Outlook for Singapore (level of future‑readiness)
Written Reply to Parliamentary Question on outlook for Singapore (level of future-readiness)
Parliamentary Sitting Date: 22 November 2010
Miss Penny Low: To ask the Prime Minister (a) whether a report on the state of Singapore’s future-readiness has been made; (b) if so, what is the outlook in terms of Singapore’s (i) economic future-readiness in riding the changing tides of the global trade routes and industry sectors; and (ii) social future-readiness in engaging our people and building social capital; and (c) what can the private, public and people sectors do to help Singapore become more future-ready.
Written Reply (for the Prime Minister) by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister in charge of the Civil Service and Minister for Defence:
One of the hallmarks of Singapore’s success has been our ability to position ourselves for the future and to navigate uncertainties nimbly. Change is a constant but the rate of change has accelerated in recent times. More than ever, we need to be alert to possible challenges and opportunities over the horizon. It also means building the capabilities todaywhich will allow us to be flexible and adaptable enough to refine our strategies, if and when the need arises.
While there is no report on the state of Singapore’s future-readiness per se, this government has a strong track record in ensuring that Singapore is future-ready. This is because we are able to stay focused on long term goals and put in place the correct policies for Singapore in good time. For example, the structural reforms following the major economic reviews in 1986 and 2003 positioned Singapore well to ride the waves of global growth that followed each report. Similarly, the Economic Strategies Committee’s recommendations in February this year are aimed at positioning Singapore to benefit from the shifts in global economic conditions.
Policies like Workfare and CPF Life and tax reforms like the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax and the reduction in income taxes were also introduced with a view to helping Singapore and Singaporeans prepare for a more competitive global economic environment in which people are expected to live longer.
In the social dimension, we have continually invested in our social capital to meet new challenges through initiatives like the Inter- Racial and Religious Confidence Circles. Government agencies have made strides in engaging with citizens and civil society groups in fields as diverse as urban conservation and land transport.
In addition, the government’s efforts in long-term strategic planning, through tried-and-tested approaches like scenario planning since the early 1990s, have helped us to make sense of our complex operating environment, identify strategic threats and opportunities, and plan for the future.
More recently, we have also introduced the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning system to complement scenario planning, set up the Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF) and established a network for senior officials from all ministries to discuss emerging issues and risks. These initiatives are all aimed at strengthening the government’s anticipatory capabilities.
Ms Low also asked what the public, private and people sectors could do to help Singapore become more future-ready. Indeed, making sure that Singapore is prepared for the future must be a collective, national effort. The private and people sectors are rich sources of fresh insights that can better inform public policymaking and planning.
In conducting its scenario projects, the Government consults extensively with people from diverse backgrounds. Such engagements provide us with a more complete picture of what the future could be like. The CSF also reaches out to local and international think-tanks, academics and consultants, and participates actively in global gatherings of leading thinkers. Actively seeking out people with fresh perspectives and listening to alternative voices help us to guard against the pitfalls of groupthink. Keeping our channels of communication open is critical in ensuring that we harness our collective national wisdom, and co-create robust national strategies. [Please see **Annex** for examples of public, private and people sector collaborations on specific forward-looking strategies to build economic and social resilience.]
A 2009 study by the Institute of Management Development (IMD) called the Stress Test on Competitiveness 2009 ranked Singapore 2nd among 57 countries. This study was future-oriented, and focused on exposure, readiness and resilience in a period of world recession. [Please see **Annex** for details and other indicators.] It provides some external validation that we are doing the right things to prepare Singapore for the future.
However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and whether Singapore can weather future storms or take advantage of future opportunities will critically continue to depend on the people and private sectors working with the government, in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, and in the context of a strong government that is able to provide sound leadership.
Examples of Public, Private and People Sector Collaboration
Let me give three examples of how the public, private and people sectors have worked together.
First, the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) process, started in May 2009 and completed in February 2010, was an example of how the public, private and people sectors worked together to formulate long-term growth strategies for Singapore’s economic transformation. It focused on building capabilities and maximising emerging opportunities to achieve sustained and inclusive growth. This process, which was led by the Minister for Finance, involved extensive collaborations with individuals from across government, academia and industry. All in, more than 1000 people contributed their views. The ESC was, in essence, a national effort to build economic resilience and put Singapore in good stead to, as Ms Low put it, “ride the changing tides of the global trade routes and industry sectors”.
Second, the government similarly cannot build social resilience alone. Our Many Helping Hands approach is an example of how the public, private and people sectors can work together to build social resilience. Here, the collective efforts of government, grassroots organisations, VWOs, philanthropic organisations and businesses are harnessed to foster a supportive, caring and compassionate society, and to anticipate and address problems before they surface.
Third, strong partnerships among the public, private and people sectors has helped us to develop solutions to tackle the question of Singapore’s environmental sustainability. Our Environment Ministry set up a series of focus group discussions, comprising representatives from across the three sectors. The groups discussed issues related to economic development, public health and regional and international matters, and the reports of their discussions have fed into the Singapore Green Plan 2012 – Singapore’s blueprint toward environmental sustainability.
These consultations and collaborations should be encouraged, and I look forward to hearing suggestions from the private and people sectors on how we can continue to work together to prepare Singapore well for the future.
International Rankings of Singapore’s “Future Readiness”
Singapore was ranked 2nd in the International Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) Stress Test, an analysis based on the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2009 that assesses which countries are better equipped to bounce back from recession. The findings were future-oriented, and focused on exposure, readiness and resilience in a period of world recession. Denmark was in 1st place; China was 18th; the US was 28th; the UK was 34th.
Singapore was the highest ranked Asian state in a global index of wealth and social resilience in the Caux Round Table’s 2009 Social Achievement Capital Country rankings. The study ranked 200 countries according to pillars such as economic activity, quality of life and legal and political institutions. Singapore was in 14th place, ahead of the US and Britain.