New Year message issued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the upcoming year on New Year’s Eve
Hello everyone! 2019 was our Bicentennial. We organised activities and exhibitions throughout the year, both in the city and in the heartlands, to commemorate our history. Three quarter million people of all ages and walks of life visited the Bicentennial Experience, here at Fort Canning, some more than once. The Singapore story resonated deeply with us, because it reminded us vividly how much our island has changed over the centuries, and how far we have come, even within our own lifetimes.
Recounting this history has enhanced our collective consciousness of the past, strengthened our sense of togetherness in the present, and boosted our confidence in a shared future. Unlike the ancient civilisations of our forefathers, Singapore lacks a long, continuous history. But the Bicentennial has strengthened our conviction that Singapore will have a bright future.
The Bicentennial also put into perspective what is currently happening around the world and in Singapore. Over 200 years, we have experienced many ups and downs, including riots and war, depression and economic crises. Today, the outlook is again fraught with uncertainty. Serious frictions have developed between the US and China. Their recent trade deal has partially relieved tensions, but it will not resolve the fundamental differences.
Meanwhile, many societies – including most recently Hong Kong, Chile and France – are under stress. Despite economic growth, their peoples feel anxious, discouraged and upset. They worry about basic needs like housing and jobs. They are angry that the fruits of growth have not been shared equitably, and income gaps are widening. Consequently, large parts of their populations have lost faith in their economic and political systems, and are pessimistic about the future. This is fuelling nativism and chauvinism, and sectarian strife. Everywhere globalisation seems to be in retreat.
Singaporeans too are worried about the state of the world, and we also have our own domestic concerns. But we must resist the temptation to turn inwards. Instead, we must stay open and connected to the world. Globalisation has benefitted Singapore enormously. A Singapore turned inwards cannot survive. We are in a better position than most countries, because for decades we have toiled to improve our people’s lives. And we continue to make steady progress, year after year.
We are reforming our education system. We are lowering fees of preschools and raising their quality, to give every child a good start in life. We are changing the PSLE scoring system to reduce pressure on our students. We are opening more post- secondary education pathways to bring out the best in every student. When our young people start work, SkillsFuture will support their lifelong learning journey.
In housing, we have enhanced subsidies for first-time buyers, to help more young families own their homes. The first residents of the new Bidadari estate have started to move in, and flats in Tengah new town are now open for booking. HDB upgrading programmes continue apace. We are refreshing our heartlands so every town is spruced up and up-to-date, with active communities and modern amenities.
In healthcare, we are honouring senior Singaporeans through the Merdeka Generation and Pioneer Generation Packages. We are also expanding capacity significantly with new healthcare facilities. The Sengkang General Hospital and Community Hospital are open, and Outram Community Hospital has started admitting patients. Redevelopment of the Outram, Tan Tock Seng and NUHS campuses is ongoing.
In transport, after much hard work, rail services have dramatically improved. The MRT is now one of the most reliable train systems in the world. On average, we have less than 1 breakdown every 1,000,000 kilometres travelled. Meanwhile, we continue to build more rail lines and extensions. Stage 1 of the Thomson-East Coast Line opens next month. We have just settled the alignment of the Cross Island Line, deep under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. And at Changi Airport, Jewel – that we are all so proud of – opened this year.
At the same time, we are keeping a close eye on more immediate risks and pressures. The global economic slowdown has already affected us. This year we avoided a recession. Our economy is still growing, but less vigorously than we would like. In the upcoming Budget, we will support businesses to raise their productivity and build new capabilities. We will help workers, especially mid-career PMETs, to retrain, acquire new skills, find new jobs and stay employable. We will help households with their cost of living. We will improve social safety nets that protect the poor, the elderly, and the vulnerable.
These are all practical measures to improve the lives of Singaporeans. But one lesson from history is that while we must stay on top of bread and butter issues, in the long run the intangible ethos of a society is even more vital. Here, in this island-nation, we aim to build a fair and just society, where growth and prosperity benefits everyone, and the human spirit can flourish. Here, pathways of progress are open to all, and every Singaporean can chase his or her dreams. Here, we are building a society where everyone is equal, regardless of race, language or religion. Here, we will uplift the most vulnerable amongst us, and leave nobody behind whatever the vicissitudes of life. Here, each generation never stops thinking of tomorrow, so that our children can look forward to exciting opportunities, and in their turn build a better Singapore.
These values and qualities impelled our forefathers to remain in Singapore, rather than return to the lands of their birth. These values gave us the grit to survive the Japanese Occupation, the courage to fight for self-determination and independence, and the will to build a nation where none stood before. These same values will enable us to remain “one united people”, and to prevail despite the odds.
In a troubled world, few societies can devote themselves to such intangible ideals, much less act upon them. But here in Singapore, thanks to the heroic efforts of several generations, we can all realistically aspire to live by these values, and turn our vision into reality.
There can be no guarantee of success. But there never was, at any time during our history. As before, every step forward will take daring and determination. But if we stand together and keep making the effort, I am confident Singapore can continue to shine brightly in the world.
This is our life, our future, our Singapore.
I wish all Singaporeans a Happy New Year!