Singapore's ambition on equal access 'cannot be left to chance'

Singapore wants to ensure equal access to education for every child, as well as homes, jobs and a safe environment for every citizen, an ambition that cannot be left to chance, Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) said yesterday.

It requires meticulous planning, putting in place social strategies and precise execution, she added when rounding up the week's debate on the President's Address, which sets the targets for the second half of the Government's term.

Ms Chan distilled three broad areas focused on by the 70 MPs who spoke in the five-day sitting. These are: Singapore's future society, future economy and national identity.

In her address, President Halimah Yacob called for bold changes to help Singapore face a different future. But in responding to her call, Ms Chan said the Government must not make changes for their own sake. "We need to get the basics of the society right and not discard what works, just to be bold."

It is the Government's duty to ensure every Singaporean has a home to live in, and every child grows up with equal access to education, jobs and a safe environment, she said.

She also pointed out the need to reduce income inequality and enhance social mobility - two issues highlighted by many of the MPs.

"Be it through education, jobs, housing or urban planning, our future should be one that embraces diverse ideals and uplifts fellow citizens from different backgrounds, a society in which every generation has equal opportunities to achieve their dreams and to do it better than the previous generation."

She said efforts to build an inclusive and cohesive society need to include the formulation of new economic metrics beyond the usual ones that measure gross domestic product and jobs growth - an idea mooted by some MPs.

Ms Chan noted several MPs suggested ways to help local firms be more innovative and seize opportunities overseas so they can drive economic growth and create good jobs. While building the future economy amid technological disruptions and digitalisaton, Singapore also needs to cultivate local talent even as it attracts foreign ones, she added.

Ms Chan also said the Government must strengthen its engagement with people so that there will be a greater sense of alignment of concerns and aspirations, and a stronger sense of shared ownership.

"As citizens, we should also share our views and ideas, endeavour to work with the Government in the spirit of encouragement and experimentation for an optimum outcome each time," she added.

Yasmine Yahya

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore's ambition on equal access 'cannot be left to chance''. Print Edition | Subscribe