In his televised national address, Senior Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, has focused on a message of national unity and cohesion.
He talked at length about the importance of the “social compact” in Singapore and touched on measures the government will be undertaking to ensure that Singaporeans will not be left behind economically.
He said: “Singapore cannot defy the global economic downturn. But we must absolutely defy the loss of social cohesion, the polarisation, and the despair that is taking hold in many other countries.”
He identified a few issues that could cause social division and instability. A key factor would of course be to ensure that Singaporeans remain employable and employed as the world goes through economic upheaval.
He highlighted plans to secure the “100,000 jobs and training places targeted by the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package” and declared that the National Jobs Council was moving full speed ahead. While no one can fault the logic of this, one can only hope that the government will be able to pull this off as cohesively as it wants Singapore to be.
Even as Shanmugaratnam talks about jobs, there are already potential inconsistencies within the government.
For example, cabinet minister and member of parliament (MP) for West Coast Group Representative Constituency (GRC), S Iswaran has announced that West Coast GRC and Pioneer Single Member Constituency are launching a 12- month JOBS Programme together with the Employment and Employability Institute and South West Community Development Council.
He has also announced that there will be “West Coast Job Stations” in the Community Centres from mid July, making it easier for residents to find employment, and seek job and training advice.
Should these measures not be taken at a national level as opposed to at a constituency level? Would it not create potential unfairness and inconsistencies if different constituencies do different things? Shouldn’t it be equal opportunities for all as opposed to different opportunities for different consistencies?
How will the government bridge this divide?
Shanmugaratnam goes on to talk about the need to ensure that there is social mobility and stressed that “we must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort”.
In the pursuit of meritocracy, Shanmugaratnam talks about investing in schools to create an even playing field. While that is a laudable goal, can we really reach it when our leaders seem to come from what could be considered an elite background?
Singaporeans have criticised our leaders for living in ivory towers who are unable to understand the lives of the average Singaporean. Unless the government is able to recruit talent from a wider spectrum of society, it may well be that, however well intentioned the government is, it will be unable to truly create equality — not from a lack of desire perhaps, but from a lack of understanding.
After all, can someone who earns so much more than an average Singaporean truly understand the struggles we go through?
Perhaps, the cabinet ministers should be paid less as a start to ensure that they are able to understand the meritocracy in which they preach?
While Shanmugaratnam’s speech was inspiring, we can only wait to see if the goals set out within the speech can truly be followed through. It may well be that the PAP structure of high ministerial salaries sets it apart from the general public.
It may also be that reactionary measures to win votes in the upcoming general election leads to inconsistencies in plans to ensure that all Singaporeans have jobs.