Singapore is at a turning point and needs to change to avert a mid-life crisis, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday, in a speech that also laid out the constraints ahead and the need for trust between the state and citizens.
Some policies which served Singapore well before need an update or overhaul amid a more competitive global landscape, and the "even greater" domestic challenges of slower economic growth, an ageing population and a younger generation with higher expectations.
A new social compact between the Government and the people needs to be forged, he told guests at a National Day Dinner in his Marine Parade constituency.
"Otherwise, I fear that Singapore will begin to go downhill," he added starkly.
Political leaders have already begun reviewing and improving policies on issues that cause the most anxiety.
He cited three examples: health-care costs, keeping flats affordable and ensuring that Singaporeans have access to good jobs. These were the top concerns among Singaporeans across most income groups, in a survey conducted as part of the recently ended Our Singapore Conversation.
Mr Goh's comments on the pressing need for change were made three days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day message that the Government will play a bigger role to build a fair and just society and help everyone succeed.
It also comes a week ahead of Mr Lee's National Day Rally speech, where he will announce changes to health care, housing and the education policy. One expected announcement involves help for the pioneer generation's medical bills.
"It's going to be an important National Day Rally which sets out the agenda for the coming years," said Mr Goh. Even as policies are tweaked, what must also evolve is the way Singapore's leaders govern, he added.
Governance today is not just about solving problems in a "practical, ruthlessly efficient, bureaucratic way", but about winning hearts rather than just arguments.
The former prime minister likened the government to an architect designing a common home, adding that individuals have to play their part.
"To build our common home together, we need to reinforce our trust in each other.
"Singaporeans must... support the Government in areas that will ensure Singapore's long-term success, even if it involves certain sacrifices sometimes."
The "crucial ingredient" of trust was also a key plank of Education Minister and Our Singapore Conversation chairman Heng Swee Keat's speech at an event on Tuesday.
Mr Goh said it is important that citizens recapture the ruggedness and can-do spirit of earlier generations.
He related an anecdote of how a resident asked his town council officials to go to her house to kill two cockroaches from the rubbish chute, drawing laughter from his audience. "This is hardly the resilience we are advocating," he said.
Whether Singapore can change and adapt, he told the crowd in Mandarin, will decide whether it celebrates its golden jubilee or is trapped in a mid-life crisis in 2015.
Ending on an optimistic note, he said: "If our hearts beat as one, we can move mountains to make Singapore the best home for our families."