Happiness, sustainability as vital as growth: Sylvia Lim

WP chairman Sylvia Lim waving to supporters at a rally on Sept 9.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim waving to supporters at a rally on Sept 9.PHOTO: AFP

Singapore needs a "new compass" to chart a new direction that focuses on more than just economic growth, said opposition Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim.

"Economic progress is important, but it is equally important to measure collective happiness and long-term sustainability," said Ms Lim at last night's rally for the East Coast GRC.

In an almost repeat of her 2011 speech in Parliament, she cited the example of Bhutan, which uses the gross national happiness index to track its progress rather than the gross domestic product (GDP).

Bhutan's index emphasised issues such as the preservation of culture, the environment and good governance while GDP is not designed to and does not adequately reflect the happiness and well- being of people, she added.

"So what if a country's GDP is high, if income inequality is also high? So what if we have high GDP, but spend hours in traffic jams due to overcrowding?

"So what if our city has iconic casinos, but chronic gambling is inflicting misery on families? So what if there is constant urban renewal, but we have forgotten our heritage and our roots," Ms Lim asked.

The WP is fielding a team led by Mr Gerald Giam, 37, in the four-member constituency. It will go against a People's Action Party (PAP) slate helmed by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, 61.

Happiness is something fundamental, Ms Lim said. But when she brought up the topic in her first speech as an MP for Aljunied GRC after the 2011 General Election, the other PAP MPs made fun of her, she added.

Ms Lim said: "Our national pledge says that what we do is to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation. But when the PAP heard my speech on happiness, they basically attacked it and made fun of it."

PAP's Mr Heng Chee How and Mr Cedric Foo had rebutted Ms Lim, challenging her to give ideas to help Singaporeans pursue happiness and questioning her comparison of Singapore to Bhutan, given their gap in GDP per capita.

Ms Lim last night also called for residents to vote for the WP, saying that doing so would send a message to the PAP, who she said focuses on economic growth at the expense of happiness.

"There are non-economic factors we must bear in mind if we want Singaporeans to live happy lives. This will build a Singapore not just for the short term, but a Singapore that is authentic, resilient and endures for generations to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2015, with the headline 'Happiness, sustainability as vital as growth: Sylvia Lim'. Print Edition | Subscribe