Sunday 16 June 2019

4G leaders will partner Singaporeans in policymaking: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat

REACH-CNA dialogue on "Building Our Future Singapore Together" on 15 June 2019

Aim is to create shared future where everyone plays a part: Heng Swee Keat
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 16 Jun 2019

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday set out how his generation of leaders plans to take Singapore forward: The Government will partner Singaporeans in new ways to design and implement policies together.

And it will work with Singaporeans to create a shared future where everyone will have a part to play, he said at a dialogue on building the country's future together.

Mr Heng, leader of the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation team, sketched out for the first time in detail the approach it will adopt to govern the country in a more challenging environment.

He spoke of the need to shift from government that works for the people to one that works with them.

Constructive politics and unity remain critical, he added, as Singapore becomes more diverse and navigates serious challenges such as the shifting global order and changes brought about by technological advancements.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, noted that each generation of leaders has to earn the right to lead.

"I know, and my colleagues know, that we have to earn your trust," he said in a 45-minute speech to 400 people at the dialogue organised by government feedback unit REACH and CNA at the Singapore Management University School of Law.

"I mean to do so by working with you, for you, for Singapore," he said.

The phrase was also the PAP's slogan in the 2015 General Election. The next election must be held by April 2021.

"These words express our deep-seated beliefs, the reasons why we decided to enter politics," said Mr Heng, who recounted how founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team earned the trust of the people the hard way, "by trusting them with the hard truths and leading from the front".

As the country developed, Singaporeans came to feel a greater sense of ownership and wanted a stronger say in how they were governed. Successive generations of leaders have had to win the hearts and minds of Singaporeans in their own way, in accordance with the tenor of the times, Mr Heng said.

The second generation of leaders, led by Mr Goh Chok Tong from 1990, created a "kinder, gentler society".

The Government became more consultative and launched various national engagement efforts, including Remaking Singapore, to involve more Singaporeans in decision-making.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took this further with a more inclusive style of governance when he took over in 2004, Mr Heng added.

But even as the style of governance changed, there were constants through successive generations of leaders, he noted.

"I believe that trust between the people and the Government is absolutely essential. And the best way to win your trust is to first trust you with the truth - no matter how hard or unpopular," he said.

The Government will also continue to lead decisively "with clear-eyed realism" in areas such as national security and foreign policy.

But in many other areas, there is plenty of room to debate, deliberate and establish partnerships with Singaporeans. The 4G leaders will work hand in hand with the people to come up with policies in areas such as environmental sustainability and housing.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo will soon launch a citizens' panel to look at ways to improve work-life harmony, he announced.

Other 4G leaders will share their vision and engage people on four broad themes, including a society with more opportunities for all.

All these will be the work of a generation, Mr Heng stressed, noting that it will be a learning process for all and partnerships cannot be expected to proliferate overnight.

"This is how we will build a society where every Singaporean has a strong sense of belonging, and a part to play in building our shared future together."

Panel to tap citizens' views for work-life harmony
DPM Heng announces initiative, in line with engaging Singaporeans more in new policies
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 16 Jun 2019

A citizens' panel to improve work-life harmony, an issue close to the hearts of many Singaporeans, will soon be launched by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo to tap people's ideas and perspectives.

The initiative is an example of the new way in which Singapore's fourth generation of leaders will work in partnership with Singaporeans, tapping their diversity of expertise to design and implement policies, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, announced the upcoming panel at a dialogue organised by government feedback unit REACH and national broadcaster CNA.

In a speech, he gave the audience a sense of the style of governance - one which focuses on working with, rather than for, its people - that Singaporeans can expect from his team. This involves "room to debate and deliberate" on policies, with citizens working in partnership with the Government to improve and deliver policies.

"We will work hand-in-hand with more of you to design and implement solutions across a wider range of issues and policy areas," he said.

Other areas the Government will work with Singaporeans on are environmental sustainability, housing, social mobility and engaging younger Singaporeans on their vision for the nation through the Youth Action Plan. In each of these areas, one or more ministers will work with citizens to come up with solutions, Mr Heng said.

These will build on existing efforts to engage citizens, such as the Health Ministry's Citizens' Jury for the War on Diabetes or the multi-agency Uplift Taskforce to help disadvantaged children.

On environmental sustainability, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and his team at the ministry are engaging citizens, civil society and businesses to come up with concrete action in this area.

In housing, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and his team will work more closely with residents to shape their living environment and build a stronger sense of community.

For young Singaporeans, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu and her ministry are working with youth to create a vision of Singapore 2025 through the Youth Action Plan.

And in social mobility, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will be leading their respective ministries to work with community groups to support the disadvantaged and give them a good start in life.

Mr Heng said he had also been working closely with key members of the 4G team - Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Mrs Teo, Mr Ong and labour chief Ng Chee Meng - as well as business associations, trade chambers and unions to build Singapore's future economy, to create good jobs for its people and help the country's businesses succeed.

"We are also reaching out to many Singaporeans with the help of thousands of volunteers, and we can do more," Mr Heng added.

He cited the Community Network for Seniors led by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to build a community of care and support, the SG Secure initiative led by Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam to galvanise the community in times of crisis, and Smart Nation Ambassadors - led by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Smart Nation efforts - who help citizens use digital technology in a human-centred way.

"We will encourage and support individuals and groups to come together for the common good," said Mr Heng, who noted that the pace of partnerships between like-minded people coming together to take action has picked up over the years.

For instance, the Friends of Ubin Network has seen academics, residents and members of the heritage community coming together to brainstorm and develop new initiatives for Pulau Ubin.

He called for more Singaporeans to join in efforts to solve problems and make a difference for the nation. "We may have different views, but so long as you have the good of Singapore at heart, we can work together," he said.

Mr Heng also made reference to the "democracy of deeds", a phrase pioneer leader S. Rajaratnam coined in 1971 to describe the sort of society Singapore should strive towards.

Mr Rajaratnam had hoped that Singaporeans would get involved in solving the fledgling nation's problems, working in partnership with the Government in doing so.

"Partnership is about more than contributing feedback, suggestions or ideas," Mr Heng said.

"It is about following through on ideas and suggestions and making things happen.

"Our future Singapore - the Singapore we are building together - must be an expanded democracy of deeds, with citizens taking action to make a difference."

4G leaders to engage people on charting Singapore's future
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 16 Jun 2019

Singapore's fourth-generation leaders will, in the coming months, set out how to achieve their vision for the country and engage people on building this future together.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday detailed how the 4G leadership team plans to work with Singaporeans in this Singapore Together movement, to create a shared future where everyone will have a part to play.

In a 45-minute speech at a REACH-CNA dialogue on building the country's future, he raised four broad themes that his team will share their vision on.

• One, how to remain a resilient nation in the face of major developments worldwide, from geopolitical shifts to climate change.

• Two, how Singapore can remain a city of possibilities, by transforming its economy, harnessing technology and building a home, where sports, arts, culture and heritage can flourish.

• Three, how to build a society with more opportunities for all, provide a strong foundation for all children, and create multiple pathways so people can fulfil their potential and aspirations.

• Four, how to build an even more caring, gracious and cohesive community, as well as strengthen Singaporeans' identity as one people.

"We will listen to your views and explore together what the Government can do, what each of you can do, and how we can create partnerships to take good ideas forward," said Mr Heng. "In the process, I hope you will know better who we are, what we believe in. And as we jointly figure out where we want to go, I hope we will get to know each other better."

He noted that many more Singaporeans want to play a bigger part in nation-building today, citing some who have pursued their passions and given back to society.

"This is how this little red dot remains a successful country," he said, encouraging more Singaporeans to come forward to propose ideas for shaping Singapore's future and take action to make a difference.

At the same time, he highlighted the importance of enlarging and safeguarding common space, and building trust among communities. This can only happen by keeping an open mind, and looking at issues through others' perspectives, Mr Heng said.

It also entails recognising that other viewpoints may be as valid, and that not all ideas can be taken on board wholesale or accepted.

"The Government must also be prepared, if necessary, to step in if particular groups pursue their agenda in ways that divide society or impede the good work of other groups," he said.

Otherwise, there is a risk of alienating other Singaporeans, especially those who cannot speak up for themselves, he added.

Singapore has also become more diverse, in terms of needs like those faced by a growing silver population, and in terms of views. Sharper debates on many issues have arisen as a result, from LGBT rights to freedom of speech and nature conservation, he said.

While a contestation of views and ideas is good for Singapore, it can also divide the country, he cautioned. Singaporeans could end up living in self-enclosed silos on social media, and be influenced by exclusivist and extremist ideologies from elsewhere.

"We must not allow our differences to divide us... Instead, we must retain and harness our diversity as a strength," he said.

Staying united is critical to navigate challenges, he added.

At the same time, there are many exciting opportunities ahead, he said, pointing to how Singapore is at the heart of an economically vibrant Asia, and investing in a big way to transform itself.

Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director (research) at the Institute of Policy Studies who took part in the dialogue, welcomed Mr Heng saying those with diverse viewpoints have a place in shaping Singapore's future, as long as they are working in the country's best interests.

Added Dr Koh: "He made it clear in his speech that this modality of community engagement is very much a part of his DNA as a leader."

Conversations with public led to some policy changes: Heng
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 16 Jun 2019

Several policy changes in recent years resulted from a national conversation series that the Government launched in 2012, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He recounted yesterday how when he led the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) series to canvass views from 2012 to 2013, he was unsure where the open-ended conversations would lead.

Many Singaporeans were also sceptical at first and unsure if their opinions would be taken seriously, he noted at a dialogue. "But not only were they heard, we were able to translate their inputs into significant policy changes."

The Pioneer Generation Package, for instance, was a direct outcome of many Singaporeans saying they wanted more inclusive healthcare coverage, he added.

The transformation of MediShield into MediShield Life - a basic insurance plan to help pay for large hospital bills - was another, he said.

Many OSC participants also felt that Singapore's education system had become too high stakes at too young an age. So the PSLE scoring system was changed, with wider scoring bands to be introduced from 2021.

Mr Heng said he was heartened above all by the spirit and passion of Singaporeans.

"There was a diversity of views, some starkly opposed. But despite the differences, we were able to have open and constructive conversations," he said. "Everyone fought on the same side and wanted Team Singapore to succeed."

He also shared how, as a police officer in the 1980s, he and several others were sent to study the Japanese koban system, where police posts were placed close to communities.

They saw that in Japan, the police officer was part of the community, working with it to maintain law and order. Singapore thus applied the same principles and started community policing with neighbourhood police posts.

The police built trust with residents, and residents in turn helped the police keep everyone in the community safe, Mr Heng said.

He noted that when Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu led the SG Future series of engagements in 2015, they too were encouraged by Singaporeans wanting to take charge of their future and make their own contribution to society.

These experiences have crystallised the 4G leaders' goals as a team, Mr Heng said.

"They have strengthened my own belief that along with working for you, the Government needs to work better with you. We need to shift from a government that focuses primarily on working for you, to a government that works with you. Working with you, for you."

Tackling issues like building resilience and an inclusive society
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 16 Jun 2019

Whatever the cause Singaporeans believe in and want to act on, the Government will be happy to partner them in their efforts as long as it is good for Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said.

He also encouraged people to look beyond the immediate issues that need solving, and think harder about Singapore - such as what it might look like when it turns 100. "How will our economy look like? How will our society look like?" he asked at the end of a dialogue session yesterday that lasted nearly two hours and was attended by more than 400 people.

Concern over the environment, the plight of the disadvantaged, being a small nation in a tumultuous world and what people can do to tackle challenges in these and other areas were among the issues raised by 25 people at the session that was jointly organised by REACH and CNA.

Mr Heng said in a Facebook post: "I am encouraged by what I heard at the dialogue, and I can see the efforts and partnerships that Singaporeans are making."


Asked what young people can do to impact society, Mr Heng recounted how a group of students had asked him what can be done for children from families who may not have the resources to equip them for school. He suggested that an older student could help a younger one to read. "Those of us who are on the front lines, who know the issue, are actually in a position to do something about it," he said.

One participant asked if the Government would consider allowing "mini crises" to build resilience among Singaporeans. "I don't think we can be in the business of manufacturing crises," Mr Heng said. But he added that, given the tense global trade situation, Singaporeans must be prepared for one.


The plight of people with disabilities and those with special needs was also on the agenda.

Mr Richard Kuppusamy, president of the Disabled People's Association, pointed out that only a small proportion of people with disabilities are employed and many face discrimination in the workplace. He asked how public agencies can lead by example in diversity inclusion.

Mr Chong Kwek Bin from the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped said that Singapore's Smart Nation push is not as inclusive as it should be. For example, some government apps are not compatible with software that helps the visually handicapped navigate their smartphones, he said.

Mr Heng responded to say that the Government has taken the lead in certain areas, but that it is also a work in progress. "Whether we become a more inclusive society depends very much not just on what the Government can do, but also what every one of us can do."

A third person asked what can be done to ensure children with special needs are not marginalised, especially those who may be in mainstream schools but need extra help.

Mr Heng replied that the Government has done much to train teachers to help such students and that things have improved, but acknowledged these are evolving needs. He encouraged all three to give their views on what can be done to solve the problems they have identified.


He was asked about various aspects of environmental policy, including what Singapore can do to preserve biodiversity and how to ensure that local businesses are environmentally responsible. Adding environmental defence to the six pillars of Total Defence was suggested.

Mr Heng said Singapore is doing a reasonable job on this front for a city that is so small and so urbanised. "This is a learning process on both sides," he said, adding that government agencies should take on board ideas that are better than what they have come up with themselves. "But, at the same time, those of us that give ideas must also accept that, sometimes, not every idea will be accepted in toto."


Mr Heng was asked whether it is time to reform Singapore's taxation system, with less emphasis on consumption taxes and the introduction of elements such as an inheritance tax.

He replied that his decision to raise taxes - the goods and services tax will be going up from 7 per cent to 9 per cent sometime between 2021 and 2025 - was not an easy decision to make. "There are no options that are straightforward," he said, noting many countries have abolished the wealth tax.

Mr Heng reiterated that the biggest source of revenue for the past two years has been the Net Investment Returns Contribution. Without this, the GST hike would be "7 to 15 per cent and (still) not enough".

Government will work with all who strive for the good of Singapore
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 16 Jun 2019

The Government will work with any group or individual that has the country's interests at heart, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"As long as your heart is for the good of Singapore and Singaporeans, we will work with anyone," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, at a dialogue yesterday.

He was responding to a question from an audience member who asked whether opposition party members had been invited to the dialogue session, where Mr Heng encouraged Singaporeans with diverse views to work with the Government on shaping policy.

Mr Heng spoke on how such diversity of views is good for Singapore, but also stressed that it must not have diversity of purpose.

"Unity is important. How we've been able to take Singapore forward all this while is that we all share a sense of common purpose - that this is where we want to take Singapore and Singaporeans," he said. "And within that, we can discuss whether you have the better idea, or whether someone else has the better idea."

CNA presenter Steven Chia, who moderated the session, added that participants were not chosen for their political affiliation, but for the different ways in which they had contributed to Singapore.

The session at the Singapore Management University School of Law was jointly organised by government feedback unit REACH and CNA. It was attended by more than 400 people, including students, academics, businessmen, as well as representatives from environmental, religious and voluntary welfare groups.

Mr Nicholas Fang, managing director of communications advisory firm Black Dot, asked Mr Heng what he thinks younger Singaporeans are looking for in the country's fourth-generation leaders.

"Every leader must have integrity, and must have the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart. That is the starting point," Mr Heng replied.

"The character and motivation of our leaders are fundamental."

Mr Fang also asked questions about Singapore's place in the world, including whether it will be able to stay neutral as the trade war between America and China heats up.

Mr Heng replied that Singapore should stay neutral as far as possible, but added that the country's actions must, in the long run, serve its own interests.

"As a sovereign nation, our decision must be based on what is the long-term interest of Singapore and Singaporeans," he said.

Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh also asked Mr Heng about his reflections from his interactions with major powers, and what he hopes Singaporeans will understand better so that Singapore can succeed and thrive in a changing world.

In his reply, Mr Heng noted that relations between the US and China were in a "delicate and complicated situation".

Observers have noted that a root cause of the tensions is concerns over preserving American supremacy in technology.

The lesson for Singapore, Mr Heng added, is that every government in the world must want a better life for its people, and, therefore the existing value chain in the global economy cannot stay the same. "Those at the bottom of the value chain must want to move up," he said. "And those of us who are further ahead must run faster and make better use of science, technology and innovation, to create new sources of growth."

"Otherwise, by seeking to just remain dominant where we are, it means that others may not have room to grow. It is very important for us to work closely with all our partners, and understand that if the world changes, we must change," he said.

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