SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (July 27) that he has formed the strongest Cabinet he could, and will use the mandate Singaporeans have given him to vigorously deal with the severe economic and public health challenges confronting the nation.
Urging everyone to stay united, he said that with the general election over, the work of the new Cabinet and Government has already begun. "Whatever our political persuasions, never forget that we are first and foremost Singaporeans.
"Let us all unite and focus our energies on the major challenges ahead."
Mr Lee was addressing colleagues and invited guests at the Istana's State Room in a ceremony to swear in the Cabinet that included a video link to Parliament House, where Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and another group of ministers and guests were assembled in keeping with safe distancing requirements.
Speaking before Mr Lee, and presiding over the swearing-in ceremony, President Halimah Yacob said that the Covid-19 pandemic has reaffirmed the Singapore spirit and Singaporeans' resilience as one people.
"I am proud of how we have stood together, in solidarity with one another," she said. "So for this next phase, I ask Singaporeans to similarly unite behind the Government that we have elected, and give it our full support to see Singapore through this crisis."
In his speech, Mr Lee noted that the global Covid-19 situation has taken a turn for the worse. Both new infections and deaths continue to climb, and cities that initially brought the virus under control are suffering repeated outbreaks.
This is why the Government is building up the capacity to test and contact trace, so as to identify and stamp out new outbreaks quickly,he said.
He also pledged to save as many jobs as possible and help workers who lose their jobs to find new work. The Government will help businesses that have been shut down by the pandemic to start up again, he said, especially in the badly-hit construction, tourism and aviation sectors.
But he cautioned that some industries will not return to what they were before.
"The Government will face difficult choices, and so will the businesses themselves. We cannot afford to prop up failing industries indefinitely, or trap workers in jobs that are no longer viable," he said, adding that the Government will redouble efforts to reskill workers for new jobs.
He said the aim is not just to survive the storm, but to set the long-term direction for the country. He said: "The better, long-term solution is to invest our resources to develop new capabilities, grow new industries and create new jobs. Then we can help firms in the declining industries to reinvent themselves or pivot to other fields of business."
Beyond economic prosperity, the broader ambitions that Singaporeans have for their country must also be fulfilled, he said.
These include a fair and just society with opportunities for all, an inclusive community where people look out for one another, and a home where Singaporeans believe their children will have better lives than themselves and the human spirit can flourish.
To achieve these hopes and dreams, the political system must continue to work well for Singapore, he added.
He noted that the July 10 general election - in which 61.2 per cent of voters chose the People's Action Party to form the Government and the Workers' Party won 10 constituency MP seats - has shown Singaporeans' strong desire for greater diversity of views in politics. "We have to give expression to it, and evolve our political system to accommodate it while maintaining our cohesion and sense of national purpose."
Mr Lee urged the 10 MPs from the Workers' Party and the two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party to play their role of a responsible and loyal opposition, and put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated.
In all, 33 ministers and ministers of state, starting with PM Lee, took their oaths of office, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, during the one-hour ceremony.
Mr Lee said that good politics depends not only on sound institutions, but also on high-quality political leadership.
Noting that leadership renewal is a "never-ending task", he asked Singaporeans to extend to the younger ministers the same support they have given him over the years.
"We continue to need more good people from every generation to step forward, stand for election, and serve our country. Singapore must have leaders who can take the rough and tumble of politics, and who will commit all their energies to work and fight for what they believe in," he said.
"Only with an exceptional leadership team, working closely with Singaporeans, can we continue to stand out in the world."