Chinese New Year is around the corner. Here’s our wishlist for 2024 which we hope will make good conversation starters over Mandarin oranges and niangao. Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Thio Shen Yi, SC
Corporate Governance: Let’s take independence in listed companies seriously: mandate a majority of independent directors, have strict term limits, appoint directors from a wider and more diverse pool instead of “friends and cronies”. Let’s truly make boards transparent and accountable. Disclose bad news and don’t take cover behind the mantra of “no material impact to financials”. Make directors and companies give the real reason why directors leave, instead of anodyne blandishments of attending to “personal interests”.
Stefanie Yuen Thio
Healthcare: With improving standards of disease treatment, we are able to prolong the lifespan of patients but not necessarily add to, or even maintain, the quality of their lives.
A good doctor will know all the latest treatments for a life-threatening cancer, but a better doctor would be able to discuss frankly with the patient the pros and cons of such treatment. I have seen too many people who have allowed their medical professionals to throw medical drugs and surgeries at disease, and have their last days darkened by the side effect of those drugs. Sometimes a palliative course of treatment, or even very little medical intervention may be best for the patient.
This takes courage on the part of the medical community and means that the approach to medicine must change. Time to take a new look at what “first do no harm” should mean in modern day medicine.
A quarter of Singapore’s population will be over 65 by 2030. Now is the time to make this change.
Employment: Singapore will introduce Workplace Fairness Legislation to guard against workplace discrimination. Great, but I wish neurodivergence – mainly Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – falling short of disability would also be a characteristic protected from discrimination in the upcoming legislation. Currently, disability and mental health conditions are protected but neurodivergence is certainly not a mental health condition, while disability is likely to be defined as “…one with substantial impact on an individual’s ability to carry out day to day activity”. High functioning people on the spectrum and those with ADHD would not be protected. Netflix’s autistic heroine, the Extraordinary Attorney Woo, would not be protected. Let’s do better by them.
Gender roles: More men are hands-on dads now but much of the mental and decision-making burden in child rearing still falls to the mom. The woman is also expected to keep the household running like clockwork and manage elder care.
If we want an equal society, gender roles have to change. Women need to start trusting their partners to make childcare decisions, and not expect the result to be exactly what she would have done. Men need to embrace the totality of the role, and not just handle assigned tasks. I’d like Singapore to declare an annual Switch-Gender-Roles Week, when men and women exchange responsibilities and walk seven days in the other’s shoes. I look forward to a week without high heels!
Ong Pei Ching
Artificial Intelligence: Let’s implement universal guidelines (and laws!) on how generative AI may be used in producing films and novels, and how credit ought to be given. Copyright laws for the treatment of both content generated by AI and that used to train AI ought to be harmonised. And it shouldn’t take collective action like the Hollywood writers’ strike to achieve that.
More crucially, let’s see some hard law on how creators using generative AI must watermark their content to state that AI was used. This will make it a crime for bad actors creating deepfakes to harass, humiliate or blackmail victims.
Let’s take back our TV, our cinemas and our internet. Who wants to watch digital replicas agonise over choosing digital dates on the likes of Singles Inferno? Not I.
Digital Assets: Not all digital assets and tokens are scams. My wish for 2024 is that digital assets continue to gain market recognition and use. As the technologies supporting private exchanges have matured, the “use cases” have multiplied. My hope is that the upcoming year represents an exponential leap in the adoption of this asset type by institutional investors looking to get an edge through the advantages offered in these markets.
Housing: While recent trends have been for smaller homes and shorter leases for an aging population, there is still demand for bigger spaces. Some buyers are looking to comfortably house multi-generational families. Elder daycare is not always affordable. Having your elderly parents move in with you may help lower these costs and build closer family relationships.
My wish is that for 2024, housing developers will take this into account and recognise the potential of senior-focused real estate and seek to capitalise on the retirees who may be selling their homes to invest in a larger family home with their children and grandchildren.
Sustainability: Let’s unpack ESG and decouple the jargon.
The “E” is easy enough, climate change considerations often take centre stage in most discussions on ESG practices, and has spawned its own cult of supporters and detractors alike. The “S” is so broad – ranging from diversity to human rights, to animal welfare, and even back to the climate change (each a separate conversation in itself) – to be useful as a singular consideration. Finally, the “G” veers most closely to traditional investment considerations.The three do not easily intersect; binding them makes for an uncomfortable marriage, obscuring more than it represents.
Ultimately, ESG encompasses such a broad range of considerations that perhaps it should be called out for what it is – three distinct and occasionally disparate lenses through which investment decisions are made, based on non-financial considerations. It may not be as catchy as its three-alphabet moniker, but it will certainly be more transparent.
Climate Change: The struggle against global warming is a titanic one that requires a clear strategic understanding, leadership and plan that is beyond platitudes and bagatelles. Let’s start taking drastic action against polluters – be they well-connected corporates who blight for profit or mere individuals in heavy vehicles who road hog.
Gracious society: Greet your neighbour even if you have never been introduced. Address your server by name if they are wearing a name tag, to show that you recognise their personhood and appreciate the good work that they do. Hold the lift door for the person behind you. Do not speed up when you see the car in front wanting to merge into your lane. Let us build a more courteous Singapore. Allow me to start by wishing you all a successful new year filled with happiness, prosperity and progress. Gong Xi Fa Cai!