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(MAJU)lah Singapura: The Forward Singapore Exercise


Image: Credits to Straits Times (ST Photo: SHINTARO TAY)

In this Explainer, find out...

  • Why was the Forward Singapore (Forward SG) exercise needed?

  • What were the themes highlighted in the Forward SG report?

  • What are some of the differences between Forward SG and Our SG Conversation?


Introduction

“Building Our Shared Future, Together” — the vision of the Forward Singapore (Forward SG) exercise encapsulates its hopes. Since the exercise’s launch in June 2022, numerous conversations have been held with Singaporeans from varying backgrounds to understand their hopes and aspirations for Singapore’s future. This Policy Explainer will delve further into the rationale of the exercise, highlight the themes from the Forward SG Report and compare them with a similar one from the past, Our SG Conversation, which was held in 2013.¹

The Purpose of Forward SG

Forward SG aims to rejuvenate Singapore's social compact. A social compact is an implicit agreement between the government and its citizens, outlining the roles and responsibilities each party holds.² This concept is an evolution of the modern social contract theory, emphasising mutual obligations and shared responsibilities among the state, citizens, and sometimes the private sector.³


Social Compacts in Other Countries

Social compacts have taken various forms throughout history. For instance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s marked a refreshment of the United States’ (U.S.) social compact. It comprised a series of programmes, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations designed to foster economic recovery and promote social welfare in the aftermath of the Great Depression.⁴ In exchange, U.S. citizens agreed to actively participate in various New Deal programmes. For example, millions of unemployed were employed in New Deal projects like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.⁵ The Nordic model is another example, as seen in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. It offers a range of social services, including healthcare, education, and unemployment insurance, in return for active workforce participation and adherence to democratic principles.⁶ These programmes in various countries are connected by the underlying principle of facilitating active participation among citizens and laying out the relationship between the state and the people.


Why Does Singapore Need a New Social Compact Now?

The need for a new social compact in Singapore arises from several factors.


First, geopolitical tensions are creating a challenging environment for smaller states like Singapore by introducing new uncertainties. Second, technological advancements, while opening new opportunities, are simultaneously rendering certain job roles obsolete, contributing to workforce anxieties. Third, rising inequality and slowing social mobility, already evident in many developed countries, pose threats to social cohesion in Singapore. Finally, the country's rapidly ageing population is placing more pressure on citizens, particularly those responsible for both young children and elderly parents.


Longer-term challenges like climate change also demand significant adjustments. Not only does Singapore need to make tough decisions to combat climate change, but it must also take steps to mitigate threats like extreme weather events, food shortages, and rising sea levels.⁷ As a whole, Singapore is in turbulent times with rapid changes and escalating concerns. Hence, it is important to refresh our social compact to ensure that no Singaporeans are left behind.


The Forward SG Exercise

The Forward SG exercise was launched in June 2022, with six thematic pillars:⁸

  1. Empower: Economy and Jobs

  2. Equip: Education and Lifelong Learning

  3. Care: Health and Social Support

  4. Build: Home and Living Environment

  5. Steward: Environmental and Fiscal Sustainability

  6. Unite: Singaporean Identity


Over 200,000 Singaporeans contributed to the Forward SG exercise. 35,000 citizens took part in one of its 275 engagement sessions, while the remainder offered feedback through surveys.⁹ Figure 1 illustrates the profile of Singaporeans who took part in the Forward SG Exercise.


Figure 1: Demography of Forward SG Participants¹⁰

To ensure diversity in opinions, engagement sessions were held in different languages, neighbourhoods, and modalities. The engagement sessions also allowed Singaporeans to listen to each others’ inputs, facilitating discussion on complex issues and enabling pros and cons to be weighed.


In all, the engagement sessions allowed Singapore’s political leaders to affirm the core principles guiding Singapore’s future development. At the same time, existing approaches were reviewed to more accurately reflect changing circumstances. As a whole, these findings were reflected in the Forward SG report, highlighting major concerns in the future and steps Singapore will take to move towards our ideal.


The Forward SG Report

The Forward SG report is subdivided into seven key chapters (Chapters 2 to 8), each documenting a major shift needed for Singapore to become a “Vibrant, Inclusive, Fair, Thriving, Resilient and United” nation.¹¹


Chapter 2: Embracing Learning Beyond Grades

This chapter highlights strategies to promote continuous learning and equip current and future generations with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate an evolving world.


Strategies to be pursued include:¹²

  • “Giving every child a good start” by promoting universal enrollment in preschools.

  • “Providing more diverse pathways to develop every student to their full potential” by shifting to Full Subject-Based Banding and adopting artificial intelligence technologies to augment learning.¹³

  • “Promoting lifelong learning” via investments to support upgrading and reskilling amongst mature and mid-career Singaporeans.


Chapter 3: Respecting and Rewarding Every Job

This chapter emphasises creating a more equitable labour market in Singapore.

Strategies to be pursued include:¹⁴

  • “Reducing wage gaps across professions” by consistently reviewing and updating the programmes designed to support low-wage workers such as Workfare, the Progressive Wage Model, and the Local Qualifying Salary.¹⁵

  • “Empowering Singaporeans to build stronger career agility and resilience” by improving job matching services.

  • “Investing more in Singaporeans” by cultivating more Singaporean corporate executives, particularly for prominent regional positions within MNCs.


Chapter 4: Supporting Families Through Every Stage

This chapter focuses on strategies to develop a robust support system for families.


Strategies to be pursued include:¹⁶

  • “Ensuring continued access to affordable public housing” through the new Housing and Development Board (HDB) Build-to-Order flat classification framework.¹⁷

  • “Providing greater assurance to parents” by reworking parental leave arrangements.

  • “Support Singaporeans’ well-being” through flexible working arrangements.

  • “Supporting our caregivers” by strengthening support networks for caregivers of individuals with development and special education needs.

Chapter 5: Enabling Seniors to Age Well

This chapter discusses ways to improve the quality of life for the elderly​​ by promoting stronger healthcare systems and communities.


Strategies to be pursued include:¹⁸

  • “Empowering seniors to age healthily and well” through initiatives such as Healthier SG and Age Well SG that form a support system for the elderly.

  • “Strengthening services for seniors with care needs” by providing more care options for the elderly depending on their care needs.

  • “Improving the physical environment for seniors” by providing more senior-friendly housing options, such as HDB Community Care Apartments and the Enhancement for Active Seniors programme.

  • “Ensuring seniors retire with peace of mind” by supporting their retirement needs through updates to the Workfare Income Supplement scheme and the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme.

Chapter 6: Empowering Those in Need

This chapter focuses on assisting the disadvantaged and vulnerable in society, such as the low-income and the disabled, by enhancing existing social support systems in Singapore​​.


Strategies to be pursued include:¹⁹

  • “Uplifting lower-income families” through ComLink+, which pools together greater financial support for lower-income families.

  • “Closing gaps for children from lower-income families” through an expansion of the KidSTART programme, which equips lower-income parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to foster their children's growth and development.

  • “Making Singapore a more inclusive society for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)” through the new Enabling Masterplan 2030, aimed at providing all-round support for PWDs.

Chapter 7: Investing in Our Shared Tomorrow

This chapter focuses on meeting both the current and future needs of Singaporeans by responsibly stewarding resources​​.


Strategies to be pursued include:²⁰

  • “Managing our limited land and environmental resources” through HDB’s Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme, achieving net zero by 2045 and Our Coastal Conversation.

  • “Strengthening our food and water security” by bolstering the Four National Taps and diversifying food import sources.

  • “Upholding fiscal prudence and responsibility” by continuing to build reserves, establishing fair tax systems and maintaining revenue.

Chapter 8: Doing Our Part as One United People

This chapter focuses on encouraging collective effort and unity to build a strong society​​.


Strategies to be pursued include:²¹

  • “Giving back to society” where donors are connected to the needs of the community while Singaporeans continue to donate.

  • “Strengthening our Singaporean identity” where greater cultural understanding between Singaporeans is promoted.

  • “Taking collective action towards our shared future” by empowering Singaporeans to shape the future that they want through the Singapore Government Partnerships Office and new platforms.


Comparison with Our SG Conversation

Our Singapore Conversation was the last major engagement exercise undertaken by the Government, with a similar intention of refreshing Singapore’s social compact. The project began in August 2012 and identified five core aspirations that Singaporeans expressed: Opportunities, Purpose, Assurance, Spirit, and Trust.²²


Overall, Our Singapore Conversation placed greater emphasis on citizens’ attitudes towards the future, while the Forward SG exercise focuses on fostering citizen-government partnerships and identifying strategies for realising them. The Forward SG also features new priorities vis-à-vis Our Singapore Conversation, with some of the latter’s priorities being de-emphasised as well.


New Priorities from the Forward SG Exercise


Investing in Our Shared Tomorrow

Chapter 7: Investing in Our Shared Tomorrow is a new focus area for the Government, highlighting the need for Singapore to steward its resources responsibly to secure our shared future. Three broad strategies are outlined.


Firstly, Singapore endeavours to better manage our limited land and environmental resources. Having effective land use plans is critical given Singapore’s land scarcity, growing population, and rising sea levels.²³ ²⁴ To address this, the Government is undertaking climate adaptation efforts to prepare for the impact of climate change. One example is the ‘Long Island’ plan, led by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which aims to develop an artificial island along the south-eastern coast of Singapore to protect against rising sea levels.²⁵ Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, Singapore is also moving towards a zero-carbon future in line with international goals set out by COP26, combining climate ambitions with land use, transportation, and economic development planning.²⁶


Secondly, Singapore will look to strengthen our food and water resilience. Recent events like the Russo-Ukrainian War and disputes over the Johor River Water Agreement illustrate the fragility of food and water supply chains, acting as a reminder that Singapore needs to diversify food sources and maintain some level of self-sufficiency. To achieve this, Singapore has strengthened its bilateral trade relations and steadily diversified its food import sources, from 140 countries in 2004 to over 180 countries in 2022.²⁷ Singapore has also attempted to develop its local food-producing capabilities through novel methods such as alternative meat cultivation.²⁸


Thirdly, Singapore will strive to uphold fiscal prudence and responsibility. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic, where our nation’s reserves were drawn down twice to fund support packages and vaccine procurement, illustrate the need for Singapore to remain financially secure.²⁹ At the same time, a progressive system of taxes and redistribution is needed for Singapore to curtail social inequality. Steps are being taken in this direction: for instance, the 2023-2024 Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike has been coupled with a support package that offers higher payouts to vulnerable segments of our population, thereby offsetting cost increases to a greater degree.³⁰


De-Emphasised Areas from Our Singapore Conversation


A Society Where Government and the People Have a More Collaborative Relationship

Our Singapore Conversation highlighted the public’s desire for a Government that engages more proactively with its citizens, emphasising mutual respect, sincerity, and a more inclusive and co-creative approach to policymaking and problem-solving.


Over the past decade, Singapore has been moving towards a more consultative style of governance. This is reflected in various efforts such as REACH public consultations, the National Climate Change Secretariat's online consultations on climate ambitions,³¹ and the Ministry of Finance’s public discussions on the GST (Amendment) Bill.³² The launch of the OneService app in 2015 further exemplifies this trend, offering a unified platform for citizens to report municipal issues directly to the relevant authorities.³³ Hence, the de-prioritisation of this area could reflect the satisfactory nature of improvements over the past decade.


However, there still appears to be a discrepancy between the initiatives and public perception. An Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey indicates that 40.8% of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents still view the Government as non-consultative as of 2021.³⁴ This suggests that while strides have been made towards a more collaborative government-citizen relationship, greater awareness and engagement of such initiatives may still be necessary.


A Singapore with a Competent and Trustworthy Government

Our Singapore Conversation emphasises the concept of a competent and trustworthy government, with citizens expressing pride in the Government's track record of efficient, prudent, and incorrupt administration.


Recent developments such as the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report revealed a rise in trust in Singapore's key institutions, including the Government, during a period marked by the pandemic and economic recession.³⁵ This trust was echoed by similar insights from IPS, showing most Singaporeans had considerable confidence in the Government.³⁶


As the challenges faced by and the needs of Singaporeans change over the years, the relationship between the Government and the people is changing as well. Beyond being competent and trustworthy, new crucial responsibilities have fallen on the Government’s shoulders over the past years. This may explain why the focus area has made way for other needs of Singaporeans.


Conclusion

Singapore’s journey over the past 58 years is a testament to its dynamic evolution and its ability to adapt to the changing needs of its people. The Forward SG exercise is in itself a reflection of the Government's commitment to understanding and addressing these evolving needs. As Singapore progresses, the nation's priorities must evolve correspondingly, ensuring that the mechanisms for hearing citizens' voices are not only maintained but also broadened. By continuing to expand the avenues through which citizens can express their views and contribute to policymaking, the Government can ensure that the social compact remains updated and reflective of the aspirations of all Singaporeans.


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This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own.


By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of Singapore.

 
¹ REACH. 2013. “Our Singapore Conversation Survey Findings.” REACH. https://www.reach.gov.sg/Read/Our-SG-Conversation.
² Ministry of Social and Family Development. 2020. “Singapore's Social Compact - A Quick Introduction.” Ministry of Social and Family Development. https://www.msf.gov.sg/docs/default-source/odgsw/social-compact-summary31234866-98a1-4131-912c-91937aae7eea.pdf.
³ Thrasher, John, Fred D'Agostino, and Gerald Gaus. 1996. “Contemporary Approaches to the Social Contract (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractarianism-contemporary/.
⁴ Library of Congress. n.d. “President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.” Library of Congress. Accessed November 25, 2023. https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/great-depression-and-world-war-ii-1929-1945/franklin-delano-roosevelt-and-the-new-deal/.
⁵ Living New Deal. 2023. “Works Progress Administration (WPA) (1935).” Living New Deal. https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/works-progress-administration-wpa-1935.; Living New Deal. 2023. “Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) (1933).” Living New Deal. https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/civilian-conservation-corps-ccc-1933.
⁶ Iacono, Roberto. 2018. “The Nordic Model of Economic Development and Welfare: Recent Developments and Future Prospects.” Intereconomics. https://www.intereconomics.eu/contents/year/2018/number/4/article/the-nordic-model-of-economic-development-and-welfare-recent-developments-and-future-prospects.html.
⁷ Benjamin Choo, Clara Ng, and Siddhant Vaduvur. 2023. “Singapore's Climate Action Plan: The Little Red Dot's Push to Combat Climate Change.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/singapore-s-climate-action-plan-the-little-red-dot-s-push-to-combat-climate-change. ; Benjamin Choo, Clara Ng, and Siddhant Vaduvur. 2023. “Singapore's Climate Action Plan: Impact Mitigation Strategies.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/singapore-s-climate-action-plan-impact-mitigation-strategies.
⁹ Ibid.
¹⁰ Ibid.
¹¹ Ibid.
¹² Ibid.
¹³ Benjamin Choo and Janessa Guo. 2023. “Wired for Success: Technology in Today's Classrooms.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/wired-for-success-technology-in-today-s-classrooms.
¹⁴ Ibid.
¹⁵ Jordan Lim. 2023. “Leave No One Behind: Occupational Progressive Wages For Administrators and Drivers.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/leave-no-one-behind-occupational-progressive-wages-for-administrators-and-drivers.
¹⁶ Ibid.
¹⁷ Jordan Lim. 2023. “Leave No One Behind: Occupational Progressive Wages For Administrators and Drivers.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/leave-no-one-behind-occupational-progressive-wages-for-administrators-and-drivers.
¹⁸ Ibid.
¹⁹ Ibid.
²⁰ Ibid.
²¹ Ibid.
²² Our Singapore Conversation Secretariat. 2013. “Reflections of Our Singapore Conversation.” REACH.. https://www.reach.gov.sg/docs/default-source/reach/reach-files/read/oursingaporeconversationreflection.pdf.
²³ PTI. 2023. “Singapore's total population touch new high at 5.92 million: Government.” The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/singapores-total-population-touch-new-high-at-5-92-million-government/articleshow/104045139.cms.
²⁴ Shaw, Timothy. 2023. “Commentary: The urgency of addressing rising sea levels in Singapore.” CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/singapore-how-high-sea-level-rise-melting-ice-sheet-future-past-3816866.
²⁵ Urban Redevelopment Authority. 2023. “'Long Island.'” URA. https://www.ura.gov.sg/corporate/planning/Master-Plan/Draft-Master-Plan-2025/Long-Island.
²⁶ Singapore Green Plan 2030. 2021. “Joint Segment on Sustainability.” Singapore Green Plan 2030. https://www.greenplan.gov.sg/cos/.
²⁷ Singapore Food Agency. 2023. “Diversify Import Sources.” Singapore Food Agency. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-farming/sgfoodstory/diversification-of-import-sources.
²⁸ Lam, Jason. 2023. “Alternative Protein: Why Singapore Is More Than Meat-ing Expectations.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/alternative-protein-why-singapore-is-more-than-meat-ing-expectations.
²⁹ Tang, See K. 2023. “'Biggest misconception' to think that Singapore will always have enough reserves, says PM Lee.” CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/singapore-reserves-pm-lee-biggest-misconception-3699726.
³⁰ Han, YiHeng, Jingyan Lv, and Gavin Neo. 2023. “Keeping Up with Rising Costs: The GST Hike and Assurance Package.” MAJU. https://www.maju.sg/post/keeping-up-with-rising-costs-the-gst-hike-and-assurance-package.
³¹ National Climate Change Secretariat. 2022. “Feedback Received from REACH Public Consultation on Singapore's Raised Climate Ambition.” National Climate Change Secretariat. https://www.nccs.gov.sg/public-consultation/25-oct-2022-feedback-reach-public-consultations-sg-climate-ambition/.
³² Ministry of Finance. 2022. “Summary of Responses to the Public Consultation on the draft GST (Amendment) Bill 2022.” Ministry of Finance. https://www.mof.gov.sg/news-publications/public-consultations/summary-of-responses-to-the-public-consultation-on-the-draft-gst-(amendment)-bill-2022.
³³ Smart Nation Singapore. n.d. “OneService App.” Accessed November 23, 2023. https://www.smartnation.gov.sg/initiatives/urban-living/oneservice-app/.
³⁴ Mathews, Matthew, Ern Ser Tan, and Vincent Chua. 2021. “Making Identity Count in Singapore: Understanding Singaporeans’ National Pride and Identity.” Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/docs/default-source/ips/working-paper-41_making-identity-count-in-singapore_understanding-singaporeans-national-pride-and-identity.pdf.
³⁵ Ong, Justin. 2021. “Trust in Singapore's key institutions rose last year: Survey.” The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/trust-in-key-institutions-rose-last-year-survey.
³⁶ Mathews, Matthew, Melvin Tay, Alicia Wang, and Kay Key Teo. 2021. “Our Singaporean Values: Key Findings From The World Values Survey.” Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/docs/default-source/ips/ips-exchange-series-16.pdf.


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