SINGAPORE: Singapore will make a “major push for sustainable growth”, while further strengthening its social safety nets, said President Halimah Yacob on Monday (Aug 24) at the opening of the nation’s 14th Parliament.
“We will reimagine how we plan our city, redesign urban mobility and grow using less resources in a low-carbon future,” she said.
Singapore will also push for green financing and sustainable infrastructure development across the region, to ride on Asia’s growth while protecting the environment, she added.
“With creativity and resourcefulness, we can turn our aspirations for a greener Singapore into a competitive advantage.”
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Speaking at Parliament House after 93 Members of Parliament (MPs) and two Non-Constituency MPs were sworn in, Madam Halimah said that jobs will continue to be the Government’s top priority for the next few years.
She added that the Government recognised the increased pressure the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the workforce, especially on lower-wage workers, mature workers and mid-career Singaporeans with heavier financial commitments and families to support.
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The Government is supporting businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, with cash flow and credit so that they stay afloat and hold on to their workers, while the National Jobs Council is working with tripartite partners to create new job and training opportunities for Singaporeans, she added.
“We will continue to look out for our lower-wage and mature workers, many of whom are also essential workers who have been keeping Singapore going during the crisis,” said Mdm Halimah.
“We are also making a concerted effort to help workers in their 40s and 50s, by matching them to suitable jobs and SkillsFuture programmes. I urge employers to see mid-career Singaporeans as valuable assets, and provide them with opportunities and training for new jobs.”
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She said that there is a great urgency to transform the economy and to “find new ways to make a living”. Singapore will undergo significant structural changes – some sectors will not return to what they were before, while some jobs will “disappear altogether”.
“Much of our economy thrives because we have made ourselves a vibrant hub for the region and an attractive place for trade, investments, talent and ideas. We cannot take our hub status for granted, or assume that its scope and role will remain the same.”
Singapore will resume air travel safely to maintain its role as a global and regional hub, and strengthen digital connectivity, helping companies develop their links to new markets.
“Our efforts to fortify our resilience in critical areas like food, healthcare and supply chain management can become new sources of growth,” she said.
“SHIFT IN SOCIAL POLICY”
At the same time, Singapore will work to further strengthen its social safety nets, the President said.
“While we pursue economic growth to create opportunities for Singaporeans, we must also share the benefits of progress widely with all citizens,” she added.
Mdm Halimah said that Singapore started strengthening its social safety nets more than a decade ago and as the pandemic hit, the Government has launched many emergency measures to help people cope. Beyond that, it expects a “permanent shift to a new normal” after the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are entering an era of volatility, uncertainty and disruption in people’s lives. Individuals will need greater social support than before,” she said.
“We will have to consider carefully how to strengthen our safety nets, to give Singaporeans more assurance coping with life’s uncertainties. And we will have to be careful to do so in a way that is financially sustainable for future generations.
“As part of this shift in social policy, the Government will do more to support every Singaporean, at each stage of life, to build a stronger and more cohesive society.”
The President said that the Government will support young families to own their own homes, offer middle-aged Singaporeans more help to secure good jobs, and give them greater assurance that they will have enough resources to retire on.
“We will take good care of our seniors to enable them to age well and with dignity,” she said.
But she cautioned that more redistribution cannot be the only way to help those who are doing less well, and said that Singapore has to continue to strengthen social mobility and broaden its “conception of merit”.
“Meritocracy has been a crucial pillar of our society. It has served us well over the past 55 years. However, just as our social norms and policies have evolved in tandem with Singapore’s development, so too must our model of meritocracy,” she said.
As “unfettered meritocracy” can foster excessive competition, families who are at a disadvantage need help to “level up”, so as to give their children a fair start in life, Mdm Halimah said.
“We want to keep our society open and socially mobile, and not allow it to stratify and ossify over time,” she said. “That is why we have made a concerted effort to value a wide range of talents.”
Giving examples, she said that schools now admit students through yardsticks other than academic results, the Public Service Commission has widened its catchment of scholarship recipients and employers are encouraged to hire people based on skills, with the public service taking the lead.
“Political parties are fielding candidates who took different life paths and have diverse talents and strengths,” she added.
Singapore must continue to invest heavily in education and training, developing many pathways of learning so that young Singaporeans can achieve their potential “regardless of their starting point”, the President said.
In addition, the SkillsFuture programme will allow workers to upgrade and progress throughout their careers, she added.
Mdm Halimah said that building a fair and just society goes beyond government actions and asked for the support and participation of all Singaporeans to look after society’s most vulnerable members.
“We have made progress over the last decade, and we will do much more in this term of Government to see our people through the crisis and beyond. The more closely knit we are as a people, the further we can move ahead as a nation,” said Mdm Halimah.