SINGAPORE - In a world in flux, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore needs a cohesive team of leaders with diverse skills to govern well, said Minister for Education and Minister-in-Charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Oct 29).
It must also constantly evolve its governance approaches to pre-empt or forestall emerging risks where possible, he added.
He made the remarks at the 8th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership, as he spoke about the common risks and challenges that both countries face and outlined the governance approaches to better address them.
His co-host, Mr Jiang Xinzhi, who is China's Executive Vice-Minister of the Central Organisation Department that controls personnel appointments for the Communist Party of China (CPC), noted that in the face of global threats, countries will not be able to go it alone and will have to work together to overcome the challenges.
The forum with the theme of "Risk Management and the Strategic Role of Leadership" was held virtually this year amid the pandemic, a sign of the determination to progress bilateral ties, noted both men.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Xi Jinping had reaffirmed the strong ties between both countries in a phone call, in which they also welcomed cooperation in emerging areas such as the green economy and the digital economy.
Speaking at the start of the forum, Mr Chan said the interconnectedness of the world, brought to the fore by the Covid-19 pandemic, has made it harder for leaders to govern.
For instance, ideologies and movements arising from different social contexts are also transmitted to far-away societies, resulting in deeper divides among the citizenry.
"Some segments of our population may be influenced by such external forces without a full and critical appreciation of our local context or history," said Mr Chan.
In an interconnected world, those who are less skilled also risk wage stagnation and this could worsen inequality. At the same time, greater awareness of developments elsewhere in the world has also bred keener and more incessant comparisons and rising expectations for governments to do more, do better and do faster, he added.
He suggested that countries will have to achieve equilibrium in three areas to address these challenges.
The first area is to balance between preserving current achievements and being willing to take risks.
Warning that success could lead to complacency and arrogance, and that systems could ossify, he said: "This is especially if officials are comfortable with following established processes without understanding their higher intent, and if they do not question and rethink their relevance as circumstances change."
The second is to balance between governing responsively and governing responsibly.
Leaders will have to use resources responsibly and stand by their values to guard against being populist and offering simplistic sound-bites and solutions, he said.
And the third is to balance between focusing on domestic stability and prosperity, while also contributing to regional and global stability and prosperity.
Mr Chan said that the bedrock of a government's legitimacy is stability, prosperity and unity, at home.
"We must first get our own house in order to have the leadership bandwidth to be successful internationally," he added.
"At the same time, we need to lead our societies to contribute our part to the pressing global challenges of our time, such as climate change and pandemic control, because our security and prosperity are intimately linked in a global world."
Ultimately, good leadership is key in ensuring effective governance, said Mr Chan as he outlined how Singapore has sought to develop a cohesive team of leaders with diverse skills and traits that complement one another.
Diversity is necessary for a resilient team, and this means a good mix of skills, traits, competencies, experiences, and personal networks, said Mr Chan.
As the role of the government becomes more complex, Singapore has also moved beyond "doing for our people, to doing with our people", he noted.
"We will need to align and tap on the wider collective, across public, people, private sectors, to develop more sustainable and holistic policies and approaches," he said.
But it has remained critical to develop highly capable leaders anchored on core values, he added.
"Just like our Chinese counterparts, we strongly believe that values and their role in shaping governance cannot be overstated," he said.
“In an uncertain world, values become even more important, because leadership effectiveness depends on trust,” said Mr Chan.
In his speech, Mr Jiang said that no matter how good plans and strategies may be, what is critical is the last-mile execution. And this can be done right only with the right leaders in place.
He noted that China had faced multiple challenges in the last 100 years, and the CPC's reach, which extends to the most remote border villages and towns, has meant that the government was able to mobilise all its forces to overcome them.
This organisational structure has allowed the Chinese government to organise, execute and implement policies quickly and effectively in response to risks and challenges, such as to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, and to lift its people out of poverty, he added.
With the world facing threats and challenges like the pandemic, it is also not enough for countries to just take care of themselves, said Mr Jiang.
He emphasised that China does not seek to stand alone and does not think in terms of winning or losing. Instead, the country is always willing to use its strength to help the world overcome common challenges, such as actively fighting against the pandemic and providing economic assistance to developing countries.