很高兴见到您回来了。我受许多新加坡人善意的支持与鼓励向您表达良好的祝愿——尤其是不同政治派别的组织especially across political divides.
爱德曼信任调查机构（The Edelman Trust Barometer）在跟踪有关确定信任时是依据四个重要机构的表现——商业、政府、非政府组织和传媒机构。从2002年开始，年复一年，爱德曼调查机构已经在28个国家进行调查，他们看到这些机构的信任程度在下降中。全球愤怒的民粹主义和针对精英是今天我们所看到的的结果是，从过去信任不受侵蚀加上当今对变化的速度赶到担忧。
好了，我们如何看待爱德曼调查机构的指数？明显的，新加坡是5个应得最高被信任的国家? Apparently, Singapore is the 5th most High-Trust nation，被排除在信任水平排名榜上的国家只有印度、中国、印尼和阿拉伯酋长国。与超过50%全球平均信任指数相比，在新加坡只有30%的人相信这个制度是失败的，43%的人认为是不确定的。作为一个国家，在目前这个不确定的世界里，人民对于4个机构在信任水平方面仍然获得超过50%是具有很高的价值地位的。我们可以充分地利用这个罕见的高信任度氛围给予我们的契机。
我是在为贫穷的劳动阶级说话。那就是生活在10%夹心层sandwiched class 的人们。这些人是全职工作的劳动阶级。他们每天很努力地工作来支撑自己的家庭经济。但是，他们仍然无法看到自己摆脱贫穷的厄运。这些每年都被抛弃在社会后面的人被冠以是“非技术工人”、“国际化”、“创新”造成的结果。他们目前所处的境地并不是因为他们自己不会照顾自己、不是因为他们懒惰。那是因为他们一直在尽力尝试挣扎着不让自己在一波又一波新的社会新要求——新增加的社会成本（生活费）和对他们而言的世界新事物的涌现。
每一个权益诉求，都会附带一个必须负起的责任。 说出“每个新加坡人都有平等权益”动听的话。比说出“要每个新加坡人对那些权益 负起责任”的挑战话更容易。听起来，这好像是那些不希望看到更多平等权益的的人心中所要讲的话。
美国作家娥苏拉·勒瑰恩（Ursula Le Guin）写了一段挑衅性的寓言，叫着“那些离开欧梅拉斯”（“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas）。
当我想到有关于新加坡相似的情况时the parallels to Singapore，我看到需要不断质疑有关的叙述，而不是轻易地视为神圣不可侵犯的的事实。这是真实的。一旦我们同意强制性关闭雇佣外来劳工，将会看到我们的生活和工作失去平衡出现崩溃吗？如果把我们的孩子从早期的教育言流和高风险考试的严格实施制度中释放出来，我们会看到未来的劳动力不会变得那么严格？这是真的吗？
a rise in water and motorcycle prices is justifiable will feel like salt on a wound.
——The Ones Who Walk Towards (2017)
NCMP Shiao-yin Kuik
it is very good to see you back. I was encouraged by the kind support shown to you by many Singaporeans – especially across political divides.
Unity is one of the most precious assets any country can boast of. And I will always be grateful for every year that we still possess that in Singapore.
It is one of the richest parts of the inheritance we have received from our previous generations and I pray we will never squander it.
MOVING FORWARD IN A WORLD GROWING APART
Budget 2017 declares that our future lies in Moving Forward Together.
But what does that really mean?
Madam Speaker, Finance Minister Sir, America’s motto is “e pluribus unum” – “out of many, we are one”.
It is inscribed on every coin they have in circulation. It sat in the pockets of all their citizens as a daily reminder that unity was the very currency of their system. And yet, this is the very same country who just recently voted to take a massive hatchet to a system they felt was no longer trustworthy.
For a large swathe of the American people, the system wasn’t even about Republicans vs. Democrats anymore. Many voters had lost all belief in the story both sides of leaders had told them about Moving Forward Together. 40% of voters were so disheartened that they simply stayed at home. And many who did show up at the polls placed all their bets instead on an outsider who pitched an audacious story of “Let’s just Move Only Some of Us Forward Together”.
A flood of articles have been written since then trying to understand why people would seemingly vote against their interests. And one common thread that was unearthed was this: To those feeling left behind, the story of prioritising Some over All was always the real story of the system anyway. They had simply decided to play the game that they believed had been played on them.
The true currency of any country is not in bills and coins. It’s trust.
It’s always been trust.
The value of every country rises and falls according to the legacy of trust it still possesses and the level of trust it still inspires – on the individual, institutional and international level.
In a hyper networked world, trust is the most important currency. This is not a new observation. Many smart CEOs working in the new economy can tell you that. Many well-educated policy makers can tell you that. But all that foreknowledge has apparently done little to arrest the huge crisis of trust that the world is in now.
The Edelman Trust Barometer has been tracking trust in 4 key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — since 2012. And year on year, Edelman has seen public trust in these institutions decline across all 28 countries surveyed. The global rise of angry populism and pushback against elites that we see today is a result of unchecked erosion of trust from the past coupled with present-day fears about the pace of change.
Last year, Edelman reported the largest-ever drop in trust across all four institutions. Trust in media is at all-time lows in 17 countries. Trust in government dropped in 14 markets and is now the least trusted institution in half of the 28 countries surveyed. The credibility of CEOs dropped globally to an all- time low in every country studied. People are now more likely to trust search engines over human editors, individuals over institutions, reformers more than preservers of status quo. Globally, 53% of respondents believe the current overall system has failed them and is unfair, offering them little hope for the future. Only 15% believe it is working, the rest are just uncertain.
So how did we do on the Trust Barometer? Apparently, Singapore is the 5th most High-Trust nation, outranked only by India, China, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. Compared to the global average of more than 50%, only 30% of respondents in Singapore believed the system was failing while 43% said they were uncertain. To be a country where public trust in all 4 institutions is still above 50% is a thing of great value in an uncertain world. Our high trust climate is a rare thing which presents us opportunities we can leverage on.
Madam Speaker, it’s not just deep reserves of financial capital from our past that we must invest in, protect and multiply, it’s our deep reserves of social and emotional capital as well.
Every country that hopes to ride out this global trust crisis must not only actively shore up trust in its system, it needs to also take a hard, honest look at where trust is being broken in its system and take noticeable, decisive steps to build it up again.
A WISE CITY CARES ABOUT DEEP DATA
One of the insights in the report that struck me was the distinction between the responses from the informed public and responses from the mass population.
The global gap between the level of trust felt by the informed public and that felt by the mass population has widened significantly, with the biggest disparities in the U.S., U.K. and France. So if Edelman’s findings are to be believed, we should not be surprised if the French elections sees its own version of a Brexit or Trump shock result.
You might be surprised to also hear that actually, in America, the level of trust the informed public had in their system was almost as high as the level of trust our informed public had in our system. But it was the mass population respondents of America that ranked their system as deeply, deeply untrustworthy. That explains the genuine shock felt by Washington and the wealthier coastal cities at the election results.
In Singapore, the difference is still not so stark. Our mass population respondents still trusted Singapore enough to place it in the top 5.
But, 2017 was also the first time when our mass population respondents slid from being in the category of Trusters to the category of Neutrals. It’s a small dip but still worth paying attention to. These respondents worried most about losing their jobs to immigrants and losing business opportunities to foreign competitors. Overwhelmingly, 70% of them believed the pace of change in business and industry was too fast.
I do see the year-on-year efforts by the government to mitigate the costs of that pace of change. The Silver Support Scheme, MediShield Life, Workfare are all good, progressive moves towards strengthening our social safety nets. But what I also see is that those schemes still have much further to go to help Singaporeans who are feeling left behind. GST U-Save Vouchers, Conservancy Rebates, education subsidies, weekly food donations – these are all good things – greatly greatly appreciated things! – but for some of our struggling families, all these good and helpful gestures still feel like drops in a constantly leaking bucket.
I am speaking especially for our working poor. The bottom 10% sandwiched class who hold full- time jobs, who are making a real effort to support their family but still can’t seem to break their poverty cycle. The ones who feel left out and left behind by our yearly calls to “upskill”, “internationalise” and “innovate”. Not because they don’t care. Not because they are lazy. But because they are just busy trying not to drown under wave after wave of new demands, new costs and new changes to their world.
To those who are drowning, even the calmest, most reasonable technocratic explanation about why a rise in water and motorcycle prices is justifiable will feel like salt on a wound.
Because when you are drowning, all you want is for somebody to just stop talking, dive in and grab you before you sink.
You don’t care about the facts of the policies – debates over what makes sense or doesn’t make sense is all Greek to you. What is most real and relevant to you is simply how those facts are making you feel: I don’t have enough. I’ll never have enough. I’m not enough. And you don’t care.
When you are in that claustrophobic space of anxiety and scarcity, you don’t have enough mental bandwidth to deal with anything more than each day’s demands. Having the breathing space to consider alternative choices or plan for the future is a luxury the working poor do not have.
That’s why compassionate communication of available solutions rather than a “don’t know, go talk to your MP” approach by front-line officers matters so much.
That’s why finding a way to provide universal support for childcare, eldercare, faster access to affordable housing, caregiver respite across all classes of people matters so much.
Because all of these interventions go a long way to create bandwidth – a space for the drowning to feel like they can breathe again.
We are missing a big point if we say, “Well, people must deal with the facts as they are. Not where they feel they should be.” But honestly, nobody understands their life just according to facts. It’s an intellectual’s fantasy to believe we are perfectly rational, fact-driven beings. Most people make their choices according to their feelings about the facts. If we care about making sure people hear us out on the hard facts about our country’s situation, we must start all our communications with connecting with people where they are: which is how they feel, even if that feeling is disagreeable or irrational to us. If not, you should accept that your words may never impact anyone outside your echo chamber.
We cannot effectively uplift our working poor if we do not connect our solutions more effectively to the deep narratives and emotional realities that they live in.
We love the idea of being a Smart City that uses Big Data to solve our wicked problems. But I sincerely hope we will also fall in love with the idea of being a Wise City that looks at Deep Data as well, to make sure the policies we come up with are not just technical solutions but empathetic, human solutions that resonate with the communities they were meant to serve.
I am not an economist. I don’t know enough numbers to put up an elegant fight to justify a request for $X increase in Workfare and $Y increase in Silver Support. There are far more convincing experts in this room and beyond who can make that case. But I will, nevertheless, go on a limb to state my assessment that if we don’t want our system to slide into the levels of toxic distrust we see elsewhere, we must move away from safe, small, incremental steps and take larger paradigm-shifting changes on a systems level to help the least in our land.
And we should take those steps sooner rather than later. Because right now, we still have time.
All I want us to just consider is this: knowing what they know now, seeing what they see now, what would Washington’s elites have done different for their poorest states if they could time- travel just 4 years, 2 years, or even just 1 year back? If Downing Street could time-travel, what would they have done different for their most depressed regions to prevent Brexit? Some decisions that looked too high-risk, too ridiculous back then, I am sure, suddenly look well worth investing in now because they finally see the high stake consequences at last.
But they can’t go back. They can never go back.
Their time for intervention has passed them by.
But ours has not.
What can we do – What will we do? What must we do? – to stave off a future shock scenario of our own?
The Budget Speech declared “We can aim for quality growth of 2-3%…if we work hard to help everyone who wishes to work find a place in the labour force”.
It also said “On the social front, Budget 2017 supports families who wish to buy a home, experience the joys of parenthood and help their children towards post-secondary education.”
So what can we do for our working poor, especially those in single parent or sandwiched class families, so that they may feel included in those statements as well?
Consider just one kind of life story, a composite based on real stories familiar to our local social workers: A woman gets divorced. She gains custody of her three kids but no promise of maintenance. She applies for a rental flat. The front-line officer tells that her $1600 monthly salary disqualifies her under the $1500 income cap. She is advised to beat the system by stopping work, applying for a rental flat and starting work again. But she doesn’t quit her job because she loves her work, she needs her work. Giving up salary even for a month is not an option. Her sympathetic MP advocates for her but after 20 letters back and forth, and hours of MPS sessions, nobody is any wiser, not even her MP, about why an exception cannot be made for her case. She can’t afford the downpayment for a flat. None of her relatives or friends has room to spare her little family。She rents on the open market but rates are high and leases are short. She moves four times in five years. Her savings drain down. When her boss offers her a higher paying job opportunity – she turns it down. Because she can’t work far away from her child’s pre-school. She knows she can never pick up her child on time. Not by bus which is all she can afford. Plus they need her to work nights when she has zero childcare options. Then, the health issues crop up. First, her kids. Then, her parents. And then that damn electrical fuse box has to blow up, forcing her to choose between paying for the lights to come back on or buying better food for her kids. And some nights, at the end of some very very very bad days, she considers just giving it all upWhy try so hard? Taking up a lower paying job to at least get a rental flat of her own where her kids can study in peace suddenly feels like the smartest and safest decision in the world.
Are you tired even just listening to the story yet?
Because she sure the heck is tired living it.
You have to appreciate that for many of the poor, they believe that they will never not feel tired.
All she wants is to Move her life Forward again. Together. With everyone else she sees around her. But there are all these structural hurdles that keep coming up her way.
What is the Singapore of her experience? What is the Singapore we want her to experience? What is the Singapore story we hope she’ll pass down to her children? Does this user experience of the Singapore system matter to us enough to form a strategic team and warrant a complete overhaul of her customer journey?
Is her trust, and her children’s trust equally worthy of winning as the trust of a university graduate or a corporate high-flyer?
If she still stays resilient all the way through, and if she still maintains her high trust in our system despite every trouble she’s endured, is that not more of a testament of strength on her part – rather than ours?
And should she lose trust in our system, whose job will it be to help her find it again?
I do not believe the answer is the government alone. That’s the easiest answer.
The hardest answer is all of us.
It always has been, always will be.
They say you become an adult the first time you realise that nothing is truly free. Everything worthy comes at a price. Everything good costs someone something. We just seldom want to be the one footing the bill.
In every request for a right, there is always a correlated offer of responsibility. It is easier to say moving words about the equal rights we want every Singaporean to have than to say the challenging words about the equal responsibilities those rights do require every Singaporean to take on. But if we who request for those rights are not prepared to take on some measure of the correlated responsibilities demanded of us – either through taxes, or donations, or volunteering time – then our request feels that much less honest, and that much less powerful.
So just as much as I wish for the state to stay open to radical solutions, I also see we the people have to stay equally open to the radical new responsibilities that those solutions may place on us.
If there is a need to pay higher taxes someday – as the Minister hinted – in order to build a better system that Moves Everyone Forward together, I think many Singaporeans will be prepared to bite that bullet because we are a more far generous people than we give ourselves credit for.
But that’s the catch. Trust has to be very high for that to happen.
I believe there are many taxpayers and voters on the ground who still need to be more honestly engaged and deeply convinced that this system’s story is genuinely about Moving Everyone Forward Together not just Moving Some of Us Forward Together. We need more open and honest conversations on this front.
MOVING TOWARDS IN A WORLD GROWING APART
I will close with a story.
American author Ursula Le Guin wrote a provocative little parable called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. In that story, an unnamed narrator guides us through the fantastical city of Omelas, taking us on a dizzying tour of the city’s amazing technology and wonderful people. But the journey takes a dark turn when we are led down into a basement tucked beneath this beautiful city.
Imprisoned in that basement, is a weak and wretched child. And the narrator tells us to accept that in some mysterious way, should this child ever be set free, the whole city’s success will be utterly compromised. We are asked to accept that all the freedoms the many enjoy above is wholly and inarguably dependent on the oppression of this one beneath.
The most disturbing part about Omelas’ secret is that it isn’t a secret. We are told that every citizen there who comes of age has been ushered into this very room to see the truth for themselves. Though all get upset, most eventually accept that Life is just about terrible trade-offs. And so, the status quo continues.
The tale ends on a mixed note, talking about a small handful of citizens who choose to walk silently away from the city, towards an unknown destination that the narrator warns may not even exist.
The story is disturbing because everyone who reads it knows instinctively how true to life that story is for every city in the world. Every city has a child in the basement and a nagging feeling that they all share in the complicity of keeping that child there.
I’ve always wondered whether the narrator of the story was meant to be an unreliable narrator, pushing out a narrative that deserves to be challenged.
When I think about the parallels to Singapore, I see narratives that need to be constantly questioned rather than casually accepted as sacrosanct. Is it really true that once we give mandatory off-days to our foreign domestic workers, we will see the collapse of our work-life balance? Is it for real that if we free our children from the tyranny of early streaming and high stakes exams, we will see our future workforce become that much less rigorous? Is it for certain that if we uplift our poorest through more generous welfare, we will see the decimation of Singapore’s culture of hard work?
Perhaps. Or perhaps not.
We don’t know without engaging in honest conversation with everyone – especially the ones who respectfully but deeply disagree with us.
There are Singaporeans out there who ask hard questions. There are Singaporeans out there who even live out their hard answers to those hard questions. Some of them are still here, still open, still pushing the boundaries. But some of them have already reached their breaking points where they have decided they are done with this city. They are done with trusting, done with trying and done with the heartbreak of putting up with those who passively accept the unfairness. They may still be here in body but in spirit, they are already walking away from their Omelas.
I don’t know how. And certainly this will sound naive.
But I will always hope that we can be that country where more of us are able to say to The Ones Who Walk Away:
Stay. Help me see what you see. And permit me to share what I see too.
Because in a world threatening to grow apart, our small city needs more Ones Who Walk Towards than Ones Who Walk Away more than ever.
The ones who dare to go where few want to go.
Towards each other. Towards the conflicts. Towards the problems. Towards the solutions.
And most profoundly, towards the children in the basement who still long to be free.
Our city needs us.
It has always needed every one of us – perhaps more than we will ever know.
Finance Minister, I do support your Bill.
But allow me also the space to hope that each new Budget you bring will be one that finds new ways to bring ever more help and ever more hope to the drowning ones and the ones in the basement that need it most.
Because this is their city too.