Continual review and getting citizens involved are key to improving policy: DPM Teo

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean delivering the opening address at the 7th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership in Yan'an on April 14, 2019. Also on the panel were (from left) Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee Organisation Department Minister Chen Xi and Shaanxi party secretary Hu Heping. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

YAN'AN, SHAANXI - Singapore's approach to governance is one of continuous refinement, as no policy can last for all time, even if it was optimal when introduced, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Sunday (April 14).

The Government is also more active in engaging citizens in the decision-making process, as it has recognised that it does not have all the answers, he added.

Mr Teo, who gave the opening address at the 7th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership at the China Executive Leadership Academy in Yan'an (CELAY), was speaking on Singapore's approach to achieving its people's aspirations for better lives - the theme of the discussions - through better policies, engagement and individual development.

The biennial forum is part of a range of engagement mechanisms between officials from both sides. Celay is one of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) top cadre training institutions.

Mr Teo cited healthcare, an area of concern for both Singapore and China, as both countries face ageing populations. A United Nations report estimated that the percentage of the population aged above 60 in China will rise from 16 per cent in 2017 to 35 per cent in 2050.

Singapore's figure will rise from 19.5 per cent to 40 per cent.

The Republic has done well if seen through the lens of a traditional healthcare model of providing good clinics and hospitals, but healthcare needs have changed with longer lifespans, noted Mr Teo, who co-chairs the forum.

That is why the Government has transformed the healthcare model into one of greater personal responsibility, prevention and check-ups so Singaporeans live better for longer and need less medical care, he said.

"We are also transforming our healthcare system to deliver integrated care and placing greater focus on patients' health outcomes," he noted.

The Government is also engaging citizens more so that solutions to problems are co-created, people better understand the trade-offs in policy-making and take ownership for the outcome.

Mr Teo also emphasised the necessity of skills retraining, especially as the Singapore economy is undergoing constant upgrading and structural reforms, hence the reason why the Government launched the SkillsFuture programme.

"From having one career in a lifetime, it is now common for our citizens to make many job transitions, which require them to learn new skills several times over their working life," he said.

"We therefore need a culture of learning for life, where our citizens are always picking up new skills and acquiring knowledge."

Mr Chen Xi, the Forum's co-chairman and Minister of the Organisation Department of the CCP's Central Committee, said China's decision to embark on a new normal of slower but higher-quality economic growth in recent years indicated a shift in Beijing's development philosophy.

Another speaker, Shaanxi party secretary Hu Heping, used the case study of China's poverty alleviation campaign to highlight how Beijing also refines its policies over time.

Policy tweaks that have made an impact in recent years include sending officials to the grassroots to understand poverty issues up close, customising assistance programmes to local conditions, while applying strict and clear criteria to measure their effectiveness, he said.

"We pursue accurate results and clear exit criteria to ensure people are indeed out of poverty when they leave the programme," he said. "Doing so, we suit the remedy to the ailment."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said that the forum was held semi-annually. It should be biennially.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.