SINGAPORE - Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, 52, introduced the term "hyperopia" to Parliament early this month, when he devoted his Budget debate speech to warning of the dangers of being too far-sighted in policy planning. The two-term MP and Deputy Speaker in Parliament talks to Charissa Yong about striking the right balance, passionate Singaporeans, and how he is open to the idea of dipping into the reserves for the right reasons.
Why is extreme long-term planning something that can be a weakness for Singapore?
Too much long-term planning is not good. Make no mistake, I'm not saying we should discard long-term planning.
But if we're overly weighted towards long-term planning, with not enough weight given to short-term goals and medium- term goals, I think the balance is not right. We're all human beings, you tell me the end point is there, but I need to go through shorter-term humps along the way. It's natural for me to worry about these humps.
I think for the present generation, they still look at the long term but I don't think they think so far ahead.
There's no right or wrong, it's just the way they are. We need to make sure we strike a right balance, and recognise that there are certain short-term (concerns).
In what ways have you seen young Singaporeans starting to think more short-term?
Anything that affects them first and the community second. And for that matter, me first, their family and extended family second, and the community third.
If you roll back the clock, I think the previous generation will think first of their family. But I think now, most will think "me" first.
People are so passionate about each of the things that matters to them. Very, very passionate! There are a myriad of issues: how we care for our planet, how we treat animals, amenities, what are we doing for the elderly and the poor? That's a good thing, but at the same time, it also means there is a lot more tension... fault lines open up and this creates a more contentious society.
How can Singapore's policy planning be more short-term?
For example, a very hot issue is overcrowding in transport. We'll be a lot more interconnected with all the new MRT lines coming up... which is a long-term project, 10 to 20 years down the road. But what do we do in the short term?
The Government is funding big bucks (with the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme) for the benefit of commuters in the immediate short term. So these are precisely the things I talk about. We're actually taking money out of the Budget.
You are open to the idea of using the national reserves for some of these programmes to help people in the short term?
I see the current demographic changes of an ageing population, coupled with the low total fertility rate, as danger signs of a crisis in the making. And if you see that coming, are there things that we can do in the short term, while addressing these long-term implications? We have said many times, the reserves are for rainy days, and I consider this as a rainy day in the making.
I support dipping into the reserves for these purposes. We are in a good position to do so. You want to be able to handle problems when you are strong, not weak. You don't want to handle crises when you have no choice.
Our reserves are strong. That doesn't mean we fritter them away. I'm just saying we should entertain this kind of thought.