A primer on national conversations

We take a look back at the three reviews we have had before: The Next Lap in 1991, Singapore 21 in 1999, and Remaking Singapore in 2002.


In his National Day Message this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the setting up of a new committee, headed by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, to review Singapore’s policies and national philosophies, as part of a larger effort to determine the direction the country should take for continued success.

Mr Heng said his team will engage Singaporeans in a “broader conversation about ourselves”, to ponder questions such as what Singapore wants to be in 2030.

More details on what is ahead for this exercise is expected at the National Day Rally this weekend, with both Mr Heng and PM Lee taking the podium.

This is the fourth time that the Government has sought to take such a large scale review. Previous affairs were not exactly framed as national conversations, but they appear close to this latest exercise in terms of scale and mandate.

We take a look back at the three reviews we have had before: The Next Lap in 1991, Singapore 21 in 1999, and Remaking Singapore in 2002.

The Next Lap - 1991

Who was in charge: A Cabinet sub-committee called the Long Term National Development Committee. It was headed by then-Acting Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo.

What is it?
The Next Lap, a 160-page book launched in February 1991, mapped out broad plans for the country over the next 20 to 30 years. The aim of the proposals was to make Singapore a nation of distinction. It represented the collective efforts of more than 1,000 people from the government and private sector groups.

The proposals included:

  • The establishment of the Singapore International Foundation, a non-governmental advisory committee, to keep in touch with Singaporeans abroad.
  • Setting up of a Student Welfare Fund in every school to help needy students;
  • A third university;
  • A research institutes to help companies here develop niches in world markets;
  • Extension of the MRT to Woodlands
  • High density housing and MRT links for Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin

Main outcomes:

  • Establishment of the Singapore International Foundation. Its aim was to get Singaporeans to think globally and become better members of the international community, project the nation's image abroad, develop a network of friends of Singapore and encourage the world's talented to visit, study and work here.
  • Edusave
  • Single-session schools
  • A third university (Singapore Management University)
  • Independent primary and secondary schools
  • Medifund, an endowment fund to help Singaporeans with little or no Medisave savings

Singapore 21 - 1999

Who was in charge: It was chaired by then-Minister for Education and second Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean and comprised 10 Members of Parliament, who in turn co-chaired five subject committees.

What is it?
Singapore 21 was essentially a vision and an action plan to take Singapore in the 21st century first mooted by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1996.

In 1997, he launched a committee which was tasked to strengthen the “heartware” of Singapore - the intangibles of society like social cohesion, political stability and the collective will, values and attitudes of Singaporeans.

The discussions were structured around five apparent dilemmas that Singaporeans would have to face as individuals, families, communities and as a nation.

The 5 dilemmas were:

  • Less Stressful Life vs Retaining the Drive
  • Needs of Senior Citizens vs Aspirations of the Young
  • Attracting Talent vs Looking After Singaporeans
  • Internationalisation/Regionalisation vs Singapore as Home
  • Consultation and Consensus vs Decisiveness and Quick Action.

The committee conducted more than a year of discussions with about 6,000 Singaporeans from all walks of life which was distilled into a report released in 1999.

Main outcomes:
The report spelt out the kind of society they would like to see Singapore become in the new millennium. Five key ideas formed the thrust of the report:

  • Every Singaporean matters
  • Strong families - our foundation and our future
  • Opportunities for all
  • The Singapore heartbeat
  • Active citizens - making a difference to society

Remaking Singapore - 2002

Who was in charge: The Remaking Singapore committee was chaired by then Minister of State (National Development) Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

What is it?
The Remaking Singapore committee was set up in February 2002 to complement the Economic Review Committee's work in reviewing strategies for 21st century Singapore. The committee sought to pry Singaporeans away from material pursuits and probed political, social as well as cultural norms to help prepare the nation for the future.

The Committee comprised members ranging from Ministers of State and Members of Parliament to members of the public from the private sector, voluntary organisations and tertiary institutions.

It also looked at building on some of the processes already laid out by the Singapore 21 committee and at how Singaporeans were going to make a living amid the revolutions in infocommunications, biology, globalisation and religious fundamentalism.

At the onset, there were some very public dismissal of several proposals by some ministers - such as those for the five-day week, the withdrawal of Central Provident Fund money by the jobless, and specifying clear no-go areas for political debate.

Eventually, of the 74 proposals it made, aimed mainly at relaxing rules in many spheres of life here, 60 received the Government's nod in 2004.

Main outcomes:

  • An arts School
  • Relaxed rules on using the national flag
  • Five-day work week