SINGAPORE: Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said one of the biggest risks for Singapore is a populist government that spends increasing amounts of money to succeed.
Already, he noted, there are other challenges facing the nation, such as an ageing population, a shrinking workforce and rising healthcare costs.
Mr Shanmugam said:
“There’s always something else on which money can be spent. But every time the government agrees and puts down a programme, you must remember it’s hard-coded, very difficult to take it back.
“Whenever we put down a programme today to spend money, I think the biggest risk for Singapore is a populist government that decides that the way to succeed is to spend more and more money. Every programme that you put down money (for), today, would just mushroom in 10, 15 years.
“So the impact will not be seen in the next five years. Next 10 years will be okay, but after that,
how are we going to afford it?
How sustainable is it going to be?”
Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the National University of Singapore U@live forum on Friday evening.
About 330 students, faculty staff and alumni attended the event.
The minister stressed that Singapore has succeeded because it has put in place systems, and thought ahead.
But he also pointed out that there has not been enough debate on the challenges facing Singapore.
Mr Shanmugam noted that a lot of the debate has been focused on day-to-day issues — which he acknowledged are important as well.
However, he suggested that more debate is needed at this stage of Singapore’s development — on the country’s next 20 to 30 years.
He added that moving forward, what is important for Singapore is for there to be good, competent people in government, and political stability.
And while Singapore could slow down if it wanted to, there are trade-offs — like quality of life that society has to be aware of.
Mr Shanmugam said:
“If we start saying, “Can we slow down?”, of course we can slow down.
- But you’ve got to ask whether the Chinese will slow down,
- you’ve got to ask whether the Indians are going to slow down,
- you’ve got to ask whether the Malaysians are going to slow down, and preferably be slower than you.
“But if you think you can organise all of that, you can afford to slow down. Alternatively, you must be prepared for another trade-off.
If you don’t want them to slow down, and let them overtake you, you no longer need to be an air hub or a sea hub, it’s possible. But then you need to agree that quality of life could be different.”
Mr Shanmugam also weighed in on the dispute over the cleaning of two hawker centres under the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.
He stressed that Singaporeans will be able to form their own judgements, given that documents are available for perusal. – CNA/al