Opening of Parliament President's address

No easy journey ahead for Singapore

President Tan and Speaker Halimah Yacob in Parliament House yesterday. Dr Tan listed the Government's five key aims: keep Singapore safe and secure; renew the economy; foster a more caring society; transform the urban landscape; and partner with Sing
President Tan and Speaker Halimah Yacob in Parliament House yesterday. Dr Tan listed the Government's five key aims: keep Singapore safe and secure; renew the economy; foster a more caring society; transform the urban landscape; and partner with Singaporeans in nation-building.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

President Tony Tan Keng Yam set out the Government's priorities in its new term when he opened the 13th Parliament last night. Below is an edited excerpt of his speech.

We are in a stronger position than our founding generation was, and have a deeper sense of nationhood. But whether it is the next five or 50 years, we cannot expect an easy journey.

The fundamental realities of our existence will not change. We remain a small country with no natural resources apart from our people. We earn a living only because we are useful to the rest of the world. And in a world where size and power still matter, Singapore thrives only because it safeguards its interests.

Our region has become more integrated with the establishment of the Asean Community. If Asean remains stable and our neighbours prosper, we too will prosper. But if Asean is fraught with tension or our neighbours stumble, we too will suffer.

Terrorism has become a dangerous and persistent threat. Hundreds of terrorists from South-east Asia are fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of them have returned home with their networks, expertise and radical ideology. They want to establish a wilayat, a province under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) caliphate, in the region. Yesterday's bomb blasts in Jakarta are a reminder of how close terrorism can strike. We are fully on guard against this threat, but we cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in Singapore.

Our economy is at a turning point. Now that our economy is more mature, we will grow more slowly. With limited land and labour, and more severe global competition, we must upgrade our economy to sustain growth. But upgrading means restructuring, which means our people and businesses will need to adapt and change.

THE SG50 SPIRIT

During SG50, we saw how willing Singaporeans were to contribute and share a part of their lives with one another. Let us all participate in shaping our common future. In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another.

PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM Opening of Parliament: President's address

Our society is rapidly ageing. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 or older. There will be only two working-age citizens for every senior citizen, down from five today.

We are becoming more diverse, not only in terms of race and religion, but also in our interests and perspectives.

How do we ensure our island-nation remains a shining red dot, so that our children and grandchildren will thrive?

Our programmes in the last term of government reflected our commitment to move forward together. We strove to leave no one behind, even as we created opportunities for all. We dealt with pressing concerns in housing, healthcare, transport and population. Our lives improved tangibly: 81,000 families received keys to new HDB homes; there were 760 more buses on the roads; and we added 40 new stations to our rail network.

The Government also made major shifts in social policy. Building on policies since 2006, the community and the state took on greater responsibility for individuals and families who needed more support. With MediShield Life, all Singaporeans now have lifelong healthcare coverage and peace of mind. Silver Support will provide support for our seniors in need.

But we also built for a better future. We committed to long-term investments that will transform Singapore: doubling our rail network by 2030, building Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 in Changi, building more hospitals and polyclinics, refreshing old towns like Toa Payoh, and planning new developments such as Bidadari, Tengah and the Southern Waterfront City in the longer term. We are connecting our waterways and parks, and setting aside green spaces like Pulau Ubin and the Rail Corridor.

Our programmes improved the well-being of all Singaporeans and brought people closer together, and will continue to do so. The people affirmed this by returning the People's Action Party Government to office with a stronger mandate.

FIVE PRIORITIES THIS TERM

In this term of government, we have five key aims to fulfil: keep Singapore safe and secure; renew our economy; foster a more caring society; transform our urban landscape; and engage and partner with Singaporeans in nation-building.

First and foremost, we can remain sovereign only if we are able to determine our own fate. Our geopolitical realities remain unchanged from 50 years ago. We must continue to invest in our security and expand our international space through diplomacy. We must resist the impulse to divert attention and resources from security as domestic needs burgeon. If we cannot safeguard our sovereignty, we cannot secure our livelihoods.

The threat from ISIS and terrorism has increased significantly. Attacks elsewhere have shown that terrorism can arise at home, and not just come from abroad. A terrorist attack here will not only cause death and injury, but could also tear apart our social fabric.

Hence, we must keep our society united and resilient. Every Singaporean has a role to play in keeping our country safe and preserving our multiracial harmony. All must reject violence, and keep working to deepen mutual understanding and expand our common spaces. If we trust and accept one another "regardless of race, language or religion", we will remain strong and united even if others seek to sow fear and division among us.

Second, we must renew our economy so that Singapore will always be a place where our children can chase rainbows and fulfil aspirations. The Committee on the Future Economy will develop strategies to ensure that Singapore remains relevant and competitive. Upgrading will entail restructuring. There will be winners and losers among companies, with some painful dislocation, but economic progress will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans.

We cannot predict the future, but we must adapt as the world changes. Therefore, we will continue to invest in education, from pre-school to lifelong, so that our people will always have pathways upwards. SkillsFuture must succeed because only by mastering skills can workers be equipped for the jobs of the future. We want to build a society where every individual, whatever his background, can do well if he applies himself. SkillsFuture can succeed only if it is a movement encompassing workers, companies and the Government, parents and students.

Third, we will press on with fostering a caring society that is sustainable over the long term. We do not want to end up like many developed countries that cannot afford their over-generous welfare schemes. The Government will keep healthcare affordable, accessible and of high quality. We will strengthen the primary care sector, so that Singaporeans benefit from long-term partnerships with regular family doctors. We will build on our regional health systems, and partner private sector and voluntary welfare organisation healthcare providers to take care services beyond hospital walls.

But it is not enough, and not sustainable, to just keep funding more treatment and building more capacity. All of us can play our part by living healthily and living well. The Action Plan for Successful Ageing will help our seniors lead fuller and more fulfilling lives. They are valued members of our families, communities and workplaces.

Ours should be a society where the bonds of kinship run deep and people look out for one another. A society where we extend our concern for immediate families and friends to the broader community. A society consisting of generous hearts who treat one another with warmth and dignity - including those who have just joined us, or those who are here only a while. Building a caring society starts with each one of us.

Fourth, we will continue to build the best home for Singaporeans. We are building more affordable, high-quality public housing, supporting vibrant communities surrounded by beautiful green and blue spaces. As a compact city, we can be "car-lite". Walking, cycling and riding public transport must become the default for more commuters. Then we can all have a higher quality of life.

Our major infrastructure plans will take several terms of government to complete. These are acts of faith in Singapore's future that will benefit our children and Singaporeans yet unborn. Some, like the Southern Waterfront City and the redevelopment of Paya Lebar Airbase, will transform our urban landscape. Others will enliven our heartland and everyday living spaces.

Technology will transform the way we live. As we saw in the Future of Us exhibition, technology can open up many possibilities: For example, with autonomous vehicles, we can build a much more efficient transport network, and rely less on private cars. Ours may be a compact city, but it can be highly liveable, green, energy-efficient and conveniently connected-up. We can be a "citizen-driven" smart nation, constantly improving through the ideas of people.

Finally, the future of Singapore is what we make of it. We must foster partnership and collaboration among citizens so that everyone plays a part in building our nation. During SG50, we saw how willing Singaporeans were to contribute and share a part of their lives with one another. Let us all participate in shaping our common future. In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another.

This was the spirit of Our Singapore Conversation. Individual aspirations may differ, but we all realised that we must work together to create our common future. This spirit was sustained through our SG50 celebrations, and profoundly deepened when we mourned the passing of our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The SGfuture dialogues and the Committee on the Future Economy are but two national platforms for us to make our future together.

IMPROVE THE POLITICAL SYSTEM

For our programmes to succeed, we need good politics. Good policies and good politics go together. Good policies ensure that all citizens benefit from Singapore's success, fostering a society that encourages everyone to come together in building a nation. Good politics ensures that we elect governments that develop and deliver on sound policies, strengthen the country and bring people together. This was how, for 50 years, we conceived and implemented sound policies to improve the lives of people. We had good politics because our policies benefited everyone; and we had good policies because our politics expanded our common spaces.

How do we ensure our politics continues to work for the long-term good of Singapore?

First, we must continue to have a capable and honest political leadership. This will not happen by chance. Every generation of leaders must develop the next generation consciously and systematically. Every successive government must take leadership renewal seriously. And every new generation of leaders must win anew the people's trust, for the right to leadership is not transferable from one generation to the next.

We must always hold political leaders to high standards of ability and integrity. Our system must make it an imperative for every politician to be honest and trusted, and to do the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans.

Second, we must have a political system that enables a government to govern effectively and in the interests of all. We often see countries suffering from deep divisions in their societies, and crippled by political gridlock. Our system discourages narrow interest-based politics, and encourages clear electoral outcomes. This has served us well.

At the same time, our political system must also incorporate appropriate stabilisers and checks and balances. It must give opportunities for alternative views to be considered and taken into account. It must assure the minority communities that they will not be shut out or marginalised, but can participate fully in the mainstream of national life.

This is why over the years we have modified the first-past- the-post electoral system to suit Singapore's circumstances and needs. We instituted Non-Constituency Members of Parliament to ensure that those who voted against the governing party will always have their views represented in Parliament. We created Nominated Members of Parliament to offer non-partisan views from various sectors of society. We formed Group Representation Constituencies to guarantee at least a minimum representation of Malay, Indian and other minority race Members of Parliament.

The office of the President is another critical element that fosters resilience and stability in our political system. Executive power is vested in the Government, but the President holds a second key, with specific custodial powers. This helps to ensure that major decisions are taken wisely and prudently, especially decisions to spend the reserves and to make important public-sector appointments.

Our innovations have worked. Our political system has delivered stability and progress for Singapore. But this system must be refreshed from time to time, as our circumstances change. The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term.

Singaporeans have given the new Government a strong mandate. They have sent a clear signal that they want to work with it to build a better and brighter future. The Government will work closely with the people, for the long-term interest of Singapore and Singaporeans. The ministers will mobilise support for their programmes and policies. In particular, the younger ministers will build their experience governing Singapore, and their rapport with Singaporeans. Members of Parliament, new or re-elected, from the ruling party or the opposition, all have a responsibility to do their best for our people.

Fifty years ago in this House, Mr Lee Kuan Yew called upon Members of Parliament to "leave no stone unturned in seeking a just and enduring future for all the people who make up the society". Singapore today is the cohesive and progressive society that our pioneers strove to build.

It is for us now to write the next chapter together. Let us renew our pledge to build a better Singapore as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion. Let us build a Singapore that leaves a stronger mark on the world than its size suggests.

Together, we will progress as an exceptional nation with a thriving economy, and a caring and inclusive society.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'No easy journey ahead for S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe