After a year in which Singaporeans celebrated how far their nation had come in the last 50 years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday sketched a sobering picture of the outlook for the country as it begins a new chapter.
Addressing a packed House at the opening of the 13th Parliament after a fortnight that saw turmoil in the region's stock markets and a terror attack in Jakarta, Dr Tan said Singaporeans cannot expect an easy journey ahead.
The fundamental realities of Singapore - a small country with no natural resources bar its people, that thrives because it safeguards its interests in a world where size and power still matter - will not change, he said.
Thursday's bomb blasts in Indonesia 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," he said.
Dr Tan added that the need to upgrade the economy means people and businesses have to adapt, and a fast-ageing, increasingly diverse society also poses new challenges.
GOVERNMENT'S KEY AIMS
Keep Singapore safeand secure
• Invest in security and expand international space through diplomacy
• Ensure society stays united and resilient against terror threat
Renew the economy
• Committee on the Future Economy to develop strategies to stay relevant, competitive
• Invest in education, including SkillsFuture
Foster a more caring society
• Healthcare to be strengthened, kept affordable
• Help seniors lead fuller, more fulfilling lives
Transform the urban landscape
• Build more affordable, high-quality public housing and a "car-lite" city
• Major infrastructure plans include Southern Waterfront City and redevelopment of Paya Lebar Air Base
Engage and work withSingaporeans in nation building
• Foster partnerships and collaboration among citizens
Ensure good politics andleadership
• Need to ensure capable, honest political leadership and take leadership renewal seriously
• Government will study whether and how to improve political system
IMPROVING THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
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.
PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM
"To remain special, we must first resolve to move ahead together," the President said, as he outlined the Government's programmes for the next five years and beyond.
These will focus on five key aims: keeping Singapore safe and secure, renewing the economy, fostering a more caring society, transforming the urban landscape and engaging Singaporeans in nation-building.
The Government will continue to invest to safeguard the nation's security while expanding its international space through diplomacy.
It will also invest in education, from pre-school to lifelong learning, so that people will "always have pathways upwards". Students and workers will also be equipped for a new job landscape through SkillsFuture. Healthcare will be kept affordable, accessible and of high quality, while seniors will be helped to lead fuller lives.
Major infrastructure plans, such as the redevelopment of Paya Lebar Airbase and a new Southern Waterfront City, will transform the urban landscape. These "acts of faith in Singapore's future" will take several terms of government to complete, Dr Tan added.
He also pointed out that for such policies to succeed, Singapore needs "good politics".
This means a capable and honest leadership that can deliver "good policies", bring people together and benefit all of society at a time when some societies face deep divisions and political gridlock.
Singapore's political system, he added, must have "appropriate stabilisers and checks and balances", providing opportunities for alternative views to be considered, and assure minority communities that they can fully take part in the mainstream of national life.
And while modifications over the years - from the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme to GRCs to the office of the President - have delivered stability and progress for Singapore, the political system needs to be refreshed as circumstances change, he said.
Yesterday's Parliament sitting was the first since the Sept 11 General Election that saw the People's Action Party Government returned to power with 70 per cent of the vote and 83 out of 89 elected seats.
Dr Tan noted that policies in its last term had improved the well-being of all and brought citizens closer together, and will continue to do so, and voters affirmed this by giving it a stronger mandate.
"The work of securing this nation and improving our lives is never-ending. We must continually adjust our programmes and politics to ensure that Singapore keeps on an upward path," he said.
Earlier in the afternoon, Madam Halimah Yacob was re-elected as Speaker, and all 89 elected MPs and two NCMPs took their oath of allegiance to the country. She welcomed the 21 new MPs, and looked forward to their bringing new ideas to debates and policymaking.
Dr Tan noted that 50 years ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew called on MPs to "leave no stone unturned in seeking a just and enduring future for all the people". 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," Dr Tan said.
Ministries will give details of their programmes from next Monday. Parliament will then debate these plans and policies from Jan 25.
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