MPs flag social cohesion as key task for 4G leaders

They highlight obstacles, suggest teamwork and citizen involvement as the way forward

The fourth-generation political leaders will have their work cut out for them as they strive to maintain social cohesion in the face of modern challenges, such as fake news and the spread of extremist ideologies, members of the House said yesterday.

The way forward, they suggested on the first day of debate on the President's Address, is through teamwork and a consultative approach with citizens.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min was among those who spoke on the topic of leadership.

He said that while basic existential issues, such as shelter, food and education, are no longer major problems for Singapore, the 4G leaders face the difficult task of maintaining cohesion, which is not a given.

A lack of cohesion could "threaten the very basic fabric of our society", warned Dr Lam.

He identified three key obstacles in building cohesion: the widening social and income divide, the difficulty in determining the middle ground of views, and the inevitability of change which can threaten citizens' sense of "home".

On the issue of determining the middle ground, he said the spread of social media has amplified "thousands of moderately loud voices".

"It is getting harder and harder to discern what constitutes the middle ground and what does not. Or whether the middle ground now is simply a collection of smaller interest groups temporarily coalescing out of shared self-interest, and undergoes dissolution soon after," he said.

While this makes it riskier to do what is right, "whoever governs Singapore must have the iron in him" and must make the hard choices, he said, quoting founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"Indeed, even as a tiny red dot, we must stand up for our principles and beliefs, and we will not be pushed around."

Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram said that to pull off bold changes, it would be important for the 4G leaders to have a good sense of self-awareness.

"In today's digital world, the messenger, and the way the message is delivered, is sometimes more important than the message itself," he said.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said that it is crucial for 4G leaders to consider more alternative points of view, such as from civil society groups.

"Even where there is disagreement over the outcome, there is greater acceptance of the end result when civil society understands the reasons for the Government's actions and policies," he said.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), meanwhile, said teamwork is key.

"I truly hope that there will not be an over-focus on one person or persons. I would much rather that the team be looked at for the prowess and calibre of the whole team and not the characteristics of an individual person," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'MPs flag social cohesion as key task for 4G leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe