Fresh, bold ideas to face complex challenges

Singapore's new Cabinet was sworn in yesterday by President Tony Tan Keng Yam. This is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech at the swearing-in ceremony

We have had a pivotal General Election. It took place during SG50, marking the beginning of a new chapter for us.

As a people, we faced critical choices in this election. We had to decide whom we wanted to form the Government, which team to choose to secure our future and which direction Singapore should progress in. We had to ask ourselves: How do we keep improving our lives, taking Singapore higher, and building something worthwhile and lasting for our children?

My team and I are honoured and humbled that 70 per cent of voters chose the PAP (People's Action Party) to form the Government. You gave us a clear mandate to take Singapore forward, and we will do so.

Such a decisive result could only have happened with support from all groups of Singaporeans. All 89 seats were contested, and every adult citizen had to vote. The real winners in this election were Singaporeans. We have a strong, stable government, able to take Singapore confidently into the future. Singaporeans showed that we knew what was at stake. At a critical moment, we united to decide our future. We pledged ourselves to forge a new way forward as one people, one nation, one Singapore.

The election result sent an important signal to the world: that we Singaporeans are determined to keep Singapore special. Through the decades, our political stability and our quality workforce have attracted many MNCs to invest here. In recent times, MNCs have watched our politics more closely, to see which way it is heading. After the election, EDB told me that an MNC that has been here for many years had just decided to increase its stake in Singapore and make another billion-dollar investment here, creating many more good jobs for Singaporeans. I have no doubt that the election result boosted this investor's confidence that they were making the right decision, and that they could be confident Singaporeans would keep our fundamentals strong. I am sure that our neighbours noticed too, as have others.

ASSEMBLING THE BEST TEAM FOR SINGAPORE


ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN


Your clear mandate has enabled me to form a strong Cabinet. My new team comprises both experienced ministers, who will provide steady hands in a challenging environment, and younger ministers, who will bring new perspectives and ideas. They will have to master the issues quickly and ready themselves to lead Singapore.

My first objective in forming this Cabinet is, as always, to provide the most effective government for Singapore. We are entering a new phase of our nationhood. We face more complex challenges and new issues that cut across multiple domains. Therefore, I have appointed coordinating ministers to oversee work in three major areas.

The first area is national security, which remains a vital precondition of our success. The SAF and Home Team have kept us safe, but new dangers and threats are emerging around us. ISIS and jihadist terrorists are a serious problem for South-east Asia and Singapore because they threaten our physical safety and our racial harmony. Tensions in the South China Sea are unsettling our region. Political problems or racial tensions in neighbouring countries can complicate bilateral relations, or spill over to affect our society. Therefore, I have kept DPM Teo Chee Hean in charge of national security.

Another area is economic and social policies, which form a major part of our agenda. With an ageing population and uncertain global conditions, growth will be harder to come by. Yet our economy must grow to create opportunities for Singaporeans and improve our lives. At the same time, we must use the fruits of our growth wisely, both to invest in our future and to strengthen our social safety nets. Every citizen should benefit from Singapore's success, and those needing an extra helping hand should be looked after. DPM Tharman (Shanmugaratnam) will oversee this critical area.

The final major area is infrastructure. Good infrastructure provides the physical basis for our quality of life and our economic competitiveness. Compared to most other countries, we have done well. Singaporeans live in good homes, enjoy a well-planned, green environment, and travel in an efficient public transport system. But we have ambitious plans to build on what we already have over the next 20-30 years to create a new city, and an outstanding living environment for all of us. We also know where we need to do more work to improve standards and to remedy shortcomings. Khaw Boon Wan will be responsible for making Singapore a beautiful and endearing home for all of us.

These complex challenges require fresh and bold ideas, careful balancing of different goals, and close coordination across multiple agencies. This is what my new Cabinet, with a mix of experienced and new ministers, is designed to do. Many countries and cities, even in the developed world, have found similar challenges too hard to resolve. But here in Singapore, we can get things done and we will make it happen. We have a government that enjoys strong support. We have a competent public service. More importantly, we have a sense of national purpose. We can work together, think long-term, and focus the efforts of the whole government, indeed of the whole nation, to take Singapore forward. This is what makes us unique and will continue to keep us special.

LEADERSHIP RENEWAL

My other major goal in forming this Cabinet is to prepare the next team to take over from me and my senior colleagues. My responsibility, as it was with ESM Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is not just to govern Singapore well today, but also to prepare the next team to take over from us. This will secure Singapore's future beyond this generation, and take the country another step towards SG100.

Leadership renewal was one of my major themes before and during the election campaign. I am grateful that with your support, I can reinforce my team and pursue renewal vigorously.

The clock is ticking; we have no time to lose. Therefore, I have made a decisive move now. In this new Cabinet, nearly all the ministries have new ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries.

I have reinforced my team with backbenchers and newly-elected MPs, and entrusted major responsibilities to younger ministers. They have to be tested, learn the ropes, prove themselves, and shake down as a team. Increasingly they will carry the government's programme - initiating, explaining and executing policies, and persuading people to support these policies, which will increasingly be their policies.

The older ministers are staying on in Cabinet. They will provide my team with depth and breadth to think more deeply about issues and to plan more systematically for the future. They will also help me to mentor and guide the younger ones. My overriding goal is to have a new team ready to take over soon after the next elections, to work with you, for you, for Singapore.

THE NEXT CHAPTER

We are planning ahead because Singaporeans expect their leaders to do so. You have entrusted Singapore to me and my team, not just because of what we have done, but also because you are confident of what we will do. You trust that we will act on our words and live up to our promises, and we will.

I ask you to have that same belief in our country. Singapore is special not just because of what we have achieved today, but also because of what we can look forward to tomorrow. Singaporeans are not defined by the accolades we receive, but by our constant striving to always do better, whatever the circumstances.

In this SG50 year, we discovered what it means to be Singaporean. When our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, passed away in March, we grieved together. During the week of national mourning, we came together as one people, to pay tribute to Mr Lee and to reaffirm what our pioneers stood for. On Aug 9, we celebrated 50 years of independence and remembered how a rugged people overcame adversity together. At the National Day Parade, we sang Majulah Singapura, recited the Pledge and sang Home in one voice, committing ourselves anew to the nation. This year, we showed what Singapore can do and what promise our nation holds.

SG50 is not just about looking back but also looking forward. The last major SG50 event will be "The Future of Us" exhibition, which will open in December at Gardens by the Bay. The exhibition will showcase our journey from Third World to First, but more importantly, look forward to the many possibilities we have beyond SG50.

The themes of the exhibition include:

•The Future of Lifelong Learning - How Singaporeans can follow multiple paths to chase our rainbows, while also pursuing art, culture and sports;

•The Future of Greening Singapore - How our urban environment can be made more liveable and can better accommodate different rhythms of life in our lush City in a Garden;

•The Future of Caring - How we can come together as one Singapore family, whatever our social background or age, regardless of race, language or religion, to volunteer and to care for and support one another; and

•The Future of Smart Living and Working - How technology can transform the way we live and work, and free us to develop the human spirit.

I hope the exhibition will launch us into the next chapter of our Singapore Story. We - the Government and the people - have to write this chapter together. We will debate and argue over what this chapter should contain, how the story should develop. We will do that online and offline, in civil society and in Parliament. That's normal, and healthy. But at the end we are all co-authors of the chapter. We all have to work together, and we all want the story to have a happy outcome.

In the last term, we held the "Our Singapore Conversation". Fifty-thousand Singaporeans from all walks of life shared their hopes and dreams for themselves and for Singapore. The exercise helped us understand what we share in common and brought us closer together.

Now we will take this one step further, to explore how we will build our future together - how we will learn, work as one people, and celebrate life together. We will organise focussed discussions around the themes of "The Future of Us" exhibition.

I invite all Singaporeans to participate actively in these programmes. We welcome all views and will engage widely because every voice counts. I also urge Singaporeans to go beyond making suggestions or discussing ideas or critiquing policies. Commit to what you believe in, roll up your sleeves, get involved, and come together to make things happen.

One important area needing review is the economy. We must create opportunities even in a weaker global economy, and move faster towards higher skills, innovation and productivity. These are urgent tasks, both because global economic conditions and also domestic demographic trends will pose us severe challenges. We have to create more good jobs and pathways for our workers. We have to help enterprises, especially SMEs, adapt to a lean workforce, and build links with the region and the world. Minister Heng Swee Keat will chair a committee on "The Future Economy" to study this.

The Singapore Story belongs to all of us. If we have faith that Singapore will endure and thrive, and put our heart and soul into building Singapore, then we will prevail, and secure our place in history. As Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said: "We intend to see that (Singapore) will be here a thousand years from now. And that is your duty and mine."

CONCLUSION

We can achieve so much when we work together.

Two weeks ago, I attended an SG50 musical. It was called Our Lives, Our Story. The show was a grassroots effort, put together by residents from Ang Mo Kio and Sengkang West. They were all volunteers who invested energies and time to celebrate Singapore in song and dance. The musical traced Singapore's journey from independence, decade by decade, and explored our way forward to SG100.

This amateur production embodied the essence of what makes Singapore special. People of all ages and races shared wholeheartedly in a national celebration and gave something of themselves. We found a wide range of talents from among ourselves - the producer, the creative director, the volunteers and children who sang and danced, the backstage crew, the props and costume designers. They came together to rehearse and present an original musical in the beautiful theatre at ITE College Central to a full house.

During the performance, each one played their part, and everything fell into place. The audience too participated actively, clapping, cheering and singing along. It was a joy experiencing this moving rendition of our nation's story, and being a part of it, part of the story and part of the performance. And this could only have happened in Singapore.

That is what Singapore is and will always be about: each of us giving of our best, united by our shared ideals, our faith in this nation and our belief that here we can build something special together.

We are not done building Singapore, and we will never be done. In this general election, Singaporeans have reposed their trust in me and my team. My team and I take this trust and our responsibility seriously, and will continue to earn, to honour and to grow this trust. Together, as one united people, regardless of race, language and religion, we will achieve happiness, prosperity, and progress for our nation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2015, with the headline 'Fresh, bold ideas to face complex challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe