President's Address to Parliament: Govt will keep Singapore relevant and competitive amid slowing economy

Visitors checking out the courses available at the inaugural SkillsFuture roadshow at Westgate mall on Jan 9, 2016. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - With the spectre of economic growth slowing in the coming years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Friday (Jan 15) night that the Government will switch gears to keep Singapore relevant and competitive.

But he pledged that it will not lose sight of a key and continuing goal: to foster a caring society that can be sustained over the long term, and lending a hand to those who have been left behind.

This means Singaporeans can expect the Government, in its new five-year term, to continue implementing measures in healthcare, active ageing and infrastructure to boost the quality of life. It will also partner with citizens to "create our common future".

The new approach is necessary because the more mature Singapore economy is at a turning point, Dr Tan said at the opening of the new Parliament, which marks the start of the Government's five-year term.

"With limited land and labour, and more severe global competition, we must upgrade our economy to sustain growth," he said.

Doing this is vital "so that Singapore will always be a place where our children can chase rainbows and fulfil aspirations," he added.

But this requires restructuring, which is going to hurt some sectors more than others.

Dr Tan warned: "There will be winners and losers among companies, with some painful dislocation, but economic progress will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans."

He cited two ongoing initiatives - the Committee on the Future Economy, and SkillsFuture - that will help Singapore chart the next phase of its development amid a changing world.

The committee led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will develop economic strategies, while the national SkillsFuture initiative - which promotes lifelong learning - will ensure employees have the skills wanted by employers.

Dr Tan also said the government will continue investing in education, starting from pre-schools and including lifelong learning.

SkillsFuture must also succeed, Dr Tan said as he encouraged Singaporeans to embrace the initiative.

"SkillsFuture can succeed only if it is a movement encompassing workers, companies and government, parents and students," he said.

"Only by mastering skills can workers be equipped for the jobs of the future," he added. "We want to build a society where every individual, whatever his background, can do well if he applies himself."

The Government will also look after those left behind, but without relying on "over-generous welfare schemes" that have been unaffordable for many developed countries.

For one, healthcare will be kept affordable, accessible and of high quality. The primary care sector will also be strengthened so that Singaporeans can gain from long- term partnerships with their family doctors.

On top of that, the Government will build on regional health systems, and partner private sector and voluntary welfare organisation healthcare providers to "take care of services beyond hospital walls".

Meanwhile, the $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing will help seniors lead "fuller and more fulfilling lives", he said. "They are valued members of our families, communities and workplaces."

One in four Singaporeans will be 65 or older by 2030, and there will be only two working age citizens for every senior citizen, down from five today.

"Ours should be a society where the bonds of kinship run deep and people look out for one another ... including those who have just joined us, or those who are here only a while," he said.

The Government will also build more affordable and high quality public housing, leverage on technology to be a citizen-driven smart nation, and promote a "car-lite" society where walking, cycling and public transport are default modes for more commuters, he said.

It will also continue to consult citizens for their ideas, so that a common future can be shaped despite differing individual aspirations.

This is being done via platforms such as the ongoing SGfuture dialogue series, in which Singaporeans can discuss such issues as building a sustainable home and fostering a caring community, and the Committee on the Future Economy.

"We must foster partnership and collaboration among citizens so that everyone plays a part in building our nation," said Dr Tan.

"In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another."

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