S'pore must protect common spaces and ensure everyone benefits from prosperity: DPM Wong

DPM Lawrence Wong speaking at the OnePeople.sg's annual Harmony Works! Conference at ITE College Central on July 24, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The Republic must protect its common spaces and ensure everyone benefits from its prosperity, in order to avoid the fate of other nations whose citizens are divided and distrustful of one another, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Sunday (July 24).

"We want to ensure this never happens in Singapore - because if we start to lose faith in one another, our nation collapses," he said.

Addressing about 200 young people at an event on Sunday, Mr Wong highlighted the dangers that could loom if a people got split into "tribes" and found it harder to understand those who held different views. It would breed mistrust.

"This is not just a theoretical proposition. It has happened in other places," he said.

Similarly, Western nations in which many felt excluded from the general progress had seen the rise of entrenched social and political divisions.

Singapore's common spaces - such as HDB estates, hawker centres, schools and national service - brought its people together.

But in some areas, it has become harder to come together, as common experiences like TV become more fragmented, and people connect largely with familiar groups on social media.

"Over time, if we are not careful, we may retreat into our own silos and find comfort in our own tribes and... we will find it harder to understand our fellow Singaporeans who hold different views," Mr Wong said.

Citing the example of the United States, he said that according to recent polls, only a third of Americans now have a good or great deal of trust in their fellow citizens, down from two-thirds over 20 years ago.

He added that two generations ago, about half of those in the US would have said their neighbours were trustworthy, but today, this is closer to 30 per cent, or lower for younger generations.

This should never happen in Singapore, said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, at the final segment of OnePeople.sg's annual Harmony Works! Conference at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio.

Speaking about Western societies in general, Mr Wong said that years of income stagnation have led to many feeling excluded from their nation's progress.

"As a result, you have social and political divisions in many of these places that have become so entrenched that getting an agreement, even on simple issues, becomes very difficult, if not impossible," he said.

Singapore must be a society that celebrates all individuals for who they are and what they can achieve, and provides everyone with opportunities to do better throughout their lives, said Mr Wong.

DPM Lawrence Wong taking a wefie with participants in the OnePeople.sg's HarmonyWorks! Conference at ITE College Central on July 24, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Noting that those living here come from many different backgrounds, he said it is natural for people to want to connect with those whom they think are similar to them.

But he added: "Regardless of our diverse backgrounds, there's also something very special about the commonality we share, all of us, as Singaporeans... it's in our attitudes, mindsets and shared experiences."

Mr Wong noted that there are many challenges ahead, but that difficult times have served as crucibles to strengthen the solidarity of Singaporeans, and emerge stronger.

So the Government will be embarking on the Forward Singapore exercise - launched last month - to refresh and strengthen the social compact here.

He added: "The trust we all have in Singapore is our most crucial and valuable resource. It's something we must never take for granted."

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