Together as a society, youths can do their best, and the Government will support them, says DPM Heng
Conversations | By Calissa Man En Qin, Project Director of the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum, Darryl Shya Shao Feng, Finance Director of the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum and Zhou Xizhuang Michael, President of NUS Students’ Political Association
Fortifying our economy
Beyond its health impacts, COVID-19 poses both economic challenges and opportunities for Singapore. To fortify our economy, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat discussed how the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) as well as the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package protect jobs and create new opportunities for graduates and workers.
He notes that the government is working with companies under our tripartite framework to encourage the hiring and retainment of workers. In particular, the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package provides holistic support by encouraging hiring, traineeships and training in Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and training institutes.
Hearteningly, over 90,000 of the target 100,000 opportunities under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package have been committed and made available to local job seekers.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng proposes key strategies for Singapore to seize growth opportunities in a post-COVID-19 world: building on our strengths in research and development (R&D), innovation and enterprise.
To ready themselves for the jobs of tomorrow, Singaporeans should possess a diverse portfolio of technical and business skills. Deputy Prime Minister Heng hopes that businesses take an interdisciplinary approach to training employees, akin to the interdisciplinary teaching and research adopted by our universities.
He identifies three developments to look out for as we transition to a post-COVID world, which is likely to place greater emphasis on resilience, digitalisation and innovation. These developments include the potential fragmentation of global supply chains and pushback against globalisation.
Balancing social welfare with fiscal prudence
The Singaporean government, like many governments worldwide, has used fiscal stimulus measures to prop up the economy. Deputy Prime Minister Heng discusses how the Singaporean government has dedicated close to $100 billion over four Budgets to retain jobs, help our businesses stay viable, and provide social support. Of this sum, $52 billion comes from past reserves.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng highlights the importance of preparing for a post-COVID world, to safeguard the financial welfare of future generations. He says, “Just as we have benefitted from the care of our founding generation who have left us reserves to meet uncertainties like this, it is our responsibility to leave something behind for our future generations. In that way, our future generations would be more resilient.”
Strengthening our social compact
COVID-19 has deepened many fault-lines – it has exacerbated the social, economic and psychological challenges faced by low-income, elderly and differently abled Singaporeans.
Beyond financial reserves, Deputy Prime Minister Heng recognises the importance of social reserves. He says: “If we do not help, no amount of financial resources or government help will tide us through this pandemic. But if we as a society care for one another, come together and support one another, then I think we can overcome this crisis and at the same time, think about what we must do for our future generations.”
Deputy Prime Minister Heng also commends teachers and principals for supporting the learning and safety of students in these trying times, especially those from lower income groups.
Lessons for the 4G leadership
While the COVID-19 pandemic is the first major crisis Singapore's new generation of 4G leaders have faced as a political team, Deputy Prime Minister Heng shared that many of the 4G team have been “trained in various ways in various crises”. For instance, he was in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore when the Global Financial Crisis occurred.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng raises two lessons the 4G leadership learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Firstly, we must always be prepared for the unexpected. Secondly, we must be agile when responding to crises. Indeed, our experience in one crisis does not guarantee that we can deal with the next one. For instance, the playbooks for the SARS outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic differ: while both are major infectious diseases, their scale and transmission mechanisms are different.
Charting our post-COVID future
As Singapore’s battle with COVID-19 persists, it is crucial to reflect on the takeaways we can learn from this crisis. More importantly, we must ready ourselves for a post-COVID future to chart new paths for Singapore. To tackle future challenges strategically, Deputy Prime Minister Heng raises a few takeaways from this crisis of a generation.
He mentions how COVID-19 has sharpened our sensitivity to both short and long-term challenges, as well as unexpected events. These range from sudden and unexpected events such as the pandemic and Global Financial Crisis of 2008, to long term issues such as climate change.
To respond to such challenges, Deputy Prime Minister Heng firstly emphasizes the importance of horizon-scanning. While it is impossible to anticipate every scenario, detecting weak signals can raise our readiness for a wide range of plausible futures.
In addition, he stresses the need to prevent the unexpected, by “maintaining links to main global institutions, committing to a rules-based multilateral order, and collaborating with like-minded countries to catalyse action”.
For instance, financial authorities strengthened the resilience of the global financial system after the Global Financial Crisis, through strategies such as requiring banks to hold a high level of capital.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng found this “a major help” today, as a confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and a weak financial system akin to that of 2008 would pose a “major crisis” globally.
He adds how Singapore joined the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility to support vaccine multilateralism, and to ensure the unimpeded fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic demands a united and concerted response by all nations, because “no one is safe until all of us are safe”.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng then expresses his hope for “greater multilateralism and a sense of a global commons” for a diverse range of global issues, from global financial crises, sustainable development, future pandemics and free trade.
Emerging Stronger as a Society
Finally, Deputy Prime Minister Heng shares his message for all Singaporean youths.
While the “original path” we have in mind may not be as clear, youths should take heart and stay united.
By exploring new ventures, trying new things and continuing to learn, we can work together to emerge stronger as one people.
DPM Heng also emphasizes the importance of social connections - both with family and friends, and within our wider social networks - in helping Singaporeans weather this crisis, just as each Singaporean should lend a helping hand to those in need.
"And together as a society, we can each do our best, and the Government will support you in this effort – but we should do it together", he says.
This interview was conducted as part of the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum 2020, organised by the NUS Students' Political Association.
About the Interviewee:
Mr Heng Swee Keat is the Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance. He is also a Member of Parliament for East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC). As Minister for Finance, Mr Heng oversees the revenue and expenditure policy of Singapore, and the allocation of resources to achieve national security, economic and social objectives. Additionally, he chairs the tripartite Future Economy Council which oversees the on-going restructuring of our economy, to create better jobs and business opportunities for all Singaporeans. Deputy Prime Minister Heng also launched the Singapore Together movement in June 2019 to work in close partnership with Singaporeans to design and implement policies and programmes, to emerge stronger together.