My fellow Singaporeans,
We celebrate National Day in a happy mood. It has been another good year for Singapore. Altogether now, we have had four good years of growth.
We have many things to cheer about:
a. Our athletes are winning medals
b. Our chefs are winning culinary contests
c. Our entrepreneurs are launching new businesses
d. Our students are excelling at all kinds of international events – robotic championships, choir festivals, debates, creative problem solving contests, and mathematics and science Olympiads
e. We are gearing up for new and exciting projects, like the Formula One Grand Prix and the Integrated Resorts
Economic growth in the first half of this year was 7.6%, higher than we had expected. For the whole year, MTI has raised its growth forecast to between 7 and 8%. The good news is that we have added 111,000 jobs in the first half – the highest number ever. Unemployment is very low, at 2.4%. Workers are enjoying good wage increases and higher bonuses because businesses are doing well.
Singapore is growing not just because of more investments or more workers. Our people are adapting and working smarter. We are organising ourselves more efficiently, and making better use of our resources. In short, we have increased our productivity. Our efforts to transform our economy are paying off. The global economy is continuing to change. If we keep on adapting and readapting to it, we can keep growing strongly for many more years.
Favourable Conditions Ahead
It has been ten years since the Asian financial crisis. Asia has progressed, and become more developed and dynamic. China and India are powering ahead, and Japan’s economy has revived. Southeast Asia is not without problems, but on the whole, it has regained its balance. High energy prices are benefiting energy-exporters like Malaysia and Indonesia, and the region is moving forward again. While the global financial markets have been choppy the last few days, the medium term fundamentals for Asia remain strong.
Singapore is at the heart of this rising Asia. We have many strengths to draw on:
a. A clean and corruption-free society;
b. Disciplined and well-educated workers;
c. A cohesive, multi-racial community;
d. A capable and vigilant SAF and Home Team.
Looking ahead, we are poised to take off. Many projects are already underway. In Marina South, we are building the integrated resort, the banking and financial centre, and soon the new botanic gardens. There is buzz and excitement in the air, as our city changes before our eyes day by day. Even the National Day Parade this year is different and exciting. For the first time, it will be held on water at Marina Bay. It will be on the largest floating stage in the world, with the new city skyline taking shape around us.
We are not just creating a new downtown, but building a first-class living environment for all Singaporeans. We are rejuvenating HDB estates where our people live, and linking the estates to parks and waterways. We are connecting the whole island with high-quality public transport, and every home with high-speed internet. All this will enhance the value of your homes, and draw our community closer together.
Within a decade, our city and our whole country will be completely transformed. The world is taking notice. It will be a new Singapore, but with our own unique identity, and the can-do and never-say-die spirit of the Lion City.
Widening Income Gap
Yet, as we build this nation together, we face one major challenge to our social harmony and national cohesion. Income gaps are widening – here, and all over the world. With globalisation, hundreds of millions of unskilled workers are joining the global economy. They are pushing down wages at the lower end. Rapidly changing technology is also making jobs more complex. People with skills and high ability are in growing demand, and being paid more.
We cannot stop or reverse this global trend. But we can do a lot to help Singaporeans cope with it. We want everybody to benefit from Singapore’s success.
Our basic approach is to grow the economic pie. When companies expand, there will be more and better jobs for everyone. We will have the resources to maximise opportunities for all. We can give every child many chances to do the best for himself in life. We can also help every household to own a home of their own – in fact, our HDB home ownership programme is the best form of social welfare for Singaporeans.
We are strengthening our social safety nets. Programmes like ComCare and Workfare help the lower-income families. More importantly, we are helping them and their children to break out of poverty, through education and training. So we are creating excellent learning environments in every neighbourhood school, and not just a few top schools. And we are helping low-wage workers to learn new skills, become more employable, and do better.
One reason our income gap is widening is our ageing population. Singaporeans are living longer than ever. We must help our elderly live comfortably by keeping medical care affordable, making our city barrier-free, and our public transport wheelchair friendly. Those with enough savings will feel secure about their future. But workers who retire too early may not have enough savings for their old age. I know many older Singaporeans worry about whether they can make ends meet. We are making changes to help you to work longer, earn more and build up your retirement savings. We will enhance the value of your HDB homes, which are a nest-egg for old age. We will improve the CPF scheme, so that you can enjoy a steady income and peace of mind in your golden years.
The Government cannot solve all these problems alone. Everyone must play a part. We each must take responsibility for ourselves, make the effort to do well, and provide for our families and our old age. At the same time, the more successful Singaporeans must pitch in to help the weaker ones. The more you have gained from society, the greater your obligation to give back something to your fellow citizens. Let your giving come from the heart. Many Singaporeans have done so quietly. To grow as a nation, we need to be compassionate as well as competitive. As we spur one another on to perform and excel, we must also work together and care for those in need.
Confident about the Future
We will tackle these issues one by one, and deal with all the problems that are bound to come in this uncertain world. But we have every reason to be confident about our future. The global backdrop is favourable. The winds and tides are with us. Our spirit is high, and our ship is ready.
My fellow Singaporeans, let’s seize the moment to sail ahead, into the bright and exciting future that we can already see. Together, let’s transform Singapore, and make this a special home for every one of us.
I wish all Singaporeans a very Happy National Day.
The video of the PM’s message can be found here.