Brave changes needed to take Republic to next level

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, in his first public speech since assuming his new post, reminded us about the increasingly important part talent will play as Singapore embarks on its next phase of growth (Talent a key factor in S'pore's next phase of growth: Chun Sing; May 5).

It's a message that everyone knows like a song by now. But somehow, we seem not to have made the expected changes as much as we need to. There might be deep soul-searching questions that we are unwilling or unable to ask.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that to most Singaporeans, having talent means it is imported from overseas; expanding overseas means not following strict and honest business practices, and that being competitive means continuing to pay low wages.

I wonder why the winds of change are blowing in just this one-dimensional direction.

We need to ask: What are the conditions that need to change within our environment that would foster the germination and growth of talent and competitiveness as well as support overseas expansion?

In other words, what are the mental blocks that keep us from doing all of the above?

It seems we know the "what" very well, but are unable to come up with the effective "how" to make real changes expeditiously.

If we can find honest answers to these questions, then maybe we will see a breakthrough. We will have a new song. We can then sing of the Singaporeans' tenacity to face the wild world outside.

But, this can come about only if we have the courage to change our internal environment - both in the social order of things and the inner motivations of individuals.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2018, with the headline 'Brave changes needed to take Republic to next level'. Print Edition | Subscribe