Aim to be 'democracy of integrity and deeds'

SINGAPORE should aim to be a society which values integrity and deeds, and where citizens are active in finding solutions to improve the country, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"The Government will support, encourage and lead the rally - but it comes down to whether Singaporeans believe that this nation is worth striving for," he said at the launch of two books at the 10th anniversary conference of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

Noting the need for fresh ideas to stay ahead in a far more competitive world, he said Singapore has not reached the limits of its potential as a nation.

He urged Singaporeans not to think of the Government as a separate entity. "Rather, government is about the things we decide to do together as a people."

While the challenges Singapore faces are not unique, these have become greater for several reasons, including the impact of globalisation and the ease with which radical propaganda and inflammatory remarks can circulate online.

"Countries are confronting very similar issues. This is at least partly why we see the rise of populist movements everywhere, tapping into widespread social discontent, as well as nationalist and xenophobic sentiments, to mobilise the masses," he said.

Singapore is not immune to pressures, he said, citing how during the population debate, groups called for "zero foreign worker growth". This ignored the impact of such a move on the economy, local businesses and jobs.

"Opposition for the sake of opposition will not promote or strengthen our democracy... How does this sort of discourse help us in solving the real and vital problems affecting our nation?"

The solution lay in going beyond partisan politics.

"It's about the kind of democracy we want to be, and that I hope we can be - a democracy of integrity, and a democracy of deeds, made up of an active citizenry who get involved in developing solutions for a better society."

Mr Wong called on all Singaporeans to play their part.

Academics and intellectuals, for example, should present "the full complexities and trade-offs of the challenges that lie ahead".

Responding to questions from the floor, he said that while there is no question the Government has shifted its position on social programmes, there was never an obsession with any one model.

The Government chose programmes to prioritise and pour resources into, such as public housing, he said. As Singapore became more prosperous, social programmes were then expanded.

On social media and online discourse, he noted that more moderate Singaporeans are speaking up online when they see certain norms being infringed.

The books launched yesterday were The Big Ideas Of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a compilation of 10 essays from last year's conference to mark the former prime minister's 90th birthday, and Governing Asia, which is essays on research by LKYSPP scholars.

This article was first published on Oct 18, 2014.
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