Managing conflicting interests a key to Singapore's success in next 50 years: Teo Chee Hean

Student Moderator Kubaren Algasamy (right) with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs at the Q&A session at ADM Auditorium, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanya
Student Moderator Kubaren Algasamy (right) with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs at the Q&A session at ADM Auditorium, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Finding a compromise between conflicting interests in society is one of three key ingredients that Singapore needs in order to succeed in the next 50 years, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said at a forum on Tuesday night.

The other two are saving and investing for the future, and maintaining a sense of self-reliance, he told 500 students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) at the school's annual ministerial forum.

His remarks came after a snap poll of the students at the forum showed that they think Singapore's biggest challenge in the next half-century is the spectre of different interest groups pulling society apart.

Some Singaporeans hold strong views on issues such as race and religion, acknowledged Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs.

But he said it is possible to find a way to reconcile these positions.

The way forward is to balance between having enough "community space" for each group, and enough common space in which all Singaporeans can interact, such as in schools and workplaces.

"If we decide that we want only to persist in our own view but not listen to others and work together with others, then we will end up divided," he said.

"But if we say: we each have our own views and priorities, but let's see how we can work together and develop a consensus to move forward, then we're more likely to succeed."

Mr Teo also outlined two other important principles for Singapore as it embarks on its next 50 years of nationhood.

One is to save and invest for the future, so that subsequent generations will have enough resources to give them a good start.

This is why Singapore has built up its reserves for a rainy day and ensured it could pay for the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package without burdening the next generation.

The other principle is to be self-reliant and work hard to climb to new heights, instead of expecting an easy ride, he said.

Should Singapore run into obstacles, it must be resilient enough to keep trying.

If the country devolves into fractious arguing at the first sign of trouble, "then we have a problem", Mr Teo said.

"But if we can look at things in a constructive way, then we can move on."

At Tuesday night's forum, the NTU students also expressed concern about how Singapore would deal with an ageing population.

Mr Teo replied that the Government has been working to help young Singaporeans who want to start a family. It is focusing on providing more support in the areas of housing and childcare.

He cited a National Talent and Population Division poll which found that most singles wanted to get married and most married couples wanted to have children.

"Between what our hopes and aspirations are and what we actually deliver, there's a gap. We want to try and bridge that gap," he said.

Latest available figures show that the number of marriages fell 6 per cent in 2013 while the total fertility rate here dipped from 1.29 children per woman in 2012 to 1.19 in 2013.

In a separate poll of 100 NTU students conducted before the forum, the majority said Singapore's biggest achievements over the last 50 years were attaining safety, security and economic stability.

They thought Singapore's biggest challenge over the same period had been in the field of defence and security.

For the next 50 years, most students said they hoped to see an assurance that the basic needs of Singaporeans would be met and that there would be opportunities for all.

charyong@sph.com.sg