Against the backdrop of a looming election, thoughtful Singaporeans would fear that the vital concerns put across by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at yesterday's National Day Rally, might be discounted as political patter in certain quarters. That would represent a missed opportunity for people to reflect and coalesce on what's at stake for the city-state at this juncture of its history, and what should be the way forward. Mr Lee mapped the journey so far as a collective act of faith - a belief that to go far, all had to walk together as "one people", regardless of race or religion, each on his own steam while helping the weak along, so no one is left behind. Leading and supporting their strides, the Government has kept faith with citizens, he said.
These were ambitious aspirations, right from the start, when Singapore began its unexpected journey of independence five decades ago. That it lived up to them steadfastly, in a small, economically unpromising patch of land, underscores the national narrative of Singapore being willed into existence. Becoming a First World nation over time was by no means an organic progression, especially with the odds against it.
Present and future generations will have to display similar determination to realise their vision of a better Singapore, as the going can be expected to get tougher. Like other developed countries facing a demographic trap of low birth rates and declining mortality, the vitality of the economy will be sapped without selective foreign labour inputs. On the thorny issue of immigration, there are no easy, or painless, options, as Mr Lee pointed out. Like it or not, everyone knows that a critical shortage of manpower could prove the Achilles' heel of all the ambitious social programmes unveiled to provide generous help for young families, uplift the disadvantaged, care for the aged, deliver affordable healthcare, lower housing costs, promote sports and culture, and so on.
What ought to also strike home is the growing complexity of the backdrop against which choices will have to be made. Even sectoral issues are challenged by interlinking factors related to local conditions, regional and global currents, and technical considerations. Across the whole of the economy and society, it would be unrealistic to expect all the pieces to fall neatly in place, or that there will be no unexpected surprises and shocks along the way.
To be ready for the challenges of the next 50 years, Singaporeans need to adopt a strategic frame of mind which transcends mere considerations of immediate benefits. A strategic purpose implies a belief in a set of shared values and big ideas - like those that have characterised Singapore's trajectory. In essence, Singapore must remain a cause that all citizens embrace passionately as they wend their way towards SG100.