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Driving sustainability, helping needy among top concerns at pre-Budget dialogue

[SINGAPORE] The need for Singapore to focus on environmental and sustainability initiatives, while looking after the vulnerable in society, were among the top concerns highlighted by youths at a pre-Budget 2021 dialogue on Wednesday (Jan 13).

Some 170 Singaporean youths participated in the virtual event, held ahead of Budget 2021 which will be unveiled in Parliament on Feb 16.

Present at the dialogue were Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah and Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth as well as Trade and Industry Alvin Tan.

Despite the perception by some that environmental issues are a longer-term concern compared to a more immediate need to deal with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, sustainability initiatives can be a potential growth area as well, said Ms Indranee.

She said it would be worth channelling efforts into sustainable, resilient infrastructure, as this is of fast growing interest across the region.

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In a separate pre-Budget conversation in December, Ms Indranee said that while the government would have to be prudent in spending and make every dollar count, it would also look into growth and find revenue resulting from these opportunities.

Speaking to reporters at the dialogue on Wednesday, Mr Tan pointed to emerging opportunities in the agri-tech sector - namely new jobs, research and development initiatives and businesses across farming and fishing - that complement the economy while helping meet sustainability goals.

During the two-hour session, organised by the National Youth Council and Ministry of Finance, participants were asked to vote on which issues they felt Budget 2021 should address.

Ms Indranee noted that the idea of coming out stronger as a society was a consistent point of interest."There's a very clear sense amongst our youth that they care about the less fortunate, or they care about other people, and that their community is important to them," she said.

Mr Tan pointed out that while the youth participants were keen to help vulnerable groups - particularly those adversely affected by the pandemic - they also recognised the trade-offs that policymakers grapple with when attempting to address such issues, such as possible welfare dependency.

Other areas of concern flagged by the youths included the future of work, the fear of jobs-skills mismatches, and mental well-being."I think this crisis has made our youth think quite deeply about what matters to them," said Ms Indranee.

Participant Poh Yong Shun, 23, said his breakout group had debated whether sustainability was more a matter of individual than group responsibility, and how Singapore could support vulnerable groups beyond providing financial aid.

The first-year sociology undergraduate said the discussion would not end with the session."We will be continuing the conversation on things of importance to Singapore," he said. "I think the youth in Singapore care for a lot of issues and they want to have their opinions heard."

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