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If you’re wondering what the government has in store for us now that the COVID-19 situation is mostly under control, here’s what you need to know.

Just today (28 June), Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong spoke about the plans for Forward Singapore, an all-new exercise that will be rolled out and managed by the 4G leaders in Singapore.

He was attending a dialogue held by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) at the NTUC Centre at One Marina Boulevard.

The exercise, which will run for a year, aims to help shape Singapore in a post-COVID-19 time in aspects such as the country’s goals and policies.

A report will then be released in mid-2023 after the conclusion of the exercise.

This speech also marks Mr Wong’s first major speech since he took over the role of DPM earlier this month on 13 June.

And before the exercise kicks into full gear, here’s all you need to know about what Mr Wong talked about today.

Total of Six Pillars in Forward Singapore

When speaking about the initiative, Mr Wong revealed that the Forward Singapore exercise will be made up of six different pillars.

Firstly, there is the “Empower” pillar, which involves issues relating to the economy and jobs.

Tan See Leng, Ng Chee Meng and Koh Poh Koon, Mr Wong’s fellow 4G leaders from the People’s Action Party (PAP), will be leading this pillar.

The “Equip” pillar, which handles education and lifelong learning, will be led by Chan Chun Sing, Zaqy Mohamed and Tan Kiat How.

There is also a “Care” pillar, which is in charge of health and social support. Ong Ye Kung, Masagos Zulkifli and Indranee Rajah will lead this pillar.

As for the “Build” pillar, which emphasises home and living environment, Desmond Lee, S Iswaran, Josephine Teo and Sim Ann will be in charge.

On the other hand, the “Steward” pillar, which encompasses environmental and fiscal sustainability, will be led by Grace Fu, Tan Chuan-Jin and Chee Hong Tat.

Last but not least, the “Unite” pillar which focuses on the Singapore identity will be led by Edwin Tong, Maliki Osman and Janil Puthucheary.

Mr Wong, who is also the finance minister and leader of the 4G leaders, will act as the overall lead of the exercise.

Contributions From Singaporeans are Welcome

Apart from introducing the politicians in charge of various Forward Singapore pillars, Mr Wong also took the chance to encourage Singaporeans to offer their suggestions and ideas to improve Singapore. (Of course, unless your suggestion is to make McDonald’s curly fries a permanent item on the menu lah.)

He emphasised that these suggestions will be included in the Forward Singapore road map, which will be published in mid-2023.

The road map will include policy recommendations and other information regarding how different groups in society can do their part to aid in achieving Singapore’s shared goals for the future.

“I hope to see a society and system that benefits many, not a few; that rewards a wide variety of talents, not a conventional or narrow few; that values and celebrates all individuals for who they are and what they can achieve; and provides all with opportunities to do better throughout their lives,” Mr Wong remarked.

Apart from urging Singaporeans to take part in the exercise, he also emphasised that he and the 4G team are wholeheartedly willing to accept suggestions from Singaporeans, and to learn from the past in order to improve the country.

Afterwards, when ending his speech, Mr Wong also mentioned that the path that Singaporeans will have to take in order to ensure our nation’s progress will “not be easy”.

“I hope we can all approach this with open minds and big hearts, be willing to give and take, as we negotiate difficult trade-offs, so we may arrive at where we want to be, stronger and more united than when we started,” he concluded.

Importance of Updating Social Compact to Keep Up With the Times

In his speech, Mr Wong also touched on how the social compact should be revised and updated in order for it to stay relevant in the changing circumstances that we are going through.

“A social compact that is deemed fair by all segments of society strengthens social capital and fosters trust, and this is what enables us to progress together as a nation,” he explained.

He also touched on the example of Europe and North American countries, where groups of individuals have felt unincluded when it comes to the progress of their countries.

In some cases, such feelings have led to the prevalence of extremist political parties, resulting in a more inward and xenophobic society that is incapable of reaching a consensus when discussing major national issues.

As for the Singaporean context, Mr Wong expressed his empathy regarding the various difficulties that different groups such as students, fresh graduates and workers may face in today’s society.

These challenges range from the stress that students experience in the education system to the pressure that adults experience from the property market and their careers.

In the case of older workers, they may also struggle with their employability after losing their jobs.

“Sometimes, those who do not meet the traditional yardsticks of merit may find opportunities closed to them. They may feel beaten down by early failure, and feel discouraged from trying again,” Mr Wong explained.

He then proceeded to re-emphasise the importance of Singapore’s social compact, especially since we live in an ever-changing society where nothing is constant.

“If our social compact fails, a large segment of Singaporeans will come to feel estranged from the rest of society, believing the system is not on their side.

“Trust in the Government and among various segments of society will plummet. Politics in Singapore will turn nasty and polarised and we will become a low trust society, like so many others in Asia and Europe.

“And Singapore, if this happens, will surely fracture,” he added.

However, he also said that Singapore is in a much better position as compared to other countries regarding this issue.

Singapore is Now at a “Crossroads”

Mr Wong proceeded to liken Singapore’s position right now to being at a crossroads of sorts, with many issues such as inflation caused by the Russia-Ukraine war and other matters affecting our lives.

In addition to that, with the nation’s rapidly ageing population, problems such as a decrease in the pace of social mobility and being “left behind” also come into the picture.

He then reiterated the point of how having a strong social compact may help us transform our challenges into opportunities, and said that this is also one of the main reasons why the exercise was rolled out in the first place.

Mr Wong then went on to point out four main sectors in which the social compact can be developed: the economy, meritocracy, social support and solidarity.

Steps to Improving the Economy

Mr Wong explained that even though Singapore has been dependent on open and free markets, these markets may result in “excessive competition” and an increase in inequality if we do not keep these markets “in check”.

“That’s why we have always tempered extreme market outcomes and resisted a winner-takes-all economic regime,” he added.

For example, staying open is a way to ensure that the markets continue to stay “in check”.

One way to stay open involves welcoming a certain level of competition from foreign workers and professionals in Singapore and elsewhere, even if it may cause worry for local workers at first.

Mr Wong also took the chance to emphasise that the government has continued to prioritise Singaporeans despite the increase in foreign workers entering the country.

He raised several examples, such as the government’s investments for Singaporeans to undergo skills retraining as well as upcoming legislation that will make sure that employers practise fair employment practices.

Apart from the workforce, Mr Wong also touched on housing prices, and that public housing will remain affordable. This is especially for younger and first-time house owners.

Schemes such as Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model will also continue to help those who require assistance.

In addition to that, Mr Wong shared there will be changes made to Singapore’s progressive system of taxes and transfers as well.

This will ensure that everyone contributes what they can, with those who can afford to give more doing so to aid others who have less.

Meritocracy in Singapore to be Improved

Moving on from the economy, Mr Wong mentioned how meritocracy is still “the best way” to manage a country, but also admitted that there are cons to it.

For example, privilege might continue to get passed down one generation after another since the rich are able to provide their children with better resources, which gives them a “headstart” in society.

“We cannot abandon meritocracy, but I believe we can improve it and make ours a more open and compassionate meritocracy,” he added.

He then touched on different ways to improve the meritocracy in Singapore, such as the government “doing more” for each child in their younger years, especially for children from lower-income families.

This will allow them to not be confined by the “circumstances of their birth”.

Apart from that, more recognition and platforms can be given to those who perform well in areas other than academics, as well as those who would like to improve their skills at various stages of their life.

“The most important change is not something that the Government can legislate into reality, because we must all, as a society, learn to value the contributions of every worker in every profession and every field,” Mr Wong explained.

Government to See Whether or Not Social Support is Adequate

Mr Wong also brought up a review to see if social support is adequate due to the “technological and economic disruptions” in recent times.

In particular, the government will be focusing on what help can be offered to workers who are experiencing difficulties, as well as what else can be done to support the ageing population.

However, all of this assistance means that more resources will be used.

Hence, the decision of how much more should be spent on what, as well as who is ready to fund these resources, needs to be made as a country.

How to Ensure the Unity of Singapore in the Future

Last but not least, Mr Wong touched on how the evolving social compact means that we need to look into ensuring solidarity amongst Singaporeans, especially in the future.

“Some things should not, cannot, can never change – like our fundamental principle of multi-racialism,” he said.

The diversity in Singapore means that our society has to adapt constantly in order to not only ensure that every community has enough space for their way of lives, but also that common space in Singapore exists as well.

Featured Image: Facebook (Lawrence Wong)

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