PM: Singapore better equipped to face headwinds

Speaking at the annual People's Action Party conference on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told members not to be complacent and work towards achieving closer ties with every segment of society.

Unemployment low and better jobs being created, but there can be no let-up in skills upgrading

Singapore is in a much better situation than other developed countries facing slowing growth and an uncertain economic outlook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

Unemployment is low, including among youth, and incomes are rising even for lower- and middle- income families, Mr Lee told 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) members at the biennial party conference yesterday.

"We are still creating more jobs than there are Singaporeans to fill them, and we are creating better jobs for the future," said Mr Lee, who is the PAP secretary-general.

But there can be no let-up given the difficulties ahead, he added, citing how, even as a good education system enables young people to compete for good jobs, skills have to be continually upgraded as jobs change.


"Change is happening fast, and it is going to get even faster," he said.

  • PM Lee on...


    On both the extreme left and extreme right, the extreme parties are strengthening, gaining support. They can't govern, they offer no workable alternative but the voters still support them - doesn't matter, bring the house down.

    Today, there is a referendum in Italy. If the outcome goes against Prime Minister (Matteo) Renzi, who is a reformist, he has said he will resign. (If he does) Italy will be back with no government and there will be uncertainty and confusion again.

    Austria is also voting for its president today. And it looks possible that the person who will win will be Mr Norbert Hofer, who is an extreme right-wing candidate. If he does, he will be the first extreme-right head of state in the EU.

    The Netherlands will be going to the polls in March, France in May and Germany in September.

    In France, people don't expect (National Front leader) Marine Le Pen to win. In Germany, people don't expect (Chancellor) Angela Merkel to lose. But still, people expect that, whoever wins in France and Germany, the result of the elections will be a more divided country.

    And if by some chance Le Pen wins or Merkel loses, then it is a radically different Europe and a profoundly different world.

    These are changes which affect not just individual countries but also the whole international order and the whole international environment, the world which we live in.



    We worked very hard for it. Twelve countries spent six years negotiating the TPP, including the US and Singapore.

    We all negotiated hard and all 12 were satisfied, we signed, this is a good deal.

    Now, America has a new president, and President-elect Trump has declared that he believes the TPP is bad deal for the US, and that he is going to pull the US out of the TPP.

    Without the US, there is no TPP. We have to accept the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

    We still hope that one day we will have a regional trade deal which will include the US, Singapore, Japan and the other big countries. 

    But it is a long way off and, meanwhile, we have to make the best of this situation.

    We have to continue to pursue trade liberalisation with others in the region. For example, we have another set of initials, the RCEP, it means the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - a different group. We have Japan, South Korea, China, the Asean countries, India, Australia, New Zealand.

    So we can't get the TPP (but) we have another free trade agreement. Not the same, but let's make the best we can of this.

And while other governments are tight on money and cutting social safety nets, Singapore is strengthening its support system to reassure its citizens of help, while being careful with its spending, he added.

Mr Lee's comments come against a backdrop of economic restructuring and slower growth. Singapore's economy is forecast to grow at 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent this year, down from 2 per cent last year.

Retrenchment numbers for this year, which reached an estimated 11,890 over the first nine months, are also expected to be higher than last year's 13,440.

Given the uncertain international environment, the Government will have to strive hard to keep improving the lives of Singaporeans, especially in the areas of education, skills upgrading and social support, said Mr Lee.

Students are doing well, he noted, pointing to the country's good showing in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study released last week in which Singapore students came out on top in both subjects.

"It is a great boost to our reputation with investors but also a great reassurance to us, to our people. We can look after ourselves, we have the skills and knowledge, we are competitive and we can take jobs," he said.

Youth unemployment has also been kept low, unlike in other economies such as Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong or those in Europe.

As the nature of work changes through technological advancements, workers can also find help to learn new skills through schemes such as professional conversion programmes, the Career Support Programme, and Place-and-Train and Adapt and Grow initiatives, said Mr Lee.

He cited crane operators as a group that have found their jobs changing. While each crane operator used to sit in a crane cabin, they can now monitor several semi-automatic cranes from an office.

If the system one day becomes so advanced that operators are no longer needed to monitor the cranes, they will have to retrain for new jobs.

More will be done to strengthen social safety nets as the population ages, Mr Lee said. The Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life lower healthcare costs, and CPF Life and Silver Support make retirement easier on the elderly.

Infrastructure such as hospitals, social service centres, parks, the new mega-port in Tuas and better public transport are being developed too. Housing Board towns are also being upgraded and built, so that couples can own homes and start their families.

Housing is a big issue in other major cities, especially for young people, Mr Lee said, adding that being able to have a home when people start a family helps to foster a sense of nationhood and unity.

"It is one way we make this a home for all Singaporeans," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'PM: Singapore better equipped to face headwinds'. Print Edition | Subscribe