Is Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong’s latest speech a harbinger of change?
“Less about ‘I and Me’. And more about ‘Us and We’,” summed up DPM Wong on Apr 17, when Parliament returned from its mid-term break to debate on the President’s Address.
He was referring to the five key shifts ahead for Singapore’s social compact, or how we see ourselves (and our roles and responsibilities) in relation to everyone else on this island home.
These shifts include new approaches to skills, social support and eldercare, a new definition of success and a renewed commitment to each other.
For example, 2024’s full subject-based banding for schools will build confident students navigating their own customised curriculums. This ideally will encourage parents to let children discover their different, diverse talents as valid no matter what they are.
So then these shifts are a hopeful action plan for everyone as well as good reason to feel optimistic about Singapore’s future.
They demonstrate that DPM Wong and the PAP care about a more consultative approach when governing Singapore — and that going forward, this is the way Singaporeans will work with the Government and ultimately with each other.
Sacred cows and the alter of progress
There’s a gathering storm that Singapore needs to weather through.
“There are stark realities facing Singapore in the wider world, from war in Europe to deepening our rivalry in our part of the world,” mentioned DPM Wong.
“We all feel a palpable sense of danger. Danger, not just to the economy, but also to an open and stable global order.”
Within Singapore’s own shores. Cost-of-living pressures, an ageing population and many feeling that they are in a rat race to be the best, especially in school.
Hence DPM Wong making Forward Singapore his priority early on. Launched last June, this nationwide exercise is an open, good-faith one, letting all Singaporeans share their views in frank dialogues with the PAP Government on these issues, as well as every other conceivable one ranging from national defence to caring for people with disabilities to race and religion.
These have been hard conversations sometimes.
It is not entirely pleasant to have flaws weighed alongside one’s successes across 140 sessions in neighbourhoods across Singapore week in and week out. While the old ways of doing things brought Singaporeans from the Third World to one of the top cities in the First World, these new times need new, updated ways.
So changes are coming from these necessary conversations and that’s the important part. DPM Wong’s widely-praised Budget this February, for example, folded in concerns on social mobility and inequality, housing and uplifting those with less.
“We will build on our strong foundations. But we must also have the courage to change where change is needed,” said DPM Wong.
And that means DPM Wong doing away or refreshing policies when the times call for them, as when PSLE T-scores were removed under PM Lee’s leadership following Our Singapore Conversation a decade ago.
Not so much offering them up on the altar of progress, as others might think, because that does indicate a results-first-nevermind-the-cost mentality.
Rather, for the alter of progress: Because this change, DPM Wong knows, must have results and benefits shareable with all of us Singaporeans as we and the Government take the next step of Singapore’s forward journey.
Good leaders listen
One nuance to all these notions of listening to Singaporeans: this is not the first time PAP leaders are doing it.
1991’s The Next Lap and 2012’s Our Singapore Conversation were also all-of-nation public engagement exercises held during eras of leadership transition.
They worked, allowing then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to alter Singapore’s stride forward in order to fit the specific aspirations and challenges of their times.
But at the same time, the difference with DPM Wong is the great degree upon which his vision for Singapore rests upon strengthening the social compact. Also that he is focused on achieving this vision in a Singapore where political contestation is here to stay.
That is a good state of affairs for Singapore’s future. It means that as a maturing democracy, we Singaporeans are not a politically apathetic bunch. We feel that we have a stake in Singapore and so are enthused and bold in sharing our views.
That said, a hallmark of successful leaders is that as much as they take action, they listen. This is so that they understand the problems which their people face, co-create answers together and help discover their ikigai, or their passion which gives them purpose and joy.
Even as Forward Singapore enters its solution-forming phase, DPM Wong’s new, refreshed focus on comprehensively engaging Singaporeans and strengthening Singapore’s social compact towards “Us and We” shows one truth: He’s taking action, and that’s guided by listening a lot.
Source: Lawrence Wong / Facebook