Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said that “Singapore takes a pragmatic approach to policy making and governance, focusing on outcomes, not ideology, to foster a harmonious, inclusive and prosperous society”. This was said in a national statement at the United Nation’s 2018 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development on Tuesday (17 July) in New York.
To me, that just sounds like an empty statement. After all, doesn’t ideology shape policy? How would the government come up with a policy if there was no ideology behind it in the first place?
Perhaps what Mr Masagos is trying to say is that Singapore’s government is not populist. I.e. that it will do what is necessary for the greater good of the country regardless of what people think. That leads me to ask two broad questions. Firstly, what constitutes greater good? Does the greater good for the people, in general, coincide with the greater good of those in power? Secondly, what are the promises of not increasing GST before the general election of 2015 if not populist? Being a little bit populist is not a bad thing as long as there is a balance between meeting the peoples’ short term needs and thinking about the country’s progress long term. Is the government hiding behind the excuse of not being populist to push through changes that may serve the government more than the people?
Next, Mr Masagos said that Singapore’s “economic transformation is a story about uplifting our people’s lives, by providing good education, health, housing, employment and a clean environment.” While this may have been true in the past, will it continue to ring true?
Is making women pay more for the CareShield, rejecting aid for a blind senior citizen and allowing elected MPs to pay only $365 per annum to park throughout the island “uplifting”?
Mr Masagos has indicated that the government’s goal to ensure that by 2030, there is no poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and affordable clean energy in Singapore. Given that we have just increased the costs of our electricity and water, are we perhaps not off to a good start? Is asking women to pay more premiums for CareShield despite earning less than men really the right step towards gender equality? Is the government setting realistic deadlines and taking the right steps to achieve them?
The government has to understand that it cannot just say pretty words at international conferences. If Singapore really does focus on outcomes, why is it that the outcome does not seem to gel with the promises? Aren’t all these goals and yardsticks all part of a formulated ideology?
In other words, does Mr Masagos even make sense?