SINGAPORE: The Government intends to partner Singaporeans to design and implement policies on areas such as housing, social mobility and environmental sustainability, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Saturday (Jun 15), as he detailed how the country's fourth generation of leaders intends to have a new social compact with its citizens.
Mr Heng, speaking at a REACH-CNA dialogue session, said the Government wants to draw on the diversity of passions and expertise among Singaporeans to improve policies and programmes to better meet needs. This means not just coming up with ideas, but to implement the policies so they can be more effective, he added.
He outlined four issues and policy areas earmarked for this: Environmental sustainability, housing, young Singaporeans and social mobility.
For the environment, Mr Heng said this is an issue that many Singaporeans, especially the young, are passionate about “because they will be inheriting the consequences of our actions today”. As such, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and his team are engaging citizens, civil society and businesses to come up with concrete action in this space, he said.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and his team will also work closely with residents to shape their living environment and build a stronger sense of community, Mr Heng said.
The country’s young people, meanwhile, are being engaged by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and her team to create a vision of Singapore 2025 through the Youth Action Plan.
Additionally, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will lead their respective teams to work with community groups to support the disadvantaged and give them a good start in life, Mr Heng elaborated.
The Deputy Prime Minister added he has been working closely with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng and Mr Ong to create good jobs for Singaporeans. This is in partnership with business leaders, trade associations and chambers and unions, he added.
Part of the process of engagement is a soon-to-be-launched Citizens’ Panel, Mr Heng said. The panel, to be led by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, will work with people to come up with ways to improve work-life harmony - “an issue close to the hearts of many Singaporeans”, he added.
This is not the first time the Government is engaging Singaporeans: Things like the Community Network for Seniors, to build a community of care and support for seniors, and SG Secure, to rally the community and make the country more resilient, are examples of ongoing efforts, Mr Heng pointed out.
“We may have different views but so long as you have the good of Singapore at heart, we can work together,” he said.
CREATING A SHARED FUTURE
Mr Heng also shared that the fourth-generation leaders will be engaging Singaporeans on how to build a future Singapore together.
He noted that many Singaporeans today want to play a bigger part in nation-building, not just in contributing ideas but also to shape the shared future. But to do so effectively, there is a need to enlarge and safeguard the common space and build trust among communities.
He said: “This can happen only if we keep an open mind. Look at issues not just through our lens, but also through the perspectives of others.
“The Government must also be prepared, if necessary, to step in if particular groups pursue their agenda in ways that divide society or impede the good work of other groups,” he added.
With that in mind, Mr Heng said the 4G leaders will in the coming months be speaking with Singaporeans on four themes.
One of these is how to remain a resilient nation in the face of major developments around the world like climate change, while another is how to remain a city of possibilities - harnessing technology and building a place where “sports, arts, culture and heritage can flourish”.
The leaders will also want to learn how to build a society with more opportunities for all and provide a strong foundation for all Singapore's children, and how to build on the strong foundation of a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society to forge an “even more caring, gracious, kind and cohesive community”, Mr Heng added.
The ministers, himself included, will set out not just what is their vision for the future, but how they think they can get there, he said.
“We will be frank about the challenges we face, the trade-offs we will have to make, the hard truths confronting us,” Mr Heng said.
“We will listen to your views and explore together what the Government can do, what each of you can do, and how we can create partnerships to take good ideas forward.”
He said that trust between the people and the Government is “absolutely essential”.
“The best way to win (Singaporeans’) trust is to first trust you with the truth - no matter how hard or unpopular,” Mr Heng said.
WORK OF A GENERATION
He said his experience leading Our Singapore Conversation from 2012 to 2013 to hear the views of Singaporeans, which led to significant policy changes, such as changes to the PSLE scoring system and MediShield into MediShield Life, has “strengthened“ his belief that along with working for Singaporeans, the Government “needs to work better with you”.
“We need to shift from a Government that focuses primarily on working for you, to a Government that works with you,” he said. “Working with you, for you.”
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Mr Heng said what he had outlined will not be a short-term project but the “work of a generation” as they cannot expect partnerships to happen overnight in every policy domain.
It will also be a learning process for everyone, he added. Government agencies, for example, will have to learn to better engage and rally different groups of Singaporeans and accept good ideas where they may come from, yet still exercise leadership and not abdicate their responsibilities, he pointed out.
Similarly, community groups and individuals will have to learn to better engage with each other and with the public sector, Mr Heng said.
“I am confident that new and exciting ideas, and many constructive actions, will surface,” the Deputy Prime Minister said. “As long as we persist, learn from each other, we can forge a new way forward, step by step.”