Singapore cannot abandon meritocracy, can improve it: DPM Lawrence Wong

Meritocracy is still the best way to organise Singapore's society, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong speaking at the launch of Forward Singapore on 28 June 2022. (SCREENSHOT: Lawrence Wong/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — Despite its downsides, meritocracy is still the best way to organise Singapore's society, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (28 June).

Speaking at the launch of Forward Singapore, Wong said meritocracy encourages people to make the best use of available opportunities and preserves upward mobility across society.

“We cannot abandon meritocracy, but I believe we can improve it and make ours a more open and compassionate meritocracy,” he added.

During his speech at the NTUC Centre at One Marina Boulevard, Wong spoke more about Forward Singapore, a year-long exercise to review and strengthen the country’s social compact via a roadmap for the next decade and beyond.

A key aspect of Forward Singapore is to turn challenges into opportunities, and forge a social compact that is fair and equitable across generations, according to Wong .

“Forward Singapore will be a major undertaking of the 4G team…I want to see a Singapore, where opportunities are open to all, no matter who they are or what their background is,” Wong said.

On the economic front, Wong said Singapore will continue to rely on open and free markets to grow, and welcome investments and talent from around the world, in order to create more jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.

“But we know that left unchecked, the workings of the free market can lead to excessive competition and rising inequalities.”

Acknowledging that competition from foreign workers and professionals has caused “some anxiety”, Wong assured that Singaporeans will not be left to fend for themselves and be subject to market forces alone.

Among the upcoming new measures, Singapore will update its policies to manage the inflow of work pass holders, and pass a law to ensure that businesses and companies uphold fair employment practices.

Singapore will continue to expand opportunities for Singaporeans at the different stages in their life with heavy investments ranging from pre-school education, to skills upgrading and retraining.

No more 'business-as-usual'

The launch of Forward Singapore comes as the country finds itself at a crossroads in its journey, Wong said.

While the expectations were for a “strong recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore is now facing “strong headwinds", with the war in Ukraine fuelling global inflation and possibly a recession, he added.

At the same time, there are rising geopolitical tensions, especially between the US and China amid a “more dangerous and bifurcated” world while Singapore has to deal with a number of social trends with long-term consequences.

Hence, Singapore cannot adopt a “business-as-usual” approach towards bolstering its social compact or risk becoming a “low-trust society” like many others in Asia and Europe, Wong warned.

“And if our social compact fails, a large segment of Singaporeans will come to feel estranged from society, believing that the system is not on their side. Trust in the government and among various segments of society will plummet," he added.

The government understands the concerns of many Singaporeans in areas ranging from the education system to career opportunities, Wong said. As such, he encouraged Singaporeans to give ideas towards achieving the upcoming goals under Forward Singapore.

“I know that these are genuine struggles that Singaporeans face – perhaps more so now than in the past and I hope we will have honest conversations about these concerns, and how we can tackle them together.”

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