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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister For Finance, at IIMPACT 2016

08 Apr 2016

Retain our values; reinforce our strengths; reaffirm our purpose and our people

1. I’m delighted to join you this evening and to be in a room full of IIM alumni, one of the most prestigious business schools not just in India but around the world, with so many experienced business leaders gathered here in one room. The theme of today’s conference – “RE:” – resonated with me. I understand you had an interesting session today and tomorrow you are will continue to talk about re-imagining and re-inventing. In my recently concluded Budget, I spoke on another “Re” – re-structuring our economy, through enterprise, innovation, and strong partnerships. And I also spoke about building a resilient and caring society.

2. So indeed, re-imagining, re-invention, restructuring, and resilience are necessary to help us adapt and keep up with change. I had originally planned to amplify my Budget speech and talk about restructuring the economy or trends that are shaping the world and how we can reimagine global affairs, but today I would like to talk about something quite different. I’d like to talk about a different set of “Re-s”. Because while “Re” can mean doing something afresh, as we discussed earlier about re-inventing and reimagining, but it can also mean doing something again. And some things are worth keeping, and doing again. Even as we talk about managing the new, and managing the change, some things in life ought to stay constant  


Retain our values

3. The first “Re” is retain. I mean retaining our values.  Singaporeans hold certain values close to our hearts – like integrity, resilience, a strong work ethic. These values together mean we want to be a people of our word, a people who will get things done, and they keep our institutions clean and transparent. 

4. Resilience kept us staunch and going in hard times in our history, building a nation out of nothing.  And I believe that these values will stand us true again when we face new headwinds. And our strong work ethic keeps us learning and improving and not complacent, where we understand that we can have good opportunities if we keep offering something of value to the world. And there are other values, like a sense of community, a certain confidence even when we have little.

5. These values are by no means unique to us in Singapore.  They have special meaning for us, and an important place in our history.  They have carried us this far, and will continue to steer us through, as we journey on into the future. We must ask ourselves: what are the values that are most important to us, that we must pass on to our children? If we re-imagine our future without our values guiding us – we will be lost. A prosperous city without morals, without the Singapore Spirit. This is not our goal.


Reinforce our strengths

6. The second “Re” is reinforce. We must reinforce our strengths. We always ask ourselves: What are our strengths?

  • As a nation, a key strength is that we are an attractive location for talent from abroad. Many of you in the audience have spent over a decade in Singapore; some have chosen to make Singapore your home, or have even become new citizens. Thank you for your contributions – to our companies and to our communities. We need to keep Singapore a choice location for businesses – where Singapore businesses flourish and international companies are keen to invest. We will build up our reputation as a test-bed for innovative ideas from around the world; where people come together to develop solutions for the world’s problems. And I have said in Parliament before, that if we are able to be a location where we play a role in solving some of the world’s most difficult challenges and make our contribution to humanity, we will have our place in the world.
  • For our businesses: We have many innovative companies. We will continue to improve the environment for innovation to thrive. In the recent budget speech, I announced that we will set up SG-Innovate, which will help connect innovators to smart money, mentors, markets, and experts in the R&D area. This evening, when I was touring the IIMaginarium, I saw many innovative things that are being done, and I am happy that we have a chance to bring everyone together, to connect with one another, to make this impact.
  • For every individual: We have a hardworking and skilled workforce. We need to encourage employers to invest in their people, young and old, and start a virtuous cycle of higher skills, higher productivity, higher wages. We will keep investing in SkillsFuture, an initiative to drive lifelong learning in every Singaporean.

Reaffirm our purpose

7. I spoke on retaining our values and reinforcing our strength. Let me now come now to what is arguably the most important “Re”: “Reaffirm”.

8. As a society, we must not only retain our values and reinforce our strengths; at the heart of it, we must reinforce our purpose. What is the fundamental reason that we are concerned with all this? Why do we work hard to boost innovation, create jobs, and invest in skills? When I was working for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, one of his favourite phrases was: “So what?” Each time we embark on doing something, he would ask, “So what?” It was a process that would constantly stimulate us to think about why we are doing this. What is the purpose of doing all this?

9. For us, the purpose of striving for economic growth is to create opportunities for our people. And it is only in an environment where people feel they have hope and opportunity, that they will be motivated to stay, to contribute, to work hard, to innovate, and create more opportunities for themselves and others. This is the virtuous cycle that we hope to strengthen. This is how we can continue to build a fair and just society, where the opportunities are there regardless of your background or your starting point in life.

10. The Government can provide support and resources to businesses and individuals, to transform our economy for the future. But policy measures by themselves do not, and cannot, promote hard work or encourage innovation. A good work ethic, and the willingness to try new ideas, comes from culture; and culture is created by people. It comes from the way we talk to one another, treat each other, and encourage each other, every day. We recognise that our people are both the reason for and the agents of change.

11. That’s why partnership has been a key message of my Budget this year. My intent is to reaffirm our purpose as a society: to build a culture where our people partner each other, to create more opportunities for all. Where our people come together to build a caring and resilient society.

12. We all have a stake in creating meaningful roles for ourselves and the next generation. When we pool our energies, we can multiply our individual impact, socially and economically. This is how we can retain our values, and reinforce our strengths.

  • For example, in the Budget, I announced that we would pilot the Community Networks for Seniors – a team of full-time officers will coordinate the efforts of voluntary welfare organisations, community volunteers, schools and businesses. Together, we can take better care of our elderly.
  • I also announced that we are supporting our Trade Associations and Chambers, or TACs, to lead the development of industry-wide solutions for common challenges, setting aside up to $30 million over the next five years to support TACs in building their capabilities. By working together, our companies can become more competitive globally.

13. The Committee on the Future Economy, which I chair, is another example of people coming together to shape Singapore’s future. The CFE includes representatives from government agencies, business leaders, union representatives, and academics – they have all volunteered their time to share experience and ideas. Interested young people have written to our CFE members with suggestions – including a few teenage students! In fact, young people are organising their own dialogues to generate ideas; for example, at “The Future of the Economy” SGfuture dialogue last month, I saw many young people willing to spend their Sunday mornings talking about the economy! I look forward to seeing this spirit of partnership continue to grow.

14. Partnership does not just happen between and among individuals, communities, and companies. Partnerships form between nations, too, that allow us to share and grow our common wealth of talent, ideas, and potential for good.

15.  This is an opportune time to reaffirm the partnership and friendship between Singapore and India. Last year was not only Singapore’s 50 th birthday, but it also marked 50 years of bilateral relations between India and Singapore. PM Modi visited Singapore just four months ago to sign a Joint Declaration with PM Lee on a strategic partnership which includes economic cooperation[1]. Over the past decade, Singapore’s investments in India have grown nearly 20 times, from S$653 million to S$12.1 billion.

16. There are more than 6,000 Indian companies here, and Singapore companies have been steadily growing their presence in India[2], including of course, DBS Bank. Singapore has worked with the Government of Andhra Pradesh to develop the master plan of the new riverfront capital city Amaravati[3] .

17. Whether as individuals, businesses or as nations, our impact is multiplied when we look for ways to partner others, here and with friends abroad, to bring our strengths together and collaborate to build the future we imagine, or re-imagine, to re-invent, or restructure, what we need to do for ourselves. 

18. While we speak of international partnerships and agreements, and industry-wide efforts to drive transformation, the effectiveness and strengths of partnerships boils down to the everyday exchanges of ideas and transfer of expertise between and among individuals.

19. Organisations do not talk to one another. People do. They identify opportunities for collaboration, make the connections, and strengthen these relationships. In that regard, this IIMPACT forum is extremely important in bringing people together, connecting people, catalysing ideas, and hopefully building new partnerships for a better future.

Reaffirm the value of every individual

20. Not only is it important to reaffirm our purpose; I strongly believe that as a society we must reaffirm the value of every individual . Every individual matters, and everyone can play a role in re-imagining and re-inventing Singapore and the world. Each of us has the potential to determine how our future society will look.

21. So every person, personally and professionally, has something of value to offer. If we are to re-imagine Singapore or India, or the world, then we should focus on how we can help each person be his or her best.

22. If you’re an employer, business leader, entrepreneur and manager like many of you here are, this means investing in developing your people and encouraging innovation in everything we do.

23. If you’re an employee or a student, think about the skills you need; research the opportunities available; make time to learn; talk to teachers and employers; and try your best every day.

24. As a member of a family; if there are people around you that you care about, spend time talking about the values that matter, identify strengths in each other, and encourage and motivate one another.



25. As we reimagine and reinvent ourselves for the future, I think we can all agree that there is one “re” that we all wish to avoid.

26. We do not wish to re-invent the wheel. Every country builds on the strong foundation laid by our pioneers – in Singapore’s case, in terms of our finances, our values, and our common vision for Singapore as a thriving city. Now, as was the case when the nation was founded in 1965, we do not pursue economic growth for its own sake, but because we want there to be continued opportunities for Singaporeans to seek happiness in their own ways, and we want to be able to be of value to the world, to be relevant to the world, and make our contributions to humanity.

27. This includes being able to find good jobs that allow them to access good opportunities; so that we can look after each other, and pursue lives of meaning, achievement and joy. Even as we look to transform, our people must stay firmly rooted in what has served us well.

28. The pursuit of a better life will take re-invention and re-imagining. But not only that, it will also take a deep understanding of what has worked, and holding firmly to it. It is about:

a.    Retaining our values

b.    Reinforcing our strengths

c.    Reaffirming our purpose and our people

29. We do not rush to chase the latest trend. With eyes focussed on the road ahead, our people can journey forward together, step by step, hand-in-hand; confident, hopeful, knowing we are stronger together.

30. I wish you an enriching conference where you reflect on your values, strengths, and purpose; even as you reimagine and reinvent yourselves, your companies, and your countries for the future.

31. Thank you.

[1] PM Modi visited Singapore in November 2015 to sign the Joint Declaration on the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership, to pursue five initiatives on economic cooperation. In 2015, India was Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner, with total trade between our countries amounting to more than $22 billion.

[2] in industrial real estate, finance, telecommunications sectors; and recently in urban solutions and logistics

[3] Last October, Minister of Trade and Industry, S. Iswaran, attended the foundation ceremony of Amaravati by PM Modi.