Singapore must prepare for a very different future, says PM Lee

He says world is entering troubled period, but past proves nation can overcome challenges

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Presidential Guards from the Military Police during the National Day Observance Ceremony at the Istana yesterday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Presidential Guards from the Military Police during the National Day Observance Ceremony at the Istana yesterday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singaporeans need to prepare for a "very different future", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, pointing to the grave challenges that global upheavals had thrown up.

Speaking on the eve of National Day, he said he was confident that the country would overcome the challenges. But he pointed to the task at hand.

The world is fundamentally entering a more troubled period, he noted. Trade and globalisation are under pressure and friction between the major powers is growing, while global warming and rising sea levels pose existential threats.

"Singapore will not be immune to these global problems... They will disrupt supply chains, alter trade patterns and shift investment flows. We must get ourselves ready for a very different future," he said.

Singapore has taken steps to renew and reinvent itself, he added in his annual National Day message delivered from Changi Airport's Jewel, which he held up as symbolic of the country's spirit to dare to do the new - and do it first.

Singaporeans have gone through many ups and downs over the years, he noted. Today, economic uncertainties and the threat of climate change are grave challenges, PM Lee said.

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"But our past gives us confidence. Throughout our history, when trials and tribulations have beset us, we picked ourselves up and worked together to overcome them. Each time, we reinvented and renewed our economy, our people and our city, and we thrived again. And this is what we must keep on doing."

Giving an indication of what he will focus on at this year's National Day Rally on Aug 18, PM Lee said pre-school and tertiary education will be made more affordable, especially for lower-and middle-income families. The retirement and re-employment ages will be raised to help older Singaporeans who wish to work longer, he added.

While he did not give any forecast of growth figures for the year, he noted that the economy has slowed. Global demand and international trade have weakened, affecting Singapore's manufacturing sector and trade-related services.

"We have experienced such slowdowns before, and we will take this one in our stride," said PM Lee. "Should it become necessary to stimulate the economy, we will do so."

Singapore is making good progress in transforming its industries, and in its efforts to reskill and upgrade the workforce, he noted.

The technology and start-up scenes are flourishing, with agencies helping entrepreneurs and companies scale up and expand into the global market.

Meanwhile, the SkillsFuture scheme is helping Singaporeans to be more productive and prepared for new jobs that are being created. "All these structural measures will not only address our longer-term challenges, but also help see us through a more immediate downturn."

PM Lee pledged that the Government will keep on investing heavily in Singaporeans and help everyone achieve their potential and give their best to Singapore.

But he also stressed that this is a joint endeavour. "Each one of us must strive to improve ourselves, do our best and chase our dreams."

PM Lee compared Singapore to Jewel, saying the gleaming new complex shows how Singaporeans have the creativity and daring to reinvent themselves, as well as the passion and competence to turn dreams into reality. "As you might expect, other cities and airports are already planning to emulate Jewel, and perhaps do it bigger and better," he said. "But we dared to attempt the new, and we did it first."

Other projects to remake the city include Changi Terminal 5, Tuas Megaport and the Jurong Lake District, as well as the redevelopment of Paya Lebar Airbase and the Greater Southern Waterfront.

These will keep Singapore busy and create new opportunities for Singaporeans for decades to come, he said. But he added: "To stay in front of the pack, we must constantly come up with fresh ideas, always be ready to break new ground.

"What limits our possibilities is not the physical size of our island, but the ingenuity of our people and the boldness of our spirit."

In a spirited call to Singaporeans, he urged them to be as intrepid as the first settlers who arrived here from distant lands, and as tough as the earlier generations who endured war and occupation, rebuilding their lives afterwards.

"Let us be as resolute as the Pioneer Generation who fought for independence and founded our nation, and be as united as the Merdeka Generation, who took up the baton and brought Singapore from Third World to First.

"Let us continue to work together as one united people to thrive in an uncertain world, challenge ourselves to explore new horizons, and commit our hearts and souls to Singapore and its future," PM Lee said, wishing Singaporeans a happy National Day.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2019, with the headline Singapore must prepare for a very different future, says PM Lee. Subscribe