SINGAPORE: The Government will focus its energies on securing Singapore’s place in a changing world, making the country world class, creating a workforce that is equipped in an age of technological disruption, tackling social inequality vigorously and nurturing a strong sense of nationhood.
These were mentioned by President Halimah Yacob in her address to open the second session of the 13th Parliament on Monday (May 7).
In her speech, she said to secure the country’s place in today’s world, the Government is “prepared to stand and fight for our nation, defend our vital interests and work with others in win-win partnerships”.
For instance, the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team are building up their capabilities, including against unconventional threats like terrorism and cyberattacks. “Beyond equipment and capabilities, our strength ultimately lies in our people’s resolve to defend this country and be masters of our destiny,” she said.
Mdm Halimah also noted how it seeks to “be friends with as many countries as possible”, in particular working for good relations with both the United States and China.
This year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chair also said it will strive for an “open and inclusive regional order, with all the major powers engaged”. It will work with regional partners to strengthen the body’s centrality and unity – and “will sustain our efforts for the long term”, she said.
The second priority for the Government is to meet Singaporeans’ desire to live in a world-class city and an endearing home that is clean, green and efficient, as well as fun and connected, Mdm Halimah said.
To do so, it is prepared to think long term in its planning for the city and the infrastructure to build for future generations, she added.
Investments in infrastructure, for example, mean the building of Changi Airport Terminal 5 and a new Tuas Port, as well as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project and the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System link.
The Government is also renewing the heartlands and investing heavily in new MRT infrastructure, she pointed out, adding that the country’s urban landscape will be much transformed in the coming decades when Paya Lebar Air Base moves to Changi and the city ports move to Tuas.
CHANGING HOW SINGAPOREANS ARE EDUCATED
The president also said the Government is looking at making sure Singapore remains a “nation of opportunities” for its people to “pursue dreams, chart fulfilling careers and lead meaningful lives”.
This means continuing to renew the economy to keep it productive, enterprising and innovative. “Our investment in research and development is bearing fruit, and will enable us to exploit deep technology and digitalisation; create a Smart Nation; and conceive, test-bed and scale up new products and services.”
She also said the new business centres, such as Jurong Lake District, Punggol Digital District and Woodlands North Coast, will each have its own character and industry niche.
The Government will invest heavily in Singaporeans, she said, recognising that in an age of technological disruption, citizens must be flexible, eager to learn, and adventurous to venture beyond our shores.
She said: “We are changing the way we educate and prepare Singaporeans for life, putting less emphasis on academic grades, and more on skills and the ability to adapt to a dynamic external environment.”
SkillsFuture will anchor this national culture of lifelong learning for mastering skills, while Adapt and Grow will match workers to jobs, and help Singaporeans stay employable as industries and jobs change, she added.
“WE MUST TACKLE INEQUALITY VIGOROUSLY”
The issue of inequality will also be tackled during this term of parliament, the president said.
“Singaporeans want to live in a fair and just society, one based on meritocracy, but at the same time strives to leave no one behind. Thus we are each prepared to do our best, but also to walk alongside fellow citizens who need help to keep up,” Mdm Halimah said.
“In Singapore, people must always be able to get ahead through effort and excellence. We must open up more progression pathways, and celebrate a broader range of successes. We are committed to give every child a good start in life, no matter what their family circumstances may be. We will continue to raise the quality of pre-schools and do more for children at risk.
“We must tackle inequality vigorously. We need to provide the right additional support to those needing it – in housing, education, skills training, and employment – so that meritocracy works well. Only then can everyone do well through hard work, talent and skills, regardless of their backgrounds.”
The plight of the growing population of elderly was also highlighted.
She said the Government will continue to help older workers stay employed, earn fair wages and save more, so that they can age with dignity and purpose. It will also enhance elderly friendly infrastructure, including new housing options and healthcare and fitness facilities, and keep healthcare affordable through “well-designed healthcare subsidies”, among others, she added.
It also pledged to do its part to meet the needs of different segments of Singaporeans, providing more support to young families and make the country a great place to have children, as well as enable people with disabilities to lead “full and active lives”.
“Most importantly, we need to build a strong culture where the better-off devote time, talent and resources to help the less fortunate. Only when everybody lends a helping hand can we truly become a compassionate and caring society,” Mdm Halimah said.
The president also said, above all, Singaporeans want to feel a strong sense of nationhood.
She said today, Singapore’s diverse cultures and traditions are interwoven - something the country had not expected on Aug 8, 1965, the eve of its independence.
She also noted that the Singapore Bicentennial, which will take place next year and marks 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed here, will be an occasion for Singaporeans to trace their roots and draw inspiration for the journey ahead.
“We have succeeded in nurturing a distinct Singapore identity, a sense of common destiny transcending our individual racial and religious identities,” Mdm Halimah said. “This is still a work in progress, but we have come far.”