As the country plans for its future, it would do well to draw lessons from its past, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday. And underpinning them all is the ability to turn adversity into opportunity.
He picked out five lessons on Tuesday while speaking at the launch of the Singapore Institute of International Affair's Future 50 (F50) programme.
Fresh from leading a year-long national conversation on what Singapore should be in 2030, Mr Heng offered up the problem of Singapore's water supply as an example of how it has turned a necessity into an advantage.
Not only does the country have its own desalination plant today, but its universities are also world leaders in water technology and membrane technology research, which have positioned it for other opportunities.
"This story about turning necessity into advantages should always be part of the Singaporean DNA. That things may be difficult, but it is the spirit that matters," he said.
Mr Heng delivered the keynote address while launching F50, a two-year exercise that will bring together scholars, policymakers and members of the public to discuss Singapore's place in the changing global context over the next 50 years. A report will be released ahead of Singapore's 50th National Day.
In his speech, he listed five important lessons from the past that he said those involved in F50 need to keep in mind.
The first is to understand Singapore's context as a city-state that is plugged into the world - "very different than if you are a city in a big country, or a country with many cities".
Next is the need to stay relevant to the world.
Third, Singaporeans should be open to ideas from all over the world, but also have the courage and conviction to do what is right for Singapore.
Fourth, Singapore needs good leaders who have the ability to take strategic decisions for the long term, "and not just think of it in quarterly terms or in terms of electoral cycles".
And finally, he said Singaporeans should retain their "can-do spirit" of resilience.
In the dialogue that followed, Mr Heng was asked what policies he thought the Government had got wrong. His response: What was more critical was the willingness to change the policy when it no longer fits the circumstances.
Citing the stop-at-two policy of the 1970s, he said: "Clearly if you look at the population policy - this is in the earlier phases where we had different sets of priorities and we had stop at two - I think over time, it has had a certain impact.
"But if you think about what has happened in Singapore over the last 48 years, if you take the overall record, it hasn't been a bad one... The important thing for us is policies are not good for all times. The ability to change when the situation changes is really the critical part."
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