PM Lee signals the new way forward

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech yesterday took up the theme of finding a new way forward for Singapore that he first outlined last year. Just as the pioneer generation of Singaporeans turned the promise of independence into the reality of a nation moving from the Third World to the First, today's generation needs to build sustainable edifices on the achievements of the pioneers. In some ways, this is the more difficult task because unlike in the past, when the choice for an essentially poor country was between survival and disaster, today's prosperous and secure Singapore is also more socially diversified. One important distinction is that between a new generation with impatient aspirations and an ageing population with new social needs.

Mr Lee's speech responded to the concerns of these two social segments, among others. Younger Singaporeans would be enthused by the promise of careers tied less to paper qualifications, although these remain important, and more to recognising skills learnt on the job. The work of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee will help to create new opportunities for Singaporeans through structured education and career paths. That Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will lead a tripartite committee involving the Government, employers and unions to drive the process forward attests to the priority being accorded to it. The public service will make an important difference by giving more weight to job performance and relevant skills rather than starting qualifications. However, no one should underestimate the size or the significance of the change that will be called for, in mindsets in society at large if the new employment culture is to succeed. This cannot be legislated: Singaporeans must learn to value one another less for their academic qualifications and more for the contributions they make to society.

Addressing another segment of the population, Mr Lee responded to its concerns about the CPF scheme. Essentially, he upheld it as a pillar of the Singapore system, but introduced flexibility into its operations. Singaporeans who wish to exercise the option of taking out a part of their CPF savings in a lump sum must bear in mind the trade-offs that this entails, and remember that those savings are meant for their old age, and that they are personally responsible for managing what is, after all, their own money. At a broader level, the extension of the Lease Buyback scheme to four-room flats, and the Silver Support scheme for the low-income elderly, will bring greater peace of mind to Singaporeans. These steps signal a welcome effort by PM Lee and his team to flesh out their new way forward to bring all Singaporeans ahead, together.