Saturday 28 October 2023

Forward SG report unveils social support plans, lays out mindset shifts needed amid changing times

Moves to ensure basic needs of Singaporeans are met and social compact is refreshed
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2023

A road map towards a more equitable and thriving Singapore has been put forth by the fourth-generation (4G) leadership, fleshing out the moves the Republic will make in the coming years to stay cohesive amid a time of change.

These include a greater helping hand for groups such as the less well-off, mid-career workers and seniors, through means such as additional financial support and improved infrastructure.

And there will be more done to ensure that Singaporeans’ basic needs at every life stage will be met, such as in education, retirement, healthcare and housing.

These moves come as Singapore has reached a key inflection point where there will be more disruptions, workplace churn and impact on people’s lives, and the Government recognises that more must be done to provide assurance for the people, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference to launch the Forward Singapore report.

The 180-page report unveiled on Friday also articulated the mindset shifts required for Singapore to achieve the goals set out, such as for wider definitions of success and a stronger sense of collective responsibility towards one another.

It will not be possible for the Government alone to do everything through policy changes, nor is it possible for any individual to succeed on his or her own efforts alone,” DPM Wong said later at the launch of the Forward Singapore Festival, where the public can learn more about the report’s initiatives.

Instead, it will be up to everyone, including employers, community groups, families and individuals, to keep the Singapore miracle going, he added.

The report caps off a nationwide engagement exercise headed by Mr Wong that has involved more than 200,000 Singaporeans since it kicked off in June 2022.

The exercise sought to refresh Singapore’s social compact – the glue that holds society together – given the challenges facing the island, which range from a more fraught external environment to a rapidly ageing population to greater job insecurity due to rapid technological change.

One key move the 4G team intends to make to take the country forward is to create more opportunities for all Singaporeans to chart their own paths in life. This includes increasing salaries and respect for a wider range of vocations, better social support for those who face career hurdles, and nudging those who succeed to give back to society.

On the jobs and education front, the report unveiled plans to provide a “substantial top-up” of SkillsFuture Credit, as well as a “significant package” to help mature and mid-career workers reskill and upskill.

Institute of Technical Education graduates will get support to upgrade their skills early in their work life to close wage gaps, while more will be done to recognise those in jobs involving “hands” or “heart”, such as electricians and nurses.

“If society is more supportive of individuals pursuing these careers, we can create a virtuous cycle, where society in turn benefits from better and more reliable services,” it said.

Among efforts to help ageing seniors is the nationwide expansion of a pilot announced in March that will result in wider footpaths and longer green-man timings at traffic crossings.

Programmes that support retirement adequacy for those with lower incomes, such as the Silver Support Scheme and the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, will be updated.

Young parents will also get more help, as the report recognised a need to better support families.

This includes a commitment to studying the feasibility of increasing paid parental leave, and to increase centre-based infantcare places by 70 per cent – or 9,000 spots – by 2030.

On the timeline to implement these changes, Mr Wong said the 4G team will prioritise issues that are more salient and of greater concern for Singaporeans. For instance, policy shifts have already been made or announced in the areas of housing and retirement. These include changing the housing classification system to the Standard, Plus and Prime model, and the $7 billion Majulah Package to help citizens aged 50 and over, that were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in August.

Other items, where specific recommendations have been set out, will be implemented in Budget 2024 and over the coming year, said Mr Wong.

Also at the press conference on Friday were other ministers including Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, and Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

The Forward Singapore report took in people’s ideas for the country’s future, which were contributed at 275 dialogue sessions, as well as through surveys and roadshows. It noted that one topic that constantly emerged at discussions was how the idea of a “good life” had evolved, especially among the younger generation who desire meaning and purpose in life, besides a good salary. The Singapore Dream, which used to be measured by the five Cs of condominium, car, cash, credit card and country club, had fallen out of favour, but there was still a tendency for society to measure success by old yardsticks such as the size of one’s pay cheque or home, the report noted.

Mr Wong said Singaporeans today still want a good life, but it is clear from the engagements that the Singapore Dream has evolved to be about more than just material success. “It’s also about fulfilment, meaning, and purpose in what we do,” he said.

“That’s why I firmly believe the refreshed Singapore Dream is less about I, me, and mine; it’s more about we, us, and ours. It’s recognising that we are not left to fend for ourselves; but that we are all in this together.”

Besides encouraging Singaporeans to tap the range of existing programmes to give back to society, a new Singapore Government Partnerships Office will be set up for agencies to work more closely with citizens.

In sum, the report represents a vision to guide the next bound of development for the Republic, where various groups come together to build a better Singapore, it said.

Mr Wong said: “We have a full agenda ahead of us, and we look forward to working with all Singaporeans to write our next chapter of the Singapore Story,” he said.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

DPM Lawrence Wong's Dialogue at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on 13 October 2023

Singapore government explains national interest to repel disinformation, says DPM Wong
By Bhagyashree Garekar, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2023

WASHINGTON - Singapore protects its population against disinformation by explaining again and again to its citizens where its national interest lies, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said while addressing an influential American think-tank on Friday.

“Given that we are such a small, open multicultural society, we know that we are susceptible to influences from elsewhere,” he said during a discussion at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies on the last day of his Oct 5 to 15 working visit to the US.

“That is why we are very vigilant about this.”

DPM Wong was asked to spell out the Government’s stance on reports that China is trying to influence ethnic Chinese populations across South-east Asia, including that of Singapore.

“We continually engage our public, educate, explain what is our national interest, why we take certain decisions. Not because of choosing sides or... external influence, but really because of Singapore’s own interest.

“We spend a lot of time doing that,” he said.

He also said it helped that a distinct Singaporean identity, different from cultures in other countries, had evolved over time.

“The majority of our population are ethnic Chinese, so we have ancestral roots going back to China, but we have, over time, evolved our own Singaporean identity.

“We are Singaporean Chinese, and the Singaporean Chinese is very different from the Chinese from China – in values, in outlook, in identity. Just as a Singaporean Malay would be very different from a Malay from Malaysia or Indonesia, or a Singaporean Indian would be very different from someone who comes from India.

“America, being a nation of immigrants, you must understand this very well,” he said,

And influence percolated not just from China; Singapore was equally influenced by ideas originating in the West. A large proportion of Singaporeans consume English-language news and entertainment from the US and Britain, he pointed out.

“There is no shortage of criticism about Singapore in the Western media, no shortage of commentaries and articles highlighting the shortcomings in our system and asking us to be more like Western liberal ideals.”

But the country steered its own course, he said.

“At the end of the day, what is important for us, small though we may be, is that we are our own people, we make our own choices.

“It really comes down to Singaporeans deciding on the future of our country.

“Not China nor the West.”

He was also asked to react to a report published in The Washington Post in July which alleged that Lianhe Zaobao was peddling China’s propaganda.

Mr Wong said the Chinese-language newspaper had defended its editorial stance and strongly rejected the portrayal by the Post.

“If you were to ask Singaporeans, the vast majority of Singaporeans reading the Chinese newspaper daily will not feel that what was portrayed in The Washington Post was accurate,” he said.

“Because we can read and see for ourselves articles on China, and they cover a wide range, including many articles that criticise Singapore’s perspectives as they have to reflect our society.”

This is as it should be, he added.

“Our newspapers cannot resemble The Washington Post, neither do we ask The Washington Post to become like Singapore newspapers.”

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Shanti Pereira wins gold in 200m in Hangzhou, Singapore’s first athletics title at Asian Games since 1974

Tearful Shanti Pereira says it’s a ‘so crazy, incredible season’ after historic 200m gold at Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games
By Kimberly Kwek, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2023

Shanti Pereira is squatting on the track at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Singapore flag draped over her as she buries her face in her hands crying, staying there for 10 seconds.

She had won the women’s 200m at the Asian Games in 23.03sec and when she finally understood what had happened, Asia’s fastest woman in the event needed a moment of stillness to process the magnitude of what she had achieved.

In the final on Monday, the 27-year-old finished ahead of China’s Li Yuting (23.28sec) and defending champion Edidiong Ofonime Odiong (23.48sec), ending the Republic’s 49-year wait for an athletics gold medal.

“I just passed the finish line and I knew I won and I was like what a season this has been, it’s been so crazy,” said an emotional Pereira at the mixed zone, choking up at times during the interview.

“I immediately teared up. It means a lot, it means a lot. I never thought I would be here but I am.

“I can’t really describe what I’m feeling right now, it’s so much joy. I have so many people to thank – everyone knows who they are. It’s been incredible.”

She had gone into the final as the top qualifier with her heats time of 23.14sec and was seen as the leading contender.

There was drama as the race had to be restarted after Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, the 2019 world champion in the 400m, was disqualified for a false start, adding to the tension of the night.

But Pereira was unaffected and as she settled back into the starting blocks, all that went through her mind was “execute, execute, execute”.

Then she ran the race of her life, beating a field that included 2014 winner Olga Safronova of Kazakhstan and Bahraini Odiong, who had bagged the 100m-200m double in 2018.

After posing for some photos, Pereira ran to the other side of the stadium, flag raised while she greeted the Singapore supporters seated in the stands.

This is the crowning achievement in what has been a stunning season for the Singaporean, who on Saturday claimed the 100m silver.

In addition to her Asiad medals, Pereira’s accolades in 2023 include golds in the 100m and 200m at the Cambodia SEA Games and Asian Athletics Championships, as well as meeting the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifying mark.

But it has not been an easy journey for the sprinter, who endured a difficult period of self-doubt as her times stagnated after she burst onto the scene at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore where she won the 200m crown.

Pereira has been candid about her struggles and continues to do so. When a minder in the mixed zone told her she had one minute, she bargained for five, wanting more time to describe this athletic pursuit.

She said: “There’s a lot of respect for everybody out there. We’re all on this very incredible journey, just racing and finding ourselves as well so that was a big thing that happened for me.

“I really fell in love with this sport again last year and this year and I’m just embracing every opportunity I get, including this one.”

Her coach Luis Cunha, who had been watching the race from the warmup track at a nearby stadium, was proud of what Pereira had achieved.

She had come into the continental meet with eight of the top 10 times this season by an Asian runner in the event – now nine after Monday’s race – but she still had to perform on the night, he noted.

The Portuguese said: “For this championships, the most important thing was not time but classification – we knew she was the favourite but she needed to go there and deliver...

“The entire season was perfect and to finish it with a gold in the Asian Games is something incredible.”

He said: “I feel blessed to be part of her journey. It’s a journey that inspires Singaporeans. Now she’s going to be on the podium, the national anthem is going to play. It’s more important for Singapore than me.”

It was a wave of emotions for Pereira after the victory and one prominent one that stood out was relief.

She added: “Especially this particular race because it’s been such a long season. I’m just excited to rest and reset.”