Opening of Parliament President's address

Switching gears to keep Singapore going

President Tony Tan Keng Yam addressing the 13th Parliament at its opening session yesterday.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam addressing the 13th Parliament at its opening session yesterday.PHOTOS: FACEBOOK PAGE OF DARRYL DAVID, LIM SIN THAI
Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and his 87-year-old grandmother, Madam Lim Keow Choon, with PM Lee Hsien Loong
Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and his 87-year-old grandmother, Madam Lim Keow Choon, with PM Lee Hsien LoongPHOTOS: FACEBOOK PAGE OF DARRYL DAVID, LIM SIN THAI
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), the Workers’ Party chief, with former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, who retired from politics last year.
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), the Workers’ Party chief, with former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, who retired from politics last year. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK PAGE OF DARRYL DAVID, LIM SIN THAI
Senior minister of state Indranee Rajah and former MP S. Chandra Das, who is now Singapore’s Non-Resident High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.
Senior minister of state Indranee Rajah and former MP S. Chandra Das, who is now Singapore’s Non-Resident High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.PHOTOS: FACEBOOK PAGE OF DARRYL DAVID, LIM SIN THAI

Economy at turning point but Govt won't lose sight of goal of caring society: President

With economic growth projected to slow down in the coming years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said last night that the Government will switch gears to ensure that Singapore will remain relevant and competitive in the global marketplace.

A new approach is necessary because the more mature Singapore economy is at a turning point, he said when opening the 13th Parliament, which marks the start of the Government's five-year term.

But he also pledged that the Government will not lose sight of a key and continuing goal: To foster a caring society that can remain over the long term, and lend a hand to those who have been left behind.

This means Singaporeans can expect the Government to continue with measures in healthcare, active ageing and infrastructure to boost the quality of life.

It will also partner with citizens to "create our common future".

In remarks that come against the backdrop of ongoing concerns about the health of China's economy, oil prices and political tensions in the Middle East, Dr Tan said that with limited land and labour here, and more severe global competition, Singapore must upgrade the economy to sustain growth.

SLOWER GROWTH AHEAD

Our economy is at a turning point. Our first 50 years saw us advance rapidly from Third World to First. But 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.

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. What will this mean for our healthcare system? Can we be a more caring society? Can we stay vibrant and forward-looking?

PRESIDENT TONY TAN

Doing this is vital "so that Singapore will always be a place where our children can chase rainbows and fulfil aspirations", he added.

But this requires restructuring, which is going to hurt some sectors more than others.

Said Dr Tan: "There will be winners and losers among companies, with some painful dislocation, but economic progress will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans."

He cited two ongoing initiatives - the Committee on the Future Economy, and SkillsFuture - that will help chart the next phase of Singapore's development.

The committee led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will develop economic strategies; while the national SkillsFuture initiative, which promotes lifelong learning, will ensure employees have the skills wanted by employers.

Dr Tan also said the Government will continue investing in education, starting from pre-schools and including lifelong learning.

SkillsFuture must also succeed, he said, as he encouraged Singaporeans to embrace the initiative: "SkillsFuture can succeed only if it is a movement encompassing workers, companies and Government, parents and students."

"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."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance and Trade and Industry, told The Straits Times that economic restructuring "is not going to be an easy journey".

This will involve businesses moving from value-adding to value-creation, which requires investment and the development of more capabilities, said Mr Liang, who is an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

This is necessary as continuing on the value-adding path will subject companies here to competition from cheaper regional counterparts, he explained.

He added that value-creation will involve promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, and embracing lifelong learning so as to keep ahead of the curve.

In his speech, Dr Tan said the Government will look after those who have been left behind, but without relying on "over-generous welfare schemes" that have been unaffordable for many developed countries.

Healthcare will be kept affordable, accessible and of high quality. The primary care sector will also be strengthened so that Singaporeans can gain from long-term partnerships with their family doctors.

The Government will also build on regional health systems and partner private sector and voluntary welfare organisation healthcare providers to "take care services beyond hospital walls".

Meanwhile, the $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing will help seniors lead fuller and more fulfilling lives. One in four Singaporeans will be 65 or older by 2030, and there will be only two working-age citizens for every senior citizen, down from five now.

"Ours should be a society where the bonds of kinship run deep and people look out for one another ... including those who have just joined us, or those who are here only a while," he said.

GPC chairman for Social and Family Development Seah Kian Peng last night outlined several areas he hopes will receive more focus. He said more has to be done to ensure childcare options for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to provide more support for caregivers to those with special needs.

Mr Seah, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, also wants a "more coordinated, holistic and integrated approach" to help families facing issues that straddle various agencies. Such families include single-parent families, or families where the main breadwinner is in jail.

While the Government has set up a network of social service offices islandwide to administer ComCare assistance and plan social services in neighbourhoods, he said "the question is ... how we can make sure they do a very effective job".

In his speech, Dr Tan said the Government will build more affordable and high-quality public housing, leverage technology to be a citizen-driven smart nation, and promote a "car-lite" society where walking, cycling and public transport are default modes for more commuters.

It will also continue to consult citizens for their ideas, so that a common future can be shaped despite differing individual aspirations.

"We must foster partnership and collaboration among citizens so that everyone plays a part in building our nation," Dr Tan said. "In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'Switching gears to keep S'pore going'. Print Edition | Subscribe