SINGAPORE - This is the transcript of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's broadcast to the nation on Saturday (June 20) on emerging stronger together.
It is the last in a series of six ministerial broadcasts on the theme of securing Singapore's future in a post-Covid-19 world.
Good evening, my fellow Singaporeans.
These last few months have been difficult for everyone. We could not celebrate Easter, Vesak Day, Hari Raya Puasa and Mother's Day like we usually do. I know many of you are happy that we can have small gatherings for Father's Day tomorrow. Happy Father's Day!
It was not an easy decision to impose the circuit breaker, but we had to do it to protect lives. We all had to make sacrifices. Let me express our heartfelt appreciation to our brave healthcare and front-line workers for working tirelessly to keep us safe. Our thanks also to the many others who worked behind the scenes to keep our essential services going. Because of your sacrifices and hard work, Covid-19 is under control, and we are now able to resume a large part of our daily lives. Thank you.
Let us continue to stay vigilant. The pandemic is still raging around the world, with more than eight million infected so far. The reopening of countries has surfaced new waves of infections. And the global economy is headed for its deepest downturn since the Great Depression. Our way of life, our livelihoods and our future are at stake.
When will the crisis end? Nobody can be sure. There is profound uncertainty - about how the pandemic will evolve, and how our livelihoods will be disrupted. I understand your anxiety. Some ask: Will I lose my job? And if I lose my job, can I find a new job? Will our children still have a bright future? Will my business survive?
Facing the crisis of our generation
PM Lee called this "the crisis of a generation". Indeed, this is our worst economic contraction in decades. We experienced record decline in the number of people employed in the first quarter of this year. I never expected to put up four Budgets, one after another, within just 100 days. Never before in our history have we done so. We have committed almost $100 billion, with more than half from our past reserves. We are mounting a robust response. Had we not done so, we would have lost years of progress and an entire generation. We are very grateful to our past generations, whose blood, sweat and tears left us with these deep financial reserves.
So let us remember - once we have recovered from this crisis, our generation must build back better.
Over the past two weeks, you have heard PM and my colleagues lay out what we stand for, and our plans - how to deal with the virus, navigate a more fractious world, build our economic strength, create opportunities for all, deepen our social compact, and care for the vulnerable. This is our promise: We shall not only overcome this crisis. We will emerge from it stronger - as an economy, as a society, and as a people.
Emerging Stronger Together
Covid-19 will reshape the world. Ministers Kim Yong and Lawrence are leading our national efforts to battle this pandemic. We must learn to live with this virus for some time. The global economy and geopolitics will change, faster than ever.
To emerge stronger, we must draw on the wits and will of our people. When we launched the Singapore Together movement a year ago, I promised that we would partner with Singaporeans to shape our future together. Now, in this crisis, partnership is more critical than ever. Together, we will take decisive action to support every Singaporean to emerge stronger from this crisis. Our economy will emerge stronger, creating better jobs and business opportunities for all Singaporeans. And our society will emerge stronger, leaving no one to walk this journey alone. We will emerge stronger as one people, our sense of identity and values renewed.
Supporting Every Singaporean
Our most urgent task now is jobs. Your job is our top priority. Because jobs are the most direct way for every Singaporean to improve our lives and support our loved ones. As our labour movement puts it, "A job is the best welfare for our people." We are doing our best to keep viable businesses afloat, helping them hold on to their workers for as long as possible, so that you can preserve your livelihoods.
The pandemic has hit some harder than others. So we are providing more support to cushion the impact for those hardest hit. For example, for our workers who have lost their jobs or a large part of their income, the Covid-19 Support Grant helps with their immediate needs. This is the first time that we are extending direct cash support to self-employed workers on a large scale. We are paying special attention to our lower-wage workers. Workfare recipients will soon get an additional special payment to tide them through the crisis. Beyond that, we will work with employers and unions to enhance their career prospects.
Emerging Stronger as an Economy
But despite our utmost efforts, some - perhaps even many - will lose their jobs. We are therefore making a big push to create as many new jobs as possible. The National Jobs Council has started work, to oversee the creation of 100,000 jobs and training opportunities under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package. We will work with companies, and invest in our people. We are determined not to lose a generation of workers and youths. We will need a stronger economy - dynamic and inclusive, resilient and innovative, connected to new global nodes in Asia and the world - so that we can create more jobs offering better prospects for workers, and our workers can climb higher up the skills ladder.
This is what distinguishes us from other countries. All countries, including us, are providing immediate support, to provide a cushion. But we are going further, investing to give everyone a springboard, to bounce back from this even stronger. In Singapore, we never stop thinking of tomorrow.
To succeed, we need to master the major trends reshaping the global economy, and speed up the structural transformation of our economy. With Covid, resilience and reliability will be more valued, Asia is likely to remain a bright spot. The shift to digital will accelerate. The way we live and work will be transformed. We must support our businesses and workers to ride on these trends, and re-imagine our economy for a post-Covid future.
And we will do so in three ways.
One, we are a major trading nation, and a key aviation and maritime hub, committed to the free flow of goods, services, capital, data, ideas and talent. In a more fractious post-Covid world, whatever the rest of the world does, we will persist to find new links to enable these flows, especially in connecting critical supply lines around the world. Do not doubt this: Singapore must always remain an open, trading nation. We are finished if we close up.
Two, we will continue investing in our infrastructure, even if we need to delay some projects. Such projects keep us connected to the world, makes travelling within Singapore faster and more pleasant, and gives us all beautiful homes. We will strengthen our resilience, such as through our "30 by 30" food production plan, which Minister Masagos is overseeing. We will also rejuvenate our island into a cleaner and greener Singapore, and a city in nature for our people to enjoy.
Three, our investments in research and innovation will sharpen our competitiveness.
We are finalising our R&D plan for the next five years. We will set aside over $20 billion to support basic and applied research in high impact areas, such as health and biomedical sciences, climate change, and artificial intelligence. We will launch a series of Innovation Challenges to rally our people to pioneer solutions for some of the world's major challenges.
Singapore continues to be one of the most competitive economies in the world.
Thankfully, we started transforming for the future economy five years ago. Our businesses and unions partnered the Government to develop and implement Industry Transformation Maps for each industry. Minister Chun Sing outlined how our transformation is progressing well, and how we will press on.
To make the most of new opportunities in the post-Covid world, we set up the Emerging Stronger Task Force in May. The task force is consulting widely, and involving people from a wide spectrum of society, while putting ideas into action quickly. For a start, we will set up "Singapore Together Alliances for Action". These alliances will be led by industry, with each prototyping new ideas within the coming months, in areas such as robotics, e-commerce, environmental sustainability, digitalisation of supply chains and the built environment. The key is speed and agility. Successful projects will become new shoots of growth, and generate new jobs.
This effort to grow our economy is not just to create jobs, but to create better jobs for Singaporeans. Ministers Josephine, Chee Meng and Ye Kung are working hard to make this happen. We will better prepare you to take on these jobs through the SkillsFuture movement. We will also continue to strengthen our education system, to keep "every school a good school", and to create multiple pathways to success. This is how we will keep the promise of progress alive for all.
Emerging Stronger as a Society
As we build a stronger economy, we must also strengthen our society. To ensure that no Singaporean is left behind, we must strengthen our culture of solidarity, as Senior Minister Tharman says. The circuit breaker has revealed vulnerabilities in our midst.
Some of our seniors found it hard to use digital tools and services. So Minister Iswaran launched the Seniors Go Digital programme, working with community partners, to help our seniors bridge the digital divide.
We must also reach out to those who cannot quite cope with new stresses. To provide emotional and psychological support, we launched the National Care Hotline, with help from many volunteers. The Government will continue to support you fully, and mobilise Singaporeans to support one another. Ministers Grace, Indranee and Desmond will oversee these efforts. Be assured that, in Singapore, no one will be left to walk alone. You will be cared for if you fall on hard times. You will be part of our society's progress, no matter your starting point or circumstances.
Covid-19 has sharpened our sense of purpose, and brought us closer together as a society. We want to hear how the crisis has impacted you, and how we can work together on your ideas to take Singapore forward. So we have started a series of Emerging Stronger Conversations. True to the spirit of Singapore Together, these conversations will lead to action. We will set up Singapore Together Action Networks - to bring together partners across different sectors, and turn ideas into new solutions.
We have already begun forming these networks, such as the Youth Mental Well-being Network, Uplift and the SG Cares Community Care Network. We will form new partnerships around issues that you care about, and to make a difference through action.
Emerging Stronger as One People
At the first Emerging Stronger Conversation a few days back, someone asked: "What will Singapore and Singaporeans be known for in the world?" We can see the answer around us. Our school children sending messages to encourage our healthcare and front-line workers. Our social agencies, charities, youths and volunteers supporting our vulnerable - lonely seniors, persons with special needs, and migrant workers. Our religious groups praying in new ways, to keep everyone safe, and supporting people with needs. Our businesses returning funding for the Jobs Support Scheme because they are doing well, and are rewarding their workers, and making contributions to social causes. We see Singaporeans from all walks of life, trusting in and caring for one another.
Let us build on this. Let us collect the stories of kindness and courage, the stories of everyday heroes, and tell and retell them. Let our children reflect and deepen our "values in action", so that they grow up united and resilient, and go forward in solidarity and with fortitude.
In the worst of times, we see the best in our people. We commemorated our bicentennial last year. Across 200 years of sweeping change, we grew from Singapore to Singaporeans. Today, less than 200 days into what will be a long-drawn fight, we are again showing the world who we are. We care for one another, we are generous and resilient, and we will not hesitate to make sacrifices for the greater good. These shared experiences will be etched in our collective memories.
Above all, as Senior Minister Teo reminded us, the stronger we are at home - as an economy, as a society, as one people - the more secure our place in the world. Our strengths at home will enable us to be a valuable member in the community of nations.
Minister Vivian and his team will continue to keep the Singapore flag flying high. We can play a useful role in the regional and global community - in trade, innovation, rule of law, action on climate change, or pandemic management. A trusted and reliable Singapore, relevant to the world, will in turn attract investments into Singapore. And give Singaporeans an edge in seeking opportunities at home or abroad. This Singapore premium is precious.
A democracy of deeds, a society in action, one people working in unison, confident of our place in the world - this is Singapore Together. I invite all Singaporeans and friends of Singapore to join us in this effort.
Through this series of broadcasts, you have heard PM and my colleagues lay out our plans. We are committed to growing our economy and protecting jobs, strengthening our society, and safeguarding everything we hold dear.
Our journey ahead is long, and our actions in the next five to 10 years will chart the course of our nation for decades to come. Where there are winds of change, we must find new waves of opportunity. Each of us must adapt and learn fast in this changed world, turn anxiety to action, turn challenges to opportunities. As we move forward, we will deepen our trust and support for one another.
I have every confidence that we will succeed. This Government has the will and the way to lead us out of this crisis. We will face the challenges ahead together with you, all the way. We will fight Covid-19 as Singapore Together. Everyone counts, and can be counted on. We will do what it takes to protect our lives and our livelihoods, to secure our future. We will overcome this crisis of our generation. We will be a generation that emerges stronger. Together, we will be the generation that sets our children and their children onto a path to an even brighter future!