04 November 2006

The New 5 C's

Singapore just has a way of boiling things down into simple catchphrases and key words. Here come our new 5 C's - Competitiveness, Cohesion, Compassion, Compact and Choices. The full article is very long, so I reproduce only an excerpt:
ST Nov 4, 2006
Singapore Dreaming: The other 5Cs
Cash, credit card, car, condo, country club. Cliched. Li Xueying, Goh Chin Lian and Keith Lin speak to MPs and observers about the President's Address at the opening of Parliament this week and conclude that it contains the new Five Cs that should matter to concerned Singaporeans.


Taking off from the President's Address, Insight ventures a new take on the Five Cs that ought to matter just as much in the coming years.

1. Competitiveness

FIRST, Singapore needs to survive. How to ensure that it never drops out in a perennial race, not just against other economies, but also can triumph over the vagaries of globalisation?

In his address, Mr Nathan enumerated some factors: a stable political climate, a strong tripartite partnership, the need to embrace talent, both local and foreign, and an outstanding public service.

Beyond these, there is also the need to look ahead and see what can be done to invest in the future: to transform the education system, invest in research and development (R&D), wire up Singapore and so on.

What is key, says Hong Kah GRC MP Alvin Yeo, is the education system.

'Beyond the accumulation of knowledge, we need to encourage and enhance our students' abilities to challenge, question and innovate,' he says.

For instance, the technologies that will be relevant when they start work might not even have been invented yet, he adds.

'As such, it is vital that our people be able to adapt to whatever is relevant in their day, and innovate to find solutions to problems that did not exist when they were in school.'

The re-education of middle-aged Singaporeans is another issue that needs to be examined, says Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa.

As for whether the promise of R&D will bear fruit and benefit the ordinary Singaporean, Mr Yeo says: 'Daunting though it may seem for a small country like Singapore to try to be an R&D hub, I feel we really have no choice.

'What we can do is to try and spot niches and growth areas to focus on, and thereby not spread our R&D personnel and dollars too thin.'

But ultimately, says economist Song Seng Wun, it is not about whether enough is being done to keep Singapore competitive.

'That's not the issue. Rather, in the fluid landscape that we're in today, what we should aim to have is the ability to change our policies quickly should circumstances require.'

For now, the Government is doing quite well in seizing opportunities, driven by a 'very strong kiasu/kiasi factor' or a scared to lose/scared to die attitude, says Mr Song.

He cites as example the decision to build integrated resorts. 'From no casino, to two, and now perhaps more. And that reflects the reality of the new world, that nothing is really cast in stone.'

All these must be done, and done now, says Mr Liang, especially now that Singapore is going through an upturn.

He echoes the point made by Mr Nathan, who said: 'When conditions are favourable, as they are now, we must grow as fast as we can. Then, even when conditions are tough, we can weather the storm and help those in need.'

This will mean certain trade-offs.

To get the fastest growth possible, the Government will have to embrace globalisation and foster an environment conducive to global investors, such as lower taxes and an open economy able to absorb talent from anywhere.

Such an approach may well lead further to a growing income disparity, says Mr Song.

'As much as the burgeoning economy creates many more opportunities and people become wealthier, those in the lower-income bracket will not see the same kind of opportunities.'

2. Cohesion

THEY turn up at the Meet-the-People sessions with a stack of unpaid utilities, medical and conservancy bills. They have outstanding payments for housing loans. They have school-going children. They are jobless.

And after being helped, they return again with their problems.

While the number of such cases has not grown much, and has even fallen in some constituencies, say MPs, steps should be taken now in anticipation that the social divide will widen.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser notes that the Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality - has grown from 0.49 to 0.52 in the past five years.

The key, say MPs and political watchers, is in striking the balance between helping the needy and having them take responsibility for themselves.

It would not do for Singapore to implement European countries' welfare schemes which erode people's motivation to work and have to be financed with high tax rates.

MP Cedric Foo believes education is the better answer, a conclusion he came to after encounters with needy constituents in his West Coast GRC.

In between listening to the parents' woes and doling out lollipops to the children, he observes the youngsters. 'I can tell they are very bright, but clearly they are disadvantaged by their background.'

That prompted his Citizens Consultative Committee to start a learning club a year ago. About 40 primary school children learn English and mathematics for a nominal fee - or none if they are poor.

Mr Foo hopes to expand the club to cover non-academic subjects like leadership at the Outward Bound School or even ice-skating.

'If we don't invest in these children, it's a problem waiting to happen 10 to 20 years down the road.'

Mr Seng Han Thong, an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, has his eye on helping older workers. The Yio Chu Kang MP meets residents who are sole breadwinners and have lost their jobs. Worse still, they have little or no savings.

The Government may need to consider more grants like the ComCare Fund to help such people who do not have the right skills for the jobs available to tide over difficult times, he says.

'The challenge is how to help fellow Singaporeans who are going through the low points of their life, to be able to stand on their own and start a new life again.'

Mr Seng believes the help should be comprehensive - from giving temporary financial aid to meet immediate needs, to training for a job.

He recalls meeting a jobless man in his mid-50s some months ago. Mr Seng suggested he try to be a cabby. But the man had to overcome several hurdles: He could not apply for a vocational licence to drive a taxi because of outstanding payments for his Medisave account; he had problems passing his taxi examinations; he had his electricity at home cut because he had no job.

And when he was ready to drive a taxi, he needed to open a Giro account, but had no money to open one.

The MP found help for him through various channels, from the grassroots' welfare fund to the Taxi Academy, which worked with a taxi company to help him.

'We did it because we assessed that he had the will to move on.'

Another group that will need attention is the elderly, as the number of Singaporeans aged 65 years and above is set to double in 15 years.

Mr Phua Kok Tee, the chief executive officer of the Singapore Action Group of Elders, thinks it is important to recognise that while some elderly people may need help, others can care for themselves and should be encouraged to be active and to work.

This requires the authorities to make the environment accessible, from the HDB flat, to the ground floor, to the bus stop and the shopping mall. It means public transport operators should introduce wheelchair-friendly buses more quickly.

It also means employers need to understand that the elderly can still contribute with their skills and experience if given the chance. 'I would like to see many of our elderly take care of themselves and be independent,' he says.

3. Compassion

THE Government may be able to help the lower-income and older Singaporeans. But a society without compassion among individuals is an unhealthy and un`stable one, say commentators.

In his Address, Mr Nathan spoke of many helping hands and reminded better-off Singaporeans of their responsibility to help their less successful fellow citizens.

How? Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Sam Tan, the executive director of the Chinese Development Assistance Council, thinks the Government can lend a hand to encourage more helping hands.

This could be through measures such as granting voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) the required status to collect tax-exempt donations, or continuing double tax deductions for charitable donations.

Ms Jennifer Yee, executive director of welfare group Lions Befrienders, believes the many helping hands approach also requires voluntary welfare groups to cooperate rather than compete for funds and volunteers.

'VWOs have to adopt the common mindset that it is our beneficiaries who should be uppermost in our minds.'

Singaporeans themselves are getting involved. A National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre survey found that 15.5 per cent of residents here took part in at least one volunteer activity in the past year. It was 15.2 per cent in 2004.

Ms Yee holds the view that volunteers need incentives. 'You need to give them something tangible... like something they can learn and put on their CVs or that can enlarge their social contacts.'

MacPherson MP Matthias Yao sees it differently. 'We discovered there is no need for incentives. When they are needed, we are asking for more than what the person is willing to commit. If we ask for something within what they are able, they can be quite charitable.'

Rather than ask for huge, long-term commitments, the way to go is to start small, he says.

4. Compact

WITH a new generation coming to the fore, Singapore will require a 'new social and political compact', said Mr Nathan.

The better-educated and Internet-savvy post-65 generation will 'need avenues to try out their ideas and fulfil their ambitions'. The most successful ones must learn to identify with their fellow citizens, and lend a hand to those in need.

'We must also deepen the sense of mission in this new generation, and provide them more opportunities to take responsibility for our country and build our future together,' he said.

What exactly is this new compact? And how is it different from the compact formed from the past?

Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Jeanne Conceicao says: 'The post-65ers need to work on being more responsible. But what about the Government and other groups? How do they figure in the 'new social and political compact'?

'To many of the post-65ers, greater responsibilities come with greater rights and demands... Is the Government prepared to loosen its controls regardless?'

MP Alvin Yeo agrees that younger Singaporeans will be looking for other things beyond bread-and-butter issues.

'Additionally, they are concerned with the more intangible aspects of society, like freedom of expression, a more vibrant cultural and entertainment scene and availability of choices, including of government!'

Adds Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad: 'The P65 generation will certainly bring changes in the thinking, perspectives, priorities and even values in our community. I think we will see a gradual shift in the way the community expects the country to be run, how the Government engages it, how caring we become as a society and how we cope with the dynamic economy.'

Forging this new compact will be a two-way process, adds Mr Yeo.

'What the Government needs to do is to engage the younger generation on the issues that are important to them, while seeking to retain the benefits of existing institutions and policies which remain relevant today. In the process, both will change.'

Even as expectations of what each side must do change, one basic aspect of the compact will not change: There must be trust.

5. Choices

AS PRESIDENT Nathan noted, Singapore is at another turning point. It has to decide how to move forward as a society, in what direction and at what pace, and how to manage any dislocations that result.

The 11th Parliament with its 84 MPs will play a major role in shaping those choices. As Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say tells Insight: 'The fast pace of globalisation will only get faster. It is bound to lead to very unequal outcomes across economies and societies...

'We must take more care of each other and prepare ourselves for greater global shocks. We must get it right the next five years so that the future Singapore can continue to be one of the most peaceful, stable and cohesive societies in the world.'
The old 5 C's was a very neat description of Singaporeans' aspirations. The new 5 C's ... I dunno. They sound like an attempt by a semi-desperate ST writer to organise a very broad-ranging discussion into a coherent article. These new 5 C's are a bunch of wiffy-waffly abstract nouns and they aren't going to find any permanent place in the collective Singapore lingo.

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Anonymous said...

It is kind of you to say of the 5Cs, "They sound like an attempt by a semi-desperate ST writer to organise a very broad-ranging discussion into a coherent article."

I am not so charitable to think of the attempt as successful or the article as coherent.

For example, just look at subheading "2. Cohesion":
After rambling on about the widening social divide, the quote of Tan Ern Ser on the rising GINI index and the importance of helping the needy without becoming a welfare state, the article went on to mention:
1. how Cedric Foo's CCC has started a learning club for children from disadvantages backgrounds because of his belief that education is the answer,
2. Seng Han Thong's belief that it is a lasting comprehensive solution to re-train the older jobless while temporarily looking after their more immediate needs, and
3. Mr Phua Kok Tee's (from SAGE) thoughts on what changes are needed to make Singapore more elderly friendly so that they could take care of themselves.

What set these points apart from those under the subheading "3. Compassion" except the latter's emphasis on the role of the VWOs?

Furthermore, does not "cohesion" have some connotation of "holding together"? In that case, more relevant points would include those on nation-building, fostering overseas Singaporeans' sense of belonging, intergration of new migrants into our society, the possibility of dual citizenship etc.

I believe these simple catchphrases ring hollow and may soon be forgotten except by the people who invented them.

Anonymous said...

Well the 5Cs are targets which the materialistic society would make.
Credit Card

In this case, the five cs are not targets but more of cause, effect and feeling, what i draw of the writer's motive is as follows.

Due to competitveness in singapore, we need to promote cohesion of everyone in singapore. Hence we need compassion to look out for the rest of the less fortunate in singapore by the government but hey there is a great social compact and we cannot expect the government to help due to failures of welfarism in Europe and the states. Therefore in short we need to choose. Let the divde between rich and poor widen or to choose and help the lesser fortunate.

I guess writer is doing it as a one off thing and will never catch on in singapore. If it is values which one can identify with, i guess it would still be the old 5Cs. Singaporean like targets, goals and aims. Values are neglected.

Just my 2 cents worth

Anonymous said...

From the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

it was then that the fox appeared.
"good morning" said the fox.

"good morning"
the little prince responded politely
altho when he turned around he saw nothing.

"I am right here" the voice said, "under the apple

"who are you?" asked the little prince, and added,

"You are very pretty to look at."

"I am a fox", the fox said.

"Come and play with me,"
proposed the little prince, "I am so unhappy."

"I cannot play with you," the fox said,
"I am not tamed."

"AH please excuse me,"said the little prince.
But after some thought, he added:
"what does that mean---'tame'?"

"you do not live here," said the fox,
"what is it you are looking for?"

"I am looking for men," said the little prince.
"What does that mean---tame?"

"Men,"said the fox,
"they have guns, and they hunt.
It is very disturbing.
They also raise chickens.
These are their only interests.
Are you looking for chickens?"

"No," said the little prince.
"I am looking for friends.
What does that mean---tame?"

"It is an act too often neglected,"
said the fox.
"It means to establish ties."

"To establish ties?"

"Just that," said the fox.
"to me, you are still nothing more than
a little boy who is just like
a hundred thousand other little boys.
And I have no need of you.
And you, on your part, have no need of me.
To you I am nothing more
than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.
But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.
To me, you will be unique in all the world.
To you, I shall be unique in all the world. . ."

"I am beginning to understand,"
said the little prince.

"There is a flower. . .I think she has tamed me. . ."

"It is possible," said the fox.

"On earth one sees all sorts of things."

"Oh but this is not on the earth!"
said the little prince.

The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.
"On another planet?"


"Are there hunters on that planet?"


"Ah that's interesting! Are there chickens?"


"Nothing is perfect," sighed the fox.
But he came back to his idea.
"My life is very monotonous," he said.
"I hunt chickens; men hunt me.
All chickens are just alike,
and all the men are just alike.
And in consequence, I am a little bored.
But if you tame me,
it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.
I shall know the sound of a step that will be
different from all the others.
Other steps send me hurrying back
underneath the ground.
Yours will call me, like music out of my burrow.
And then look:
you see the grain-fields down yonder?
I do not eat bread.
Wheat is of no use to me.
The wheat fields have nothing to say to me.
And that is sad.
But you have hair that is the color of gold.
Think how wonderful that will be
when you have tamed me!
The grain, which is also golden,
will bring me back the thought of you.
And I shall love to listen
to the wind in the wheat. . ."

The fox gazed at the little prince,
for a long time.
"Please---tame me!" he said.

"I want to, very much," the little prince replied.
"But I have not much time.
I have friends to discover,
and a great many things to understand."

"One only understands the things that one tames,"
said the fox.
" Men have no more time to understand anything.
They buy things all ready made at the shops.
But there is no shop anywhere
where one can buy friendship,
and so men have no friends any more.
If you want a friend, tame me. . ."

"What must I do, to tame you?
asked the little prince.

"You must be very patient," replied the fox.
First you will sit down
at a little distance from me
-like that-in the grass.
I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye,
and you will say nothing.
Words are the source of misunderstandings.
But you will sit a little closer to me,
every day..."

The next day the little prince came back.

"It would have been better to come back
at the same hour," said the fox.
"If for example, you came at four o'clock
in the afternoon,
then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy.
I shall feel happier and happier
as the hour advances.
At four o'clock,
I shall be worrying and jumping about.
I shall show you how happy I am!
But if you come at just any time,
I shall never know at what hour
my heart is ready to greet you. . .
One must observe the proper rites. . ."

"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.

"Those also are actions too often neglected,"
said the fox.
"they are what make one day
different from other days,
one hour different from other hours.
There is a rite, for example, among my hunters.
Every Thursday they dance with the village girls.
So Thursday is a wonderful day for me!
I can take a walk as far as the vineyards.
But if the hunters danced at just any time,
every day would be like
every other day,
and I should never have any vacation at all."

So the little prince tamed the fox.
And when the hour of his departure drew near---

"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."

"It is your own fault," said the little prince.
"I never wished you any sort of harm;
but you wanted me to tame you. . ."

"Yes that is so", said the fox.

"But now you are going to cry!"
said the little prince.

"Yes that is so" said the fox.

"Then it has done you no good at all!"

"It has done me good," said the fox,
"because of the color of the wheat fields."
And then he added:
"go and look again at the roses.
You will understand now
that yours is unique in all the world.
Then come back to say goodbye to me,
and I will make you a present of a secret."

The little prince went away,
to look again at the roses.
"You are not at all like my rose," he said.
"As yet you are nothing.
No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one.
You are like my fox when I first knew him.
He was only a fox
like a hundred thousand other foxes.
But I have made a friend,
and now he is unique in all the world."
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on.
"One could not die for you.
To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think
that my rose looked just like you
--the rose that belongs to me.
But in herself alone she is more important
than all the hundreds of you
other roses: because it is she that I have watered;
because it is she
that I have put under the glass globe;
because it is for her
that I have killed the caterpillars
(except the two or three we saved
to become butterflies);
because it is she that I have listened to,
when she grumbled,
or boasted,
or even sometimes when she said nothing.
Because she is MY rose."

And he went back to meet the fox.
"Goodbye" he said.

"Goodbye," said the fox.
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye,"
the little prince repeated,
so that he would be sure to remember.

"It is the time you have wasted for your rose
that makes your rose so important.

"It is the time I have wasted for my rose--
"said the little prince
so he would be sure to remember.

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox.
"But you must not forget it.
You become responsible, forever,
for what you have tamed.
You are responsible for your rose. . ."

"I am responsible for my rose,"
the little prince repeated,
so that he would be sure to remember.

Just adding a little something from the little prince on friendship and compassion which we all missed in our day to day lives.

We miss the important points in life, what is essential is not what is always said and what we tame we are responsible. When was the last time you reached out and connected with an old friend?

Anonymous said...

Compassion leads to cohesion. I get it. Thanks Rowen.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I love this little book. Actually it seems that just about everyone who has ever read this book loves this little book.

Anonymous said...

competition and compassion do not mix well in a dog eat dog business world(simply oxymoronic). and thus, cohesion has to give way to compulsion and the only compact is a convoluted one. in such a society where money is the motivating force in a person's life, there is little trust beyond dollars and sense! the only choice left is for the citizen to be fit and survive in the hope that you will not become dependant on the state. the state solution in most instances,for the unfortunate economic casualties, is usually a 'hand to mouth solution' that let you hang on before you perish like the man who threw himself on the mrt track. however, the light at the end of the tunnel maybe found in the welcoming arms of our neighbour up north. their idea of 'fixing us' is to compete like us. let's see how we are going to fixate on our competitive edge against them. the way i see it, someone got to give and it is usually the peasants.
the writer above has an irrational optimism in my opine.

Anonymous said...

What about civil rights, constitution enforcements, culture, communitarianism and Courts That Aren't Run By LKY's Best Friends?