Spirit of Singapore is to look to the future

This is the text of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2017 National Day Message delivered yesterday

My fellow Singaporeans,

I am at Bay East Garden, the eastern section of Gardens by the Bay.

When Singapore became independent, this spot was open sea. But looking out from the shore, our founding leaders didn't just see water and the constraints of geography. They imagined a bustling commercial, residential and lifestyle hub, a vibrant new downtown for the city.

So decade by decade, we reclaimed and built Marina Central, Marina South and Marina East, and turned that vision into reality.

Today, we have a new financial district in Marina South. We have the Marina Barrage and the Gardens by the Bay. We take pride in the Marina Bay skyline, which is recognised and admired around the world.

During the years when Marina Bay was conceived and planned, Singapore had to deal with many pressing concerns. We had to build the Singapore Armed Forces, attract investments, create jobs, house our population, and educate our young. But our leaders and people understood the need to look beyond these immediate problems and prepare for the more distant future. Now, we are enjoying the rewards of their foresight and vision.

Fifty-two years on, we too are preoccupied with urgent issues, domestically and externally. The world is unsettled and the outlook uncertain. Terrorism is a major threat, with frequent attacks around the world and closer to home. International trade, a key engine of our growth, is at risk from protectionism. We are busy upgrading our economy. Our students and workers are mastering new skills and staying up to date with technology.

The Government is working with you on these issues, and we are making progress on them. We are stepping up vigilance to protect ourselves against extremist terrorism, and one major task is to strengthen our racial harmony.

We are working with businesses and workers to transform industries one by one, and to prepare for the future economy. This year, we expect growth of around 2.5 per cent, higher than last year.

The view of Singapore's city centre as seen from the Bay East Garden. It is a reminder of how the nation's founding leaders looked ahead and built for the next generation, as well as an inspiration for Singaporeans to continue doing that.
The view of Singapore's city centre as seen from the Bay East Garden. It is a reminder of how the nation's founding leaders looked ahead and built for the next generation, as well as an inspiration for Singaporeans to continue doing that. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

We need to look ahead and build for the next generation, just as our forefathers looked ahead and built for us.

But even as we deal with these present issues, we must also look beyond the horizon, and prepare for the future.

This year, I would like to share with you three things that will benefit us in the long term: pre-school, the war on diabetes, and a Smart Nation. These will enable us to start right, stay healthy, and work smart.

First, we must prepare young Singaporeans for the new world. We want every child to have a good start in life, and a bright future. We have been investing in pre-schools, because the early childhood years make a big difference to children, not just academically, but, for life.

We will create more pre-school places, raise the quality of pre-schools, and upgrade the profession of pre-school teachers.

More and better pre-schools will also take a major load off parents. Parents will have peace of mind when they are working, knowing that their kids are in good hands.

We want to support them and encourage them to start a family.

Second, we want Singaporeans to live long and stay healthy. We have good doctors and hospitals. But actually it is much better for us to stay healthy and not have to go to hospital at all.

Singaporeans are living longer today. But our elderly experience an average of eight years of poor health at the end of their lives. Eight years is a long time and can also be a burden for the families.

One big reason for ill health in old age is diabetes. Almost a third of those over the age of 60 have diabetes. At first, diabetes is an invisible disease. But over time, its consequences are severe - blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, amputated limbs.

This is why we must go all out to fight diabetes. It is not just about more hospital facilities and better treatment. It also depends crucially on personal choices and lifestyles, to prevent diabetes in the first place. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own health. Each one of us must make the effort to watch our lifestyle and diet, to exercise regularly, to drink plain water instead of soft drinks. And this must start from a young age. That is the way to reduce the risk of diabetes, stay healthy and live well.

Third, we want to make full use of IT to create opportunities and jobs for ourselves, and make Singapore an outstanding place to live, work and play in. This is why we aim to be a Smart Nation. We have a natural advantage: We are a highly connected and digitally literate society. We even have more smartphones than people.

But we need to do much better.

Other countries are using electronic payments to go cashless, building sensor networks to enhance public security, and analysing big data to improve public services. We must learn from them, catch up and get ahead.

By using IT for practical applications, big and small, we can improve our lives, and make this a fun and happening place.

I will speak more on these three issues at the National Day Rally.

We need to look ahead and build for the next generation, just as our forefathers looked ahead and built for us.

Here at Bay East, we can see how well this has worked for Singapore, and how our generation can keep on doing this.

When the Founders' Memorial Committee sought views from the public on where to site the Founders' Memorial, a clear majority of you supported Bay East.

This is a wise choice, which the Government has accepted. Here, looking across the bay and beyond, we can remember the values of our founding leaders, see what they have built, and commit ourselves to continue building Singapore.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew once asked: "At the end of the day, whom do we owe our deepest obligation to as a Government?"

And his own answer was: "To the future. Not just to the present. Certainly not to the past."

This is the spirit of Singapore. Always looking ahead, planning ahead and staying ahead, so that when the future arrives, we are prepared for it, to ride it and to grow with it. That is how we got here.

That is what we must keep on doing together, to open up fresh opportunities for ourselves and our children.

Happy National Day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'Spirit of S'pore is to look to the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe