I cannot but feel perplexed at the state of policymaking in Singapore after the conclusion of the National Day Rally by PM Lee Hsien Loong.

The three key policy thrusts as presented by him were namely, the war against diabetes; pre-school education and the Smart Nation initiative.

While not slighting the need to eat healthily and also the contribution of pre-school teachers to the learning and well-being of children, I do not think that these are urgent and pressing issues that warrant an airing at the NDR.

(Let us also be mindful that not everyone can afford to eat healthily – it could be considered a luxury for those who are struggling to put three meals on the table. When one is worried about where the next meal is coming from, the choice is really not between white rice or the healthier brown rice, but would there be any rice on the table at all.)

The Smart Nation initiative can be said to be more relevant in this age of disruptive technologies and rapidly evolving global economy.

However, I really do feel that the Internet separation for the entire Public Service is a step backwards in our advancement of the objectives of being a tech-enabled nation.”

Even as we laud ourselves for our tech start-ups, especially those in fin-tech, the stark reality is that these start-ups are here because of generous inputs and subsidies by the Government. The Singaporean mindset, entrenched since the LKY era, is one that has always been more cautious and risk averse. Well-remunerated public service positions also hobble the entrepreneurial spirit.

There are many pertinent issues and imminent threats to the continued survival and viability of Singapore as a cohesive society and successful economy that would serve as better NDR fodder.

These issues include:

  1. Reversing the decline in public transport infrastructure reliability and capacity in light of a rising population and more expensive COEs for cars
  2. Understanding the productivity malaise which is indeed a global issue but also compounds the cost problem which Singapore faces (see chart below)
  3. Seeking out ways to recalibrate and adjust the cost structure for businesses in Singapore downwards to remain competitive on the international stage
  4. Boosting social safety nets for the poorest and downtrodden in society such that even as we make advances on the latest technological wave, the disadvantaged classes are not left behind and can share in the fruits of progress.

 

Source: Singstat, MOM Statistics

As a First World country, we can afford to be compassionate and empathetic; we do not have to be so brutal to the lowest income strata of our Singaporean society.

Singapore remains an attractive place for MNCs to do business and is also a choice investment destination. However, should the political leaders and senior public servants opt to only focus on the rosy aspect of the outlook, we might find that one day soon, Singapore, encumbered by ever rising wages and rent, lacklustre productivity growth and a multi-tiered society divided along income and wealth lines, is no longer a special location in the global economy – that would imperil our economic vibrancy and continued prosperity.