On Saturday (15 June), Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat took questions directed at him by concerned Singaporeans on a variety of issues at the Building our Future of Singapore Together dialogue at the Singapore Management University School of Law.
The event, which was co-organised by government feedback unit Reach and Channel News Asia (CNA), saw the Minister addressing how the fourth generation leaders will come hand-in-hand with the public to help shape the nation in what is called Singapore Together movement.
In addition to that, the dialogue session also revealed that the Government wants to focus on the diversity of passions and expertise among Singaporeans in order to improve policies and programmes to better serve its people.
During the Q&A session which was held later, a total of 26 audience members raised points to the Minister on topics like climate change, politics, youth involvement and social inequality.
One of the question brought up by a member of the audience was whether the Government has broader efforts to improve taxes in order to make it more progressive, for instance though inheritance taxes? This is so the socioeconomic gap can be brought closer together.
In response to this, Mr Heng said that he went through many option as “no finance minister wants to increase taxes”.
He also added that GST, personal income tax and corporate income tax are not the country’s biggest source of revenue. Instead, it is the Net Investment Returns Contribution.
During the city-state’s forming years, the economy was doing really well but “our early generation of pioneers and leaders were very careful not to just spend that money”.
Due to that, Singapore managed to keep a reserve despite not having any natural resources like oil, silver, diamond and even water, and that is now able to provide more income than any other source.
As such, he retaliated that if the previous leaders didn’t make such a move to build its reserve, then “the GST will not just be raised from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, but to 15 per cent, and there still would not be enough.”
Involving Opposition in the Singapore Together movement
As for involving Opposition members in the Singapore Together movement, Mr Heng stated that the People’s Action Party (PAP) will work with anyone given that their goal is for the good of Singapore and its people.
However, he mentioned that when it comes to diversity of views, it’s not necessarily just a point raised by the Opposition. In fact, even in PAP’s Cabinet meetings, ministers still have a diversity of views, which makes a healthy debate.
But, it’s crucial not to have a diversity of purpose as unity is important.
“How we are able to take Singapore forward all this while is that we all share a sense of common purpose – that this is where we want to take Singapore and Singaporeans. And within that, when we discuss whether you have a better idea or someone else has a better idea, we let the better ideas win,” he said.
Retaining local talents in Singapore
The audience also commented that Singapore youths are no longer hungry and this brings the question on how the country plans to ensure that it remain competitive. In addition to that, they also wondered ways the Government plans to retain its local talents as most of them leave to other countries.
To this, Mr Heng highlighted that this is indeed “the generational change” that Singapore is facing, which is why creating opportunities in the country is crucial. This is also why the Government is going all out to transform the country’s economy.
As an example, Mr Heng said that while he was recently at Silicon Valley, he spoke to about 400 Singaporeans and South-east Asian who were there, and asked them if they would be coming back?
As a reply, they said that Silicon Valley may be a good training ground to learn different things, “but Singapore is still home, and Dad and Mom are still home, and they would like to go back”.
And this is the bond that Mr Heng wants to focus on as family bonds are very important.
“At the same time, I think we must create opportunities for young people to feel that this is not just a place to earn a living, but where my family ties and friends are… I hope that many more will also explore the opportunities in our region and at the same time, to also see Singapore as home,” he explained.
Singapore’s plan to curb species extinction crisis
When asked on what Singapore is doing to end extinction crisis as a United Nations report stated that we will lose a million species in the future, Mr Heng said that one of the initiatives taken by the Government to help with this situation is that it had announced the carbon tax, to be in line with the Paris Agreement.
Citing other efforts taken by the city-state, Mr Heng noted that Singapore is doing a lot of R&D work on urban solutions and sustainability, as well as on how to ensure the country is kept sustainable. Besides that, he also praised NParks for its good work in planting trees around the island and looking after the biodiversity in the country.
“We even have an overhead bridge across the highway to allow animals to cross from one part to another,” he said.
However, Mr Heng acknowledged that it’s a collective effort and the whole world has to come together to solve this problem.
He also noted that the Government is working with the World Bank and it has a goal to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development goals.
“I think where we can find good partnerships, we will be happy to work with other governments, non-governmental organisations, and students. We all must do our part… It is on our radar, and it is very good to hear young people talk so passionately about this,” he said.
Mr Heng who was elected as Assistant Secretary General of the People’s Action Party has been touted to take over the position of Prime Minister from Mr Lee Hsien Loong but some say this suggestion is just a smokescreen for PAP in the upcoming General Election as Minister Chan Chun Sing, who had been much closer to the appointment, is unpopular with the voters.