Growth can help 'unleash human potential': Chun Sing

At the event were (from left): The moderator, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, the Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International; Ms Doris Leuthard, the Vice-President and Federal Councillor of the Swiss Confederation; Mr Chan, Minister in the Prime Min
At the event were (from left): The moderator, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, the Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International; Ms Doris Leuthard, the Vice-President and Federal Councillor of the Swiss Confederation; Mr Chan, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore and Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress; Mr Sachin Pilot, the former minister for Corporate Affairs of India and President, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee.PHOTO: COURTESY OF GOY KAE LIP

Beyond pursuing economic growth, governments must also ensure that policies help the people realise their potential, said Mr Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

Mr Chan, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore, said countries at different stages of development would perceive growth differently but "the test of the pudding is this - with growth, does it uplift the human spirit and does it unleash the human potential"?

He also outlined three roles governments have to play - to a varying degree - depending on how developed a country is. One is to "lead" in a less developed nation where markets are failing, another is to "enable" the development of its people and, finally, in a more matured economy, to "safeguard" opportunities for the next generation.

Mr Chan, who is also Secretary- General of the National Trades Union Congress, was speaking at a panel discussion at the 46th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland around the theme of what governments can do and should do to bolster economic growth.

Instead of driving growth based on available resources, he said there is a need to focus more on "how to create new capacities for growth to happen".

In Singapore's case, this means having to constantly improve the skills of workers, invest in education and training, healthcare and housing, to provide the means to create new capacities and new jobs.

Mr Chan pointed to the Skills Future initiative, a scheme to encourage people to upgrade their skills.

"If we do that successfully, then we will create the conditions to attract the companies to create new jobs in Singapore for our workers to earn the salaries of tomorrow. Otherwise, we are stuck in a rut."

The Government also needs to provide a stable business environment and have the ability to "mobilise public opinion" and bring together an increasingly diverse society.

Mr Chan, in responding to a question on inequality, noted that it can be addressed with taxes and transfers but a greater concern has to do with social mobility. "Beyond tackling the inequality... the Singapore Government's effort is to make sure that every generation, regardless of your start state, you have a fair and equal chance to reach the very top."

He added that political leaders should see themselves as "stewards" of the country's resources, taking a long-term view rather than a short-term perspective of political survival. "Without a stable political system, without a leadership that looks long-term, it is very difficult to have coherent policies for the people", he noted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Growth can help 'unleash human potential': Chun Sing'. Print Edition | Subscribe