DPM Lawrence Wong launches 'Forward Singapore' exercise to canvass public views on policies with country 'at crossroads'
- Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong launched a Forward Singapore exercise to gather public views on policies
- The year-long consultation that will culminate in a report in 2023 seeks to refresh the social compact here
- Keeping the social compact relevant is important to ensure segments of the society do not feel estranged from each other, Mr Wong said
- The consultations will be led by the next-generation political leaders
- It will cover issues related to the economy, social support, the Singapore Identity and others
SINGAPORE — The nation’s fourth generation (4G) leaders will embark on a new year-long public consultation exercise dubbed Forward Singapore as the country finds itself at a "crossroads" in its journey, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (June 28).
Launching the initiative at a dialogue organised by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Mr Wong said that the exercise is aimed at “refreshing” Singapore’s "social compact" while identifying how everyone can contribute towards charting a new path forward together.
Mr Wong, who was picked in April to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will be leading the team of 4G leaders in this effort to consult Singaporeans, which will culminate in a report to be published mid-2023 that will set out policy recommendations.
During his speech on Tuesday, Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, outlined what the social compact means: Broadly speaking, it is a shared understanding of how all of us in society relate to one another, he said.
"What should the Government, employers and the community do for workers and individuals? What are our obligations as individuals to one another and to society?" he added.
"A social compact that is deemed fair by all segments of society strengthens social capital and fosters trust, and enables us to progress together as a nation. That’s why it’s so important to refresh and update our social compact, so it remains fit for our changing context and circumstances."
The timing is right to review this as Singapore finds itself at a "crossroads": The country had expected a strong recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but has flown into strong headwinds, Mr Wong said.
"We’ve a war raging in Europe fuelling global inflation, and a possible recession — if not stagflation. We face rising geo-political tensions, especially between the US and China, disrupting supply chains and ushering in a more dangerous and bifurcated world."
Domestically, too, Singapore has to deal with a number of social trends with long-term consequences, he added, such as a rapidly ageing population and a concern that social mobility is slowing, with those who have done well pulling further ahead of the rest due to their entrenched advantages.
"And, with that, (there are) mounting anxieties among many (people) of being displaced by others. These are very real fears in our stressful society — the fear of not doing well enough, of being left behind."
Mr Wong noted, too, that students feel pigeon-holed in a system where the stakes are high from very early in their lives.
"Our graduates and workers are anxious about their careers and worry they will be priced out of the property market," he said, adding that older workers sometimes struggle to be considered for new jobs after being displaced or retrenched.
"Sometimes, those who do not meet the traditional yardsticks of merit may find opportunities closed to them. They may feel beaten down by early failure and feel discouraged from trying again.
"I hope we will have honest conversations about these concerns, and how we can tackle them together."
The bottomline is that the world and Singapore society have changed and will continue to change, "so we know in our guts it cannot be business-as-usual”, Mr Wong said.
If Singapore's social compact fails, a large segment of Singaporeans will come to feel estranged from the rest of society, believing that the system is not on their side.
Trust in the Government and among various segments of society will plummet and politics will turn nasty and polarised, he added.
"We will become a low-trust society, like so many others in Asia and Europe, and Singapore will surely fracture."
Conversely, if Singapore strengthens its social compact, it can turn each set of challenges into opportunities, he said.
"We can find the silver lining in whatever comes our way. We can be a bastion of stability and opportunity in this world and leave behind a better Singapore for tomorrow."
That is why the 4G leaders think the nation should take a step back to reflect on where it is, where it wants to be in future and how it can get there.
"At this juncture — as we prepare for a post-pandemic world; as we navigate an increasingly treacherous geo-political situation; as my 4G team and I prepare to take on the mantle and lead Singapore forward — let us reaffirm our fundamental values, re-examine our principles and review our priorities and policies, and chart a new path forward together."
The Forward Singapore exercise will be organised along six pillars, each led by a group of 4G leaders.
SIX PILLARS OF 'FORWARD SINGAPORE' EXERCISE AND LEADERS IN CHARGE
1. Empower, which is will cover economy and jobs
- Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower
- Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, and Sustainability and the Environment
- NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng
2. Equip, which will cover education and lifelong learning
- Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education
- Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for National Development, and Communications and Information
- Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower
3. Care, which will cover health and social support
- Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development
- Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Health
- Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance and National Development
4. Build, which will cover homes and the living environment
- Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development
- Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Transport
- Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information
- Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development
5. Steward, which will look at environmental and fiscal sustainability
- Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment
- Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin
- Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport
6. Unite, which will look at the Singapore Identity
- Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth
- Dr Maliki Osman, Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs
- Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health, and Communications and Information
In a media release, the Ministry of Communications and Information said that Forward Singapore will build upon various engagements held in recent years, including the Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversations.
The Emerging Stronger Conversations were launched in June 2020 by DPM Heng Swee Keat in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic to galvanise ideas from the society on how to to take Singapore forward as it overcame the health crisis.
Mr Heng had been expected to become the next prime minister of Singapore, but announced in April last year that he was stepping aside.
In a report last February by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, it was stated that more than 16,900 Singaporeans were involved in the initiative.
'NO EASY ANSWERS'
After his speech on Tuesday, at a fireside chat moderated by NTUC president Mary Liew, Mr Wong answered more than 15 questions from union leaders and tripartite partners.
Topics ranged from income disparity, better protection of employees and Singapore's resilience against a global financial crisis should one arise.
In response to a question on how the Government intends to balance wage growth for middle-income workers while ensuring business viability, Mr Wong acknowledged that there will be challenges and trade-offs.
"These are balances that we have to strike and there are no easy answers. But the bottom line is that we have to keep on growing the economy... and ensure that the fruits of economic growth are shared widely by all Singaporeans and not just a few people."
Another concern raised was the protection of professional and managerial jobs and whether an influx of foreign talent with the easing of Covid-19 border controls will mean fewer jobs available for residents.
"Singapore must always stay open, open to business, investments and talents... But it doesn't mean that everyone is left to fend for themselves," Mr Wong replied.
He added that Singapore has always faced challenges from the day it became a nation, but such challenges have become a powerful motivator for the nation.
"That's what the Singapore Story is about. Don't be afraid of challenges and embrace the challenges we face. Adopt a growth mindset. Turn every challenge into an opportunity and if we do that together, I am confident that this Forward Singapore exercise will enable us to keep on prospering and growing," Mr Wong said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHARLENE GOH