Major rail disruptions such as the flooding at Bishan and a train collision last week at Joo Koon have shaken public confidence and should not have happened, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"But they have, and we must learn the right lessons from them, get to the root of the problems and put things right," PM Lee, who is secretary-general of the People's Action Party (PAP), said yesterday at its annual convention.
In a wide-ranging speech that had the tenor of a mid-term report card, he recapped the Government's work since it began its term in January last year, and told the 2,000 people at the PAP's year-end convention of the work to come.
Improving Singapore's train reliability is a priority, he said, weighing in for the first time on the recent MRT woes.
There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel as delays should go away once the resignalling upgrade is completed, hopefully in a year's time, he added.
The Government is upgrading the economy as well, and maintaining Singapore's place in the world.
PM Lee also said Parliament will take a mid-term break after the national Budget is passed next year, usually by end-March.
Parliament will reopen a month later, when the President will outline the Government's agenda for the second half of its term.
Noting the brightening economy, PM Lee said productivity has picked up and economic growth may exceed 3 per cent this year.
But social spending is on the rise, and will rise even more, particularly in healthcare as the population ages. "(Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat was right when he said raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but when," PM Lee said.
"To implement these policies, we must get our politics right," he said, adding that the party would have to gain the people's support and trust.
He told party activists not to take the people's trust in the PAP for granted. With the next general election two to three years away, he called on them to start working hard now to get a strong mandate.
"(Singaporeans) must know the party cares for them and is working to improve their lives," said PM Lee, whose speech was broadcast live on the party's Facebook page.
He said his Government makes hard choices from time to time, and must be upfront with Singaporeans when it does.
"Even if people may not like a specific policy, we must convince them that we are doing it with good intentions and for good reasons."
The "strong trust" between the PAP and the people was painstakingly built in a span of more than 60 years, he said. It was done not only by delivering results, but also by working through difficult policies, like the goods and services tax.
The PAP earned the people's trust the hard way, and must never fritter it away, he said.
PM Lee drew cautionary tales from politics in Britain and America, where mainstream parties are no longer seen to represent the common man's interests, and the elite is disconnected from the population.
The PAP must never let this happen here and must always pursue policies that benefit the broad majority of Singaporeans, he said.
"We must always hold the ground, stay close to Singaporeans, and maintain their trust and confidence," he added.
In the coming years, this trust will be tested by economic and social disruptions, and will be more important than ever, he said, adding: "We must hold together, not pull apart."
PM Lee told the activists: "If you push your weight around, behave arrogantly or take advantage of your position, you bring disrepute to yourself and do harm to the party.
"But if you uphold the party's ideals... you will strengthen the trust between the party and the people, consolidate the party's support base and help keep Singapore successful."