SINGAPORE - The next chapter of the Singapore Story will have to be written by both the Government and the people, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Oct 1) night, as he sketched how the country must remain special as it looks towards its next 50 years.
“We will debate and argue over what the chapter should contain, how the story should develop,” said Mr Lee at the swearing-in ceremony of the Cabinet at the Istana.
“We will do that online and offline, in civil society and in Parliament. That is 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.”
Mr Lee was addressing about 700 people - including newly-elected MPs, diplomats and Singaporeans from all walks of life - at the ceremony of office-holders of the new Government. The one-hour ceremony saw 31 office-holders take their oaths before President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
On Sept 11, the ruling People's Action Party won a resounding 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, its best results in recent decades.
Mr Lee, who is also secretary-general of the PAP, noted that during the last term, his Government embarked on the “Our Singapore Conversation”, reaching out to 50,000 Singaporeans to hear their hopes and dreams for themselves and for Singapore.
In the new term, his team will take this one step further to explore how the Government and Singaporeans can build Singapore's future together, and tackle complex challenges.
One area needing review is the economy, and one issue to look at is how Singapore can continue to create opportunities even in a weaker global economy, he said. He revealed that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will chair a committee on "The Future Economy" to study this.
Urging Singaporeans to go beyond making suggestions or critiquing policies, he said: “Commit to what you believe in, roll up your sleeves, get involved, and come together to make things happen.”
An exhibition titled The Future Of Us will open in December at Gardens by the Bay, he said. It is the last major event to celebrate the country’s 50th year of independence this year, and will showcase Singapore’s journey from Third World to First, as well as look forward to the many possibilities beyond SG50.
Mr Lee also spoke about the strong mandate Singaporeans have given to his team. Such a decisive result could only have happened with support from all groups of Singaporeans, he noted.
“The real winners in this election were Singaporeans. We have a strong, stable government, able to take Singapore confidently into the future,” he said. “Singaporeans showed that we knew what was at stake. At a critical moment, we united to decide our future.”
Externally, the strong mandate sent an important signal to the world: that Singaporeans are determined to keep Singapore special.
He revealed that an MNC raised its stakes in Singapore by making another billion-dollar investment here, which will create many more good jobs for Singaporeans, after the election.
“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,” he said. “I am sure that our neighbours noticed too, as have others.”
Internally, Mr Lee said the clear mandate has enabled him to form a strong Cabinet team. The new Cabinet has both experienced ministers who will provide steady hands in a challenging environment, and younger ministers who will bring new perspectives and ideas. Referring to the younger ministers, he said: "They will have to master the issues quickly and ready themselves to lead Singapore."
One major change to the Cabinet is the introduction of three coordinating ministers: Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. They will oversee cross-ministry issues in three main areas: national security, economic and social policies, and infrastructure.
Many countries and cities face similar issues that cut across different domains and they have found these challenges too hard to resolve, said Mr Lee. "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."
The two DPMs and Mr Khaw will also mentor the younger ministers.
With this arrangement, PM Lee said he can push ahead with leadership renewal, which is an immediate priority. “The clock is ticking; we have no time to lose.”
Among the 31 office-holders sworn in on Thursday were newcomers such as former senior civil servants Ong Ye Kung and Chee Hong Tat, as well as former chief of defence force Ng Chee Meng. Mr Lee has said that his successor will be from the new Cabinet.
“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,” said Mr Lee. “You trust that we will act on our words and live up to our promises, and we will.”
He added: “We are not done building Singapore, and we will never be."
"The Singapore Story belongs to all of us," he said. "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."