SINGAPORE - The economy is likely to grow at a slower pace this year, but the Government, businesses and workers need to focus on preparing for the long term, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Feb 8).
Singapore needs to ride out the ups and downs in the economy in the short term, but the long term focus "has to be on upgrading; on productivity; on training; on SkillsFuture," Mr Lee said, as he, along with his wife and union leaders, visited workers on duty on the first day of Chinese New Year at Changi Airport.
While the country has already started on initiatives to boost innovation and training, a slower economy would give businesses the opportunity to take them more seriously, he said.
"When business is up and you talk about training, nobody has the time to train. When business is a bit slower, while we have a bit of slack capacity, we can do more," Mr Lee added.
It will also take time for SkillsFuture, a long-term national initiative to help Singaporean workers build deep skills and expertise, to bear fruit, he said.
The $500 training grant given to all adult citizens is "a symbolic gesture to get people to start thinking about upgrading and re-skilling themselves," he said.
Mr Lee noted that Changi Airport is also preparing far ahead.
The new Terminal 4 will be operational next year, while Jewel, a retail and lifestyle complex situated in front of Terminal 1, will be ready by 2019. The airport's fifth terminal, which will be ten times the size of the VivoCity mall, will be completed around 2025.
"We have to look ahead many years to make sure we stay in good position," he said.
Mr Lee added that he wishes for more babies to be born in the year of the Monkey. Last year, a record number of 33,800 Singaporeans were born - the highest in 13 years.
"We are happy and satisfied with the number of babies born last year, but of course, we have to keep working on it," he said.
He was accompanied by the labour movement's president Mary Liew, secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, and Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo as he made his yearly visits to workers.
They dropped in on check-in agents, immigration staff, cleaners and baggage handlers to thank them for their keeping the country running during the festive season.
When asked about spending Chinese New Year without the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore who died on March 23 last year, Mr Lee said: "We mourn his passing. But at the same time, we are twice as resolved to carry on to make Singapore succeed in a way which he would have been proud of."
There was a surprise for Mr Lee towards the end of his visit.
Staff from the Changi Airport presented him with a birthday cake and a song to celebrate his birthday. He turns 64 on Wednesday (Feb 10).