“We must build bridges, not walls”: DPM Heng on 3 things we all must get right for S’pore to thrive

“We must build bridges, not walls,” said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Apr 20.

This was part of his call for us as a nation to get three things right so that Singapore can continue to succeed in this difficult future.

“First, we must grow a vibrant and innovative economy. Second, we must develop every Singaporean to their fullest potential and empower each one to thrive and succeed,” said DPM Heng.

“And third, we must remain open: As an economy, as a society.”

1. Growing a vibrant and innovative economy

There is room for economic growth and social welfare to co-exist, underscored DPM Heng.

“Growth has never been for growth’s sake,” he explained. 

“Growth is critical for giving us the means to build a better Singapore and better lives for Singaporeans.” 

Indeed, it lets Singaporeans access good jobs, fulfil aspirations and raise families.

Source: Heng Swee Keat/ Facebook

“It generates resources for the nation to fund needs and priorities, such as supporting families caring for seniors and uplifting those with disadvantages,” added DPM Heng.

And when bad times come? There will be a buffer for us to save lives and livelihoods, like how the PAP Government was able to responsively draw over S$40 billion dollars from the reserves during the pandemic. This while not borrowing a single cent and so not burdening future generations.

At the same time, global structural changes need addressing: Scientific innovation continually reshaping every sector of the economy, a shift away from globalisation and free trade and Singapore’s ageing population. 

“To succeed, we must press on with efforts to transform our economy,” said DPM Heng.

In this, the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), which were launched to prepare workers in every sector for the future, are now in phase 2.0: Two additional pillars, resilience and sustainability, have been added. 

“Resilience to address shocks in the supply chains. And sustainability to address carbon constraints,” said the DPM.

The ITMs also now focus more on the future of jobs and skills to prepare for an ageing workforce and letting more people with disabilities enter the workforce. 

DPM Heng gave a heartwarming real-life example of a foreign-born company founder who automated his entire production process and successfully trained an older Singaporean staff in his 60s to supervise the automated system. 

2. Developing every Singaporean to the fullest potential 

The World Bank ranks Singapore as the world’s best place for a child to realise his or her potential.

And the PAP Government plans to do even more on this front.

The notion of meritocracy is being widened, for example.

“Through our education system, we prepare young people to navigate shifts and seize opportunities with competence,” said DPM Heng.

In particular: Nurturing competencies like global awareness, cross-cultural literacy, communication and collaboration skills. 

Source: Heng Swee Keat / Facebook

Also: Opportunities for overseas exposure throughout the schooling journey, from internships to immersion programs.

This building of social and emotional competencies helps develop students build regional connections for keeping Singapore preferred and relevant.

At the same time, strengthening the SkillsFuture Movement so that Singaporeans can face the future resilient and well-equipped.

This “cradle-to-grave” learning society will go hand-in-hand with the transforming nature of jobs and businesses of the upcoming era, noted DPM Heng.

3.  Remaining open: As an economy, as a society

Finally, DPM Heng underscored that an all-in effort is needed.

“For Singapore to continue thriving, Government-led efforts to deepen collaborations, be it free trade, investments or research, is not enough,” he said. 

“To reap the full benefits of these collaborations, Singapore and Singaporeans must remain not just open and connected, but relevant and useful.”

This especially when our value proposition is building connections across cultures and economies. 

The good thing about this? We already have a head start.

“Openness is not new to Singapore. In fact, it is core to our identity and values,” said DPM Heng. 

“Our plural, multiracial society reflects this open-mindedness. We chose to organise ourselves to ensure opportunities for all regardless of race, language or religion.”

So much so that the esteemed professor of history Wang Gungwu once said that Singapore is the only nation that he knows of where the majority accepted that they had to treat everyone as equal, and that a plural society was the foundation of nationhood

“The value of being a Singaporean will rise if we remain dynamic, outward-looking and effective in building connections with people around the world,” said DPM Heng. 

Source: Heng Swee Keat / Facebook

“We must continue to encourage Singaporeans to venture out. And to integrate the foreigners who are studying and working here so that we can draw energy and capabilities from diverse sources.”

Plus, take steps to reduce friction and tensions, whether from different norms and behaviours, wealth inequality, more severe competition for jobs or unfair workplace practices.

“These are issues that the Government is addressing by adjusting our policies, strengthening our frameworks and developing Singaporeans fully,” reassured DPM Heng.

“If there are those who share in our convictions and values, let us encourage them to contribute and invite them to grow Singapore together. Many already are; they will further nurture the philanthropic ecosystem,” he further noted. 

At the same time, we should set out our expectations and exhort newcomers to adapt to local norms and behaviours, DPM Heng added.

“On the part of Singaporeans born and raised here, we must have the patience and empathy to help newcomers settle in and integrate better,” he said. 

“This is how we can remain open, yet cohesive as a society. Open-minded, yet proud of our Singapore identity and successful as a nation and people.”

Source: MCI, Heng Swee Keat/ Facebook, Swapnil Bapat / Unsplash