S'pore's current generation has duty to steward resources wisely for next generation: Desmond Lee

So many needs and wants, but so little land and resources.

Fiona Tan | January 15, 2023, 11:46 AM

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Like the generation before them, the current generation of Singaporeans has the duty to steward Singapore's resources wisely and grow them for the next generation, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee asserted during his speech at the St. Gallen Symposium.

The event took place at the National University of Singapore  (NUS) on Jan. 13, 2023.

Stewarding Singapore and its resources

Lee noted that Singapore has limited resources.

As a result, the government has to make "difficult choices" between meeting "the many needs and the unlimited wants of today" and "setting aside enough space and resources to meet the uncertain challenges of tomorrow".

While the popular choice to exhaust all the land and consume fiscal reserves to meet the needs of today’s generation can be tempting, that was not the approach that Singapore's "disciplined and far-sighted" pioneer leaders took, Lee said.

These leaders made difficult trade-offs and long-term plans, such as planning for the Marina Bay business and financial district in the 1970s, shortly after Singapore's independence.

This was done so to set the current generation up for success, even when there were "few resources and a whole lot of problems" back then.

"This spirit of stewardship is a defining feature of the social compact we inherited that is core to our Singapore identity," said Lee, adding that the current generation therefore has the duty to steward Singapore and its resources wisely by growing them, instead of merely using them.

Current generation must make difficult trade-offs

Furthering the point of stewardship in the context of Singapore's social compact, Lee said the current generation also has to avoid incurring debts when funding their own unique needs as these debts may indenture the future generation unnecessarily.

While it is equitable to expect the future generation to share in the costs of the development of significant infrastructures, such as Changi Terminal 5, as they also stand to reap the benefits that come with these developments, the current generation must acknowledge that the future generation may face a different set of challenges requiring different sets of resilience and an evolving social compact to fit the context at that time.

As such, the current generation must remain responsible and disciplined and make difficult trade-offs when dealing with issues of their time.

Even as Singapore tries to meet the growing housing demand, we need to be good stewards of land and resources, Lee said.

This is done by maximising the potential of Singapore's limited land through greater land-use intensification and by rejuvenating older estates through redevelopment and prioritising needs, such as first-time home owners and providing options for different demographics.

Besides housing, there are also other needs competing for Singapore's limited land.

"At the same time, we aspire to conserve more green spaces and protect more of our built heritage, as Singapore yearns for greenery in our city and aspires to conserve biodiversity in a dense city. And to conserve these against competing needs such as healthcare, education, transport, industry and others."

All these have to be done without exhausting all available developable land to reserve space and optionality for future generations to dream, grow, and develop, said Lee.

"And we reserve optionality typically by keeping spaces available to them and also at the time that the generation comes of age, the land can be rejuvenated for them with a free hand to draw and develop to live their dream."

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Top image from Desmond Lee/Facebook and by Fiona Tan