Govt now more willing to listen and engage, says Tharman

PHOTO: The Straits Times

The People's Action Party (PAP) Government has shifted away from a top-down leadership style to engaging with and listening more closely to Singaporeans, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said at his party's East Coast GRC rally last night.

He also noted two other significant policy shifts - rebalancing economic and social goals, and developing a culture of deepening skills at all stages of life.

East Coast GRC is shaping up to be one of the hottest battlegrounds for the Sept 11 polls. The PAP's opponents, the Workers' Party, polled 45.17 per cent of valid votes there in the 2011 election - up from 36.14 per cent in 2006.

At last night's rally, Mr Tharman said strong leadership today is different from strong leadership 20 or 30 years ago.

"(Strong leadership today) means listening, actively engaging, changing when the situation changes, and continually adapting," he said, adding that his frequent interactions with residents have been "a tremendous learning experience".

"We used to be a top-down government, quite heavy-handed. You know what I mean.

"It is no longer that way, because Singapore has changed, and we have changed... A changed PAP is going to lead you into the future."

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister and a candidate for Jurong GRC, noted that the Government has been complementing economic policies with more active social policies in recent years, marking another significant shift.

"A successful economy by itself will not give us an inclusive and fair society," he added.

For every $1 of tax - mainly goods and services tax - that those in the bottom 10 per cent income group pay, they receive $6 back in subsidies - almost double the amount 10 years ago.

Mr Tharman cited policies such as the Workfare Income Supplement for lower-wage workers, and the progressive wage model for the cleaning and security sectors.

Unlike a minimum wage strategy, "our approaches are succeeding without losing jobs for older low-skilled workers who are the most vulnerable", he added.

The Government is also adding to the savings of lower-income Singaporeans through their Central Provident Fund accounts - a sustainable system which does not impose a burden on the next generation, unlike other pension systems in the United States, Europe and Britain.

Another major shift has been towards giving Singaporeans opportunities to maximise their potential at all stages of life and promoting greater social mobility, instead of relying on a system where success depends on grades earned early on.

"We are making sure that in Singapore birth is never destiny... Meritocracy alone will not produce social mobility.

"We have to create opportunities for Singaporeans to maximise their potential throughout life."

This means intervening early in life to help children who start off with less, as well as investing in middle-aged workers "so no one peaks in their early 40s".

Countries like the US are now grappling with a "polarised" workforce where those at the top are moving up but "the middle is gradually disappearing, because technology and automation are taking over".

"We will do everything we can to avoid this," said Mr Tharman.

This means supporting employers who invest in Singaporeans, particularly middle-aged professionals, managers and executives.

"(We want to) make sure that middle-income Singaporeans have good careers throughout their lives, that they don't become dispensable."

This article was first published on September 10, 2015.
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