Time for a new social compact.
By Yuen Kin Pheng, Francis
Leadership is about inspiring others to follow in achieving common missions and goals. In the context of a nation, leadership takes on added meaning and responsibilities. This is because leaders of democratic nations are elected by their people to serve them and not to be served by them. While corporate leaders work for the interests of the company and its stake holders, leaders of nations work for the interests of their people. This means people’s interests have to come first above everything else.
For Singapore, we grew up as a nation with a strong social compact with the ruling party. The people gave the ruling party the trust and support to govern in exchange for the party taking care of their interests in all facets of their lives. This social compact is no longer tenable.
Firstly, trust has been badly eroded especially over the recent decades. What have been promised to the people have not materialized. From Swiss standard of living to affordable housing and health care, these have all fallen far short of the mark. Worse still, inequality of income and wealth is so blatantly widening.
Elitism among the ruling class has popped its ugly head. It is now party interests above all else and staying in power at all cost becomes the guiding principle for the elites. Yet, there is an entitlement mentality and arrogance in attitude among the leaders. Their belief that the party can do no wrong and know what’s best for the country is disconcerting.
We can clearly see this behavior manifested in policies introduced over the last 20 years. The policy of bringing hordes of low-wage foreign labor and PMETs depressing local wage levels and displacing local workers; the policy of pricing public housing at market rates soaking up CPF savings; the policy of running public goods and services as profit making franchises; the policy of favoring large corporations and neglecting our own SMEs as engines for growth are just a few examples of how our people’s interests are not duly served.
Yes, there will always be counter arguments that these are for the good of economic development as Singapore is an open economy or we should not be a welfare state. But there are always alternative policies that can strike a meaningful compromise that put our people first while achieving growth and wealth generation, if leaders are prepared to listen to constructive albeit differing views.
In fact it is this aggressive pursuit of economic success that unwittingly influences the younger generation to value material success over other important virtues in life. Sadly, now we have to remind people about compassion, about being a graceful society or about looking after our elderly folks. Great leadership is not about achieving material success for the country – and in our case only benefiting a segment of our population – but about developing a first-world country that all stakeholders are part of and also high on the happiness index.
It is time to review this social compact that Singaporeans have with the first-generation leaders. During the tumultuous times in the early years of nation building we needed leaders that have the “iron in them” working selflessly for the interests of the people. We were fortunate indeed to have them.
Today, with a much more mature and educated Singapore, we need to take a step back to revisit how our country should be governed. Is it really in the interest of our country to be dominated and monopolized by one party? Should there be more room to allow free contest of ideas to help bring our country to the next level especially after this pandemic crisis that reveals lots of cracks and inadequacies in our system?
Talent and good leaders are no longer the exclusive assets of one party. They are already showing up in other credible parties as well. It will be to Singapore and Singaporeans interest to have the best talent step forward to serve without fear or inhibition. These will be leaders with the heart to serve rather than being served. These are the leaders who do not count the cost but put country before self as they have learnt during national service.
Singapore deserves better!
The author of the above article writes in his own capacity with his views and opinion only to himself and are in no way a representation of the Party.