PM Lee hopes for broader economic growth this year

Budget to tackle immediate issues while laying down plans for future

Singapore's economic performance last year was healthy, marked by a better-than-expected expansion and encouraging productivity growth, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He expressed hope that the improvement will be spread out across more industries this year.

Productivity and economic growth have been getting more broad-based, but are still mainly concentrated in manufacturing and export-driven sectors, he said.

"This year I hope we'll have a good year in terms of growth, and covering more of the economy. And I hope it won't just be expansion because of other economies that are growing, but continuing upgrading and improving productivity, improving our companies, and improving the skills of our workers," he added.

Mr Lee was speaking to members of the media after visiting SBS Transit and SMRT workers on the morning of the first day of Chinese New Year on Friday.

The economy grew 3.6 per cent last year while labour productivity - as measured by real value-added per actual hour worked - expanded 4.5 per cent.

Mr Lee said: "I hope we'll be able to sustain that and continue to improve people's lives and, at the same time, improve amenities and services.

"The whole world, whether the United States, Europe, Japan or South-east Asia, is growing in tandem. This is quite a rare trend. If there are no problems, this should portend well for the next six or 12 months. So, I hope our economy will do well."

PM Lee meets workers at SBS Transit's Gali Batu MRT Depot. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Asked about the upcoming Budget, to be delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat tomorrow, Mr Lee said: "We are still fine-tuning the speech."

The Budget team is still working out the precise language, he added, but "the main shape has been finalised".

The Budget will "deal with immediate problems" while laying down plans for Singapore's longer-term future, in terms of investments, and fiscal and environmental sustainability, he said.

Mr Lee started off his morning with a visit to workers at SBS Transit's Gali Batu MRT Depot, then later visited SMRT's Tuas Depot.

PM Lee and NTUC president Mary Liew giving out goodie bags to SMRT workers, filled with a tumbler, an EZ-Link card, oranges and ang pows. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

At both stops, he handed out to workers goodie bags that contained a tumbler, an ez-link card, oranges and hongbao.

He said he decided to visit rail workers during the festive season as they have been under a lot of pressure.

While train faults and other rail incidents have been in the spotlight in the past year, transport workers have been working very hard and making quiet progress, he added.

"I look at the data every month to make sure the trends are in the right direction, and you can see that there is progress - steadily, gradually."

Mr Lee was accompanied by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) president Mary Liew, NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng, NTUC central committee members, and National Transport Workers' Union exco members.

In total, they met about 150 workers, including rail technicians, traffic controllers and rail engineers.

Mr Lee said Singaporeans are rightly concerned about train incidents, which cause a great deal of inconvenience. But he added that rail workers have also been under a lot of stress.

He said: "I hope Singaporeans can support the transport team, particularly the workers, in their very difficult job. Help them and work with them, so we can continue maintaining first-class operations."

Other ministers also spent time with those working over the Chinese New Year period.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam visited immigration officers at the Tuas Checkpoint yesterday, while Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo was at the Seng Kang fire station on Friday to meet Singapore Civil Defence Force officers who were on duty.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong visited patients and staff at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital on Friday, to hand out oranges and goodies.

Speaking to members of the press after his visit, he said: "I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to many healthcare workers who are working today and tomorrow, and in fact, through the holiday season to look after our loved ones and our patients.

"I want to recognise their contribution, dedication, commitment and sacrifices."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 18, 2018, with the headline 'PM Lee hopes for broader economic growth this year'. Subscribe