Party Convention 2013: Speech by Benjamin Tay

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Good morning Comrades.

I'd like to touch on three points today. The first is how Singapore was the obvious choice to me when choosing where to raise my family, the second is about the Party's founding mission and the third is the Party's desire to make things better.

The Obvious Choice

On the first point, through my work, I was posted by my employer to live and work in other countries. Four years ago, my wife told me that we were not going to get much sleep in the next few years. What did she say? She told me that she was pregnant.

When she told me this, I knew we had to return home, to what was in my view the best place to raise my children, Singapore. Why do I say that?

If you go and watch a Pixar movie, you expect something that is safe for kids, communicates good values and has a high likelihood of a happily ever after. Well, a country is certainly not a movie, but I think Singapore too is safe for kids, communicates good values and hopefully, has a high likelihood of a happily ever after as well.

As we all know, Singapore is consistently ranked as having the lowest crime, corruption and drug abuse levels in the world.

On education, an OECD report called Singapore the "poster child" of education with a goal to "nurture every child, no matter what their ability or achievement level".

Our overall unemployment rates stand at a very low 1.8 per cent.

As to housing, over 80 per cent of our population lives in good quality affordable government housing.

On health, certain surveys rank Singapore as the healthiest country in the world, in mentioning this, it is also good to highlight measures that have been taken to increase access to subsidies for outpatient care through the Community Health Assistance Scheme.

The Founding Mission

Having said all this, how have we got to a position where all over the world, people look to us to learn.

Many policies have contributed, though I will focus on two connected policies that have helped. These also surfaced as important to you, my fellow comrades, during the extensive dialogues held by the PPF.

The first policy to speak of is the founding mission of the Party, which is to create a fair and just society. The second policy relates to emphasis of meritocracy.

Why do we work towards a fair and just society? It is only where people believe they are in a fair and just society, that they know there is a strong link between being a good and useful member of society and a fair chance of reward.

Where that link is broken, disengagement occurs.

Looking to Europe, we can see examples of disengagement. In the United Kingdom, disengaged youths are known to set fires to call out fire brigades. When the fire brigades arrive, the disengaged youth throw stones and physically abuse the firemen that arrive. In Spain, a severe brain drain is occurring. There, youth unemployment rate stands at 56.1 per cent, as a result talented driven individuals, the ones that any country would want most are deciding to leave.

A sentiment held is that these youths do not feel that they want or are able to contribute to the society that they are in.

These examples show the importance of our founding mission. That of a fair and just society so that we feel like we are one people, belonging to one nation with one destiny.

A fair and just society forms the soil for us to grow and nurture a democracy of deeds where being a citizen brings along a sense of duty to one another and our community to create the best home possible.

How do we seek to do this? Again the dialogues made clear that a progressive system of taxes and benefits which ensures fruits of common success are distributed is important. The focus on constant improvement and provision of affordable housing, affordable healthcare and quality education and remembering those that have helped to get us to where we are today are also all very important.

Sharing the fruits was therefore highlighted as key to creation of a fair and just society during the recent dialogues.

I would now like to speak about the second inter-related policy of meritocracy.

Meritocracy plays a key role in creating a fair and just society where people can believe their dreams can be fulfilled.

Close to home and heart, my brother-in-law was not from the most advantaged back ground. He came from a low income household, he went to a primary school, Jubilee Primary School, which is no longer with us. Nonetheless, as a beneficiary of the system, he did well enough to obtain scholarships to allow him to further his education and he is currently doing his Masters at Stanford, again on a government scholarship. He to me is an example of someone who believed, worked hard and has done well for himself.

Meritocracy has granted him opportunities which he may not otherwise have been given.

However, the dialogue also raised questions on meritocracy. How it can breed excessive competition and division and perhaps it is time to consider what version of meritocracy is most in line with our founding mission. Perhaps traditional meritocracy could be restructured so it rewards those who act toward the benefit of society as a whole as opposed to the most intelligent and able.

One where merit is not just grade based, but where merit is viewed on a more holistic level to reward the ones that work towards the common good.

In a previous organisation I worked for, the success rate to be selected as a new hire was 0.5 per cent. About four hundred applications were received for two vacancies. Needless to say, many of the applications received had very good grades. In such a situation, how does an organisation decide? An increasingly important consideration is whether the candidates gave back to society. Candidates who recognised the benefits to improving society as a whole are likely to be viewed more favourably within any organisation seeking to create a strong team oriented environment.

Another question raised was how to keep meritocracy fair, so each child should, as far as possible, have an equal chance to excel and lead full lives, in spite of the inequalities which will always exist in reality.

What has the Education Ministry recently done? They have focused on pre-primary education. They are developing programs to level the playing field, to ensure those that may not be as advantaged, receive assistance so they can compete and actualize their full potential. These are changes which have occurred and must continue to happen.

A desire to do better

These changes show that the Party knows that it is not perfect, that it can always do better.

How is the Party looking to do better? It is listening. It is taking a ground based approach. This shows the Party's desire to be relevant. To meet the needs of the people on the ground.

How do we see that it is listening? We can see this in the Singapore Conversation, the activities of Reach, the dialogue sessions held by the PPF, Women's Wing and the Young PAP. These are some of the activities that show a party that listens, that wants to have a dialogue but more importantly the Party has taken meaningful action after it has listened.

Has the supply of HDB flats increased? Yes. Has the Community Health Assistance Scheme been expanded, so more enjoy outpatient care subsidies. Yes. Is the PSLE evolving to try and create less stress by using grades instead of t-scores? Yes. These are a few examples which show the party is listening.

Your party wants to engage you,

Your party wants to work with you,

Your party is listening.

Thank you.

This speech was delivered by Mr Benjamin Tay at the Party Convention 2013 on December 8, 2013, at Kallang Theatre.

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