Who said what, here are some of the best highlights from Davos 


For many of us, the days leading up to Lunar New Year are often a frenetic affair filled with last-minute shopping trips to the supermarket.

But for three of our ministers, Ms Josephine Teo, Mr Desmond Lee and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, it was a different kind of busy.

Representing Singapore at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, our ministers shared their thoughts about economic growth, social care, and cybersecurity on the world stage.

Here are some of the highlights and why they matter.

Sustaining economic growth

Source: World Economic Forum

Senior Minister and Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam was part of a panel discussing whether the era of unprecedented economic growth is well and truly over.

Responding to a question on the changing political economy, Minister Tharman feels that the world has entered a new phase.

One that is no longer predictable but filled with random or stochastic shocks that are intensifying in frequency, scale and impact.

Therefore, he said, we need to rethink the role of fiscal policies.

How do we invest ahead of time to preempt, prevent and mitigate shocks instead of responding to them when they happen? Otherwise, countries will run out of money very quickly to plug the gap, said Senior Minister Tharman.

It is hard to disagree with him on the need for a prudent fiscal policy to sustain growth.

In short, dipping into our reserves at will to see us through the short term is not sustainable. Instead, countries should invest continuously in public goods because crises will happen.

In response to the effects technology can have on labour, Minister Tharman pointed to a reverse Lewisian movement.

As a result of automation, labour is displaced instead of moving to better jobs with higher productivity and wages.

For Senior Minister Tharman, there is now an urgency to grow productivity within sectors and create jobs across the spectrum.

“Economic development and growth are about how labour and citizens are deployed in an economy.”

Therefore, continuous learning will be essential for Singaporeans to stay relevant in an age of machines.

And if you are wondering what to retrain and upskill in, Minister Tharman is hedging on the booming green economy.

Investing in health and social care sector

Source: Desmond Lee via Facebook

Care work is the most valuable industry in the world but also one of the most undervalued of all jobs. 

However, there are compelling social and economic reasons to invest in the care economy in Singapore, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee. 

Speaking at a panel on building a well-functioning care economy, Minister Lee highlighted why investing in early childhood education is critical. 

“First, it helps women enter the workforce if they wish. Second, it develops children to their fullest potential at an early age, and that helps us tackle stubborn inequalities.”

As a result, levelling the playing field and giving all children the best start in life through a multi-agency approach is a priority for the government. 

In addition to childcare, senior care and disability support for persons with disability and developmental needs are equally important, added Minister Lee.  

Attending another panel on ageing economies, Minister Lee shared that one in four Singaporeans will be above 65 years old by 2030. 

In light of the changing demographic, Singapore has to find ways to fund the increasing healthcare expenditure without borrowing from the future and continue exploring innovative solutions to encourage active ageing.

The Community Care Apartments, a housing option for seniors that combines care and independent living, is an innovative solution that supports the needs of the elderly, cited Minister Lee. 

However, building the necessary infrastructure, training and strengthening the social care sector has to start now because they need time to scale up. 

And this ties in with what Minister Tharman said earlier about using fiscal policy wisely and investing in public goods to safeguard the future. 

Building cyber resilience

Source: World Economic Forum

Cyber incidents have grown in intensity and sophistication, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo in a panel discussion titled “Securing Critical Infrastructure”.

As a result, Singapore would have to up its game and outsmart these cyber criminals who have little to lose and everything to gain.

According to Minister Teo, the “no news is good news” mantra is not applicable to cybersecurity due to the stealthy nature of cyber criminals.

Somewhat similar to the incubation period of any virus, just because nothing is detected does not mean there isn’t a problem that will not flare up at a later date.

Therefore, the best way to stay prepare is to assume that we have already been infiltrated and move towards resilience, said Minister Teo

“You have to have a recovery plan, put your system to the test. That you will not be left without options.”

In addition to building cyber resilience, Minister Teo also cited public education and international cooperation as ways Singapore can build up its capabilities against cyber-attacks.  

Reinforcing the importance of building up Singapore’s cyber defences, Minister Teo warned that cyber incidents are not just a matter of embarrassment or inconveniences. A simple glitch in air traffic management, for instance, can have devastating consequences.

Luckily for us, staying well-prepared and planning ahead have always been our DNA. The Cybersecurity Act passed in 2018 is one such example.

Building a city

Without judicious city planning, Singapore would have been a very different city.

As Minister Desmond Lee has highlighted, having an ethnic quota for each apartment block and building public housing in wealthy areas can be unpopular.

But while it goes against free market principles, such policies have helped Singapore avoid ethnic and religious stratification prevalent in many other major cities.

Having well-thought-out plans, being prepared for all sorts of contingencies and staying resilient have always been part of the Singapore story.

And we can be sure that our politicians are ahead of the curve to build a brighter and better Singapore.

Cover Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/PAP