States and China would affect Singapore, whether the two are in conflict or whether they decide to divide up the world between them and set their own rules.

At home, the task of sustaining social mobility has become more urgent as society matures. "We want Singapore society to maintain an informal and egalitarian tone, where people interact freely and comfortably as equals, and there are no rigid class distinctions or barriers that keep good people down," PM Lee said, describing this as essential for meritocracy to work.

In a pointed message to the elite, he said they should never keep out from their networks those with talent or ability, but who lack the right background and connections.

This prompted opposition veteran Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) to ask if there is already a "political elite class" in Singapore. He observed that many from the 4G team - in particular, the three men viewed as front runners for prime minister - were from the Singapore Armed Forces or civil service.

Among the trio, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung were from the Administrative Service, while Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing was chief of army.

To this, PM Lee said Mr Low had just demonstrated how not to approach the issue, as he had focused on the candidates' backgrounds instead of their contributions.

"Is it bad to come from the civil service or the SAF? No. Is it necessary to come from there? No.

"So, we are looking for people wherever we can find them, to bring in, to form a Singapore team. The stronger this team is, the harder I make Mr Low's job. I cannot help it," he said, to laughter.

Rounding off, PM Lee, 66, who has said he wants to step down by the time he is 70, said he was confident Singapore would be "in the hands of good stewards" when it comes time for him to hand over.

"Can the next generation of leaders build on our shared experiences of 50 years, and maintain the sense of collective mission? Can they work to improve the lives of all Singaporeans, and not the interests of narrow groups, so that they pass on an even stronger, more united Singapore?" he said.

"I think they can."

More than one candidate qualified for PM role
Once 4G leaders reach consensus on choice, working together as team is key, says PM Lee
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

More than one person among the fourth-generation leaders is qualified to be the next prime minister, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He also disclosed that he expects the one who is eventually picked for the top job to be made known before the next general election, due by 2021.

Now, it is incumbent on the team of 4G leaders to come to a consensus on who they want to lead, he said on the third day of debate on the President's Address.

Once they have decided, there is "no other option" but for the team to work together, complement one another's strengths and weaknesses, and take collective responsibility for decisions.

"To me, this working together is just as important, if not more important, than the question of who should be the next PM," he said. "Whoever becomes the next PM, the team has to work closely together for him to succeed. If they cannot or do not do so, the next PM will fail, whoever he is."

All of Singapore's prime ministers, from Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Mr Goh Chok Tong, and even himself, have worked with a talented core team of ministers whose views and advice they take seriously, he added. "All three of us were not sole leaders, but primus inter pares - that means first among equals - but the emphasis is equals, but just that we are the first among equals with our colleagues," he said, adding the ministers were not just there to "carry on orders".

"We have fierce arguments as to what to do, but we are on a team together, with strong enough bonds that we can deal with issues together, and there is leadership but it is unforced, it has to be unforced leadership that the team accepts, respects and knows that it has an important role to play."

The 4G leaders will similarly form such a team of stalwarts, added Mr Lee, and the recent Cabinet reshuffle has kick-started the process by putting them at the helm of two-thirds of all ministries.

But with the Prime Minister having indicated his wish to hand over the reins some time after the next general election, speculation has been rife about who will succeed him. Acknowledging people are anxious to know, he said: "These things take time. They cannot be forced."

He also said it would not be helpful to "treat this either as a horse race, or a campaign to lobby support for one or the other candidate".

Besides setting out their responsibilities, Mr Lee also had advice for the 4G ministers.

They should act as stewards of the country, rather than its manager, and certainly not its owner. He said he was happy to hear Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat describe this year's Budget as one that not only meets the needs of today's generation, but also accounts for the needs of future generations.

"It showed that the 4G ministers understood that their deepest responsibility is to be a steward of Singapore," said Mr Lee.

They should also keep faith with the past generations while being responsible to the present generation, and building the country for the future generations.

"We need new leaders for each generation, from each generation. Because each generation has its own challenges to tackle, and tough choices to make," he said.

Political analysts, commenting on the fact that there were still multiple contenders for prime minister now, said this is not a surprise, given that no new deputy prime minister was appointed in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

Political observer Derek da Cunha wrote on Facebook that the general perception is that "no one among the identified members of the 4G team actually comes across as naturally prime ministerial". Given this, the team might have decided to give its chosen leader the time to build up his profile, he added.

However, Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan cautioned that "if they draw it out too long, it could raise doubts on whether this person has the support of his peers".

Ex- Civil Servants and SAF Generals in Government - Look at a political leader's contributions, not where he came from: PM Lee
Right - and wrong - ways to evaluate a leader
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

When evaluating a political leader, people should look at his contributions, strengths and flaws. They should not be asking about where he comes from or who his parents are.

This was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's riposte to veteran Workers' Party MP Low Thia Khiang, who asked yesterday if there is a political elite class in Singapore.

Rising to query the Prime Minister after his hour-long speech that included a warning against closed social networks, Mr Low (Aljunied GRC) observed that many in the fourth-generation leadership team - especially the three men widely viewed as the front runners to become Singapore's next Prime Minister - were from the civil service or the armed forces.

Mr Heng Swee Keat and Mr Ong Ye Kung were formerly from the Administrative Service, while Mr Chan Chun Sing was chief of army before entering politics.

Mr Low asked: "Is it not a sign that there is now a political elite class in Singapore?"

In response, PM Lee said: "This is an example of the way not to think about the problem. When you look at the person, you ask, 'Is he making a contribution? What are his strengths and weaknesses? What are his contributions? Does he or does he not measure up?' You do not ask, 'Where did he come from? Who are his parents?' "

He elaborated: "Is it bad to come from the civil service or the SAF? No. Is it necessary to come from there? No. Is it good to have people from a wide range? Yes, and we do have a wide range."

PM Lee also took issue with Mr Low's characterisation of the leadership transition. "He talked about three front runners. I do not know how many people are running. I just said it is not a horse race, it is a team," he said.

The Prime Minister said that there is already diversity within the 4G team - which includes former doctors, lawyers and those from the private sector and with business experience.

Four backbenchers with private-sector experience were appointed political office holders in the Cabinet reshuffle last month. They are senior counsel Edwin Tong, former Ernst and Young partner Zaqy Mohamad, former Business China chief executive Sun Xueling and former oncologist Tan Wu Meng.

"The stronger this team is, the harder I make Mr Low's job," said PM Lee to laughter from other MPs.

Then, he added: "I cannot help it, it was not my objective. I just want the best team for Singapore."

Why trust in Government is key to acceptance of unpopular policies
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

The goods and services tax (GST), a hot topic of late in Singapore and Malaysia, has highlighted how trust is a crucial factor in determining whether citizens will accept or reject an unpopular policy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the point in Parliament yesterday when he spoke on the importance of constructive politics and good leadership.

In governing, leaders have to do difficult things from time to time when necessary and, to show leadership, they have to "explain, persuade and convince people that we know what we are doing, and we are doing it for good reason, and it is the right thing to do", he said.

"That is the way to maintain people's trust, and trust is crucial," added PM Lee.

But when the previous Malaysian government introduced the GST three years ago, people rejected its explanation that it was a necessary source of revenue.

They swung to Pakatan Harapan, the opposition coalition led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, which had vowed during the election campaign to abolish the GST, and yesterday announced that the tax will be scrapped on June 1.

The decision was taken, PM Lee said, not because of the economic merits or demerits of the GST which, from an economic viewpoint, is better than the sales tax it replaced.

"But politically, Malaysians linked the GST with other complaints they had with the previous government... and they said no, I don't accept this, out with it.

"Does that mean that no government should ever raise taxes? Alas, that is not the real world. From time to time, the country will need to spend more - on health care, on defence, on education, or something else," he added.

If revenues are not enough, there is no choice but to raise taxes, PM Lee said. The government then has to convince people it is done for the right reasons.

"Whether the voters accept that will depend not just on the arguments, but also crucially on whether they trust the government... to do the right thing on their behalf even when it is painful."

He added: "This is the right lesson to learn."

Singapore will raise the GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in February this year.

PM Lee also said there is no fixed lifespan for a political party.

How long it stays in power - or in opposition - hinges on whether it can renew itself, continue to serve the people and bring progress to the nation. "If the PAP (People's Action Party) can keep on successfully doing that, we can stay in government. But if we ever fail, then we deserve to lose," he said.

This does not mean the Government will shy away from difficult problems, he added. "A government must govern. And if ministers are not prepared to govern, then give it up. Because that is your duty, that is what you are here for."

Society must keep social networks open: PM Lee
He says MOE to ensure popular schools do not become self-perpetuating, closed circles
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

The Education Ministry will work with Raffles Institution (RI) and other popular schools to ensure that they do not become self-perpetuating, closed circles, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Announcing this yesterday, PM Lee recounted an anecdote he heard from Education Minister Ong Ye Kung. Over the years, RI has become less diverse, and its new principal Frederick Yeo has sought to encourage parents of potential students in primary schools across the island to apply to RI.

But some parents baulked at doing so - because they feared their children would not be able to fit in with the more well-off students, said PM Lee.

This fear is unfounded, as RI students come from varied backgrounds, said PM Lee. Over half - 53 per cent - of its students live in public housing. Bursaries and scholarships are readily available.

"But if such a perception exists and discourages promising students from applying to the school, it is not good for RI, it is not good for Singapore," said PM Lee.

The Prime Minister was taking up on a theme that has emerged strongly in this week's debate on the President's Address.

Some MPs had warned about elite schools like RI becoming less diverse, as students from privileged backgrounds are more likely to get admitted by virtue of the head start they get in life.

Yesterday, PM Lee said social networks must always remain open and permeable. If they close up or form a glass ceiling, "not only would social mobility be frustrated, but soon the elite group would start to only look after its own interests, and fail in their duty to lead and to care for the rest of society".

"That would be disastrous for Singapore," he said.

In a pointed message to Singapore's elite - those who occupy key leadership positions in government, academia, business and the professions, PM Lee said they cannot allow their groups to become closed circles, where outsiders with talent or ability but lacking the right backgrounds and connections cannot enter.

For Singapore's meritocracy to work, it is vital that no obstacles prevent able people from moving up in life, PM Lee said. He outlined four key factors: Ensuring children have a good start regardless of family background, developing every talent to the fullest, providing opportunities to those with the right attitude and ability, and minimising impediments for capable people to move up.The last is the most difficult to sustain in the long term, he said, adding that the Government alone cannot bring it about. Society itself must be open.

Singapore, being young, has not seen entrenched notions of class and caste, which are common in older countries such as Britain and India, he added.

Citing accents, a social marker in Britain, for instance, Mr Lee said schools here teach students to speak good English to avoid such distinctions. "Without everyone being proficient in speaking standard English, Singlish will become a class marker," he added.

Lifestyle choices, such as holiday spots and dress, can also become separators in society, he said.To counter this, Singaporeans should emphasise their commonalities. "We should frown upon those who go for ostentatious displays of wealth and status, or worse, look down on others less well-off and privileged," he said.

But the general tone here is still one of restraint, he noted, adding to laughter: "If you wear a chunky gold watch and dress flashily, instead of being impressed, people may think you are a loan shark!

"That is as it should be."

Call to bridge different groups to strengthen cohesion
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

The shared experiences of living in Housing Board towns and going through national service have made Singaporeans more united now compared with 50 years ago, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But external forces that could exploit enduring fault lines like race, language and religion and pull Singaporeans in different directions have also grown stronger, he warned.

PM Lee yesterday stressed the need to build bridges between different groups in society to counteract such divisive forces.

Such efforts have to go beyond bridging race, language and religion, he said, calling for social cohesion to be strengthened between management and unions, and old citizens and new.

He noted that the ethnic, cultural and economic pulls of regional powers like China and India will continue to exert a force on Singaporeans.

On one hand, Singapore wants to maintain its separate identity as an independent, sovereign and multiracial country, said PM Lee. But its relationship with China and India is complicated by ethnic links, cultural ties and its inside track to both nations.

"Between the two, there is tension, and we have to keep that balance and maintain our position and our cohesion," he said.

The situation is similar for Malay Singaporeans, he added. Despite the clear emergence of a Malay Singaporean identity, it still overlaps with the Malays in Malaysia, both in terms of race and religion.

The call for a global Islamic ummah, or community, also has a "powerful appeal", he noted.

Furthermore, Singapore is exposed to extremist and exclusivist teachings. In the event of a terrorist attack, it will sow great fear and distrust between Muslims and other Singaporeans, he said.

As for ties between other groups, he noted that in the new economy, there are fewer workers doing rank-and-file jobs traditionally covered by trade unions, with more workers becoming freelancers and professionals. If these new groups are left out, more workers will feel that their needs are not taken care of and look for other solutions, warned PM Lee.

"It would weaken tripartism and our social compact," he said, noting that this three-way partnership is a vital element of Singapore's social cohesion. It is thus better for the labour movement to embrace them and adopt their concerns, he added.

Singapore also has to build a bridge between old citizens and new ones, he said, adding that it needs a steady flow of immigrants to top up its population.

He also said new immigrants have to make every effort to mix with everyone else, but noted they will always take time to settle in - as previous waves of first-generation Singaporeans did.

"On our part, we should welcome them, we should support them in their journey to become Singaporeans, as others have helped our forefathers and helped ourselves."

Vital to maintain strong ties with Singapore's neighbours
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

Last week's general election in Malaysia, which saw Barisan Nasional lose power for the first time, was a "momentous development" that bears watching closely.

It is one of several major developments around the world that Singapore has to pay heed to as it navigates a turning point in its own history, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday. "As Malaysia's closest neighbour, we need to pay close attention to our relationship with them. The two countries have deep historical, economic and people-to-people ties. We hope Malaysia is stable and prosperous."

While Singapore enjoyed good relations with Malaysia under former premier Najib Razak, it has also worked with current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and several members of his team, said PM Lee, announcing that he plans to visit Malaysia on Saturday to meet Tun Dr Mahathir.

He added that he also knows former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim well as he was Mr Lee's counterpart when he was Singapore's deputy prime minister.

PM Lee also touched on Indonesia, which is having its national elections next year. He has good working relations with President Joko Widodo, and also with president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono previously, he said. "I hope we can maintain friendly and productive ties with Indonesia too," added PM Lee.

"Regardless of political cycles and election outcomes, we will work hard on relations with our two neighbours. Their success makes for a more peaceful and prosperous region, and that is good for us."

PM Lee earlier noted that Singapore is beginning a new phase of social and economic development, amid a generation change. These big shifts are taking place in an uncertain global environment.

For one thing, it is not yet clear how ties between the United States and China will pan out.

"If they tilt towards more conflict, it will be bad not only for the two powers, but for the rest of the world as well. That is obvious," he noted.

But if relations tilt to the other extreme - if the two powers agree to divide up the world between them, and set rules that benefit only them - it would be just as detrimental, especially for small countries which will have no say, he added.

Already, the ongoing trade tensions are not just hurting business, but also undermining the multilateral trading system which Singapore depends on.

In his speech, PM Lee also reassured those who worry about Singapore's slowing economic growth, forecast at between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. "This has made some people anxious. They worry that their children will not have better lives than they themselves do today."

But PM Lee said that 2 per cent to 4 per cent is quite a good growth rate for a mature economy, and added that in any case, this is just an estimate based on Singapore's current stage of economic development.

"It is not the limit to our efforts or ambitions. Individual companies and industries can certainly do better, especially if they have a more innovative product, or if they expand into new markets," he added.

"We are pushing ahead with our economic upgrading. We can see the opportunities. The only question is whether we can seize them."

Workers' Party has role in Singapore politics, says PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

Seated together on a sofa in Parliament House on May 7 at the reopening of Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang had a quiet chat.

PM Lee asked Mr Low, who last month passed the baton over to Mr Pritam Singh: "What will change, now that the WP has a new leader?"

Nothing much, responded Mr Low. "We, the WP, have our role. These things should not change suddenly. Don't you agree?"

Recounting the conversation yesterday, PM Lee said that he agreed with Mr Low. "As an opposition party, the Workers' Party plays a role in our political system, whoever is their party leader," said the Prime Minister, who heads the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

"Opposition parties keep Singapore politics contestable," added PM Lee. In other words, the PAP does not have a monopoly of power and does not have the right to rule Singapore indefinitely.

If it performs, it will retain voters' support and stay in power, and the opposition cannot gain ground.

"But if the PAP government becomes incompetent or corrupt, then of course the opposition will grow. So, our system gives the PAP government... the incentive to perform and to keep the opposition performing its role where it is, namely, in the opposition."

PM Lee stressed that the PAP is determined to do well, treating every election as a serious contest and taking every debate seriously. That is why the Constitution was changed in 2016 to ensure there will always be at least 12 opposition MPs and Non-Constituency MPs, whatever the outcome of elections, he said. This takes effect in the next general election.

Currently, the WP has six MPs and three Non-Constituency MPs in the House, which also has nine Nominated MPs.

Political parties, noted PM Lee, do not have a fixed lifespan.

Their longevity is contingent on whether they can renew themselves, serve the people and bring progress to the country.

"If the PAP can keep on successfully doing that, we can stay in government," said PM Lee. "But if we ever fail, we deserve to lose. So, my message to all PAP MPs is: Work hard, serve the people, hold the ground, and win elections."

Exempt primary healthcare services from GST, says Dr Chia Shi-Lu
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 17 May 2018

Exempt visits to general practitioners (GPs) from the goods and services tax, suggested Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) yesterday.

He noted that GST is already absorbed for subsidised medical services in public healthcare institutions, but called for this additional step to promote more equal access to medical services.

Dr Chia, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said most Singaporeans still visit their family doctor or GPs rather than polyclinics for their primary care needs.

"Removing this consumption tax from all primary healthcare services could nudge more patients back to family doctors or general practitioners for care, and encourage compliance with treatment and follow-up by reducing costs," he said.

While this may constitute a big deviation from the GST framework - which favours a flat system with later reliefs or transfers - it keeps with the intent of current policy that already absorbs GST for subsidised healthcare services, Dr Chia added.

The proposal would apply only to primary care services and not hospital or other types of medical care, said Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Singapore General Hospital.

He also offered two other suggestions to improve access to healthcare during the debate on the President's Address.

First, expand MediShield Life - which provides universal health insurance for Singaporeans - to cover conditions related to pregnancy complications and mental health, when hospitalisation is required.

"We have been strongly encouraging parenthood, and it would serve as greater assurance to would-be parents that the mother's medical care can be covered in the uncommon instances of complications related to the pregnancy," he said.

Second, Dr Chia mooted allowing Singaporeans above the retirement age to use Medisave to pay for up to 80 per cent of their subsidised outpatient treatment costs at government clinics - subject to a doctor's certification.

Such a move would unlikely change matters for most elderly patients, for whom the current chronic disease withdrawal limit of $400 and Flexi Medisave limit of $200 would already adequately cover 80 per cent of annual outpatient treatment costs, he said.

However, it could make a meaningful difference to those with multiple or less common conditions requiring more specialised and expensive medications, or those who need more medical checks, he added.

Apart from encouraging compliance with treatment, allowing for greater Medisave withdrawal can help a patient avoid trying the welfare route, which ultimately adds to public expenditure, he said.


Fighting inequality a national priority, says Ong Ye Kung
Social stratification threatening cohesiveness already, so a lot more needs to be done, he says
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

The task of tackling inequality has taken on a greater urgency, with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung describing it as a national priority in the strongest statement yet by a government leader on the issue.

Social stratification - when people are grouped based on how rich or poor they are - is already threatening cohesiveness in Singapore, and a lot more needs to be done not just to bridge the divide but to help people move upwards and encourage mixing, he said in Parliament.

To this end, he pledged that the Government will actively look out for fresh ideas and try out new and promising solutions.

"We must keep working at it. We must do so by appealing to the sense of unity of Singaporeans; never by pitting one group against another, or pandering to the divisive forces in society," he said.

MPs have zoomed in on inequality during the debate on the President's Address, which started on Monday. President Halimah Yacob's speech at Parliament's reopening last week highlighted it as a problem to be dealt with "vigorously", amid growing concern among Singaporeans.

Yesterday, Mr Ong said that while the situation here was not as dire as in other countries, Singapore's transformation from Third World to First has created new forms of inequalities. He cited three of them:

• Stratification risks becoming entrenched with families that are faring well passing down the privileges to their children, and low-income families finding it difficult to uplift themselves.

• Material progress is getting harder for the middle class, given the high base now.

• Some among the higher-income segment are becoming socially distant from the rest.

In promising bold moves, Mr Ong also sounded a note of caution, as he explained why calls for abolishing streaming and the Primary School Leaving Examination are not taken up. "We must be bold and we must also be wise," he said, warning that being reckless could undo what has worked well in the past.

Mr Ong stressed that each country's situation with inequality is different, adding that it is important to "unpack the issues". He set out four dimensions - the income gap, the strength of the middle-income core, social mobility, and social mix - elaborating on each to explain how inequality is playing out here.

Sketching out what the Government has done so far, he said the results of policies like SkillsFuture and boosting pre-school education will bear fruit in the years to come.

In a nod to MPs such as Ms Denise Phua, who have long championed a system to cater to different learning needs and interests, he said that changes have been made including cutting down on rote learning and ringfencing spots in schools for students without affiliation.

But a lot more still needs to be done to develop more pathways and opportunities in the education and training systems, he said. Employers' hiring practices also have yet to wake up to this new mindset, he added, noting: "Societal mindset will take even longer to evolve."

He said: "We will continue to improve our policies and we will not stop at these measures."

Tackling inequality, he said, is "unfinished business". It requires "ceaseless striving" in today's Singapore, where much wealth has been created but much inequality still exists, just as in the past when squatters coexisted with wealthy traders.

"It demands something from all of us, because there is no more vital task than bringing Singapore and Singaporeans together," he said.

MPs reacting to his speech said they were glad for the increased focus on tempering inequality. Rising to speak immediately, fourth-term MP Cedric Foo (Pioneer) said: " It's heartening to hear what kind of society... the 4G leadership intends to forge for the future of Singapore."

During the sitting, MPs also spoke about labour issues. In his maiden parliamentary speech as incoming labour chief, Mr Ng Chee Meng said he intends to focus on three groups of workers, including the elderly.

Social stratification will poison society over time, and policies need to work against this trend: Ong Ye Kung
We can and will do better to boost social mixing, says minister
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has raised the spectre of a poison creeping into Singapore society and its name is: social stratification.

Already, there has been a perceptible reduction in social mixing in recent years, he said, citing a recent Institute of Policy Studies study.

"We can do better, and we should and we will," he pledged.

Social mixing - whether different groups interact with one another - is one of four dimensions that Mr Ong yesterday identified in defining inequality.

The rest are: the extent of the income gap; whether there is a strong middle-income core; and whether there is mobility, especially from the bottom upwards.

With charts and data, he delved into each dimension in turn to make the point that while Singapore's situation with inequality is not too dire compared with some other countries, steps need to be taken to tackle it now.

On the income gap, Mr Ong said that the top 90th percentile in Singapore earned on average 5.8 times that of a household in the bottom 10th percentile last year.

It is higher than in South Korea and Britain, each of which has a ratio of less than five, as well as Finland, whose ratio is around three.

But as a city-state, Singapore's ratio is not "out of kilter" when compared with major cities, he said.

Mr Ong also said that income disparity here is being moderated through policies, especially with a progressive tax system. The top 10 per cent of income earners contribute about 80 per cent of personal income tax revenue which, in turn, is redistributed to lower-income Singaporeans through schemes like the Workfare Income Supplement as well as subsidies in education and housing.

As a result, low-income families get about $4 in benefits for every dollar of tax, and the middle-income, $2.

On whether there is a strong middle-income core, Mr Ong cited the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality from zero to one, with zero being most equal.

Contrary to studies that show gross domestic product growth exacerbates inequality, Singapore's Gini coefficient coincided with periods of growth, like in the 1980s. It dropped from an estimated high of 0.5 in the 1960s to around 0.36 today, after taking into account transfers and taxes.

This outcome is the result of Singapore's model of inclusive growth, he added.

"There is a belief that we share the fruits of success; we all eat from the same rice bowl."

Median household income also grew by 3.4 per cent in Singapore between 2006 and 2016.

But it could be more challenging for many middle-income families to do better, given the high base that society is at now.

"We will still improve, but it will be in steps and not leaps," he said, adding that a better life should not be defined purely in economic and material terms, but from a more holistic perspective, like a more cohesive and caring society.

Social mobility is also high in Singapore, he said, citing a Finance Ministry study which showed 14 per cent of Singaporeans in their 30s, whose parents were in the lowest 20 per cent segment when they were growing up, moved up to the top 20 per cent of income earners.

This is higher than the 7.5 per cent in the US, 9 per cent in Britain and 11.7 per cent in Denmark.

He credited it to Singapore's belief in meritocracy and universal access to education.

Singapore also has one of the smallest proportions of low performers in the Programme for International Student Assessment 2015 test, Mr Ong said. This means it has one of the smallest education underclasses.

Similarly, the housing policy has helped low-income families to own, not rent, Housing Board flats, he added.

However, cracks are starting to show. "Families who did well are able to pass down the privileges to their children, through better coaching, enrichment classes, and exposure to the world. Their children have a head start."

Social stratification is starting to become entrenched, he added, with families who cannot move up despite strong and enhanced support facing circumstances "more dire and challenging than poor families of the past".

On the last dimension, social mixing, Mr Ong cited how more than four in five schools here have a relatively balanced mix of students from different income backgrounds, with at least 5 per cent of their students coming from each of the top and bottom quintiles.

Although Singapore may be in a better situation than many developed countries, "we must keep working at it", he added.

"Our policies will need to work against this trend, to actively bring Singaporeans of all backgrounds together," he said.

Uplifting Singaporeans
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

She was a single mother who lived with four children in a one-room rental flat in Bukit Merah, earning about $1,000 a month.

Today, Madam Sharinna Tan owns a two-room Housing Board flat, and her eldest son graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) with an award for the most outstanding academic performance in his course.

Her salary has doubled to $2,000 after she found work as a sales coordinator, while her other three children - studying in NP, the Institute of Technical Education and a secondary school - are all coping well.

She had received help from various organisations, including government agencies, public hospitals and the Chinese Development Assistance Council, which provided her children with one-on-one tuition.

Yesterday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung cited Madam Tan's story in Parliament as an example of how the Government has worked with community partners to uplift Singaporeans who face challenging life circumstances.

He also shared the story of Mr Hairul Hakkim Kuthibutheen, whose father died when he was 14.

Mr Hairul's family had to downgrade their flat, while his mother had to return to work as a factory operator and a service employee in a fast-food chain.

After receiving help from various organisations, including self-help groups Mendaki and the Singapore Indian Development Association, Mr Hairul managed to complete his studies.

He now works as a Justice Law Clerk at the Supreme Court, after graduating from the National University of Singapore law faculty with first-class honours in 2016.

"These are two of many Singaporeans whom our system has helped," said Mr Ong.

Be bold in changes, but not reckless: Ong Ye Kung
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Some want streaming to be abolished, saying this will remove the stigma of the Normal stream.

Another call is for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) to be done away with, so as to remove stress and unfairness as those from better-off families get more help to ace their exams.

Yet others think that universal welfare can be a solution to Singapore's inequality problems.

Yesterday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung advised caution in undertaking such moves.

He noted that President Halimah Yacob's call in her address on May 7 for "bold changes" has received a lot of attention.

But, "while we should be bold, we should not be reckless, for this would undo what had worked and undermine the fundamentals in our system", he said. "All these have served our students well over the years."

"We must be bold and we must be wise," he added. "To do this, we need to put our ears close to the ground, and listen to the voices of all segments of Singaporeans. And if we listen close enough, we will also realise that the 'voice of the people' does not deliver a singular message - rather, it offers a diversity of views, conflicting and complex, even as they remain compelling."

So, for example, not all students want to be in the Express stream.

"They will tell you they prefer to be a big fish in a smaller pond, rather than a small fish in a bigger pond," he said.

Many students in the Normal (Technical) course also feel that the hands-on curriculum plays to their strength, he added.

"Remember, stigma is not an education policy, but the result of our own attitudes and biases."

As for the PSLE, many parents actually support it as it teaches children the value of hard work, and allows them to showcase what they have learnt, he said.

The PSLE, he added, is seen as an objective and transparent way to decide which secondary schools children go to and also enables children of humble backgrounds to make it to a school of their choice.

"The alternative, which is to go by residential location, is even more unfair," he said.

When the PSLE T-score system is replaced with Achievement Levels from 2021, he said, pupils will not be differentiated so finely during the Secondary 1 posting. For those with similar scores, citizenship, choice and ballot will be used to break the tie.

Said Mr Ong: "I am confident that this will reduce the stress of students and help them enjoy learning more."

In his speech, the minister also noted calls for universal welfare to be introduced to ease inequality. Proponents argue that providing assistance to not just the low-income, but also the middle-income will remove the stigma linked to social assistance, and preserve the dignity of the low-income.

But Mr Ong warned that having universal welfare would mean that tax rates would have to be raised.

Half of Singapore's population do not pay personal income taxes, and the goods and services tax "is still a single digit", he noted.

"If we want universal welfare, taxes on ordinary folks, including the middle-income, will have to be much higher," he said.

Too simplistic to go by just the Gini coefficient, say two MPs
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

The Gini coefficient is too simplistic a measure of inequality, said two MPs yesterday as they lauded Education Minister Ong Ye Kung's efforts to paint a broader picture of the situation here.

Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer), who rose to speak immediately after Mr Ong's speech, said the tendency by observers to use the Gini coefficient - which measures income inequality from zero to one, with zero being most equal - gives the wrong impression that "societal inequality can be reduced to just one number".

"It's heartening and enlightening to hear that (Mr Ong) sees it in different ways," said Mr Foo.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) also raised Harvard University professor Steven Pinker's argument that measures of income inequality are not a fundamental component of well-being. Professor Pinker had said a decrease in inequality is not always good, given that epidemics, massive wars and state collapse are the most effective levellers of income inequality.

What is objectionable is poverty and a lack of mobility as a result of low income, said Mr Murali.

He added that in tackling income inequality, the focus should be on addressing poverty and access to services like education and health.

He also spoke up for low-income families, which are disproportionately affected by rising costs of living, and said the Government should be mindful of such pressures, especially if these families' wages do not keep pace with inflation.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) said the issue of inequality has resonated with Singaporeans.

However, he disagreed with detractors "who recklessly attribute the widening inequality as a consequence of our existing policies", pointing out these policies have served the country well. "There must be a careful calibration of what requires 'tweaks' and what should be 'boldly' changed," he said.

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan also called for more people in society to look beyond grades and not be ashamed over failure.

In the coming months, he and his fellow NMPs plan to table a motion on the importance of lifelong education, and what different successes in life entail, he added.

Ng Chee Meng proposes new committee to support older workers
Tripartite committee will look at ways to help them stay employed
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Incoming labour chief Ng Chee Meng has mooted the idea of a committee to better support older workers, as Singapore grapples with an ageing workforce.

Mr Ng, making his first speech in Parliament yesterday as deputy secretary-general of NTUC, said this tripartite committee will look at ways to help mature workers to continue working if they choose to.

The committee will comprise representatives from the Government, the labour movement and companies.

Older workers are one of three groups of workers that Mr Ng said he wants to focus on. The other two are low-wage workers and middle-aged, middle-income workers.

While older workers might want to stay employed, the real question is whether employers are willing to hire senior workers, instead of having the fixed mindset that these workers are a burden, more expensive and untrainable, said Mr Ng, who is expected to succeed Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing as labour chief.

"Union leaders and I are worried for this group of workers," he said during the debate on the President's Address. "For many of them, the job is essential - just like us, they have expenses, mortgages, and dependants relying on them."

There are some government initiatives in place to help older workers, he said, pointing to WorkPro, which gives employers funding support to redesign their workplaces into more elderly-friendly spaces.

There is also the Special Employment Credit, which subsidises the net cost of employing mature workers. But more can be done, he added.

For example, he said the Government should empower the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) to look into workplace discrimination and do more to tackle the issue.

As for low-wage workers, Mr Ng noted that while the Progressive Wage model has done much to alleviate the hardship of such workers in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors since it was introduced in 2012, there are other sectors with low wage growth.

He proposed expanding the use of the Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP) and finding ways to support more workers.

The IGP is a fund that helps companies kick-start productivity projects, in return for sharing the productivity gains with their workers through higher wages.

"We will work with the Government for better support and prevent these sectors from stagnating," he said.

Freelancers, part-timers and the self-employed are another group that needs support, he added.

As project-based employment becomes more common, the Government should ensure they enjoy Central Provident Fund protection, medical coverage and skills development.

Mr Ng also noted that some middle-aged, middle-income workers are seeing less demand for their skillsets, or lack the opportunities to progress. "They may be currently employed, but their earnings may just be sufficient to meet their needs and their income growth is not high," he said.

There are now several government schemes outlined for this group of middle-income workers.

However, there is an entrenched mindset against hiring middle-aged workers which is worrying, he said.

The labour movement will also need more support from the Government and business leaders to redesign jobs, as well as encourage workers to upgrade their skills and stay relevant to advance their careers, he added.

Tackling workers' worries over rising living costs
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Workers fret about the rising cost of living, sometimes feeling that no matter how hard they work, their needs may not be adequately met, said incoming labour chief Ng Chee Meng yesterday.

They worry about whether they have enough money to buy a home, pay medical bills, retire or put their children through school, he added.

In a speech on the second day of debates on the President's Address, Mr Ng, also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, set out the labour movement's approach to helping workers with these concerns.

Many worry about rising healthcare costs, he said, despite schemes such as MediShield Life, which helps to pay for large hospital bills and some costly outpatient treatments, or Medifund, for patients who need more help after receiving government subsidies.

Retirement adequacy is something workers worry about too, and it will become a more pressing issue as Singaporeans' life expectancy increases, he added. "If they lose their jobs unexpectedly before retirement, will they have enough savings? Can they be assured that if they work hard, saved and contributed to their CPF (Central Provident Fund) savings, their basic needs of housing, children's education, healthcare and retirement will continue to be taken care of?" he asked.

Mr Ng said the labour movement believes that the best way to improve the lives of workers is through gainful employment in good jobs with good wages.

"We need employers to maintain a nimble mindset and workers to help themselves by upgrading their work skills," he said. "Both employees and employers must stay relevant in the evolving business environment."

This is the best solution, said Mr Ng, as wages can increase only with productivity gains. Real wage increase, he said, is necessary to help workers cope with the cost of living.

Apart from highlighting concerns on the ground, Mr Ng also spoke about the labour movement's role in helping to tackle the challenges unleashed by unprecedented rapid technological changes that spare no country or market.

While the critical strategies of transforming businesses, changing mindsets and upskilling workers have been mentioned "numerous times", they have not been carried out quickly enough, he said.

"The labour movement will push the transformation agenda by working even closer with the Government and businesses," he said, calling on businesses to lead by leveraging technologies to transform operations, and workers to work smarter and more productively.

Change mindset towards lifelong learning: Dr Koh Poh Koon
Singapore needs to undergo this shift in thinking to tackle tech revolution, says Koh Poh Koon
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Singapore will need to undergo "a fundamental DNA evolution" of continual upgrading and lifelong learning to deal with the tech revolution.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon made this call yesterday, and said this DNA is already seen in the healthcare industry - where various staff learn new skills whenever there is new medical technology.

"Each time a new infusion pump is introduced in the wards, a new surgical instrument is adopted in the operating theatres, the entire team... undergoes training, recertification and refresher courses," said Dr Koh, a colorectal surgeon.

This mindset shift must take place through the whole economy for the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) to be realised, he said.

These maps are blueprints that set out how various economic sectors should upgrade themselves and their workers for the future.

"Some may wonder why the Government is actively supporting the process of economic transformation and change, instead of protecting existing jobs," he said during the debate on the President's Address.

It is not just workers who worry, he added. Businesses also fret about disruption, students about whether their skills become obsolete, and the elderly about how they can cope in a technology-based society.

"I can empathise with such fears and anxieties. I have also seen this in patients facing an uncertain prognosis," said Dr Koh.

He also sought to provide a different perspective on technological disruptions. Workers are consumers too, and benefit from the conveniences that technologies bring, he said. Automation and digitalisation can also make work lives more productive and flexible, while removing the physical limitations of age.

"Companies understand that if they do not disrupt ourselves, someone else will do so," he said. Employers need to ensure the transformation is "user-friendly" to overcome the fear of technology, he added.

Dr Koh, who was appointed deputy secretary-general of NTUC last month, also pledged to bridge the gap between government agencies and the labour movement in implementing the ITMs.

Many MPs reiterated the call for lifelong learning yesterday, including new Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

"We cannot just look at automation and process transformation without helping our workers stay relevant and agile. We must ensure that as companies change, the quality of jobs gets better," said Mr Zaqy, adding that he saw how these changes affected firms worldwide when he was in the private sector.

He was a partner at auditing firm Ernst & Young before becoming an office-holder on May 1.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng emphasised the need for the economy to have quality growth. This will help to sustain a more fair and equal society, he said.

"Growth, combined with reinvestment in our people and our communities, is a force against inequality... Singapore must never become a society where there is only old wealth, without new enterprise."

Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap says PAP practises 'double standards'
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap has charged that the People's Action Party practises double standards, saying he had been criticised for raising sensitive issues but when the PAP MPs did so, they were not.

Mr Faisal (Aljunied GRC), however, did not identify the issues that he was referring to.

He made the point on double standards yesterday when giving his view on what constitutes boldness in leadership, which he says is being open to discussing sensitive issues without having contradictory rules on who can speak out.

Speaking on the second day of debate on the President's Address, he said: "We can think back to a debate where I was not allowed to voice out an issue in this Chamber that was deemed to be sensitive...As we all know, the sensitive issue that I raised has also been highlighted by several members from the ruling party but they were not subjected to the same reaction.

"I ask that our leaders do not practise double standards where only members from the ruling party are allowed to voice out sensitive issues while if the same issues are highlighted by non-ruling party members, it is deemed unacceptable and inappropriate."

President Halimah Yacob had, in her speech at the opening of Parliament following a mid-term break, called for bold moves to be made by the fourth-generation of political leaders to take Singapore forward.

Mr Faisal said the 4G leaders need to encourage discussions of sensitive issues in Parliament. "We need to be more open to achieve a democratic society based on justice and equality."

He could not be reached to elaborate but past parliamentary reports show that Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli had chided him for raising divisive issues relating to the Malay/Muslim community. It happened last year when Mr Faisal had called for Muslim nurses and uniformed officers to be allowed to wear the tudung at work.

Mr Masagos, who is the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, had also noted that Mr Faisal had previously raised other sensitive issues, like the need for halal kitchens on navy ships and perceived discrimination against Malays in the armed forces.

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan later spoke on the need to have diverse views. He said that to make Singapore not just an innovation hub but a home, it should be "a place where different views can be debated and could inform future policy and perhaps in time, shift some OB (out-of-bounds) markers that are unrelated to national security".

Responding to Mr Faisal later in the day, Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) recited a poem in Malay which in English says: "You must be brave but you must have substance. To be brave you must follow the context. Do not change just for the sake of change. You must change for the right reasons."

Singaporeans urged to build even stronger foundation for future
Chan Chun Sing paints Singapore Unlimited vision and calls for 'pioneers of our generation' to act
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

The pioneer generation had few resources to work with but managed to build a successful Singapore for the current generation.

Today's Singaporeans must carry on the work by being "pioneers of our generation" who will leave behind a yet stronger foundation - whether in the building of innovative companies, the upgrading of flats or ensuring everyone can achieve their potential, said Mr Chan Chun Sing. "We need to keep up our vitality and verve," he said.

The new Trade and Industry Minister made this call in his speech on the first day of debate yesterday on the President's Address, as he painted a vision of "Singapore Unlimited" - a Republic unlimited by its geography, size or resources.

He was the first minister and among 15 MPs - mainly from the fourth-generation team - who responded to President Halimah Yacob's speech on May 7 when she urged the younger leaders to make bold changes for a different future.

Yesterday's speeches gave some indication of how Singapore's younger politicians are interpreting this call.

Their suggestions for a better Singapore revolve largely around addressing widening inequality, ensuring workers can still have good jobs even as technology changes the nature of work, and maintaining social cohesion in the face of divisive forces.

Perhaps fittingly, the debates kicked off with a speech by Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan), a first-term MP, who called for a motion to thank Madam Halimah for her address, before proposing her own ideas. These range from allowing private developers to top up the leases of Housing Board flats to letting women use unclaimed medical leave to care for seniors.

Across the bench, another young leader, Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh, made his first parliamentary speech as party chief yesterday.

For him, boldness means having political leaders who are more open to alternative views and take pains to explain their decisions, especially when these affect Singaporeans' cost of living.

He also said the call for boldness should be heeded not just by the 4G leadership. Instead, it is an opportunity for "each Singaporean to question what we can do to make Singapore a better home for all of us".

On a day when younger parliamentarians dominated the show, a veteran politician was singled out for his contributions.

In a rare accolade, Mr Chan placed on record the Government's appreciation for Mr Singh's predecessor Low Thia Khiang, who last month stepped down as secretary-general of the party after 17 years.

"Although Mr Low may have different perspectives, but from his speeches, we can detect his pride in Singapore and his determination to defend our sovereignty," he said.

In his speech, Mr Chan also said the Government has a role in maintaining social cohesion and trust, adding that Singaporeans' aspirations and expectations have evolved. "They want to be heard, considered and respected. So, we have to keep various channels open for them to share their views and work on strengthening engagement."

As a society matures, he noted, it usually becomes more conservative - choosing to uphold existing systems rather than break new ground. "To be 'pioneers of our generation', we must be clear-eyed about our challenges."

These issues will be tackled by fellow 4G leaders in the days ahead, he said. For example, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will speak on social mobility, while Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah will talk about forging a national identity.

Mr Chan concluded: "We can only be limited by the scale of our ambition and drive, and the scale of our ambition and drive will determine how we progress as a nation in the next 50 years."

Singapore needs strongest possible leadership team: Chan Chun Sing
PAP Govt will spare no effort to find good people, he says
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

Singapore needs to have "the strongest leadership team possible" for others to take it seriously and be willing to work with it, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

Bringing in good people is a never-ending challenge, he acknowledged yesterday in his speech during the first day of debates on the President's Address.

At the opening of Parliament last week, President Halimah Yacob called on Singapore's fourth-generation of leaders to "fire up and mobilise" young Singaporeans.

Mr Chan, who was among the 4G team who drafted Madam Halimah's speech, stressed the need to find the strongest set of individuals - not only to solve current problems, but also to prevent future problems from arising in the first place.

Singapore needs individuals with diverse skill sets and perspectives that can be combined as necessary to tackle challenges when circumstances change, he said.

Mr Chan raised the difficulty of bringing in good people who would sacrifice their personal and family interests for the country, especially so when it is already successful, peaceful and prosperous.

"But we must try," he said, adding that this cannot be left to chance.

The People's Action Party Government will spare no effort to find such people for its political leadership team, he said.

"Agreeing with us is not the prerequisite. Agreeing to put Singapore first and foremost is the prerequisite," he added.

He noted that Singapore's leadership model is one where overlapping generations of leadership teams help the next generation to do better.

"This provides continuity in our interaction with others and for us to compete at the highest global level with consistency in vision and purpose," he said.

"All these leadership traits - commitment, teamwork, courage to evolve, a sense of mission - are what we will need to keep our systems special."

Singapore has come far because of trust, teamwork and an ability and the courage to develop its own systems to meet its unique needs, Mr Chan said.

He highlighted the country's unique circumstances - it is a small city-state with a multiracial society, situated in a volatile region, without a conventional hinterland and with no one else to depend on for its defence.

"And while we study other systems and adapt them where suitable, we must not copy blindly or become 'intellectually colonised'," he said.

"We must remain prepared to develop systems that work best for us. More importantly, for us to also constantly update them to meet our evolving needs."

This has been Singapore's approach on issues such as housing, national service, the Central Provident Fund, as well as the GRC system and the elected presidency, he said.

Today, Singapore is also fostering stronger collaborations by tapping different networks of expertise, he said, citing efforts to renew the economy through Industry Transformation Maps - blueprints that map out how various economic sectors should upgrade themselves and their workers for the future.

These efforts involve not only government agencies, but also trade associations and chambers, enterprises, the labour movement and workers, he noted.

"Rather than a 'whole-of-government' strategy, this is a 'whole-of-nation' strategy, Mr Chan said.

He also outlined how Singapore can secure its place in the world - it has to value-add to stay relevant, build networks and be able to compete globally.

This will allow the country to transcend its constraints and turn them into opportunities instead, he said.

With good leaders, strategies and systems in place, Singapore's success is limited only by the scale of its ambitions and drive, he added.

After all, the pioneer generation built a successful Singapore with much less, he said.

"They have overcome their share of the challenges to leave us the Singapore we have today. There is absolutely no reason why our generation, which has so much more, cannot leave behind an even better Singapore for the next generation," said Mr Chan.

What Singapore needs to do to remain effective and attractive: Chan Chun Sing
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

Singapore's principled position on geopolitical issues and its neutrality are among the reasons why it was chosen to host historic meetings like the upcoming summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing brought up this point yesterday to emphasise why small states like Singapore need to be principled.

"Our task and priority is to ensure that we remain relevant," he added.

The way to do so is for Singapore to have a deep understanding of the different interests, institutions and individuals shaping global developments, he said.

"To remain effective and attractive, we must develop people with a deep understanding of the region and the world, so that we can create value when others do business with us," he added.

"We must also help Singaporeans - both individuals and businesses - access and penetrate global markets better."

This means Singaporeans must have an ability to understand and work across cultures and nationalities, and the Republic must have a diversity of talent, both local and global, he said. He spelt out a vision of foreign professionals with valuable knowledge, skill sets and competencies working shoulder-to-shoulder with skilled Singaporean talent, "cross-pollinating ideas and bringing out the best in each other".

To secure its place in the world, Singapore must also better connect to the world as its hinterland, gaining better access to resources and markets, he added.

This involves doing business with more markets, negotiating new free trade agreements while upgrading existing ones and exploring new markets, he said.

Singapore should also go beyond the conventional dimensions of air, land and sea connectivity, by ensuring that it is connected to the world in the realms of data, finance, talent and technology, he said.

Mr Chan noted that Singapore's economy is maturing, and to achieve sustained and quality economic growth, it must not only be able to attract activities here, but also venture out.

"This means, beyond looking at GDP as a benchmark, we have to focus on GNI too," he said.

The GNI (gross national income) is the sum of a nation's GDP (gross domestic product) - the total value of goods and services produced within the country - and the net income it receives from overseas.

Mr Chan also warned that as a society matures, it usually becomes more conservative - choosing to uphold the existing systems rather than break new ground.

But to be "pioneers of our generation", Singapore must be clear-eyed about its challenges, he said.

"We need to keep up our vitality and verve. It is one thing to be the best-in-class for ports and airports. But it is another to be even better - ready for tomorrow's needs, ahead of time," he added.

Chan Chun Sing pays tribute to former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing yesterday praised veteran opposition MP Low Thia Khiang for the role he played in Parliament, acknowledging him as "a fellow Singaporean and very much part of Team Singapore".

"While we may not always agree with (Mr Low's) perspectives or methods, we nevertheless appreciate his efforts to work together to build a better Singapore," he said.

Speaking during the debate on the President's Address, Mr Chan highlighted the need for Singapore to ensure that it has the strongest leadership team possible.

At this point, in a rare move, he placed on record the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) leaders' appreciation for Mr Low, 61, who led the Workers' Party (WP) for 17 years as its secretary-general until last month when he handed over the reins to Mr Pritam Singh.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Chan said: "Although Mr Low may have different perspectives... from his speeches, we can detect his pride in Singapore and his determination to defend our sovereignty. Thank you, Mr Low."

In past speeches, Mr Low, who is Chinese-educated, had talked about foreign policy, including the rise of China that some fear may compel smaller states to submit to its will and interest.

He went on to speak on how multiracial Singapore must respond as China grows in prosperity and influence.

Mr Chan added that the Government looks forward to working similarly with Mr Singh and the WP to put the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans first.

Accepting the words of appreciation later, Mr Singh said: "(WP) will always bear in mind the national interests in our deliberations and endeavour in the interest of Singaporeans and Singapore."

The WP, under Mr Low's leadership, has become Singapore's most successful opposition party since independence. It made history in the 2011 polls when Mr Low led a team to victory in Aljunied GRC.

The WP has six MPs and three Non-Constituency MPs.

A handful of opposition politicians have been recognised in the past by PAP leaders and one of them is longest-serving opposition MP Chiam See Tong.

Mr Chiam, 83, was described in 1996 by then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew as a "voice of sanity".

Grow Singapore's brand of meritocracy in which fruits of success are shared, says Masagos Zulkifli
Giving back to society, maintaining common spaces for all and govt support are key, he says
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

Singapore needs to develop its own brand of meritocracy to ensure nobody is left behind, said Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

This brand of meritocracy has to strike a balance between ensuring economic policies are not driven by fierce pursuit of economic gains, and social policies are not designed with "bleeding hearts", he added.

Speaking on the first day of the debate on the President's Address, Mr Masagos warned against the consequences of rising social inequality.

Meritocracy is not a perfect system and does not always work properly, he noted, for instance when those who start with more end up monopolising success.

Over time, this will polarise society into the "haves" and "have-nots", and cause the marginalised to lose trust in institutions and society - an outcome which has led to the United States retreating from free trade in a bid to revive the American Dream, he said.

"Slowly and quietly, society will break up from within. When that happens, we will not be able to come together to face challenges that call for national unity."

Mr Masagos listed three "ingredients" to a Singapore brand of meritocracy: The successful giving back to society, maintaining common spaces and experiences for all Singaporeans, and government support.

He stressed the importance of those who had achieved success giving back to those in need, instead of hoarding the gains for themselves.

This was the thinking behind Singapore's public service model, said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

The most capable people were awarded scholarships to study at the best universities in the world and then returned to dedicate their best years to public service, he said, adding that "everyone in society benefits" as a result.

He also questioned if the children of Singapore's new rich would still give time to uplift the rest of society, as previous generations did.

"What is clear though is that only when they give back, will society accept, rather than envy, their success," he said in a speech that had MPs thumping their seats.

On the Government's part, he said its policies have to act as enablers - "ladders and bridges" to provide a fair chance for everyone to move up in society, not reward narrowly and make alternative routes available.

"As DPM Tharman once put it - 'multiple peaks of excellence'. And if I may add, 'many chances of success,' " Mr Masagos added.

Government policies must also enable self-reliance by encouraging work, and provide opportunities to do well, he said. To prepare the workforce, the Government invested in SkillsFuture and the industry transformation maps to enable workers to seize opportunities in the future economy.

Speaking about common spaces, Mr Masagos recounted how, on his travels to other cities, he saw neighbourhoods and schools meant for the wealthy, successful and connected, while there were also neighbourhoods visitors were advised to avoid - typically where the low-income or new immigrants gather.

"That is a failure of meritocracy that we have avoided and must never allow to take shape in our future," he said.

This is why the Government must distribute rental housing across the island and mix public and private housing more deliberately to ensure that the needy are not deprived of access to good quality public facilities, he added.

"Every Singaporean must play our role. Resist the 'not in my backyard' tendency to shove critical but undesirable facilities like funeral parlours behind rental blocks," he said.

In schools, education policies must enable every Singaporean to pursue their aspirations and realise their potential regardless of family background, he added.

Even as the Government formulated these policies, Mr Masagos emphasised how meritocracy can be moral only if "those who take the most from the system also put the most back into it".

In closing, he said: "The Singapore brand of meritocracy must remain the means to build a good society, not just one to build a richer society... A Singapore where nobody is left behind, and a Singapore which continues to provide opportunities for everyone to realise his dreams."

3 threats to Malays' progress: Masagos
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

Three external challenges threaten to hinder the progress made by the Malay Muslim community, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli yesterday, when he explained why it "cannot rest on its laurels".

These are: foreign religious influence, global economic shifts like technological disruptions, and extremist influence from abroad.

In particular, religious influence has led to an erosion of the community's cultural values, said Mr Masagos, who took charge of the portfolio on May 1.

Speaking in Malay, he told his people that failing to tackle the challenges will hinder the community's progress in the future. But to deal with them will require building up the collective strength of the 3M, he said, referring to the community's three key institutions.

These are: the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), self-help group Mendaki, and the Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (Mesra).

Their ranks will be fortified by other Malay political office holders and MPs who will all work together as a team, he added.

They include: Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman, Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Parliamentary Secretaries Faishal Ibrahim and Amrin Amin, as well as Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, who will serve as a Mesra adviser.

Elaborating on the harm economic shifts bring, he said technological disruptions can lead to the death of jobs and skills. Mendaki needs to modify its programmes, ensure students possess basic education and empower those with potential from as early as pre-school.

It will also work with government agencies and other organisations to address obstacles to the education of children, especially those from troubled homes.

Raising the red flag against foreign religious educators, he noted they have already changed how some Malays lead their religious lives in Singapore.

And to some extent, he said, "they have succeeded in eroding our cultural values as Malay Muslims in the region, and also our Malay heritage that we should uphold and continue to preserve".

He said Muis, which oversees the socio-religious life of Muslims, needs to improve the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, which religious teachers must be on before they can preach here.

This is to ensure religious messages are not only attractive but also "effective and relevant to life in Singapore", he added.

Mr Masagos spoke extensively on religious extremism, which he said is not only about terrorism but also exclusivity.

To boost interaction between Malays and other communities, he highlighted the role of Mesra, which is under the People's Association.

Mesra, he said, needs to go beyond promoting language and culture.

It needs to build "wider and deeper relationships within the Malay community".

Malays must also be willing to give back to society when they become successful, he said. From 1980 to 2015, the monthly household income of Malays had risen sixfold, Mr Masagos noted.

"It would be unfortunate if we build a community that is merely rich in material wealth," he said.

Pritam Singh calls for alternative views to be addressed
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh has called on the fourth-generation leaders "to invest a lot more energy" into engaging Singaporeans, including on difficult or sensitive subjects such as the rising cost of living.

In his first parliamentary speech as the opposition party's secretary-general since party elections last month, Mr Singh said that alternative views should be addressed and considered thoughtfully so as to allow everyone to move forward as one Singapore.

"If the approach of the 4G leaders is to ignore, silence or ridicule alternative ideas, they will fail to galvanise and spur all Singaporeans to greater heights or, worse, they may even engender a divided society, rendering the message of inclusivity hollow and without substance," he said.

Mr Singh specifically cited how the Government can afford to be more open in addressing questions and worries about rising costs.

He said rising prices had dominated headlines in the past few years, with the impending increase in the goods and services tax to 9 per cent causing more anxiety. The hike, announced during this year's Budget statement, is to take place some time from 2021 to 2025.

While he stopped short of calling for the increase to be scrapped, he said "the picture for the immediate future does not appear to be one of a government needing money to stay afloat or needing to tax the population, as a result raising the cost of living".

He noted that the Government had accumulated a Budget surplus of $15.7 billion in the first two years of its five-year term. The move in 2016 to allow the Government to tap on up to half the long-term expected real returns on investments by Temasek Holdings also provides a stable source of income to fund public spending, he added.

Mr Singh urged the Government to be more transparent about its current estimates and underlying basis for its projections of higher expenditure in the years to come.

"This information needs to be shared so that the public are clear-eyed about the sufficiency of the budget at the Government's disposal to help Singaporeans with the cost of living today," he said.

Raising the examples of the 30 per cent hike in water tariffs and the expected increase in transport costs, Mr Singh said the Government needs to re-examine if there are other ways to raise revenue to cushion price hikes on Singaporeans.

He suggested government-linked companies and statutory boards should rethink how much surpluses they should accumulate, and look closely at whether there are alternative revenue streams. He cited, for instance, the capital reserves of the Public Utilities Board, which have increased from about $3 billion in 2007 to $5 billion in 2016.

"Getting into the details of such matters would represent a unique partnership with the people, he said. "It would represent bold leadership, but such an approach would come with an upshot. Price hikes are likely to be better understood and contextualised to the benefit of the policy discourse in Singapore."

Mr Singh also said the call for bold changes - made in President Halimah Yacob's speech during the opening of Parliament last week - should not preoccupy the 4G leadership alone.

If Singapore is to thrive, boldness must be part of the "national character", he added, urging Singaporeans to think about how they can help the country improve.

"At its core, the transition from 3G to 4G leaders must be accompanied by a transformation of our society which creates the conditions to engender a confident people," he said.

MPs flag social cohesion as key task for 4G leaders
They highlight obstacles, suggest teamwork and citizen involvement as the way forward
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2018

The fourth-generation political leaders will have their work cut out for them as they strive to maintain social cohesion in the face of modern challenges, such as fake news and the spread of extremist ideologies, members of the House said yesterday.

The way forward, they suggested on the first day of debate on the President's Address, is through teamwork and a consultative approach with citizens.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min was among those who spoke on the topic of leadership.

He said that while basic existential issues, such as shelter, food and education, are no longer major problems for Singapore, the 4G leaders face the difficult task of maintaining cohesion, which is not a given.

A lack of cohesion could "threaten the very basic fabric of our society", warned Dr Lam.

He identified three key obstacles in building cohesion: the widening social and income divide, the difficulty in determining the middle ground of views, and the inevitability of change which can threaten citizens' sense of "home".

On the issue of determining the middle ground, he said the spread of social media has amplified "thousands of moderately loud voices".

"It is getting harder and harder to discern what constitutes the middle ground and what does not. Or whether the middle ground now is simply a collection of smaller interest groups temporarily coalescing out of shared self-interest, and undergoes dissolution soon after," he said.

While this makes it riskier to do what is right, "whoever governs Singapore must have the iron in him" and must make the hard choices, he said, quoting founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"Indeed, even as a tiny red dot, we must stand up for our principles and beliefs, and we will not be pushed around."

Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram said that to pull off bold changes, it would be important for the 4G leaders to have a good sense of self-awareness.

"In today's digital world, the messenger, and the way the message is delivered, is sometimes more important than the message itself," he said.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said that it is crucial for 4G leaders to consider more alternative points of view, such as from civil society groups.

"Even where there is disagreement over the outcome, there is greater acceptance of the end result when civil society understands the reasons for the Government's actions and policies," he said.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), meanwhile, said teamwork is key.

"I truly hope that there will not be an over-focus on one person or persons. I would much rather that the team be looked at for the prowess and calibre of the whole team and not the characteristics of an individual person," he said.

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