Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Happy 46th birthday Singapore!

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Message
07:34 PM Aug 08, 2011
The Singapore economy is consolidating its recovery from the 2008 global economic crisis. GDP grew 4.9% in the first half of 2011, while unemployment remains low at 2.1%. Despite some risks on the horizon, we project steady growth of 5-6% for 2011.

Our last five years were marked by uncertainty and rapid change. We enjoyed several very good years when our economy boomed, and wages went up. But we also experienced some very worrying moments, especially during the global economic crisis.

Amidst such unprecedented turbulence, the Government did its utmost to protect Singaporeans from the global crisis. We introduced the Jobs Credit to keep firms viable and save jobs. We formed the Economic Strategies Committee to identify long-term opportunities and map out a pathway for the future.

This year, with the cost of living rising, we launched the Grow & Share package to help households cope. We continue to retrain workers to become more employable, and to support needy families through many assistance programmes.

Overall, Government policies have worked. Our strong reserves saved up over many years gave us the confidence and the means to move decisively with our Resilience Package. Our growth strategies of upgrading education and skills, and breaking into higher-value sectors have created good new jobs for Singaporeans. Compared to five years ago, most households have seen incomes rise.

But despite our best efforts, we could not shield Singaporeans fully from external shocks. In a rapidly changing situation, the Government had to address the most urgent problems first - stabilising the economy, saving jobs, helping those who were displaced by the crisis.

Some Government policies did not keep pace, but we have been tackling the problems. We are building more HDB flats, to reduce waiting times and keep prices affordable. We are adding MRT lines and buses, to improve public transport service standards. We are moderating the inflow of foreign workers and immigrants, and making it clearer that Singaporeans come first. We are reviewing our social safety nets to better support Singaporeans in a more volatile environment. The results will not arrive overnight, but we should see improvements over the next few years.

However, we should be especially careful of one issue. While we will always put Singaporeans first, let us not turn negative on foreigners. Singapore has prospered because we have been open to the world and alive to economic competition and change. This is how we have attracted investments, created jobs for Singaporeans, and made ourselves a vibrant city. We cannot afford to close in on ourselves, or attribute all our problems to foreigners. We must stay connected to the world, and continue to welcome talent and ideas, wherever they may come from. Only then can we continue to thrive, and build a better Singapore for all.

While addressing pressing concerns at home, we must remain attentive to global trends, and take a longer term view of our future. Asia, led by China and India, is expected to continue growing, but the global outlook remains uncertain. Europe's debt problems are far from solved, despite the recent bailout of Greece by the EU. The US economy remains sluggish. The US President and Congress have agreed to raise the debt ceiling, but have put off difficult decisions to raise taxes and cut spending. Japan has the added burden of earthquake and tsunami recovery. These three key economies are struggling to find the decisive leadership required to resolve their domestic challenges. This will weigh them down and dampen global prospects.

The next few years will bring more rapid changes and surprises. We must anticipate and respond to these external events as best as we can, and steer a course that maximises Singapore's chances of success.

We need to keep building for the longer term. We will grow our economy by upgrading ourselves and raising productivity, reducing the need to import so many foreign workers. We will educate our young well, and retrain our older workers effectively. And we will create an outstanding living environment for ourselves: a City in a Garden, and a vibrant, thriving home for all Singaporeans. We have comprehensive plans to achieve these goals.

Beyond these specific policies, the way we manage our affairs must change. Our society is changing. A new generation of Singaporeans want more alternative voices, and more debate on issues affecting them. They seek to play a bigger part in co-creating solutions. I welcome this. I invite Singaporeans with ideas and plans to come forward, and help us get more things done in better ways. The Government will reach out to all segments of society, to tap your imagination, energy and initiative. This will not only improve policies and results; it will also strengthen our sense of commitment and belonging to this place we call home.

More diverse views can produce a more vibrant society, but they may also split and weaken us. We need to enlarge our common space, not magnify our differences and become a house divided. By staying united we can respond effectively to major challenges, and continue to outperform other countries.

In particular, younger Singaporeans have a major part to play. You are our future. You belong to the age of the Internet and social media. You have different experiences, perspectives, and aspirations from your elders. And you will inherit the country that earlier generations have painstakingly built.

We will do our utmost to help you succeed. Your idealism, passion and commitment will make all the difference. You will have many opportunities to seek your own dreams and fulfil your promise. I am happy that many young Singaporeans also feel a calling to serve a shared, higher purpose: volunteering for humanitarian relief missions, taking up green causes, and caring for the aged and less fortunate. This Singapore spirit will hold us together as one people.

Many years ago, our forefathers pulled together and worked hard to build this nation. Their common goal was to survive, and show the world that we could make it on our own. That powerful drive united and motivated a whole generation of Singaporeans.

We are now at a new defining moment in our history. In a globalised world, we can stay competitive by raising our education levels and productivity. We can pull ahead by enlarging our talent pool and remaining an open, vibrant society. Most importantly, we can surmount the never-ending challenges of nation building by looking out for one another and working hand-in-hand to improve all our lives.

This island is our shared home. Together, we have achieved much in the 46 years since Independence. Let us continue to work together to create a brighter future and a better home for all of us.

I wish all Singaporeans a Happy National Day.

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