Heng slams Oxfam report on inequality, saying outcomes matter

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Nusa Dua, Bali, yesterday. He told reporters the Oxfam report was wrong in its analysis of how Singapore tackled the rich-poor gap.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Nusa Dua, Bali, yesterday. He told reporters the Oxfam report was wrong in its analysis of how Singapore tackled the rich-poor gap.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NUSA DUA (Bali) • Outcomes, not measures of input, are what matters, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday, in a sharp criticism of the way a report arrived at its conclusion that Singapore was among the 10 worst-performing countries at tackling the gap between the rich and the poor.

"Since resources are limited, it is very important that we can achieve good outcomes with the required inputs and not to wrongly measure inputs, and then treat it as outcomes," Mr Heng told reporters in Bali yesterday. "That is a completely wrong analysis."

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, compiled by non-profit organisations Oxfam and Development Finance International, ranked Singapore 149th out of 157 countries, saying it spends well below countries such as South Korea and Thailand on healthcare, education and social protection.

"I am very disappointed to read the Oxfam report," the minister said. "I had a very good discussion with World Bank president Jim (Yong Kim), and Jim made a very important point in yesterday's forum that it is important for us to focus on outcome and not input."

While Singapore fared dismally in the Oxfam report, it clinched the top spot in the World Bank's inaugural Human Capital Index launched on Thursday, which ranks countries according to how well they are developing their human capital.

The Oxfam report, Mr Heng said, "erroneously measured" performance by the amount of money the public sector spent.

Mr Heng, who is here for the Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting and the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, added that the World Bank, with its new index, hopes that countries will learn from one another how to achieve better outcomes.

"I am glad Singapore has done well. We must not rest on our laurels. We must continue to upgrade," he said. "But at the same time, we will be happy to share the lessons we have learnt over the years."

On the recent market turmoil, Mr Heng, who chairs Singapore's Future Economy Council, said that while the country needs to monitor the global situation carefully, Singapore must also "not let up in our effort in restructuring our economy, retraining our people, encouraging enterprises to develop deeper corporate capabilities so that they can compete much more effectively around the world".

The council is implementing the 23 industry transformation maps.


He noted that technological advances have given rise to new areas of growth as well. "We must plan for or think about how best we can ride on these new opportunities and prepare... our companies, people and regulatory agencies," he said.

Mr Heng also commented on a new Singapore-Indonesia deal for a US$10 billion (S$13.8 billion) local currency swap and US dollar repurchase agreement, saying it can be concluded "pretty soon".

He added: "We hope that our expression of confidence can help to stabilise the market."

Asked about leadership succession, Mr Heng said the younger fourth-generation (4G) ministers work very closely together and are "looking at a number of things we need to do for Singapore".

"So, I think our focus should not just be on succession," he said.

"Our focus should be on the agenda going forward, what is it we need to do in Singapore to ensure it remains stable and prosperous, and that we provide good opportunities for our people in various realms, whether it is education, healthcare or public housing."

The 4G team will discuss these topics in greater detail in the months to come, he added.

"I would like to assure Singaporeans that we are working very well together as a team," Mr Heng said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2018, with the headline 'Heng slams Oxfam report on inequality, saying outcomes matter'. Print Edition | Subscribe