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Former GIC Chief-economist questions Chan Chun Sing’s apparent downplaying of Govt’s actual role in alleviating socioeconomic inequality

Former Chief Economist at GIC and former adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Yeoh Lam Keong has criticised Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing's statement regarding collective responsibility in easing the effects of social mobility and globalisation.

Mr Yeoh, in his Facebook post on Friday (30 Nov), raised the question as to why the government, which he dubbed as "the most powerful agent" for “collective responsibility”, appears in Mr Chan's statement to be "seemingly exempt from redoubling its current insufficient efforts to increase social mobility by helping the less privileged".

He further questioned as to why the onus of alleviating socioeconomic inequality is instead placed on “individuals and groups”, who do not have the power to put in place social and economic policies the way the government does.

Mr Yeoh argued that "raising the payouts of the WIS [Workfare Income Supplement] and SSS [Silver Support Scheme] by $600 would effectively provide the working and elderly poor a living income that would not only seriously reduce absolute poverty markedly, but also provide a platform for children from these families to improve their difficult lot".

"The fiscal cost is less than 0.8% of GDP and eminently affordable, yet the government has somehow avoided doing this for a over a decade," he added.

Mr Yeoh also said that he found it "bizarre" that "a top minister who has helmed both MSF and NTUC seems somehow oblivious to the fact that only [the] government has the financial and organizational resources to systematically do the heavy lifting in the fight against poverty and inequality, and that it is government that needs to lead any serious systemic change in our social compact."

"Do we take the maximum that we think we are entitled to have, or do we leave something more for those who need it more?": Chan

Previously at The Straits Times' annual Global Outlook Forum on Wednesday (28 Nov), Mr Chan had called upon more privileged Singaporeans to step up their efforts in assisting their underprivileged counterparts in the face of social mobility and globalisation, both of which are rife with constant challenges.

He said that those who are able to catch up with the tide of such changes should take it upon themselves to help the ones who struggle in order "for us to progress as a society together".

Mr Chan added that while government policy and intervention do play a significant role in uplifting the livelihoods of underprivileged classes in Singapore, citizens who are able to reap great benefits from such material progress should also develop conscientiousness and collective responsibility towards making the country a habitable place for all.

In a dialogue session after delivering his speech, he said: "Do we take the maximum that we think we are entitled to have, or do we leave something more for those who need it more?"

"If we have that kind of collective responsibility to one another, the kind of societal values that say it is a privilege to take care of others... and it's not just about us taking all that we can - then, I think, we will have the new social compact," he emphasised.

"Never-ending task" to find the right people to take up the task of governing Singapore; no "magic formula": Chan

Touching on leadership, particularly in light of the political transition currently taking place amongst the upper echelons of Singapore's governance, Mr Chan said: "There's no magic formula to this."

"How do we hardcode this into our DNA? It's a constant process; it's a never-ending task to find people with the correct value system."

He emphasised that the individuals who decide to take up leadership posts should have "sense of a higher purpose that they are here because the country is more important than their individual considerations".

Despite measures such as unilateralism, protectionism and trade frictions that are being adopted by an increasing number of nations throughout the world currently, Mr Chan said that a closed-door policy "has never been and can never be an option" for Singapore.

"For a small city-state to survive and thrive, the world must be our hinterland from Day One," he stressed.