Aug 12, 2013

    S'pore stuck in mid-life crisis, says ESM Goh

    SINGAPORE is trapped in a mid-life crisis. But it must find a way to get out and recapture the ruggedness and can-do spirit of Singapore's pioneers, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.

    Mr Goh said the country is stuck in a mid-life crisis despite making progress as, "according to some surveys, Singaporeans are amongst the world's wealthiest but are also the most pessimistic".

    "We are now at an inflection point of our development as a society. I dare say that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet are having a tougher time governing Singapore than Mr Lee Kuan Yew and I had. And it is not going to get easier," said Mr Goh at a Marine Parade National Day dinner at Tanjong Katong Complex.

    This is because the external environment is more complex, competitive and uncertain than in the past, he said, citing global and regional developments that affect Singapore, such as United States-China relations.

    But Mr Goh said the challenges faced here are "even greater". They include rising costs of living; slower economic growth; an ageing population; a more diverse and less-cohesive population; and a better-educated younger generation with higher expectations of life.

    To tackle these issues and overcome the mid-life crisis, Mr Goh said policies and programmes need updating or overhauling to ensure they continue to serve their intended purposes.

    "A new social compact between the people and the Government will also have to be forged. Otherwise, I fear that Singapore will begin to go downhill," he said.

    But even as the Government is reviewing and improving policies, he said that Singaporeans have a part to play.

    For one thing, the Government cannot "solve problems in a practical, ruthlessly-efficient bureaucratic way" anymore, he said. Instead, Singapore's leaders "need to win hearts, not just arguments", especially if people are asked to make personal sacrifices for the collective benefit.

    On the other hand, Singaporeans "must not pile unrealistic pressures and demands on the Government", he said, noting that Singapore managed to do well in the past as the Government "did not have this pressure from the electorate".

    Mr Goh said the country would be worse off if the government of the day "is forced to apply band-aid solutions to complex problems, or to flip-flop policies to stave off populist pressures".

    "We must guard against populist policies and programmes. They are not sustainable and will bankrupt the country sooner or later," warned Mr Goh.

    He also urged citizens to be more resilient and self-reliant, even as the Government does more to share their burdens.

    "We must not lose the drive, self-reliance and ruggedness of our parents and first-generation leaders," he said.

    "For individuals to succeed, they must help themselves, make full use of the conducive environment which the Government has created. The world will leave behind those who become complacent." KENNY CHEE AND ADRIAN LIM