Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday (20 January) that the fourth-generation (4G) leaders will “make every effort to build a future of progress” for Singaporeans, despite major challenges like inequality, economic interruption and a growing generational divide.
As someone who is touted to be the next Prime Minister, Mr Heng explained to a group of students, academics and policymakers at the Institute of Policy Studies’ annual Singapore Perspectives Conference on Monday on how he and his team plan to lead the country.
He highlighted his colleagues’ “unwavering commitment” to create a future where all Singaporeans will get chances to excel and succeed, where no one will be left out if they put their best effort forward, and where everyone will pull together as one.
Mr Heng also hinted that plans are being constructed to offer more help to lower-and middle-income Singaporeans.
“We are now studying how we can better help lower-and lower-middle income Singaporeans, including current and future seniors, to meet their retirement needs in a sustainable way. I will provide more details in the coming Budget,” said Mr Heng, who is also the current Finance Minister.
In his keynote speech at the Conference, the Deputy Prime Minister also asked “all Singaporeans to work with us, and with each other” in order to solve the challenges that the country is facing.
“My 4G colleagues and I are committed to go beyond just working for you, to working with you, to build our future Singapore,” he noted.
New form of partnership
Similar to what the founding political leaders did previously by instilling a sense of nationhood with the introduction of policies like home ownership that gave the people a stake in Singapore, Mr Heng expressed that the “Singapore Together” movement introduced last year “will be our new cornerstone of nation building”.
Platforms like the Citizens’ Panel and Citizens’ Workgroup have already got Singaporeans to share their ideas on how to improve different aspects of life, such as ways to have better work-life balance and encourage recycling in household, said Mr Heng.
If that’s not all, Singaporeans are also included in the development of Singapore’s landscape such as the Somerset Belt, the Geylang Serai cultural precinct and its parks.
“What we see forming is a new model of partnership, between Government and Singaporeans in owning, shaping and acting on our future,” he said.
He added, “In this process, government agencies are learning to develop and deliver policy solutions in a more collaborative manner.”
This collaboration method is how Singapore will be able to move forward in a world marked by differences and uncertainties, said Mr Heng.
Our differences should not go against us
He pointed out that many countries have witnessed their political consensus cracked over the years due to changes like technological disruption, inequality and growing ageing populations.
This resulted in people feeling anxious and resentful, and end up looking at their governments and institutions with distrust.
Although Singapore is much better than most other countries, it is not immune to the same divisive forces that have brought down many other societies, he explained.
As a matter of fact, we can already see nativist tendencies in the Republic, like some public debate revolving foreigners, he said.
“If we do not act decisively, and if we allow these forces to creep up on us, our hopes and concerns can be exploited to create fear and anger,” he warned.
He continued, “Our diversity can be turned against us. Our unity can fray, and our society can wither.”
Mr Heng also voiced that it’s crucial to ensure that such differences do not become entrenched, and warned about political parties who use divisive rhetoric to gain support in cracked atmosphere.
Unity is the key to success
Despite all these disruptive forces, strong sense of unity is important to ensure the success of Singapore, Mr Heng said.
“Our improbable success was made possible by exceptional governance – capable leaders, working together with a united people.”
He added that the people of Singapore trusted the founding fathers’ policies because they saw their lives improved and had a strong sense of optimism about the future. This is what gave the people the confidence to make sacrifices for better good and for future generations.
“This is the formula behind our success, and this has kept Singapore exceptional. This approach must remain core to the Government’s mission, especially as we grapple with longer-term issues facing us,” Mr Heng noted.
He went on to stressed that given that there’s an increase amount of information and misinformation in the society, it is crucial to find ways to deepen understanding and relationships among people.
“We must reject extremist views that will fray our social fabric, and be discerning about falsehoods and irresponsible promises that cannot be fulfilled. Most importantly, we must find new ways to come together, reaffirm what we hold in common, and work collectively towards a shared future,” he said.
This is the reason why he introduced the Singapore Together movement in 2019, Mr Heng expressed.
Singapore has to work with like-minded nations and maintain its unity as a people and cohesion as a nation, he said.
He added that the Government will also go on to exercise leadership in areas that it is expected to do so. Some of these areas include in defence and security to ensure the Republic plans and acts for the long term.
“I am confident that our partnership efforts to date will set the foundations for the work of a generation,” he noted.