Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Singapore Perspectives 2020: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s vision on 4G leadership

4G leaders to offer Singaporeans more say in shaping policy: Heng Swee Keat
Plans are also afoot to give more help to lower-income citizens, says DPM
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

Amid challenges such as inequality and economic disruption, the fourth-generation leadership is determined to build a future of progress and prosperity for Singaporeans, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Mr Heng, who is expected to take over as Singapore's next leader in the coming years, also painted a vision of how he and his colleagues intend to lead the country. Their approach hinges on going beyond working for Singaporeans to working with them in designing policies and implementing them.

He also hinted that plans are afoot to give more help to lower-income Singaporeans.

"We are now studying how we can better help lower-and lower-middle-income Singaporeans, including current and future seniors, to meet their retirement needs in a sustainable way," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

More help will also be given to workers - like those in their 40s and 50s - to upskill, with the Government putting in place the next phase of SkillsFuture, he added.

"I will provide more details in the coming Budget."



Speaking at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual Singapore Perspectives conference, Mr Heng invited "all Singaporeans to work with us, and with each other" to tackle the challenges facing the nation.

Just as the founding leaders fostered a sense of nationhood through policies such as home ownership that gave the people a stake in Singapore, Mr Heng said the Singapore Together movement launched last year "will be our new cornerstone of nation building".

For instance, new platforms have already engaged Singaporeans on ways to improve work-life harmony and encourage household recycling, said Mr Heng.

Singaporeans are also being involved in the development of Singapore's landscape such as the Somerset Belt, the Geylang Serai cultural precinct as well as parks.

"What we see forming is a new model of partnership between the Government and Singaporeans in owning, shaping and acting on our future," he told an audience of students, academics and policymakers.

"In this process, government agencies are learning to develop and deliver policy solutions in a more collaborative manner."

This collaborative approach is Singapore's way forward in a world marked by differences and uncertainty, he said.

He noted that many countries have seen their political consensus fracture over the past decade, brought about by changes such as technological disruption, growing inequality and ageing populations.

Singapore is not immune to these divisive forces, and there were hints of this in some of the public discourse around foreigners, he added.



Amid these disruptive forces, a strong sense of unity is key to keeping Singapore successful, the same way the founding political leaders beat the long odds facing the Republic in the early days, said Mr Heng.

"Our improbable success was made possible by exceptional governance - capable leaders, working together with a united people."

People had a stake in the country and there was trust between them and the Government.

"This approach must remain core to the Government's mission, especially as we grapple with longer-term issues facing us," he said.

But in a society increasingly flooded by information and misinformation, it is critical to find ways to deepen understanding and relationships among people, he noted.

"We must reject extremist views that will fray our social fabric, and be discerning about falsehoods and irresponsible promises that cannot be fulfilled."

That is why giving Singaporeans a bigger role in shaping policy would help them appreciate the trade-offs involved and distinguish truth from falsehoods, he said.



Singaporeans have also shown they want to let their actions speak for themselves: Total volunteer hours have nearly trebled in the past 10 years, from 45 million hours in 2008 to 122 million hours in 2018, he noted.

At the same time, the Government will continue to exercise leadership in areas such as security and defence, and in planning for the long term, said Mr Heng.

"I am confident that our partnership efforts to date will set the foundations for the work of a generation," he said.





















Divisive forces can't be allowed to take root here, says Heng Swee Keat
Need to act decisively against them, says Deputy PM, citing nativism as an example
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

Singapore needs to act decisively to prevent divisive forces from taking root here, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

These include nativism - anti-immigrant sentiment - hints of which have already shown up here in the public conversation about foreigners, Mr Heng said in his speech at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual Singapore Perspectives conference.

"If we do not act decisively, and if we allow these forces to creep up on us, our hopes and concerns can be exploited to create fear and anger," he said.



Trends like globalisation and technological shifts have disrupted jobs and affected livelihoods, especially in countries that have not kept pace with these changes, said Mr Heng.

This has ushered in an era where forces like far-right parties have exploited people's fears and frustrations for their own political gain, he added.

"Campaigning along nativist and protectionist lines, and further undermining trust in public institutions, these divisive forces have washed over many societies, including Europe and Latin America," he said.

Singapore is not immune to these same forces that have swept across the world, noted Mr Heng.

Some of the recent discussions surrounding foreigners in Singapore, for instance, have been fraught with such tensions.

Earlier this month, the ruling party clashed with Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh in Parliament and online over employment data.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing remarked in Parliament that he was "very cautious about this constant divide, Singaporean versus PR (permanent resident)", in response to Mr Singh's question about whether employment figures could be broken down to separate Singaporeans and PRs.

Mr Singh said later on Facebook that such information was necessary "to counter fake news and falsehoods (which) fester far more when the facts are available but not made public".

The post drew a rejoinder from Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, who called on Singaporeans to avoid "the politics of division and envy".

"We must firmly reject all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups within our society and stand resolute against efforts to stir fear and hatred for political gain," said Mr Chee.

Last Friday, the police said they had issued warnings to four men for harassing Mr Erramalli Ramesh, the man caught on video verbally abusing a condominium security guard last October.

The widely shared video triggered a backlash: Netizens dug up his personal details, which they posted online, some accompanied with racist remarks. Mr Erramalli and his family were also threatened with death, violence and rape.

Mr Heng said yesterday that Singaporeans need to ensure that differences do not become entrenched and corrode social cohesion, and be aware of "the dangers of political parties using divisive rhetoric to gain support in a fractured landscape, and the risks of falling prey to the pull of populism".

"Our diversity can be turned against us," he said. "Our unity can fray, and our society can wither."

Amid such forces and Singapore's own changing demographics, it is important to maintain unity as a people and focus on working together to build a shared future, said Mr Heng.

The foundation for this is strong political leadership, which means leaders who have integrity and who are deeply committed to the well-being of Singaporeans and the country's future.

They also must have the trust and support of Singaporeans, and be able to take Singapore forward, amid seismic changes around the world, by partnering the people, he added.

"They must have the moral courage to do what is right for the people, and not just what is popular," said Mr Heng. "We cannot be all things to all people."




















Opposition leaders question DPM Heng on GST, immigration policy
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

Leaders and members of opposition parties questioned Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat about the goods and services tax (GST), immigration and the elected presidency yesterday at the annual Singapore Perspectives conference, giving a preview of the issues that might dominate at the next general election.

The exchanges followed a speech by Mr Heng in which he set out the fourth-generation political leadership's pledge to work with Singaporeans in shaping the country's future and making the partnership a cornerstone policy.

Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah, People's Power Party chief Goh Meng Seng and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) assistant secretary-general Leong Wai Mun were among opposition politicians invited to the conference by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).



IPS director Janadas Devan said in his opening remarks that Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh had declined an invitation to speak at the event.

Dr Tambyah fired the first question from the floor, questioning the Government's decision to raise GST, which he said is acknowledged universally as regressive. The tax is set to go up from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025.

But Mr Heng said Singapore's tax system as a whole is progressive, with more benefits going to the lower-income groups,

He cautioned against nitpicking on one or two aspects of it. Also, the GST is borne not just by Singaporeans, but also by anyone who consumes goods and services in Singapore, including tourists and expatriates who work here, he added.

He also said he had considered alternatives, but had less room to play with corporate and personal income taxes as people and companies could relocate easily.



Mr Goh questioned him next on the immigration policy, asking if society could become more divisive if the Government caved to the pressure of new citizens whose allegiances may not lie with Singapore.

Mr Heng said new citizens could indeed become a divisive force if people exploit the issue and "start casting doubts on the loyalty and fitness of new citizens".

He added that there was no reason to doubt their loyalty as they have become citizens by conviction, having chosen to come to Singapore to build a future.

Many are also married to Singaporeans, with one in three marriages here between a Singaporean and a national of another country.

Pointing to how some people have promulgated a narrative which pits born and bred Singaporeans against new citizens, Mr Heng said: "In that regard, I must say I am very troubled that so many people are seeking to exploit these differences instead of making the effort to integrate them."

He added that while the Government must do its best to take care of Singaporeans, taking a nativist approach is not the way and will cause Singapore to wither.

The issue of the elected presidency was raised by Mr Leong. The PSP's leader, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, became ineligible to run in the 2017 presidential election after the eligibility criteria were tightened.

Mr Leong, who said he was speaking in his personal capacity, argued that such strict criteria would limit the pool of possible candidates and curtail the institution's effectiveness as a check on the Government.

Replying, Mr Heng said the President continues to play a very important role as custodian of Singapore's reserves, citing, for instance, that the Budget cannot be introduced in Parliament until the President has been satisfied it will not draw on past reserves.






















Singapore does not need 'fair-weather' politicians but leaders who will stay the course, says Chan Chun Sing
It doesn't need 'fair-weather candidates' who join politics only during good times, he says
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

Singapore does not need "fair-weather candidates" who join politics only when times are good, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Instead, it needs leaders who are willing to stay the course, win the trust of Singaporeans, make tough decisions and carry them out, he added.

"In fact, in the toughest of times, we find it easier to select people," Mr Chan said at the annual Singapore Perspectives conference, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.

"On the other hand, when times are good, there are many people who want to step forward, and you really have to be careful who you choose."

He was responding to Ms Lee Huay Leng, who had asked about the difficulty of getting people to join politics. Ms Lee heads Singapore Press Holdings' Chinese Media Group and was moderating a dialogue with the minister.

Mr Chan also said the intense scrutiny of politicians and their families, especially in the age of social media, may deter prospective candidates from entering politics.

But those who do are "prepared to put aside their personal interests - and to some extent, their families' interests - in service of the country", he said.

He added that the challenge of attracting political talent is not just that of bringing in people with the intellect, but also those with the right values and motivations.

"The first order of business is how do you get people with the right values in, and to the best of our efforts, we may still get it wrong," he said.

"Once they are in, how do we gel them into a coherent team - that they do not love themselves more than they love the country?"



The conference was attended by nearly 1,000 people, including students, civil servants, academics and representatives from civil society and the private sector, as well as leaders and members of opposition parties.

Speakers at the conference, including Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, discussed topics such as politics in Singapore and how the political dynamic has shifted in recent years.

During the session, former senior minister of state for foreign affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed, who is Singapore's non-resident ambassador to Kuwait, asked Mr Chan which policy areas the Government should revisit.

Mr Chan said it is an ongoing effort in many areas, from tracking broad geopolitical shifts to changes in Singapore's domestic societal makeup.

"We cannot assume that just because we have got certain things right at this point in time, that this will always be right," he said. "That would be a very, very bad mistake."

For instance, his ministry is constantly looking at Singapore's economic strategy, he said.

The minister also cited the example of more inter-ethnic marriages and marriages between Singaporeans and foreigners, which means the compartmentalisation of people according to race will have to change.

"The complexion of our society will definitely change in the upcoming years," he said. "And if all these things are going to change, then we have to seriously ask ourselves, every step of the way, are our policies still right and relevant?"

Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt of Nanyang Technological University's Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme asked Mr Chan if it was possible to have the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) completely independent of the Prime Minister's Office.

He also suggested limiting the maximum size of group representation constituencies (GRCs) to two people. "If the intention is minority representation, we do not need more than two people," he said.

Mr Chan said the committee, formed last August and still working out the boundaries, is made up of public servants with knowledge of issues such as population and demographic changes.

"I have never doubted their independence. They do their job professionally," he said. "No matter who does the work, how it is done, you have to report to somebody and present it to be approved and issued," he said.

Mr Chan added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has already instructed the committee to reduce the average size of GRCs and create more single-member constituencies. "So, we have to wait for the EBRC's work to be done before we make any comments," he said.































IPS forum: Sharing data not 'panacea' to all policy issues, Chan Chun Sing tells Goh Meng Seng
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

Sharing data is not the panacea to all policy issues, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) conference yesterday.

Having the people's trust and ensuring objective interpretations of the data are also important, he said in response to a call from People's Power Party chief Goh Meng Seng for the Government to provide more data for fruitful policy debates.

"If we go in with preconceived ideas on what the data should tell us and we have a confirmation bias, we will go and interpret it in a (certain) way," said Mr Chan.

The issue of public access to data has been in the spotlight after Mr Chan sparred with Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh in Parliament earlier this month over how new jobs are distributed among Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).



Referring to this issue yesterday, Mr Chan said the data shows slightly better employment figures for PRs, which some might say support the interpretation that the Government "doesn't care about the citizens".

"The other interpretation is, actually we have pre-selected the PRs. If the PRs are unemployed, it will be very difficult for them to get PR (status) unless they have strong family ties here," he said.

He also cited a "recent example", where data was available but a graph was truncated. He was referring to a correction direction issued under the fake news law by the Manpower Ministry, which said a graphic on Singapore's population policy used by the Singapore Democratic Party online was misleading.

While having more data helps, it also has to be framed objectively, he said, adding: "If people don't trust you, you can give as much data as you want, and you will not win over the hearts or the minds of the people."

The minister also listed three wishes he has for Singapore's political system in a wide-ranging dialogue at the IPS' Singapore Perspectives conference.

His first wish was to have more in-depth discussions with Singaporeans on challenges and policy issues, he said.

Recalling productive closed-door sessions with his own staff and other Singaporeans, he said the question was how to scale up such sessions, which may involve issues that cannot be as freely discussed with non-Singaporeans.

He clarified in response to a question from an audience member that these issues included defence and security, foreign affairs and geopolitics, and Singapore's economic strategy.

"There are many things that we discuss in public and that I think would benefit a lot from having (opinions of) foreigners," he said, adding that Singapore's foreign friends provide counsel and help check for "blind spots".

His second wish was for Singaporeans to become less inward-looking and be more cognisant of the external environment.

Citing the $15.2 billion in investments secured by the Economic Development Board announced last week, he said that there were some who questioned the investments and whether they were too much.

"What lies underneath this set of questions is perhaps a lack of appreciation of the external environment we are operating in. It is not as if we have a choice to pick one investment and not another investment," he said, adding that Singapore loses some investments to competitors.

Third, Mr Chan said he hopes Singapore will continue to maintain the ethos of making decisions not just for the current generation, but for future generations as well.

Few societies can leave behind something for the next generation or finance infrastructure without borrowing or taxing heavily, he noted, adding that issues like climate change, fiscal reserves and even jobs cut across generations.

"We need to find a mechanism whereby our generation makes decisions not just for the sole purview of taking care of this generation."





Panellists discuss type of opposition Singaporeans want in local politics
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

The type of opposition that Singaporeans want in local politics was among the issues observers discussed yesterday during a panel session on Singapore's political landscape.

The opposition's disunity is a reflection of the lack of consensus among voters about the kind of political competition they want, said Ms Zuraidah Ibrahim, deputy executive editor of the South China Morning Post.

"Different voters are attracted to different types of opposition. Therefore, there is no single proven formula for both satisfying hard-core opposition voters while at the same time attracting swing voters, first-time voters and loyal PAP (People's Action Party) voters who may be tempted to defect," said Ms Zuraidah, a former deputy editor of The Straits Times.

Academic Lam Peng Er, who was also on the panel at the conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, said opposition parties here generally have not critiqued Singapore's fundamental core values, such as meritocracy and multiculturalism, that were established by the nation's founding fathers and continue to be espoused by the PAP.

"If you look at the Workers' Party (WP), it is a bluer shade of white," he quipped.

But if opposition parties can attract talent in greater numbers and offer a narrative which counters the ruling party's "hegemonic ideological discourse", it will be one of the more formidable challenges for the PAP, said Dr Lam, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Ms Zuraidah said it is still unclear whether it would be best for opposition parties to position themselves as radically different from the ruling PAP or as "PAP-lite" and promise change at the margins.



The third panellist, veteran diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, who chairs the Middle East Institute at NUS, warned that Singapore politics will not be exempt from global trends in geopolitics that are currently in a state of flux.

"Identity politics are already upon us, although usually not overtly labelled as identity politics. For example, lurking within debates about foreigners in our economy is really a claim of hierarchy," he said.

"Such claims are far too often not uncontaminated, much as those who make them may deny it, by claims of ethnic privilege."

This is just one example of issues that will surface within the next year as the general election draws nearer, said Mr Bilahari, adding that feelings of insecurity about the future could make Singaporeans vulnerable to both "external and internal snake oil salesmen".



On the state of the opposition here, Ms Zuraidah said the WP - the most successful opposition party - has adopted a cautious approach that "infuriates more impatient opposition supporters".

The Singapore Democratic Party, which traditionally had a bolder and more distinct platform, has "consistently performed worse than the opposition average" under its current leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan, she said, adding: "It is not clear if this is because of its platform, its style of politicking or a question of personality."

She described former PAP MP and central executive committee member Tan Cheng Bock's entry into opposition politics as "groundbreaking" and a "game changer", adding that it could pave the way for other "establishment types" to join the opposition.

But one obstacle for Dr Tan is the fact that many younger voters do not remember him from his time as an MP and recognise him only for his presidential bid in 2011, she said.

The panellists also fielded questions from the audience on various topics, including climate change and the Hong Kong protests.





Q&A session with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Institute of Policy Studies' Singapore Perspectives 2020 conference on 20 January 2020
The Straits Times, 22 Jan 2020

Singaporeans can be like universal adapter to plug into the world

Q (Paul Tambyah, chairman, Singapore Democratic Party): GST (goods and services tax) has been acknowledged universally as a regressive tax. In Singapore, we pay GST on medications, we even pay GST on the water conservation tax, which is probably the only place in the world where you pay tax twice on something like water.

So my question is whether your government had considered alternatives to raising the GST for raising revenue. For example, returning the top corporate tax level to 20 per cent, which is what it was before Year of Assessment 2017, or perhaps even taxing unearned incomes such as the estate duty, (as) it was about 12 years ago.



A (Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat): It is important for us to consider our tax system as a whole and not pick on one or two pieces and say this part is regressive and this part is not progressive and so on.

Because what we collect in GST has also to be seen in (a) against other taxes and (b) against the spending.

And in fact, we have been very careful in designing the policies to make sure that the benefits of our tax system and of many of the schemes that we have, benefit the lower-income groups - the ones who need help the most.

There is another aspect which Mr Paul Tambyah may wish to remember - GST is not just paid by Singaporeans; it is paid by everyone who is in Singapore, whether you are here as a tourist, as a worker or as an expatriate. It is paid by everyone in Singapore when they consume services, when they buy certain goods. So, if you consider in totality, in fact the GST system, if you look at the raw numbers, yes it may look regressive but it is not. You cannot pick one piece and forget about the other bits.

Today, the largest source of revenue for the Government, for our Budget, is not GST, it is not corporate income tax, it is not personal income tax. It is an element called NIRC or Net Investment Returns Contribution. So NIRC is 50 per cent of the long-term returns of our national reserves.

Now, I would like everyone to think about this, and reflect on this. A country with no oil, no gas, no diamonds, no minerals, in fact nothing, we started so poor, has today about 50 per cent of our returns from past investments that now contribute more than GST, more than personal income tax, more than corporate income tax. So let us bear that in mind and be responsible in how we safeguard this for our future generations.

Finally, you asked, why can't we increase other taxes? Well, I have considered all the possibilities before I even raised this, because surely - we must consider all possible options. Now you look at what has happened recently. America reduced its corporate income taxes and, in fact, globally, there is also increasing debate on what is a fair rate of tax that companies around the world should be paying.

If you are a company headquartered in Country A, why are you not paying more taxes in Country A. If you are a company selling to Country B, why are you not paying taxes to Country B. This is a global tax competition that is going on because some countries, especially the more developed ones, feel that we are not getting our fair share of taxes. We must be very careful that what we do does not, in the end, harm our future because it is easy to say, let me increase taxes on corporates, let me increase taxes on individuals. But many of these (companies) are mobile and if they move out, we are going to be the ones who suffer the unemployment and the slower growth.


Q (Goh Meng Seng, secretary-general, People's Power Party): We are giving out about 20,000 new citizenships (to people) from different countries, especially mainland China, Malaysia, India, and the Philippines. Now with the geopolitics changes, with the rising Chinese dominance in the region... where will they (new citizens) stand when we have to make a difficult decision in geopolitics? For example, you may give citizenship to people from mainland China, but they will always have what the Chinese call... allegiance that will not change overnight. Will this affect our policies, our political direction (and) decisions?



DPM: Let me address Mr Goh Meng Seng's question on whether new citizens will end up as a new divisive force. In fact, it can be, if we exploit it and start casting doubt on the loyalties and the fitness of new citizens, or that we create a new divide.

One in three marriages today involves a Singaporean and a citizen of another country. We have to bear that in mind. As a Member of Parliament, at each of my Meet-the-People Sessions, I will have some Singaporeans, men and women, who will come to me and say, I have married so-and-so from this country, can I get citizenship for my wife or my husband quickly?

We must bear in mind that for those people who have become Singapore citizens, they have become citizens by conviction. They have left their country and decided that Singapore is a better place for them and their children in the future.

So, we should, as Singaporeans, make the best effort to integrate them - to integrate them into our society, welcome them so that they can be part of our team. In that regard, I am very troubled that so many people are seeking to exploit these differences, instead of making an effort to integrate them, they have made this into an issue that you are not taking care of Singaporeans, you are not taking care of Singaporeans' interest.

On the contrary, having new citizens is very much part of our effort to take care of Singaporeans.

In fact, our criteria for bringing in foreigners, on an employment, work or special pass, is tighter: we have foreign worker levy and so on. All these are to ensure that we also take care of the interests of Singaporeans. Having the foreigners in our midst adds to our strengths.

One important way that Singaporeans can excel and thrive in this world, in this age of uncertainty, is to make sure that we grow up in a multiracial, multi-religious and multilingual society. That ought to give us a very high degree of cultural sensitivity.

I met a group of young students the other day and a few of them had foreign students as their friends in their class. They told me about the learning that they had. Learning about other countries, other cultures, particularly those in South-east Asia, and it has been a very enriching experience. I felt very cheered by that because, when they grow up, they will be in a good position to interact with our friends in Asean, Asia and all over the world, and that gives Singaporeans an edge.

All over the world, we have differences - even when you travel, you have to carry different adapter plugs because some places are two-pin, some are three-pin, some are square, and some are round. Singaporeans should be the adapter plug that we carry all over the world - wherever we go, we can plug in and draw energy and link up with all.

Having that cultural sensitivity and that respect for people from all over the world will give us a very special edge, especially in a world where people are turning inwards, in a world where people are less willing to cooperate. Singaporeans can extend a hand, we can be bridge builders in a more fragmented world.

Whatever we do, must be to take care of Singaporeans and Singapore's future. But if we take a narrow nativist approach and say let's keep out the world, let's keep out trade, let's keep out other people, then I think eventually, Singapore will wither.










Q&A session with Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Institute of Policy Studies' Singapore Perspectives 2020 conference on 20 January 2020
The Straits Times, 22 Jan 2020

The will to defy the odds of history

Q (Aidan Mock, Yale-NUS student, member of SG Climate Rally): Climate change has been a big topic that we've discussed today. It's something my peers and I feel really deep anxiety about.

I want to ask how Singapore intends to confront the elephant in the room, which is the large fossil fuel industry that we host, given that we want to be responsible and pull our weight in dealing with the climate crisis as well.



A (Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing): Yes, we have a big petrochemical industry. But we also have to be realistic. How is our petrochemical industry performing?

Our petchem industry is one of the most efficient, one of the cleanest, in the whole industry.

So we ask the people in the discussion: If tomorrow, we don't produce, where will all these same petrochemicals be produced?

They will be produced somewhere else in the world, and more likely under conditions which are perhaps more pollutive than the current conditions.

But we do have this issue, notwithstanding that we take our carbon responsibilities very seriously.

Now, when EDB (Economic Development Board) tries to win investments and create jobs for the next generation, we have to take into account not just our land constraints, our manpower constraints, our fiscal constraints, and so on and so forth, we also have to take into account our carbon constraints.

Singapore is a data hub. Many Internet companies, many digital companies, would like to set up their data centres in Singapore. But data centres require huge amounts of energy; huge amounts of energy require huge amounts of carbon budget. Are we able to attract these companies? If we are unable to attract them, what does it mean for our economy, our position as a global hub for the digital services?

Now, these are difficult questions that cannot be answered just because we are philosophically wedded to one consideration and not the rest.

In fact, in all such difficult decisions, we have to ask ourselves: How do we remain competitive as an economy to attract those investments and create new jobs for our people? How do we fulfil our carbon budget obligations, not just for this generation, but for the next generation?

So what can we do to unlock the energy constraint, or rather the carbon constraint, for the next 50 years, so that we can continue to attract industries, create new jobs for our people, yet at the same time, manage our future carbon budget?

The climate change carbon budget is not about 50 or 100 years later, when the sea level starts rising. For us, it is a here-and-now challenge. If we cannot manage that, we can't even attract the industries to create the jobs for the next generation.

But I think there are many things that we can do. First, think of how we can diversify our energy sources. We have gone from oil and gas to LNG (liquefied natural gas), which is one of the cleanest fossil fuels.

Second, we can significantly try to improve our solar panel coverage. In fact, I think by the end of this year, if I'm not wrong, one in every two HDB flats will have at least some solar panels, and we will try to scale, as much as we can. But we need to manage the demand as well. Finally, are we thinking of a post-fossil fuel future?

Yes, we are. Because we know where the trend of the world is going. We are just one small part of the global economy. ExxonMobil, Shell, and so forth, they are all thinking of a future beyond fossil fuels. How fast we can get there? It all depends on how fast we are able to adopt those technologies.

But when the time comes, it will mean that our economic structures will fundamentally be quite different. It means that the types of jobs that we can create for our own people will be quite different. And all this will not be able to be done overnight, because as you shift the industry structure, we must have a care about the jobs that are being displaced, and these are jobs that many of our people are working in.

So, yes, we are looking at that, and we are thinking of how to make sure that we insulate ourselves against all these difficult problems that may come and confront us, but we can all do something to unlock that energy and carbon puzzle confronting us today.


Q: Where do you see Singapore in the next 20 to 30 years?



A: My long-term vision for Singapore is not just for the next 20 or 30 years. I grew up in a part of the system where I understand that the last 50 years of our existence have been an aberration in the history of Singapore, and the history of this part of the world.

If we go back a few hundred years, Singapore had never been independent, and some would argue Singapore had never been allowed to be independent, because as a small city state without a natural conventional hinterland, it is very difficult to survive. Without those external links for resources, supplies, markets and talent, it is very difficult to survive.

The last 50 or more years, we have had to eke out a living for ourselves. We have had to defend ourselves, take care of our security. We have had to earn our keep and not depend on other people's charity. We have to value-add so that we entrench ourselves in the global environment. Nobody has sympathy or charity for a small country.

In the last 50 years, we have had to navigate a domestic environment in which we all came from different shores. To have a country, regardless of race, language or religion, is not the norm. In fact, in many other countries, the national identity has to do with race, language, religion, ancestry, geography and so forth.

Even today, we don't have the geographical, cultural and linguistic buffers against many of the global forces impacting us.

Amid all this - having to take care of our security, take care of our own lives and economic survival, and take care of our own cohesion for the last 50 years - nothing has been very natural. Nothing.

And I've worked my whole life believing this. If we are careless, if we are not careful, if we are not sensitive to the larger forces in the world, if we take what we have for granted, we can very easily lose all this and have to start all over again. So I never take it as a given that we will arrive at SG100 effortlessly. Never.

When I went back to the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) and talked to them, I asked them: "How many of you think we will celebrate SG100, based on the current trajectory?"

Many put up their hands, and I'm very proud of them. But I reminded them: "While you have the confidence - and I'm proud that you have the confidence - never forget why you are still in uniform. The very fact that you are still in uniform tells us that we have many other challenges that require you to be in a uniform, and it's not a job done. It is always a work in progress."

Now at MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry), every day, my economic team has to go round to the rest of the world and convince people, local and foreign, to put their investments in Singapore so that we can have good and better jobs for our people, not just for today, but for the future.

EDB officers grow up very fast. They grow up learning that nobody will owe us a living, that we have to give a value proposition to the rest of the world, to tell them why they need to do business with us.

When it comes to social issues, we have succeeded on many fronts, but the challenges are ongoing.

In the past, we were equally poor, today we are unequally rich. The challenges are no less. In the past, everybody felt they had a chance to rise to the top, and today, we still pride ourselves on this - that among all the societies we see, Singapore is probably the best place to be born, even if you don't come from a privileged background, because we have every reason to believe that we can succeed.

But that is not to be taken for granted. All countries, as they mature, ossify. They form groups, and after a while, there will be groups that ask themselves: "Why should I continue to support this system if I cannot get ahead in this system?"

Those are our ongoing challenges.

So what's my vision? I have only one simple vision for my entire life's work, be it in the SAF, MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development), NTUC (National Trades Union Congress), or now, MTI.

I have one very simple vision, and that is for Singapore to defy the odds of history, to survive and thrive as a small city state without a natural hinterland. To survive and thrive where we may not have a common ancestry, race, language and religion. That we can define our identity based on a forward-looking set of values of multiculturalism, meritocracy, incorruptibility. That we will define a future where the future is in our hands, and we are not beholden to others nor held ransom by others. That when others ask us to jump, we don't have to only ask: "How high?"; we can ask: "Why?"

Is it easy? No. I don't think so. My wife asked me: "Why do you continue to be where you are? Every day, you are getting all the brickbats, your family is getting the brickbats, your children are getting the brickbats."

Why are we still here? I can tell you that we are still here, I am still here, because I want my children and my grandchildren, and many more generations to come, to be able to call themselves Singaporean. To have the means to call themselves Singaporeans, and the gumption to be called Singaporean - the will. Today, we may just be Singaporeans, but one day, there will be a Singapore tribe.

That's why, for the bicentennial, I liked it so much when Indranee (Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah) proposed the tagline: From Singapore to Singaporeans.

There's a double meaning to it.

From Singapore, a geographical location, to Singaporeans, a people. A people united by a set of values, although we may not have a common ancestry, race and religion.

But "Singapore to Singaporeans" is also about our stewardship, to leave behind something better for the next generation, just as the previous generation has left us with what we have today. That every generation of Singaporeans will not fear, because they will start from a higher platform, to scale a high peak. That every generation will lend our shoulders to the next, to stand taller and see farther.

And if we can continue to do that, I'm not worried about SG100. I would say that even beyond SG100, we will continue to shine.

So what's my vision for Singapore? Defy the odds of history. Show the world how a small city state without natural resources, without a common ancestry, can come together, value-add to the world, contribute to the world and bring forth people with a common set of values and vision, and are not just looking at the past.

That is our life's work. Ask Swee Keat (Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat). I think he will give the same answer. That's what unites us in this endeavour - to make sure that there will be a Singapore that all our children and future generations can be proud of.










No comments:

Post a comment