Coordinating economic and social policies 'a tough task to find right trade-offs'

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking at The Straits Times Global Forum 2015 on Nov 20, 2015.
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking at The Straits Times Global Forum 2015 on Nov 20, 2015.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Coordinating both economic and social policies involves the tough task of finding and managing the right trade-offs so that economic opportunities can be maximised while social issues such as healthcare can be well managed, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

Mr Tharman was elaborating on his new role as the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies - a position he was appointed to in September as part of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's restructured Cabinet line-up.

Mr Lee had said the position of Coordinating Minister - there are three in the Cabinet - was created to address a more complex policymaking environment and the need to coordinate responses to challenges involving multiple ministries.

Mr Tharman cited manpower as one example where it was important to coordinate the Government's economic priorities with those of the other ministries.

"The task of coordination is really to find the right trade-offs in economic policy because they are tough trade-offs. It's not just a manpower issue for the Ministry of Manpower; it's an economic opportunity issue for MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry), for example, and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and other economic agencies," he said.

"We've got to decide how to manage manpower - in an environment where manpower growth is going to be very low - which sectors to promote, which sectors to stop promoting. Those are tough decisions to make," he said at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum.

The same challenges also apply in managing the social portfolio. Providing healthcare, for example, involves a collective policy approach from various ministries.

For instance, the Government will have to find solutions to deal with the issue of healthcare in a sustainable fashion and ensure that it remains affordable.

"It's a real challenge and it's not just the Ministry of Health" that will be involved, Mr Tharman said. "It's also the Ministry of Finance, and it's the MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development)."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2015, with the headline ''A tough task to find right trade-offs''. Subscribe