SINGAPORE - There is a high level of trust in Singapore because the Government has kept the commitment to honour its word, and people also honour one another, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday.
But this state of affairs can unravel easily, he added, cautioning against complacency.
For instance, if the income and wealth gap widens and people believe the system benefits only a few at the top, or if segments of the population feel their anxieties are not addressed, such as students who feel pigeonholed or older workers who struggle to find a job, trust levels could plummet.
This is why the Government has embarked on the Forward Singapore exercise to examine all aspects of the social compact together with Singaporeans, said DPM Wong, who heads the exercise.
He was speaking at the Honour International Symposium, a biennial event, It was last held four years ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Organised by Honour Singapore, a charity set up in 2014 to promote a culture of honour for the well-being of the nation, it featured discussions on how Singapore can succeed through "integration, innovation and involvement".
Elaborating, the charity's chairman, Mr Lim Siong Guan, said it was time to think about how different groups can contribute and how things can be done differently from the past. He also urged people to get involved, instead of just offering ideas for others to execute.
Mr Wong was among those who had heeded his call - some 25 years ago.
Sharing a little-known story, Mr Wong said his public service career almost did not happen.
As a young officer in the Ministry of Finance (MOF), he had not "found my calling" and was restless. So he accepted an offer with better job prospects and pay from the private sector.
But Mr Lim, then the Permanent Secretary at MOF, told Mr Wong to be patient, saying that he would be able to do things in the public service that cannot be done in the private sector.
"So I stayed on, and it has been 25 years since then - 15 years in civil service and 10 years in politics," said Mr Wong, of the meaningful work he has done that entailed working with Singaporeans on national policies.
"If not for Siong Guan, I probably would not have been here today."
He added that he has experienced many crises in those 25 years, but none quite like the Covid-19 pandemic.
While Singapore is now in a better position on that front, there is greater uncertainty sparked by the war in Ukraine, and the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China, he added.
In such an environment, a key ingredient for Singapore's success is trust, he said.
"There is a high level of trust between the Government and the people. But importantly, there is a high level of trust among our people."
Mr Wong said this virtue of trustworthiness can be distilled down to two principles, one of which is "honouring our word".
He noted how Singapore has acted consistently in domestic and international matters, by upholding the rule of law and delivering on promises as a government.
"While this is not easy, it is the reason other countries take our views seriously despite our small size, and see us as a credible and consistent partner," he added.
The other principle is "honouring one another".
The Government has sought to uplift every worker and forge a harmonious tripartite partnership among the unions, businesses and Government, build an education system that maximises the potential of every child, and provide affordable public housing to all Singaporeans.
Meanwhile, Singaporeans have learnt to embrace diversity and respect their differences regardless of race, language or religion, he added.
Mr Wong urged people not to take the high level of trust for granted, warning that Singapore is at risk of trust dissipating if the competing demands of diverse groups are not carefully balanced and some feel left behind.
"It can't be about every group pushing their own causes to the maximum, because this will end up with only all-out confrontation, even war between groups - something that we have seen in other countries," he said.
Through Forward Singapore, the Government is engaging different groups and communities to have honest conversations on people's concerns and to arrive at a consensus on how to build a better, fairer and more inclusive Singapore, he added.
But he stressed that it is "certainly not just a government exercise".
For instance, while the Government can put in place policies to reduce the income gap, mindsets must change to reduce the status gap between jobs, he added.
Mr Wong said he hopes to see a Singapore that is innovative, creative and more just and inclusive, where people seek to be the best they can be and are given help to get there, and look out for one another.
Whether this comes to fruition will hinge on unity of spirit and the conviction of Singaporeans, he said.
"So at the end of the day, it is this people factor that will make our future possible."