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Growing for growth’s sake? No, says Josephine Teo

Jeanette Tan

Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo speaks to a REACH pre-Budget 2013 forum participant. (Yahoo! photo)

Singapore's growth is not for the sake of growing, but to provide Singaporeans with good jobs and the chance to lead better-quality lives, says Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo.

Addressing about 100 members of the public, youth, business representatives and grassroots leaders at a REACH forum on Thursday evening, Teo said the government aims to allow people to decide what they want to do with their lives by ensuring that they have good jobs and a healthy income.

She was responding to a question posed to her by a university student who expressed concern that the country's growth was outpacing its people, that it was growing with no tangible end-point, and that the idea of a "good life" has not previously been clearly defined.

"I can assure you that we are not trying to grow for growth's sake, and certainly it is not a case of growing at all costs," she said. "As we all know, the government's priority is to provide Singaporeans with good jobs. What can the government do to improve the lives of the people? Can you interfere too much in how a person leads his life? Can you dictate to him that he should get married... or can you determine for him the whole package that will make his life complete? Actually very difficult.

"Different people have different wants," she continued. "What the government can do is make it possible for people to have good jobs, good quality of life, good income. Then they can decide what they want to do with their lives."

Explaining that the quality of jobs on offer in Singapore has improved over the years and between generations, Teo also said that the continued improvement in the types of jobs available to the current and future generations of graduates hinges on steady growth.

"It means that we cannot adopt an attitude that, oh, we are already so well-established as a country, we no longer need to grow, because I'm very sure that the day we say our growth is going to be zero, we can be very sure that our businesses -- whether they are local businesses or foreign businesses -- they are going to say there's no more interest in Singapore because there is zero growth. Where are the opportunities for us in Singapore if the growth is flat, is zero?" she asked.

"So we're not growing for growth's sake; we're growing with the view of getting better jobs for Singaporeans, better quality of life, so the policies have to be calibrated with that in mind."

Over the two-hour session, Teo and REACH chairman Amy Khor responded to feedback from about 20 participants who contributed ideas for next year's budget. These included ways to help businesses cope with the manpower crunch, initiatives in the environment, the arts and education as well as concerns voiced over housing for singles and newlyweds, assisted conception for couples and flexi-work schemes for Singapore mothers.

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