Perhaps not a paradise, but still quite good

Perhaps not a paradise, but still quite good

Having seemingly reconciled the opposing demands of high-density living and sustaining a green environment, Singapore may be likened by some to be a paradise.

But when asked yesterday if the island was indeed one, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that the Government's approach had been more practical.

"Paradise, like beauty, is in the eye of the mind of the beholder... We dare not promise paradise, but we try to make Singapore an endearing home for all Singaporeans," Mr Khaw said at the World Cities Summit.

Mr Khaw was responding to a question about Singapore's status as a paradise, put forth by Professor Tommy Koh, who was moderating a dialogue on the sustainable development of cities.

While he appeared to demur on the accolade, Mr Khaw said Singapore could be proud of its achievements after 50 years, but also noted that the country's development was always a "work in progress".

Pointing out the challenges Singapore faced, Mr Khaw noted that Singapore was both a city and a state, and if it failed as a city, it failed as a country as well.

This was unlike a bigger country like the United States, for example, where one city could go bankrupt but other cities could still prosper.

Mr Khaw said that the impact of globalisation also hit Singapore and Singaporeans more acutely.

In large or medium-sized countries, for example, citizens who wanted to seek a lower cost of living had alternatives, such as moving to villages or second-tier cities, but Singaporeans did not have this option.

Speaking on the second day of the four-day summit held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Mr Khaw highlighted four areas which had helped Singapore's growth.

In its fiscal policy, Singapore had always spent within its means and saved for a rainy day. Empirically, many cities have not been able to "walk the talk" in this area, Mr Khaw said.

Secondly, Singapore had kept the economy open, in terms of free trade, and attracting talent and ideas.

"Protectionism has no place, because Singapore's domestic market is too small," he added.

And while Singapore could not shield itself entirely from globalisation and competition, it could prepare its people through investing in education and skills training, to ensure they had good jobs and opportunities.

Lastly, it was important to keep politics honest, said Mr Khaw, adding that if every election was about political parties giving out as many goodies as they could, with as little taxation, this would spell trouble.

"Democracy of that manner must lead to insolvency and, eventually, political cynicism," he said.

Politics was a hot-button issue last week during the parliamentary debate on the President's Address.

The debate centred on the definition of constructive politics, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying that it should lead to effective policies being developed for Singaporeans and problems being solved.

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