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Singapore must be open to change to stay relevant, says panel

Friday, July 10, 2015 - 20:00
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SINGAPORE must be open to change and strategically plan its future, a panel said at the fifth annual DBS Asian Insights Conference.

SINGAPORE must be open to change and strategically plan its future, a panel said at the fifth annual DBS Asian Insights Conference.

The panel on "How can Singapore future-proof its relevance for the next 50 years?" saw three speakers discuss from the economic, social and political points of view, as well as answer questions from the audience.

They addressed issues such as adapting the economy, raising productivity, press freedom and the definition of meritocracy.

"Singapore's survival is a foregone conclusion," Ho Kwon Ping, S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore, said. "I think the bigger danger for Singapore, economically and globally, is whether we'll lose our relevance; whether we'll become a second-tier city-state, as opposed to first-tier."

To maintain its relevance, Singapore needs to deepen its strengths in areas it is already proficient in, he said.

"This clearly requires a very targeted approach," he added. "So it's a mix between very careful strategic planning and a clear recognition of global market forces."

"What's important is Singapore cannot keep still. We have to be very agile," Beh Swan Gin, chairman of the Economic Development Board of Singapore, said.

An audience member also raised the question of waning productivity levels.

Ngiam Tong Dow, adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said it was the responsibility of the upper management to improve them. "(CEOs) must get out of their comfort zones from the corporate office . . . and lead from the front end."

From the social context, the panel heard concerns about the role of the press in Singapore's future.

"Freedom of the press is important to not just the economic future of Singapore, but to the wellbeing of any country," Mr Ho said, although he noted that "unrestrained freedom", exemplified by the likes of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, were unsuitable for Singaporean society.

He said most Singaporeans understand the necessity for "out of bounds markers", or OB markers - which denote topics, based on the collective Singaporean heritage, that must be dealt with "very carefully".

"The bigger question here is: 'As we evolve as a society, as there is less cohesiveness in greater diversity, where are these OB markers going to be?'," he continued, saying that "young people" such as blogger Amos Yee will continue to try and "push boundaries", which are currently not well-defined.

He added that a free press would encourage a collaborative, participatory democracy.

Another change the panel discussed was the concept of meritocracy, when an audience member asked about the sustainability of the use of scholars as civil servants.

"We must spread the talent throughout the economy, across society," Mr Ngiam said, adding that scholars should not be confined to the government.

"In reality, there are multiple paths to success today, and certainly going forward," Mr Beh added, noting that the historical emphasis on intellect and analytical skills is "not enough".

Being able to understand issues and rally and connect with people were also important, he continued. "We need to rethink the concept of meritocracy, because what we have today is one-dimensional."

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