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Saturday, November 17, 2007

SM Goh spells out how CDCs can tackle 3 challenges

SM Goh spells out how CDCs can tackle 3 challenges
By Jeremy Au Yong

CHALLENGE #1

The continuing wave of newcomers. Expect about 70,000 new citizens and permanent residents this year.

CHALLENGE #2

The widening income gap as global competition for talent results in the less-skilled being increasingly left behind.

CHALLENGE #3


The way Singaporeans view the old. Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations but attitudes are not changing fast enough.

LOOKING at the rapidly changing face of Singapore, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong finds three spots that pose a big challenge.
One comes from the continuing wave of newcomers calling Singapore home. Expect about 70,000 new citizens and permanent residents this year, he said.

Another is the widening income gap as global competition for talent results in the less-skilled being increasingly left behind.

The third is the way Singaporeans view the old. Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations but attitudes towards ageing, he said, 'are not changing fast enough'.

In giving his take on these issues last night, the Senior Minister also spelt out how they can be tackled.

But before he went into his two solutions, Mr Goh dwelt at length on the three spots of concern he called 'The Three Cohesions'.
The cohesion between new-old Singaporeans seems of particular concern to him as he gave his analysis to about 1,000 people at a dinner to toast the 10th anniversary of the Community Development Council (CDC).

At least five ministers were present, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. With the ex-mayors and mayors of the five CDCs, they launched a book on their decade-long work in looking after the needs of the needy.

The CDC is Mr Goh's baby and last night, like a fond father, he set out for them their challenges, and how he believes they can be tackled.

The forces of change are unavoidable as Singapore becomes more globalised and cosmopolitan, said Mr Goh.

As immigrants arrive, there are consequences, he said, highlighting a phenomenon called 'hunkering down'.

The term was coined by a Harvard political scientist, Professor Robert Putnam. He found that as society becomes more multicultural, there is less unity and trust among different groups, and even among people of the same race.

Mr Goh sees signs of 'hunkering down' in his constituency, Marine Parade.

He gives an annual reception to new residents and he noted: 'Those from China, India and Korea were not married to Singaporeans while those from Europe, Africa and our neighbours were.'

As for erosion of trust within the same race, there are signs of it among the Chinese and Indians, he said.

'In terms of accent, culture and habit, Singapore Chinese are different from their PRC counterparts...

'As for Indians, I've heard the Indians from India...sometimes come across as sedikit atas (slight air of superiority) to our local Indians.' But some Singaporean Indians also display the same attitude towards low-skilled foreign workers from India, he added.

In his study, Prof Putnam found that successful immigrant societies have developed 'more encompassing societal identities' while keeping the social fabric strong.

To bridge the gap between the rich and poor, the key is to give the poor the motivation and the means to invest in their own training and their children's education, he said.

On the cohesion between the elderly and young, Mr Goh, who is 66, noted: 'The 60-year-old of today...is better educated, healthier and will live easily for another 20 years. The 60-year-old of tomorrow will be even better off.'

To meet the challenges, Mr Goh outlined two priorities. One is to organise more activities to encourage inter-mingling between young and old, rich and poor, old citizens and new citizens. The second is for the CDCs to shift from just providing the poor 'pain relief' to include preventive measures.

South West District Mayor Amy Khor said Mr Goh hit the nail on the head in his 'concise depiction of what challenges the CDCs can help overcome'.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

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