Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC)
Debate on President’s Address
Inequality, Social Divides and the Ikea Effect; Driving Our Economy Through Data and Digital Transformation
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion.
1. There has been much discussion about fighting inequality and blurring emerging social divides. It boils down to different perspectives – is the glass half-empty, or half-full?
a. We have a functional meritocracy with varied pathways of success. But our needy also face structural issues.
b. We have healthy social mixing, but there are areas of rising concerns.
2. But rather than arguing about whether the glass is half-empty or half-full,
a. Can we get everyone to join in to fill up this half-empty and half-full glass called Singapore?
The Ikea Effect – We Cherish What We Build
3. How can we achieve this? The answer, I believe, lies in what psychologists termed as the Ikea Effect.
a. Simply put, the Ikea effect says that we cherish what we build.
4. Many of us have struggled with self-assembled furniture from Ikea.
a. The instructions often look easy. Insert a screw here, and turn an Allen key there.
b. But the results are usually far from perfect, and certainty not what we see at the showroom.
5. Yet, despite the imperfections, we are intensely attached to our self-built furniture, far beyond their useful years.
a. At home, I still own a couple of Ikea stools that I built from my university days. They made it through eight house moves, and travelled across half the world.
b. This is the Ikea effect: we cherish things that we build, and labor leads to love.
6. Therefore, when we get Singaporeans to come together to build a better society, we value not just the shiny successes, but also the imperfections, the work in progress.
7. I often see this happen on the ground, when we come together to do meaningful social work.
a. After a successful project, the better off among us appreciates the challenges and inequalities that less fortunate Singaporeans confront. We also realize that:
i. Our own success is not just a result of our hard work and talent;
ii. But also due to circumstances, and the help of others along the way.
b. At the same time, the needy among us get lifted up. Not just because of the material help that they received, but:
i. Because they gained wisdom and life-skills,
ii. Because they felt the warm and solidarity of fellow Singaporeans,
iii. Because they learnt that those with less also have something valuable to give.
c. Most importantly, whether we are the better off and or the needy, we all appreciate society with its imperfections,
i. Because we all knew that we made society just a little better that day.
Fighting Inequality and Bridging Social Divides
8. With that in mind, I would like to propose three sets of policies that can fight inequality and bridging emerging social divides.
a. One. By making SG Cares a centerpiece of Singapore, make volunteerism a defining aspect of what it means to be Singaporean.
b. Two. Encourage young Singaporeans to forge friendship across social divides through MOE and MCCY programs.
c. Three. Better support our needy to break out of the poverty cycle through:
i. promoting financial literacy,
ii. rehabilitating and re-integrating of ex-offenders, and
iii. providing more appropriate rental housing support.
9. Let me go into the details, starting with SG Cares.
10. SG Cares is a new national movement to support the efforts in building a more and inclusive home for all. SG Cares encourages all – individuals, companies, schools – to work with VWOs and the government. SG Care is already being piloted in two towns.
11. I believe we can do more. Over the next five years, I hope we can extend and connect SG Cares up with our five CDCs, as well as the various grassroots nation-wide. How can the pieces fit together?
a. SG Cares provides the technology, combines the needs of various communities, and serves as the bridge to major companies and institution.
b. The CDCs provides support for various causes. Some CDCs, such as Northwest CDC, also have strong programs on social work, and can mobilize people to do social work.
c. With the data, technology and national-level volunteer base from SG Cares, as well as the project management and funding from CDCs, the grassroots can be an effective last-mile coordinator of assistance to the needy.
12. For example, in my constituency, Kebun Baru, thanks to the strong support from Mayor Teo Ho Pin from Northwest CDC, we are implementing two priority long-term social work projects: to build up the best community support for cancer patients and survivors,
and to build a dementia-friendly community. We are also exploring getting technical advice from SG Cares.
13. As such, I advocate that over the next two years, we can consider piloting integrating SG Care/CDC/grassroots collaboration for a quarter of Singapore. And from 2020 onwards, we roll out this collaboration to the rest of Singapore.
14. At the same time, I also hope that SG Cares can mobilize our people to help pockets of Singaporeans unusually unseen, such as the children and youths at our various homes, the young offenders serving time. A focused effort by SG Cares to channel our society’s
generosity will also go far to reduce inequality.
15. Over the years, I hope that SG Cares can make volunteerism a defining characteristic of being Singaporean. SG Cares can transform the Singapore psyche, and turn Singapore into a Democracy of Deeds.
16. Let me next speak about the next set of ideas, which is to encourage Singaporeans to forge friendship across social divides.
a. Today, MOE encourages students to do values-in-action (VIA) programs. We can use this platform to incentivize youth to do more social mixing.
i. Specifically, MOE can provide bonus points to encourage collaborations between different schools.
ii. At the cluster level, the MOE school leaders can pay special attention to collaboration between elite and other schools, so as to give students from different educational backgrounds a chance to forge friendship from a young age.
b. MCCY and MOE can also create a parallel track for youth sports, so as to encourage students to mix with their peers outside of their schools.
i. For example, we can grow ActiveSG’s Sports Academy and Clubs to absorb more youths from different schools, and give them MOE CCA
points under the LEAD framework.
ii. At the same time, MOE can also invite Sports Academy and Clubs send teams to join various inter-school sports teams.
c. Active SG also bring people together through regular sports competitions and activities. There is more we can do to encourage them to extend their camaraderie beyond the soccer field or badminton halls.
d. And when Singaporeans willingly come together to socialize, they will treasure the bonds they build.
17. Now to the third set of ideas – support our needy to break out of the poverty cycle through some policy enhancements.
a. Firstly, there is much we can do to promote financial literacy and prudence of our needy.
i. There are many VWOs who are willing to go to the schools, National service camps, the community, or even the prisons to teach financial
literacy. We should open our doors to them.
ii. MAS and MTI can also do more:
1. MAS can mandate businesses to present interest rates, preferably the Effective Interest Rates, to consumers in an informed manner.
2. MAS can mandate a simplified template for presenting mass-market financial product information.
3. The government can also tighten the hire-purchase regulations to clean up unfair practices and charges that some of our needy get entangled with.
iii. These will benefit all Singaporeans, but especially the needy.
b. Secondly, we can consider reviewing our Registration of Criminals Act, to temper justice with mercy, and to encourage rehabilitation.
i. We all know that a prison conviction can have a tremendous impact on a person’s ability to get hired. That in turn create financial hardship for the family, and contribute to poverty and inequality.
ii. Today, a former inmate with no prior conviction, and who was jailed for no more than 3 months or fined no more than two thousand dollars can apply for the criminal record to be spent after a five years crime-free period.
iii. Perhaps MHA can review and propose a wider scope of criminal acts that can be struck off over time, if former inmates goes through voluntary community rehabilitation.
iv. These former inmates can volunteer for 5 years at IPC certified VWOs. A national panel can then review their volunteer records and recommend to MHA on whether their criminal records deserve to be spent.
c. Lastly, we can provide a better rental housing environment for our needy while they battle to improve their lives.
i. For example, we can factor household size as a major criterion to rental flat size.
ii. For singles whom are working hard and cooperating with the social workers, we can consider waiving the joint-single requirements if no
suitable room-mate can be found.
Unleashing Data and Digital Transformation to Drive Our Economy
18. Let me spend the second half of my speech speaking about unleashing data and digital transformation to drive our economy.
19. Much more can be done if we overlap our data and digital capabilities with Singapore’s physical and financial connectivity.
20. Let me first share three examples of the recent progress.
a. We have built our new National Trade Platform (NTP), which serves as our “national single window” for trade.
i. We are also connecting our NTP to Japan, to China through the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), as well as to HK through the
Global Trade Connectivity Network (GTCN) Initiative.
ii. As a result, physical trade documentation can be minimized. Default and transaction risk in trade financing can be reduced.
b. Through Project Ubin, MAS is using distributed ledger technology to circumvent slow and expensive bank-to-bank transfers technology.
c. Singapore companies are also coming together to build the Fast Track Trade Platform (FTTP). This SME trade platform is a block-chain powered digital e-commerce marketplace, with added financing and insurance services built in.
21. In turn, these three projects can open up new possibilities for Singapore, especially if we can integrate them into a national e-business platform.
a. Can we then allow our banks and financing companies to tap on these trade and transaction data, so that they can determine more efficient ways of providing services and issuing credit to our companies?
b. Can we connect up the supply chain players of various industries to identify real-time opportunities? For example, during low-demand periods, can 3-party logistics and warehousing companies tie up with PSA or CAAS to offer discounted services, so that we can encourage more ships and freight planes to stop by Singapore?
c. Can we integrate this platform to our digital security efforts, so that our emerging eco-systems of digital security providers can have a chance to work directly with next-generation technology?
d. And lastly, is there scope for us to extend relevant and non-competing components of our national e-business platform to ASEAN? Because ASEAN can be a single economic eco-system with Singapore at the heart of it.
22. Beyond this, digital technology can also help us drive our government’s productivity, which has an impact on business productivity.
a. The National Trade Platform can be described as our “National Single Window” for trade to all companies.
b. Can we build other “national single windows” digital platforms for other industry clusters? For example, developers, builders, and architectures within the construction sector have to work with various agencies to get the permits and approval. These are expensive and time-consuming processes.
i. Can we get various agencies to redesign approval process, identify conflicting or overlapping requirements, and create a common and
current depository of regulations for all?
ii. This means the entire sector can efficiently transact with the government through that single national window for most key processes.
c. And if we can come up with a “national single window” digital platform for the construction sector, another obvious choice is the Lifestyle Cluster, which frequently have to deal with various agencies on F&B, zoning and policing permits.
23. To conclude, our debate on the president’s address gives us the opportunity to cast our eyes to a further horizon. I share many of the priorities that the government highlighted.
24. In particular, I believe there are exciting opportunities to use data and digital transformation to drive the Singapore economy. Also, there are some policy adjustments we can do to fight inequality and bridge social divides.
25. Most importantly, if we infuse SG Cares into the Singapore soul, inspire our people to build a better Singapore, we will all be happier for it.
a. Because people value what they build. And because labor builds love.
26. Thank you.