SINGAPORE - Amid challenges such as inequality, economic disruption and a growing generational divide, the fourth-generation leadership will "make every effort to build a future of progress" for Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Jan 20).
Painting a vision of how he - who is expected to take the helm as Singapore's next leader in the coming years - and his colleagues intend to lead the country, Mr Heng spoke of his team's "unwavering commitment" to build a future where all Singaporeans have the opportunities to succeed, where no one will be left behind if they give their best, and where everyone will pull together as one.
He also hinted that plans are afoot to give more help to lower- and middle-income Singaporeans.
"We are now studying how we can better help lower- and lower-middle income Singaporeans, including current and future seniors, to meet their retirement needs in a sustainable way," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister. "I will provide more details in the coming Budget."
In his keynote speech at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual Singapore Perspectives Conference, Mr Heng extended an invitation to "all Singaporeans to work with us, and with each other" to tackle the challenges facing the nation.
"My 4G colleagues and I are committed to go beyond just working for you, to working with you, to build our future Singapore," he said.
Just as the founding political leaders fostered a sense of nationhood by introducing policies such as home ownership that gave the people a stake in Singapore, Mr Heng said the "Singapore Together" movement launched last year "will be our new cornerstone of nation building".
New platforms like the Citizens' Panel and Citizens' Workgroup have already engaged Singaporeans on their ideas about making different aspects of life better, such as ways to improve work-life harmony and encourage household recycling, said Mr Heng.
Singaporeans are also being involved in the development of Singapore's landscape such as the Somerset Belt, the Geylang Serai cultural precinct and its parks.
"What we see forming is a new model of partnership, between Government and Singaporeans in owning, shaping and acting on our future," Mr Heng told an audience of students, academics and policymakers on Monday.
"In this process, government agencies are learning to develop and deliver policy solutions in a more collaborative manner."
This collaborative approach is Singapore’s way forward in a world marked by differences and uncertainty, he said.
He noted that many countries have seen their political consensus fracture over the past decade, brought about by changes such as technological disruption, growing inequality and rapidly ageing populations.
Many people have become anxious and resentful, and come to view their governments and institutions with distrust.
While Singapore has fared better than most, it is not immune to the same divisive forces that have washed over many societies, he said.
In fact, there are already some semblances of nativist tendencies here, such as some of the public discourse around foreigners, he added.
“If we do not act decisively, and if we allow these forces to creep up on us, our hopes and concerns can be exploited to create fear and anger,” he cautioned.
“Our diversity can be turned against us. Our unity can fray, and our society can wither.”
Mr Heng stressed the importance of making sure differences do not become entrenched, and cautioned against the dangers of political parties using divisive rhetoric to gain support in a fractured landscape.
Amid these disruptive forces, strong sense of unity is key to keep Singapore successful, he said.
“Our improbable success was made possible by exceptional governance – capable leaders, working together with a united people.”
He pointed to how the Republic’s founding fathers introduced policies that gave people a stake in the country, and built trust between people and the Government.
Singaporeans trusted their leaders because they saw their lives improve in real ways and had a strong sense of optimism about the future, he said. This gave them confidence to make sacrifices for the greater good and for future generations.
“This is the formula behind our success, and this has kept Singapore exceptional,” he said. “This approach must remain core to the Government’s mission, especially as we grapple with longer-term issues facing us.”
But in a society that is increasingly flooded by information and misinformation, it is critical to find ways to deepen understanding and relationships among people, he noted.
“We must reject extremist views that will fray our social fabric, and be discerning about falsehoods and irresponsible promises that cannot be fulfilled.
“Most importantly, we must find new ways to come together, reaffirm what we hold in common, and work collectively towards a shared future.”
That is why he launched the Singapore Together movement last year, Mr Heng added.
As a small nation buffeted by such forces, Singapore needs to work with like-minded nations, while maintaining its unity as a people and cohesion as a nation, he said.
Having bigger role in shaping policy will also help Singaporeans gain a deeper appreciation of the challenges and trade-offs involved, understand different viewpoints, distinguish truth from falsehoods and find a way forward amid diverse and often-conflicting opinions, he noted.
At the same time, the Government will continue to exercise leadership in areas it is expected to, such as in security and defence to ensure Singapore plans and acts for the long term, said Mr Heng.
"I am confident that our partnership efforts to date will set the foundations for the work of a generation," he said.