Think long term, stay united to tackle global headwinds, says Heng Swee Keat

Talking to reporters yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said his key takeaway was that the confluence of technological advancements and globalisation was accelerating the pace of change, and many societies were not prepared for this.
Talking to reporters yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said his key takeaway was that the confluence of technological advancements and globalisation was accelerating the pace of change, and many societies were not prepared for this.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

Right governance is key and people need to understand fragmentation is harmful, he says

DAVOS - Singapore is not shielded from global headwinds and the best way to tackle this is to stay united, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday after a packed four days of meeting world and business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

He noted that with the rise of populism worldwide, there was a sense that unity and solidarity had been lost in many parts of the world.

In turn, the political system had become such that in order to win votes, politicians made promises which they would find hard to fulfil when they got elected, or fulfil at a great cost to future generations.

"This is a rather negative development of politics in all parts of the world, and I think it is very important for us in Singapore to have the right governance and for our people to understand that fragmentation, in order to pursue individual interests, special interests and so on, will be very harmful to all our well-being," he said.

If politicians were concerned about just the next electoral cycle, the system would become one where the focus was on winning votes.

"You end up doing many short-term things, and make promises you can't fulfil," he told Singapore reporters at the Sunstar Alpine hotel before heading home.

"The process becomes like a bidding war, and obviously the highest bidder wins. But when the highest bidder wins, they find it hard to fulfil the promises, and you find that in many countries. And then of course the next round, the bid gets even higher." The first and foremost duty of politicians in Singapore was to advance the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans, "and not just in the short run, but in the long term".

Short-termism was something world and business leaders he met expressed concern about, which he also shared.

SITUATION NOT BLEAK FOR SINGAPORE

Clouds are gathered over the global economy. They will not disappear soon, and will probably get darker and more troubling in the years to come. But the situation is not bleak for Singapore, and we do not look on these global problems helplessly. We can still do well, by educating our young for a new world, developing deeper skills in every job and paying special attention to helping those who lose their jobs, strengthening the innovative capabilities of our enterprises, and by building on our biggest international asset - our credibility among countries and businesses from around the world.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM, who was also at the Davos forum, in a Facebook post last night.

This was Mr Heng's second time at the WEF. His first was in the late 1990s when he was principal private secretary to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The WEF is an independent international body committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders from all fields. The annual meeting packs hundreds of sessions against the backdrop of the picturesque Swiss Alps.

The theme of this year's annual meeting was Globalisation 4.0: Shaping A New Architecture In The Age Of The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Mr Heng said his key takeaway was how the confluence of technological advancements and globalisation was accelerating the pace of change, and that many societies were not prepared for this.

While optimists saw opportunities, there were those who feared the consequences of the inability to cope with change.

Questions were being asked on whether globalisation would continue to have the support of people or would it be reversed, and what needed to be done to ensure people maximised the benefits of globalisation.

 
 
 
 

For Singapore, the Government had to ensure that at the national level, industries were equipped to ride the changes.

This was why the Industry Transformation Maps were set out, and the Government would continue to speed up their implementation.

Workers would be helped to equip themselves with the skills to meet change. Lifelong learning would also continue to be emphasised as employees and companies restructure.

On the international front, trade agreements with other countries would provide support and momentum for continued globalisation.

"We need to move Singaporeans through this, and I believe we have the means and will to make these changes," he said.

More would be revealed in the Budget statement on Feb 18 which Mr Heng will announce. The minister said he had been working on it as well during his time in Davos, but laughed and did not say more when asked for details.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2019, with the headline 'Think long term, stay united to tackle global headwinds, says Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe