SINGAPORE: Rather than being content with small incremental policy changes, President Halimah Yacob’s message to the fourth-generation (4G) leaders sends a signal that they should not hesitate to make bold policy changes if necessary, Members of Parliament said on Monday (May 7).
They were responding to the President’s speech at the opening of the Second Session of Parliament. President Halimah had stressed that Singapore leaders must not be content to "tweak things at the margins", pointing out that it would be the "wrong approach" not to go for "bold changes".
Last month, prior to the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he had asked the younger, fourth-generation ministers to draft the Government’s agenda for President Halimah’s address.
Giving his take on the President's speech, MP for Bukit Batok SMC Murali Pillai said: “The signal that the 4G leaders will not hesitate to make bold policy changes if necessary is an important one.
"It conveys that, as far as they are concerned, there are no sacred cows and each policy will be constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure it remains relevant."
WHAT BOLD CHANGES CAN THEY MAKE?
Nominated MP and Assistant Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University Mahdev Mohan said that "we are all watching what these moves are going to be".
Asked what he might expect in terms of "bold changes", Asst Prof Mohan pointed out that Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will likely be in the spotlight.
"I think he is up to the challenge," he said. "But as a full minister for education, the first question people will have is - 'Is the first sacred cow to be slaughtered the PSLE?'
"And if the PSLE is not going to be slaughtered, then why not, and when will some significant changes be made?"
MP for Jalan Besar GRC Denise Phua, who is also chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, also gave examples of several bold moves that could be made.
"I’ve always talked about the need to be bold and not just tweak policies, but I also think there’s no need to be bold for bold’s sake,” she said. “But in education, I think we should really engage other segments of society, including the employers, educators themselves and their families ... folks who’ve been out there, and look at other models ... to develop something that is very special for Singapore."
"I think currently, we segment educational institutions into pre-schools, primary schools, secondary schools and so on," she explained, suggesting that this definition of education be re-looked.
"If we could look at education as one long process, from the time you are born to the time you die, what would that mean?" she asked. "What would be the infrastructure and resources that can be brought in to make that happen?"
"We would be many steps ahead of other countries then."
FOCUS ON REDUCING INCOME INEQUALITY
Following from a point in President Halimah's speech, reducing income inequality was a key concern that many MPs hoped the Government could focus on.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay, who is also MP for West Coast GRC, pointed out three areas that need special attention - income inequality, jobs and the cost of living.
"This is the additional challenge in nation-building that our Government faces today,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “While our pioneer generation leaders were focused on ensuring Singapore’s survival, today, it is also about the flourishing and continued sustainable growth of Singapore."
"Concerted efforts need to be taken to integrate diversity, encourage inclusiveness, mitigate effects of social stratification and improve social mobility and 'liveability' for our people."
Mr Murali noted that the focus on income inequality and social stratification suggests that "significant resources" would be devoted to addressing these issues. "This is welcome and should be supported by all," he said.
"This does not mean a shift from meritocracy, but is really about providing meaningful opportunities for people from low-income backgrounds to succeed and climb up the social ladder," he added.
The issue was also highlighted by new office-holder and MP for Jurong GRC Tan Wu Meng, who described it as "something (my) colleagues and I will be looking very hard at."
“One of the things I’ve spoken about even as a backbencher is really about how a vibrant economy and quality growth, combined with programmes to help people learn to do better can be a force to reduce inequality in society,” said Dr Tan, when asked by reporters how he could address challenges the Government is facing in his new portfolio as Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam also drew attention to what he saw as a crucial element in President Halimah’s speech.
She had said that the leaders would need to listen to the views and feelings of the people, and by their words and deeds, show that they have heard. Yet, they should also never fear to lead and mobilise public opinion to support difficult policies in the long-term interest of Singapore.
"There were several themes in the President’s Address this evening," wrote Mr Tharman in a Facebook post. "But this on the 4G leadership was the most important."