SINGAPORE: Singapore’s investments for the economy and infrastructure, as well as spending on social services and safety nets are all necessary, and a vote of confidence in Singapore’s future, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 19).
But investments and social spending are costly, and the Government must make sure it can afford them, he said.
Speaking to about 2,000 activists at the PAP convention, Mr Lee said that while Singapore has enough revenue for this term of Government, spending has been going up and must rise further.
And as Singapore’s spending needs grow, he stressed that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was right when he said that raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but when.
“Well before the time comes, we have to plan ahead, explain to Singaporeans what the money is needed for, and show how it will benefit everyone, young and old,” he said.
Mr Lee added that Parliament will take a mid-term break after next year’s Budget.
RESTRUCTURING IN PROGRESS
Mr Lee noted that on the economic front, strategies and work plans are in place, citing examples like the Industry Transformation Maps. He stressed that unions and employers need to work hand in hand with the Government.
“Restructuring is already in progress, and we will press on,” he said. “This is a long-term effort that will continue beyond this term.”
The Government will also continue to improve train reliability, and expand the public transport network, he said. There will also be major infrastructure investments like the High-Speed Rail to Kuala Lumpur, and the new Jurong Lake District built around the High-Speed Rail terminus. The capacities of Singapore’s air and sea ports, he added, will also be doubled.
“All these will transform our city, enhance our competitiveness and create more opportunities and jobs for Singaporeans,” he said.
He added that Singapore’s social resilience is also being strengthened, with Singapore’s annual spending on childcare doubling to S$1.7 billion. Demand for healthcare services is also rising sharply, and he noted that the healthcare system is being restructured, with more acute hospitals and community hospitals being built. The Government has also improved MediShield coverage, and is now working on ElderShield for long-term care.
“These will keep healthcare affordable to citizens, but healthcare spending by the state will go up.”
PAP EARNED THE PEOPLE’S TRUST THE HARD WAY: PM LEE
Mr Lee stressed that it will not be easy to upgrade the economy, create good jobs and fund the Government’s “ambitious plans”. And to implement these policies, the Government must get its politics right.
“The people must support the PAP, and most of all, they must trust the PAP,” he said. “They must know that the PAP cares about them, and is working to improve their lives.”
But he added that it is also important to make hard choices, take difficult decisions and be upfront about it with Singaporeans.
“Explain to them why we need to do it, and get their support,” he said. “Even if people may not like the specific policy, we must convince them that we are doing it with good intentions, and for good reasons.”
The PAP, he added, earned the people’s trust the hard way, and it must never take it for granted or fritter it away.
“The PAP has always been honest with Singaporeans,” he said. “We don’t just tell you what you want to hear. We level with you.
“Because we have been frank and honest, you know that the PAP means what it says, and delivers what it promises.”
Citing examples from Western democracies, he pointed out that mainstream political parties in the UK and US are “no longer seen to represent the common man’s interests”.
White, working-class Americans who voted for US President Donald Trump, he said, had lost faith not just in one leader or another, but in the whole system of politics and government.
“We must never let this happen in Singapore,” he said.
IMPORTANT FOR PAP TO STAY CONNECTED TO THE GROUND
In the coming years, the trust between the PAP and the people will be tested, but will be “more important than ever”, Mr Lee said.
“Like other countries, Singapore too will be affected by social and economic disruptions. But unlike many other countries, in dealing with these challenges, we must hold together and not pull apart,” he said, adding that in order to help Singaporeans cope with these changes, good policies – as well as good politics – are needed.
“People must know the PAP not as a remote, impersonal Government, but as their team, as a human, personal presence – your caring MP, your friendly branch secretary, people whom you know, people who have shown that they can get things done, and will help you through difficulties and improve your lives."
And every party member and activist, he stressed, has a role to play.
“If you push your weight around, behave arrogantly or take advantage of your position, you bring disrepute to yourself and do harm to the party,” he said. “But if you uphold the party’s ideals and serve residents conscientiously and selflessly, you will strengthen the trust between the party and the people, consolidate the party’s support base, and help keep Singapore successful.”
Party members, he said, must stay humble and connected to the ground, so that the PAP is always close to the concerns of Singaporeans, and earn the right to speak for them, a point he also made in his Mandarin speech.
“Let our people understand why we are doing this and support our policies,” he said in his Mandarin speech. “Only then can PAP unite the people, make Singapore’s interest our common starting point and achieve the greater good.”
He added that it is the responsibility of every PAP member to put the people first, understand the ground and win their support.
“We only have two to three years before the next GE (General Election),” he said. “If we want a strong mandate, we need every comrade to continue working hard.”