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Why does Singapore outshine us?

Jussi Toppila Published Date 2.5.2019 15.21 Blog

Jussi ToppilaSingapore, a city-state with a population equal to Finland’s, provides a very interesting point of comparison when it comes to economic policy. Year after year and decade after decade, Singapore’s economic growth rate has remained at more than three per cent, business and industry continue to thrive, and employment rate hovers around 80 per cent – Finland’s long-term target rate.

The results are indisputable, but what’s behind them? Is it sheer luck, or a specific type of competence Finland lacks?

I believe the latter is true. In April, a delegation of ten people from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, led by Permanent Secretary Jari Gustafsson, visited Singapore to learn more about the country’s governmental management, digitalisation, innovation, training, employment, competition and consumer policies, and the service systems used to implement them. 

Singapore’s social policy is guided by economic growth

Economic growth is the key priority of Singapore’s social policy. All ministries and other actors in society work consistently to serve this purpose.  Everyone understands their role in the bigger picture. Singapore is a model country for strategic management based on policy coherence.

The Government and its measures play a major role in keeping the country’s business and industry thriving. The Government has specified 23 growth sectors where success is safeguarded by all administrative branches and all other actors in society. This is something worth considering for our sector-specific economic and industrial policy...

Growth provides a means to a better life for citizens

Economic growth is pursued not simply for the sake of growth as such, but rather as a means to a better life for citizens. And while Singaporeans are well aware of climate change, their approach to the problem focuses on how climate change mitigation can provide opportunities to create new business and export products, and thereby promote growth. 

In Singapore, people have little regard for strategy papers that gather dust on the shelf. For them, strategy work involves maintaining continuous situational awareness, conduct foresight activities, scanning weak signals, metering these signals and analysing any changes detected, and revising targets and implementation accordingly. The Government systematically looks for new policy innovations and puts the most promising ones into production. 

Growth policy is pursued through systematic dialogue

Governmental management in Singapore is based on continuous and extensive dialogue and cooperation between the Government and the different actors in all walks of society.  Growth policy formulation is a joint effort of 10,000 different parties. A systematic structure has been created for this, in which everyone understands what roles they play in the implementation and renewal of growth policy.

Similarly, dialogue is conducted not for the intrinsic value of dialogue itself, but to reach specific objectives. The outcomes of the dialogue are included in the strategy process, and the implementation of the growth policy has been decentralised to a wide range of actors in society.  In short, cooperation with interest groups and internal and external communications all represent integrated elements of policy implementation.

A strong tripartite system and effective inter-ministerial cooperation are the keys to success

A strong tripartite system is the fundamental key to a successful growth policy. Instead of being limited to labour policy, it also extends to other dimensions of the growth policy.  Social partners do more than just discuss relevant matters; they are assigned responsibility for operative issues, such as the practical development of the SME sector.

Continuous, goal-oriented cooperation helps to overcome ministerial silos. Other measures to prevent silos include personnel arrangements, which allow the head of one government agency to serve as the deputy head of another agency. Convergent government has been effectively put into practice in Singapore.

Lifelong learning a part of labour policy

Lifelong learning is an integral part of how labour policy is formulated and implemented. Determined steps are taken to maintain the working capacity and competence of the elderly. 

An integrated approach has been adopted to personal and organisational renewal, in other words lifelong learning and innovation policy. Services are built with a strong focus on digital transformation. The best talent to serve the country’s needs is recruited from abroad.

The other side of Singapore – one-party rule for 50 years

But there is another side to Singapore: it has been ruled by one party for more than 50 years, freedom of opinion has been limited, and the Government monitors and controls citizens extensively. The birth rate is even lower than in Finland, which is a sign of something. 

Although this is not the kind of society we want to imitate, Singapore’s example proves that very effective central government can be a crucial contributor to a country’s growth and success. When policies applied nationwide are effective and consistent, the results can be very impressive.

All in all, our trip to Singapore was very productive, and we will put the lessons learned into practice in areas such as implementing the government programme and improving the management, guidance and direction of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.  

Jussi Toppila

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