In his annual New Year Message today (31 Dec), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked Singaporeans to stay open and connected to the world even as many societies are losing faith in globalisation. “A Singapore turned inwards cannot survive,” he said.
He said the global slowdown has affected Singapore’s economy but he assured that PMETs will be given a hand to retrain, find new jobs and stay employable by his government. As for concerns over the cost of living, he said, “We will help households with their cost of living.”
He also mentioned the commemoration of Singapore’s Bicentennial this year. He said it’s a reminder of how far Singapore has come. “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,” he said.
“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.”
He added that the Bicentennial also helped put into perspective what is happening now in the world. Many societies are under stress despite economic growth and large parts of their populations have lost faith in their economic and political systems, he said. “This is fueling nativism and chauvinism, and sectarian strife.”
Singaporeans too are anxious but “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.”
He then highlighted some of the “improvements” his government has made. He pointed to reforming the education system by changing the PSLE scoring system, and opening more post-secondary education pathways. The quality of pre-schools is also being raised, and fees being made more affordable.
In housing, first-time buyers are getting more subsidies while healthcare is improved for more seniors with the new Merdeka Generation package. Also, new hospitals have been opened. In transport, MRT services have improved and is now one of the most reliable in the world, he said.
He concluded that Singapore can continue to “shine brightly in the world”, if “we stand together and keep making the effort”.
Prof Tommy Koh: We don’t want more Singaporeans to become Grab drivers
Meanwhile, many displaced Singaporeans ended up driving Grab.
Shaun Ow, 39, was working in the private sector for some 11 years in various industries before he was retrenched 4-5 years ago. He then tried to find a job for more than a year before giving up. He ended up driving Grab in order to feed his hungry family.
He told the media that he manages to earn about $5,000 a month after accounting for all the charges. But he has to work very hard, driving everyday for 12 to 14 hours non-stop. On average, he would be making 20 to 25 trips daily and hardly has any time for his family.
Once started driving Grab, Singaporeans like Shaun would have a hard time getting back to industries to get a job because their resume will have shown a gap in their career progression.
And to put further pressures on Singaporean PMETs, the government continues to import foreign PMETs non-stop into Singapore, saying that Singapore needs “talents”:
At the Singapore Bicentennial Conference on 1 Oct this year, former Singapore’s UN Permanent Representative Professor Tommy Koh warned the government to look into allegations of discriminatory hiring practices and working to make Singapore a classless society. He said, “Today, Singapore is not a classless society. We are divided by wealth, by income, by profession, by place of residence, and even by the school we attend.”
He hopes the PAP leaders will help establish a more caring and inclusive society in Singapore, with employers and the Government stepping in to help those who will be laid off as the economy restructures.
“We should not abandon the displaced workers because we don’t want more and more Singaporeans to become Grab drivers or, worse, to join the ranks of the angry voters,” he said.
“Remember this: It was the angry voters who helped to elect President (Donald) Trump in the United States. It was the angry voters in the United Kingdom who voted to leave the European Union.”