Adapting financial systems to meet challenges: Five minutes with Singapore’s director of fiscal policy

By on 04/06/2024 | Updated on 04/06/2024

In this interview, Kwa Chin Lum, director of fiscal policy in Singapore’s Ministry of Finance, discusses his career achievements and approach.

This is part of a ‘Five minutes’ series featuring participants from this week’s Global Government Finance Summit in Dublin (5-6 June). 

What are you most interested in discussing at the Global Government Finance Summit 2024?

I am looking forward to an exchange of views on the global macroeconomy and how fiscal systems are adapting to meet medium-term challenges.

What have you achieved in your career that you’re most proud of? 

Working on a framework for the financial reserves for Singapore during the global financial crisis, and returning to the Ministry of Finance many years later with a fuller appreciation of the value of such an asset.

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What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your working life?  

There is no set path in a career trajectory. The best opportunities are where you just put the effort in and learn as much as possible every step of the way.

What do you like most about working in the civil service? 

There are many opportunities to make a difference and derive satisfaction from the work – developing policies that improve the lives of people, building new capabilities, and contributing to the global agenda on key international issues.

How might the civil service be different in 25 years’ time? 

25 years is a long time! Many things would have changed by then. But I hope that there are some things in the Singaporean civil service that will not change – its purpose, the standards we hold ourselves to, and the long-term orientation in our thinking.

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Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you and your colleagues?  

Singapore is continually learning lessons from abroad, and adapting them to our circumstances. One area in particular is to learn from best practices in adult learning, as we scale up our training infrastructure for upskilling through life.

Are there any projects or innovations in your country that might be valuable to your peers overseas?

We would be happy to share aspects of our fiscal framework or policy landscape that people are interested in – e.g. building up and managing our reserves, the re-allocation of resources, or how we are refreshing our social compact.

Is there something about you that people find surprising?

I have four children. Singapore’s TFR [total fertility rate] has fallen to 0.97.

What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekends? 

Singapore has two domed greenhouses in its Gardens by the Bay, which have rotating flora displays from different climates/countries. It really brings you to a different part of the world, without having to travel.

What is your favourite book?  

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull – on how Pixar builds a creative organisation and makes successful movies.

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