The public engagement sessions dubbed SGfuture, which concluded in July last year, offered citizens the chance to imagine the next chapter of the Singapore story. The consultative exercise - which built on the momentum that had been generated by the Our Singapore Conversation process several years ago and had been sustained by the SG50 celebrations - involved more than 8,300 Singaporeans. These participants revealed an interesting feature of national life. This was the eagerness of citizens from a diversity of demographic backgrounds to take the future into their own hands instead of leaving it to the vagaries of anonymous forces. Certainly, Singapore would have to make a living on the global marketplace, but this did not mean that Singaporeans would be nothing but an extension of external imperatives. Instead, they would seek to protect and improve their collective way of life based on their shared experience of survival, travails and success till now. In other words, 50 years of statehood had produced the confidence that the future, too, would be a national one.
On this National Day, the bad news is that the future is not clear. The good news is that it never was. Once, Singapore faced the challenge of ensuring national survival through economic success. Today, the first goal has been achieved but what remains is the task of sustaining a standard of living commensurate with the expectations produced by more than half a century of progress from Third World to First.
This is where the directions charted by the Committee on the Future Economy would be crucial. Convened in 2016 to develop economic strategies for the next decade, it engaged more than 9,000 stakeholders. It concluded that, in the future economy, Singaporeans would need to possess deep skills and learn throughout their lives. Businesses would be innovative and nimble. Such would be the facts of life in a vibrant city whose governance would be coordinated, inclusive and responsive. If that future is to be reached, Singaporeans need to recalibrate their expectations of the good life in the necessary flux of circumstance. The future economy is a work in progress by definition.
On the political front, the choice of the next President will be upon the nation soon, even as political renewal remains a hallmark of the governmental calendar. The family feud involving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was an unwelcome distraction that cannot hold the nation back from focusing on existential issues related to its future. Singapore needs to come together, as it has done through the ups and downs of its history, to agree on which road to take. No single blueprint will address the diverse challenges ahead, but all Singaporeans will have to lend a hand in drawing up the national consensus. Fifty-two years and counting, the future remains what we make o f it.