3 issues Singapore needs to tackle to thrive in the future: PM Lee

PM Lee called attention to three areas he believes will benefit the country in the long term, during his National Day message on Aug 8, 2017.
PM Lee called attention to three areas he believes will benefit the country in the long term, during his National Day message on Aug 8, 2017. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

• Improving pre-school, nurturing kids for a new world • Fighting diabetes, keeping Singaporeans healthy • Embracing technology, building a Smart Nation

Recalling the forward planning of Singapore's pioneer leaders, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday set out his vision of what will help prepare Singapore to thrive in the future.

He boiled it down to three things: improving pre-school education, preventing diabetes and embracing technology in the country's drive to be a Smart Nation.

To underscore the point of building ahead for the next generation, Mr Lee delivered his annual National Day message from the eastern section of Gardens by the Bay - the site of the proposed Founders' Memorial to honour the first-generation leaders of modern Singapore.

Framed by such landmarks as the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay, he noted that Singapore is now enjoying the rewards of their foresight and vision.

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But even as the leaders developed Marina Bay, the country had to deal with many pressing issues: from building an army to housing its population, and educating its young to creating jobs for its adults.

Today, Singapore is also grappling with urgent concerns, from upgrading the economy to tackling terrorism and trade protectionism.

The Government is working with Singaporeans on the issues, and progress is being made, he said.

For instance, it is partnering businesses and workers to transform industries. The economy is expected to grow by about 2.5 per cent this year, higher than last year's 2 per cent, he added.

But at the heart of his speech are the three longer-term issues, about which he will say more in his National Day Rally speech on Aug 20.

First, the Government will create more pre-school places, raise the quality of education and improve the skills of pre-school teachers.

"We want every child to have a good start in life, and a bright future," Mr Lee said.

Better pre-schools will also give parents peace of mind when they are working, he said, adding: "We want to... encourage them to start a family."

Second, he singled out diabetes as one big reason for poor health among the elderly.

Almost one-third of those older than 60 have diabetes, which can result in ailments ranging from heart disease to kidney failure, he said.

"This is why we must go all out to fight diabetes," he said, urging each Singaporean to take responsibility for his own health by eating right and exercising regularly.

Third, he said Singapore needs to harness technology to create opportunities and jobs for the people.

Singapore has a natural advantage as it aims to be a Smart Nation, he added, noting that it is a highly connected and digitally literate society.

Pointing out that other countries are going cashless and analysing big data to improve public services, he said Singapore has to learn, catch up and overtake them.

This, he added, is the spirit of Singapore: to look, plan and stay 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," he said.

The same message was delivered in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim and Trade and Industry Minister (Industry) S. Iswaran.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline '3 issues Singapore needs to tackle to thrive in the future: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe