SINGAPORE - Singaporeans must keep their resolve, prepare themselves for the longer term, and look ahead to emerging as a stronger society even while they deal with the Covid-19 crisis, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Friday (Sept 4).
Now is the time to reimagine new industries and markets for Singapore, and learn new skills and discover new careers, he added.
The nation is still in the midst of an unfolding crisis, Mr Lee said, and the Government's immediate focus is to navigate Singapore through the pandemic and the serious economic downturn.
However, like some MPs have said in the course of the five-day debate, there is also a need to think longer term, and position the country for a strong recovery, he added.
Said Mr Lee: "We cannot simply hunker down and wait for things to get better. Instead, we must prepare ourselves now so that we can capture new opportunities when they come."
Singapore and Singaporeans are not starting from scratch, he added, but are building on strong pillars and steady improvements over the years.
Mr Lee, who is also Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration, was speaking in Parliament on the final day of the debate on the President's Address.
He said in the last 10 years, Singapore has invested heavily in early childhood and continuing adult education, and enhanced healthcare and social service architecture.
Industry transformation maps have also been implemented to strengthen different economic sectors, he added.
"These fundamentals stand us in good stead to navigate the winds of change confronting us," said Mr Lee.
He cited the example of the hard-hit construction sector, which was dealt a very heavy blow when companies had to put projects on hold for months during the coronavirus outbreak in workers' dormitories.
He said: "Even after workers were cleared, it was not easy to restart. Many changes were needed to ensure workers were safe and, despite significant government support, many construction firms and workers continue to suffer badly."
But this experience has strengthened the Government's resolve to transform the construction sector when the Covid-19 situation stabilises, he added.
Said Mr Lee: "We have to drive digitalisation, adopt more advanced building technology to enhance productivity and through this transformation, try to attract more Singaporeans to join this sector."
Such a push will require the collective efforts of firms, workers and the Government, he added.
In his speech, Mr Lee said he was heartened to hear a broad range of topics brought up by MPs in the last few days, with the new Parliament reflecting Singapore's diversity.
The topics included the challenges faced by enterprises and workers, as well as the importance of building a strong Singaporean core while remaining open to foreign talent to complement the workforce, he added.
New MPs Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC) and Raeesah Khan (Sengkang GRC) spoke about issues facing youth and women, while Xie Yao Quan (Jurong GRC) and Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) suggested more ways to improve senior care.
Mr Lee said: "Our democracy is maturing. We have seen and will continue to see a greater contestation of views and ideas - in Parliament, in civil society, in online discourse.
"We will differ on how best to take things forward for Singapore. But, as Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong) emphasised, we cannot afford to allow a diversity in views to lead to distrust or polarisation."
There are no textbook answers or straightforward solutions for the challenges faced, he added.
"We will need to grapple honestly and openly with the difficulties that our society will face in all their complexity so that through our debates, we not only share with Singaporeans more about the issues, trade-offs and possibilities, but also help find a better way forward for the country," he said.
While emotions may sometimes run high in the House, as long as MPs commit to put Singapore's interests before self, it will be possible to find common ground and move forward together, he added.
Mr Lee also said constructive dialogue needs to extend beyond Parliament, and he called for more Singaporeans to join in the Emerging Stronger Conversations to exchange ideas on the kind of society Singaporeans want to build.