The Straits Times says

Policies that keep pace with change

The success of an official policy can depend largely on timing. If formulated and introduced too early, there is a chance it will cause ripples and murmurs of unhappiness among segments of society who are unprepared, unable or unwilling to see beyond what is in their own interests. If introduced too late, the public need for it would have passed. That is why governments seek to make policies optimal - right for the times - and are mindful that no policy can be cast in stone. Governance in today's fast-moving world demands that policies be refined continually so that they reflect the temper of the times and yet chart a path from a known past to an unknown future. What matters is how to translate evolving national needs and aspirations into durable policies that meet the challenge of the times. Housing is one such example.

It was because of the dismally equalising effects of general poverty before Independence that policies such as public housing were so effective after 1965. The Housing Board (HDB) raised most residents out of comparably sordid living conditions to a roughly equal, and higher, form of public housing. However, housing expectations have diverged as living standards improved with the rise in wages in an accelerating economy. Today, the HDB cannot afford to be occupied with the success of its past and has been imagining new ways in which to meet rising expectations. Public housing has become a part of adventurous plans to transform the common use of space. This is evident in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Draft Master Plan 2019. That goal has given rise to a discussion on whether new public housing flats should be built in the Central Business District (CBD), expanding attractions and residential offerings there beyond what is now targeted largely at professionals, singles, expatriates, or dual-income no-kids couples. In doing so, the CBD could gain a new lease of popular life. Healthcare is another area where policy cannot afford to be stagnant. A new balance is being struck between the demography of an ageing society and fiscal prudence that needs to be applied. The need to take greater personal responsibility for one's health; focusing on preventive healthcare, making the process easier, and delivering integrated care are just some areas in which new thinking has been applied and policies refined. Both housing and health are examples of how policy has evolved and needs to evolve. Continual refinement also faces the challenge of having to straddle varying demands of generations - Pioneer, Merdeka, and even millennials, many of whom have grown accustomed to the fruits from years of economic success.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Policies that keep pace with change'. Print Edition | Subscribe