SINGAPORE: Bringing society together to cope with a period of massive change is the “really critical issue” facing Singapore beyond the upcoming elections, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday (Jun 8).
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has "shocked the system significantly" and across many fronts, including healthcare, the economy and geopolitics, said Mr Heng in an interview with The Straits Times.
The minister said he was “rather concerned” over a lack of global leadership in dealing with these issues.
Multilateral organisations - such as the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund, as well as regional banks such as the Asian Development Bank - may have to “rethink their roles and see what they can do in order to bring parties together”, said Mr Heng in the provided transcript.
“What we are seeing now is like-minded countries coming together to say, let’s band together and pursue our agenda."
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Singapore’s upcoming General Election is “really about direction-setting”, said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.
The next General Election has to be called by Apr 14, 2021, and Mr Heng had said on May 27 that elections were "coming nearer by the day".
“It is not just this one election, but I see significant changes that we need to make, significant challenges that we need to overcome, and significant opportunities not in the next three to six months, but in the next five to 10 years,” said the minister on Monday.
“These are changes that will define Singapore in the future.”
Describing the COVID-19 pandemic as a “test of the generation”, Mr Heng said the next five to 10 years will be a test of how this generation overcomes the current crisis to emerge stronger.
“I would say that beyond party politics and elections, I hope that Singaporeans will focus on this one issue: How do we stay together as one people?”
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Mr Heng commended the Workers’ Party's secretary-general Pritam Singh, who last week said in Parliament that partisan politics should take a backseat, and that there should be “unity of purpose” in tackling the coronavirus crisis.
“Unfortunately, it is not the case for all parties," said Mr Heng. "There are parties that are looking at ‘well, this thing was not well done, that thing was not well done’ and so on, and ‘this Government has not done well in this’."
“There is a time and place to look back and see what can be done, but right now, you are in the midst of a major battle on many fronts, and all our people and all our leaders in every segment of our society must first and foremost look forward to what is ahead of us,” he said.
“What are the dangers in front of us? What are the opportunities in front of us? Let us focus our minds on the coming days and months and the future.”
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Now is not the time for accounting and fault-finding, said the minister.
“To me, that is a distraction from what we need to do going forward. For that reason, I said I will welcome any good suggestions about how we might do better in this battle,” said Mr Heng.
“I am very open to good ideas. You know my style,” he added, pointing to consultative efforts such as Our Singapore Conversation and Singapore Together, which he had spearheaded.
The current crisis is an “important occasion” to reinforce Singapore Together, he said.
“We should really look beyond this to the future of Singapore. How can Singapore come together to build the future of Singapore, and to rebuild structures which have been damaged by this gale-force wind.”