Help public get sense of vital policy ideals

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam delivering the 21st Gordon Arthur Ransome Oration.

SINGAPORE - I find Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's speech at a recent Academy of Medicine event instructive and reassuring ("Ensuring a fair and inclusive society"; Monday).

The five priorities he outlined, to ensure that government policies for a fair society are good for generations ahead, may have to be repeatedly amplified and articulated in layman's terms so as to be appreciated by the populace.

They could even be presented in the form of cartoons to bring out their significance.

The aim is to ensure that such big-picture ideas are properly understood by our people, especially if these are intended to form a part of our national conscience as we strive to be a fair and inclusive society.

As many of us are inclined to concern ourselves with bread-and-better issues, there is a risk that we are not as involved as we should be in broad policy issues that affect our collective future.

When an opportunity such as Mr Tharman's speech presents itself, we have to seize it and internalise what has been conveyed to be convinced of its merit.

To recap, the priorities are to:

Target government subsidies at the needy and avoid wasteful and inequitable universal benefits;

Design redistribution policies with a view to spur self-reliance and individual responsibility;

Ensure tax incentives and grants support civic efforts and strengthen communal values;

Maintain and build on a progressive system of taxes and benefits to fund social spending; and

Deliver various quality-of-life intangibles that make up a fair and just society.

Each of these priorities carries wide-reaching implications and affects the lives of Singaporeans in more ways than one. Collectively, they point to a direction in which our planners are taking us in their effort to shape our society - and our destiny.

I would like to see these policies communicated more effectively to reach out to and interest a wider cross-section of society.

It would be a shame if such significant policy ideals are forgotten in a short space of time without getting more views - endorsement or otherwise - from our citizens.

Yeoh Teng Kwong

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