SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said Singapore needs to be a "continuous meritocracy" where every individual is continuously evaluated based on their contributions, abilities and value on the job.
This is part of building an inclusive society where everyone is given opportunities to move up and progress.
Mr Tharman was speaking at a forum held at Nanyang Technological University on Wednesday evening.
The challenges ahead for Singapore was the theme of the forum which was attended by some 750 university students and lecturers.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said one increasing challenge is in building an inclusive society in a highly competitive world.
He said Singapore needs to achieve a fair and just society for each generation of Singaporeans even as it sustains a vibrant economy.
What is needed is a progressive agenda where the government focuses on social mobility.
Mr Tharman said: "Beyond school, we must continue to create bridges and ladders. Success is not and cannot be determined by what happened in your school years. That gives you a foundation but it should not be the basis for determining who succeeds in life. We have to provide opportunities for everyone to improve and to advance on the job, regardless of the qualifications they start with."
He said apart from having a culture of recognising individual effort and responsibility for the family, there must also be a work—place culture where workers are rewarded fairly.
Mr Tharman said there’s more work to be done in moving away from a system that’s still too focused on academic credentials towards one that focuses on performance and opportunities in the work place for every individual.
Another aspect is to have a spirit of community activism where Singaporeans pursue causes to help others realise a better life.
He cited an example where Beacon of Life, a self—help group for ex—offenders, has extended its role to help others such as youths at risk.
Mr Tharman also fielded questions from students.
One of them asked if the government can be more transparent on policies such as the selection criteria of Permanent Residents.
Mr Tharman said, "We can get more transparent, but most important I think is not the criteria but the broader debate that we have to settle, which is how much an inflow of foreigners that we should have. In other words, what levels and how fast we bring them in. And that’s a question that requires continuous review and frank and open debate.
"As part of the national conversation, I’m sure this will be one of the issues that will arise that we need to have a very frank and open discussion on.
"So I would say focus on the fundamentals, not so much the precision and the details, but focus on the fundamental principles and on who are the type of people whom we should let into our workforce to do different types of jobs, first. Secondly, the type of people whom we want in our society, who stay here for longer period."
Another student had asked if the government could provide more information regarding Singapore’s reserves.
Mr Tharman said the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation is already publishing five— and 10—year returns.
But it will not be publishing the total size of assets managed, unlike Temasek Holdings and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, as Mr Tharman said this is an important part of Singapore’s economic defence.
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