Delivering results key to fostering trust: Chan Chun Sing

Attending his first Davos meeting, Mr Chan Chun Sing (third from left), Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, spent the week speaking on several issues related to Asean.
Attending his first Davos meeting, Mr Chan Chun Sing (third from left), Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, spent the week speaking on several issues related to Asean.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ CHAN CHUN SING

Trust has been eroded in many developed countries because governments had failed to deliver on their promises that globalisation would bring a better life for their people.

This, coupled with a fall in people's sense that they could rely on the information they were receiving with the proliferation of fake news and dubious reports on the Internet, had contributed to the growing lack of trust in societies.

Giving his take on a hot topic of debate at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos over the past week, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said these had led to the "trust deficit" that was much bemoaned by various speakers.

Noting that globalisation and trade would give rise to both winners and losers in society, he added that what was needed were strong central authorities, with both the ability and the will to redistribute some of the benefits gained to those who were left behind.

Failing to do so had given rise to the backlash that resulted in Brexit and shock election results elsewhere, he noted.

Quite naturally, voters would ask if their lives had improved over the past five or 10 years. And if not, they would question the received wisdom that globalisation was a boon to society, he said.

"Voters will ask, am I better off because you have delivered on your promises, based on the system you have," he said.

And if the system did not deliver the promised results, voters would wonder if those in government knew this, and if so, why had they not told them so. Either way, trust would be affected.

"The first question is a question of competence, the second is a matter of integrity."

To earn trust, leaders had to be forthright and honest with the people about the challenges that the country faced and options to tackle them. They also had to spell out clearly what the "next mountain to climb together" was, he added.

"For Singapore, every generation of leadership, regardless of who forms the government, must firstly be able to deliver a better quality of life and standards of living for the people. People must have the sense that they have the opportunity to realise their dreams, especially for the next generation, their children.

"Then, there is the question of how you can build trust because you are upfront, forthright, honest about the challenges and options that the country has to confront together."

The spread of fake news, and modern communications technologies which allowed everyone to be a publisher and share information, had undermined the role of traditional gatekeepers and the mainstream media, making it harder for people to know who they could trust or what information they could believe.

Both this intangible aspect of trust, as well as the delivering of tangible benefits as promised, were critical in building up the people's sense of belief in the system and their leaders, he said.

"If we don't manage these two aspects well, then we should not make any presumptions that we will garner the trust of a new generation," he said.

Noting that every generation would have to grapple with its own set of challenges and have their own mountains to climb, he added: "What we are afraid of most is that a generation thinks that the job of building Singapore is done. That would be dangerous, as the work is never completed."

Attending his first Davos meeting, the minister spent the week speaking on several issues related to Asean, spelling out Singapore's priorities as chairman of the regional grouping this year. This related mainly to economic integration efforts, especially in the digital sphere, he said.

He also shared Singapore's efforts in support of the China-led Belt and Road initiative, noting that this presented China with a "historic opportunity to show the world the kind of power it wished to be". After all, he added, China's President Xi Jinping had won over the Davos crowd with his speech pledging to uphold free trade and globalisation when he spoke here last year.

Noting that there had been much discussion on the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on jobs and societies, he said that Singapore had given much thought to this, working out both its impact and how to best to respond to prepare "tomorrow's unemployed workers for tomorrow's jobs".

Singapore, he said, was happy to share its experiences, just as it was ready to learn from others on how they had dealt with issues to avoid "any blind spots".

He also joined in at several meetings held by the Economic Development Board on the sidelines of the main events with existing and potential investors in Singapore.

"So, when we come here, we all put in a concerted national effort, with a clear sense of what we want to achieve," he said.