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How sustainable is the Singapore miracle?

16 July 2013

Mr Sadasivan with Minister Shanmugam (right) at the U@live session entitled “The End of the Singapore Miracle?”
In the face of relentless global competition and rapid changes in Singapore’s socio-economic landscape, what does the future hold for our nation? Has it hit home to local residents that by 2030, in just a matter of 17 years down the road, they will be seeing a very different Singapore confronted with even more daunting challenges? Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law Mr K Shanmugam set forth some likely scenarios for Singapore’s future and engaged the NUS community in dialogue over these prospects at the recent U@live forum held on 12 July 2013.

He highlighted internal problems such as an ageing population and a declining workforce, as well as external challenges such as global competition; and traced the implications of these for what Singapore and its people have to do now in order to succeed and not increase the burden to be borne by the next generation.

But given that Singaporeans today are already feeling the heat of the competition and the stress and strain of an escalating work pace, the question of how to strike a good balance between the need to build up the local economy and the need to slow down to achieve higher quality of life, is one that most people in the audience could identify with. It was one of the first questions posed by moderator Mr Viswa Sadasivan, Chairman of the U@live Organising Committee, to the Minister during the session.

In response, Mr Shanmugam asked the young people in the audience: “What do you think you can do which cannot be done faster, better and cheaper somewhere else?” But Singapore can yet be the New York of ASEAN, breaking out of the prison of our economic size, if we get our systems right and provided the whole of ASEAN allows our services to be transferable, said the Minister. He added: “The key is thinking about the challenges, getting good people in, thinking 15, 20 years ahead, working out the solutions, and educating our people to the best of their abilities.”

He conceded that the people of Singapore can slow down, provided others do too. If the local community chooses to slow down while others are not letting up pace, then they will have to deal with the trade-offs. Believing it is up to the people to decide after having considered the challenges, opportunities and trade-offs, Mr Shanmugam felt the onus is, however, on the government to provide the basic framework where its people can have the opportunity to go as far as they want and do what they like. This framework, he explained, is based on elements such as access to high quality education, economic opportunities, safety, security and medical support.

During the two-hour-long session, the Minister also fielded many other questions from the audience covering a wide range of issues. They included questions such as are the paths that Singapore is taking too politically expedient, how productivity can be increased, would legislating the maximum number of working hours in Singapore help raise quality of life, and does a one-party political system yield more advantages than a multi-party one.

Initiated by the NUS Alumni Advisory Board and organised by the Office of Alumni Relations, U@live is a monthly forum featuring outstanding members of the NUS community who have been indefatigable in championing causes that make a difference to society.