Long-term approach has helped Singapore grow: Ong Ye Kung

Good balance needed between growth and improving stakeholders' lives, he says

Singaporeans take a long-term view and expect the Government to not only understand the trends, challenges and opportunities of the future, but also to take necessary actions now.

Speaking at the Singapore Institute of Directors annual conference yesterday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said this ability to set long-term goals and achieve them has been one of Singapore's greatest strengths.

The main criticism of democracy today, he noted, is that it is driven by short-term considerations. But whether a government has a short-term or long-term view depends on what people care about.

"If people have hopes for the future, if people want a government that thinks for their children and the future generation, it will be a democracy that instils the discipline of governmental farsightedness.

"Fortunately, this is what Singapore has, and it is one of our greatest advantages," he said. This approach was how Singapore built up its public housing programme and the Singapore Armed Forces.

"Likewise, it is why we are now reforming the education system... and starting to tackle climate change and rising sea levels," he noted. "This is a long-term, 20-to 30-year problem, but we have to tackle it now. People expect the Government to do so."

Addressing over 800 participants at the conference held in Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, Mr Ong drew parallels between good governance for a company and a government.

A well-governed country - like a farsighted company - must evaluate its success in ways that are relevant to its different stakeholders. Failure to do so, such as the blind pursuit of profits at the expense of the environment or the poorer segments of society, could lead to public indignation, Mr Ong added.

He said there is a need for a good balance between growth and improving the lives of all stakeholders, adding that there are some signposts to tell if a right balance is being struck. These include how success is defined, the level of dynamism and innovation, the presence of a farsighted approach, and the ability to engage stakeholders.

He said there is more than a single measurement of success.

"Life is not so simple that it can be boiled down to one number... It is like telling students that the only thing that matters in their childhood is their examination results and nothing else."

A well-governed country - like a farsighted company - must evaluate its success in ways that are relevant to its different stakeholders.

Failure to do so, such as the blind pursuit of profits at the expense of the environment or the poorer segments of society, could lead to public indignation, he added.

 
 
 

In his speech, Mr Ong noted that about 200 American chief executives caused some excitement when they pledged to serve not just shareholders, but a broader slate of stakeholders. He said engaging stakeholders is just as important for a government.

He singled out Singapore's model of tripartism - the three-way partnership among unions, employers and the Government - as an important institutionalised concept of stakeholder engagement in Singapore. "Engagement has become an integral part of governance in Singapore."

He added: "There are no short cuts to good governance, only a ceaseless... journey, to bring all stakeholders together, earn their trust, and work with them to build a brighter future... for (the) country."

The conference featured more than 30 speakers sharing their views on transformational leadership and the future of work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'Long-term approach has helped S'pore grow: Ong Ye Kung'. Print Edition | Subscribe