Even as the Opposition has been pushing the Government hard on Singaporeans’ concerns about a 6.9 million population, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said he had an even greater worry.
“My greater fear is that our population will never reach much beyond 6 million - because if your fertility rate is low and your economy is not booming, and people don’t want to come, you won’t have a problem of worrying about 6.9 million. The greater threat is stagnation, ageing and shrinking,” said the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency (GRC) on Monday (Sep 7) night.
This would mean more people who would need help – the old, the poor because jobs have moved on, the displaced professionals and technicians, he said.
Speaking at a PAP rally, the Minister for Environment and Water Resources said Singapore faced certain unavoidable fundamental challenges, such as climate change and globalisation. “I need you all to understand that there is a global trend we cannot cut ourselves off from. Anybody who tells you otherwise, that they can shield you, is selling you koyok (quack medicine),” he said.
Pointing to how the technological revolution will completely transform the world’s economy, he said: “Inequality is a political issue but it is not just caused by politicians, it is caused by technological changes that are going to wipe out jobs and production lines."
“We are confronting major challenges in next few years. And if we spend time… quibbling about details and miss the big picture, our children will be in trouble," he added.
NO PERFECT, BUT “THE SINGAPORE MODEL WORKS”
Singapore, he said, was a successful nation with much to celebrate and be proud of. It was not perfect and improvements could be made, he said: “But don’t make mistake of completely dismantling a model that works”.
The western welfare state is a model of tax-funded universal benefits that has been tried for 60 years. “It works if the population is growing and young, incomes are going up and many are able to pay tax,” he said.
But if the population shrinks, you go bankrupt, he noted. Adopting such a model because it is “fashionable” would be “a route to disaster”, he said.
The “Singapore model”, on the other hand, is based on personal and family responsibility. “We save, we take insurance, then we do targeted subsidies,” Dr Balakrishnan said. ”The value of our Singapore model is that we can make sure people who need help receive help, we don’t run out of money, and the reserves are not raided.”
A medical doctor by training, he zeroed in on health care. For example, MediShield Life offers universal health care coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions. He noted: “The Opposition tries to scare you by saying there are high deductibles, but they don’t bother to check how the system works.”
The cost of health care is going up. But the Singapore model tries to make sure people “save enough, insure enough”, and provides targeted subsidies to ensure anyone who needs healthcare gets it.
While no country has the perfect system, he said: “In Singapore. we have 100 per cent access to care, reasonable and honest cost, and high quality.”
“As (the former) CEO of SGH, I never needed to worry about bad debts of someone from C class because Medifund will cover all. So, don’t get scared by politicians that tell you health care will bankrupt you,” he said.
“ELECTIONS ARE ABOUT LIFE, DEATH, SURVIVAL”
Dr Balakrishnan also said that three challenges that confronted the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his generation are “still absolute parameters for our survival” today.
These are the challenges of creating a fair and just society, economic survival and security in a “tough neighbourhood”.
The Minister, who has engaged in international negotiations on the haze, water and climate change, said: “I’m very mindful that people only listen to me because I’m from Singapore. And if we were not strong, if we were not successful, if we were not united, if we were not a shining red dot and example to the other 200 countries in the world, nobody would listen to us.”
Dr Balakrishnan said: “In all the excitement of politics and elections, never forget our fundamental constraints… When people come up with ideas and people debate or entertain, never make the mistake of forgetting that actually, life and death, survival, prosperity and unity are at stake. That’s how serious elections are.”