Keep our meritocratic system working: PM Lee
PUBLISHED ON 16 May 2018
In his wide-ranging speech during the debate on the President’s Address, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emphasised that economic growth is not enough and that individual Singaporeans must see progress in their lives.

“This means sharing growth widely and equitably, to improve the lives of all Singaporeans. It also means fully maximising the talents and efforts of our people, and getting the most capable people into the most consequential jobs. In other words, making sure there is social mobility, so that our meritocracy continues to work,” he added during his speech during the debate on the President’s Address.

PM Lee identified four indicators which can tell if Singapore’s system of meritocracy is working:
  • When every child has a good start in life, regardless of which family you are born into
  • When every talent is recognised and developed to the fullest
  • When every opportunity is open to anyone with the right attitude and ability
  • When a capable person faces minimal social impediments to be accepted, to contribute, and to lead in society
In the long term, PM Lee said the last part is the most difficult to sustain.

“We want Singapore society to maintain an informal and egalitarian tone, where people interact freely and comfortably as equals, and there are no rigid class distinctions or barriers that keep good people down. This is beyond the Government’s ability to bring about alone; society itself has to be open and permeable,” he pointed out.

PM Lee added that society has to be aware of distinguishing markers that entrench class differences. “We must discourage people from flaunting their social advantages. We should frown upon those who go for ostentatious displays of wealth and status, or worse, look down on others less well off or privileged. We should emphasise our commonalities, not accentuate our differences,” he reiterated.

PM Lee pointed out that there is a further obstacle to social mobility: elite groups. While such networks are “natural structures” in society, PM Lee said it must remain open and permeable. “They must not close up, they must not form a glass ceiling,” he cautioned.

On the topic of maintaining social cohesion, PM Lee said nation building will always be a work in progress because the forces that pull Singaporeans in different directions will never go away.

He noted that race, language and religion are enduring fault lines and can potentially divide Singaporeans. Beyond that, he said Singapore must work to build bridges between different groups in society such as those between unions and management, and between old citizens and new.

Thus, Government policies and programmes must support social mobility and meritocracy.

“We make sure that the fundamentals are done well – quality education, home ownership and affordable healthcare, which improve the lives of every Singaporean,” he said. “In the end, the Government must focus on practical, effective policies. And as a society, we must uphold clear social norms that minimise social barriers and encourage mobility, in order to keep our meritocratic system working well.”