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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Contribution to Singapore Conversation

I wrote this for Straits Times back in late 2012. Editor told me to that it covers too many topics and does not dig deep enough into any specific topic. She suggested that i instead write about my entrepreneurship journey. That is how this article came about!

But since this is my blog, i reproduce the old article here :)

My Vision for Singapore

Singapore in 2030 is an economically thriving, well educated, inclusive and compassionate
nation. We are a top tier global city well known for our strengths in areas like wealth
management & banking, system of governance, high density population living, transportation
hub, tourism, high technology industries etc.

Our population is confident with our diversity. We are multi-cultural, multi-religious and multiracial.
We live together in harmony and respect. We have a common set of values that drives
and unites us and this includes hard work and meritocracy tempered with egalitarian ideals,
tolerance of diversity underpinned by broad based education and a rootedness to our nation
and community built on a sense of common destiny and history.

While the vision is easy to articulate it is the details that matter. Below some specific areas
which I would like to see happen.

Egalitarian Society

We recognize that not all people are created equal, nor are they given equal opportunity due to
different genetic and environmental factors. We need to implement policies that ensure that
our less well to do citizens do not become a permanent underclass. We should be willing to
explore more subsidies for lower income healthcare, housing and education. We should revisit
our policy on the minimum wage, capital gain taxes and estate duties on the top 1%
periodically. We should also be willing to subsidize healthcare and education for the underclass.

The trick is in the balance. I do not advocate a welfare state or taxation system which
discourages enterprise and which erodes human drive. But we need to set a tracked metric to
monitor mobility between the income classes and to sometimes send a signal that Singapore is
a nation and not a corporation. For example, a modest 5-10% estate tax on estates values
above US$10M would give a good signal that we care about redistributing wealth as a principle
but it will not hurt the bulk of the people nor will it result in massive evasion since the rate is

On the topic of transfers, I feel it is better to raise wages at the bottom end than to just give
more transfers which is akin to welfarism.


Singapore is a representative democracy. We have a dominant one party government and it has
served us well with some missteps along the way. I would want to see more communication
and engagement between the existing government, civil service and the people when it comes
to strategic issues and occasionally even for day to day implementations that affect many.
Some examples include foreign population numbers, housing policy etc.

I would love to see more diverse, talented and ethical individuals answer the call of politics. For
starters, the dominant party should make a serious attempt to woo talent from outside the
military, grassroots and civil service spheres. It is not about money, it is about having a vision
that inspires top talent. This will help prevent allegations of groupthink and perhaps even end
up revitalizing and changing the image of the ruling party. We should seriously consider why
our current political service is unable to match or beat the allure of a career with Google (Do No
Evil) when the results of political service has as much if not more impact on people than Google


For Singapore to be a thriving city, we need a strong domestic economy. While current
sentiment is for population to be capped, we should be broad-minded enough to periodically
review this number and make adjustments as infrastructure and new technologies become
available. I see a large population possible in Singapore if we are creative in our land-use and if
we are able to build a harmonious consensus for high density living. The ability to adapt and
thrive in a high density environment can even be exported worldwide.
We have an ageing population. Let us make sure our healthcare, transport and housing sectors
are upgraded to adjust to our increasing number of older citizens. But let us not also underestimate
the value of our elderly. This is the same population which has brought Singapore
from 3rd to 1st world. I believe strongly that my parent’s generation will continue to add great
value to Singapore as business advisors, family care-takers, capital owners, evangelizing tourists
and more!

Immigration should be used sparingly as a complementary policy to encouraging child birth and
not as a replacement policy. Singaporeans will happily have more children if they believe that
Singapore is a great place for rearing children and that Singapore is not a stressful place to live
in. We need to educate a population that believes in itself, that is confident and that knows
how to maintain a good work life balance. This brings me to the most important area to we
need to work at.


Our future is in our people. We need to ensure that each Singaporean is trained to think
critically as a citizen and individual. Our education system has to be fine tuned constantly to
move with the times. Independence and creativity has to be encouraged even if means we have
mavericks pushing our social boundaries often. I would much rather prefer a noisy marketplace
with competing ideas than an apathetic nation of complainers.

For our national discourse to be effective, the learning of philosophy, national history and
economics are actually rather critical subjects which are omitted in our schools. They should be
mandatory learning at secondary level and up. Do away with early streaming of children if
possible and expose them equally to all subjects. Do a detailed and transparent study tracking
GEP/Top student career outcomes and evaluate with a critical eye. If something needs to give
way, then let it be our obsession with ever better academic grades. Seriously, I do not for one
moment think the current generation of straight A students are any wiser or smarter than the
generations before. They just study a lot more.

A thinking population with a well rounded education in the social sciences, arts and sciences is
our best bet against any future economic, social or political challenges Singapore may face.


We need more local champions whether government owned or private citizen owned. We need
our Nestles, IKEAs and Asus. This can only happen if a sufficient number of top talent in
Singapore choose entrepreneurship as a career. SPRING , ACE and all the other initiatives are on
the right track. We must continue to encourage entrepreneurship and continue to fund coinvestment
schemes until a critical mass is achieved in multiple industries.

There is a fundamental difference between an MNC who is here because of tax benefits and
infrastructure and a locally owned MNC or SME who is here because the owner is Singaporean.
The latter will stay through thick and thin as the decision making includes emotional ties. The
former will leave when the going gets too tough and profits go down. A good litmus test will be
the current manpower policy shifts. As a local business owner, I understand the need to raise
productivity and hire more locals. I too want to pay locals at the bottom more. They are my
fellow Singaporeans.


We need to have an integrated and harmonious society. Current laws on racial or religious
speech, housing quotas should remain. But the solution lies not with rules, laws, harsh
punishment and enforcement. We need more integration of our peoples.

National Service is the great leveler and nation builder. I am a strong advocate to continue NS
for our young men just purely on this basis alone. Perhaps we can consider a similar but shorter
1 or half year stint for our young women too. SAP schools should have a quota of non-Chinese
in them so that racial integration starts in those key formative years. Having gone through a
SAP school, I think this is one area which if implemented will create even more well-rounded


The Singapore I envision is a confident, compassionate and top tier nation. We build on our
strengths and play a valuable role on the world stage disproportionate to our population size.
Our people lead fulfilling lives in the spheres of work they choose and our children and elderly
are well looked after. For this to happen, I strongly believe the points I raised need to be
looked into. Not everyone will agree and I hope opponents to my views will add their voice and
reasons to this discussion.

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