To weather global headwinds, Singapore should stay united and think long term, says Heng Swee Keat

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that with the rise of populism worldwide, there is a sense that unity and solidarity have been lost in many parts of the world. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

DAVOS - Singapore is not shielded from global headwinds and the best way to tackle this is to stay united, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (Jan 25) after a packed four days of meeting world and business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

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

In turn, the political system has become such that in order to win votes, people fragment, and politicians make promises which they will find hard to fulfil when they get 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's 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 are concerned about just the next electoral cycle, the system will become one where the focus is 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."

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He said the first and foremost duty for politicians in Singapore is 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.

This was Mr Heng's second time at 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 amid the backdrop of the picturesque Swiss Alps.

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

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

While optimists see opportunities, there are people who fear the consequences of the inability to cope with change.

Questions are being asked on whether globalisation will continue to have the support of people or will it be reversed, and what needs to be done to ensure people maximise the benefits of globalisation.

For Singapore, the government has to ensure that at the national level, industries are equipped to ride the changes. This is why the Industry Transformation Maps were set out, and the government will continue to speed up their implementation.

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

On the international front, trade agreements with other countries will 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."

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