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Singapore must broaden meritocracy, rethink approach to education and work: President Halimah

Opening the second session of parliament, President Halimah Yacob's address sets the agenda for the rest of this government's term.

Singapore must broaden meritocracy, rethink approach to education and work: President Halimah

President Halimah Yacob speaks in parliament on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: Facebook/Halimah Yacob/Ministry of Communications and Information)

SINGAPORE: Singapore must ensure a broader and more open meritocracy that works well for all Singaporeans, said President Halimah Yacob as she opened the second session of parliament on Monday night (Apr 10).  

This means rethinking the country's approach to education and work, said Madam Halimah as she laid out the key priorities for the remainder of the 14th parliament.

Parliament was prorogued on Mar 24 and reconvened on Monday. Mdm Halimah's address sets the agenda for the rest of this government's term.

Over the next two weeks, the ministries are expected to release their addenda and parliament will debate the President's Address, which will be Mdm Halimah's last for her current term of the presidency. The next presidential election is due by September 2023.

Mdm Halimah said that meritocracy has provided opportunities, but as the country prospers, those who have already done well will naturally seek to pass on their advantages to their children.

"We will do our utmost to combat this tendency. We must not allow advantages and privileges to become entrenched and persist over generations. This would weaken and fracture our society," she said.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, President Halimah Yacob and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mdm Ho Ching arrive at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

The President said Singapore must re-examine how society rewards different skills and talents, and accord greater value to those who are skilled with their hands, as well as those with the social and empathetic traits to excel in jobs such as caregiving or community service.

At the same time, Singapore will step up support for the disadvantaged and vulnerable segments in society, such as lower-income workers and families, as well as people with disabilities, so they can pursue their aspirations, she said.

"Every Singaporean must have the opportunity to take on work they find fulfilling and meaningful, build on their talents, give of their best, and be rewarded fairly for it," she added.

This is one of four values the President said will shape the government's agenda. The others are: Strengthening social safety nets, building a smart and liveable city and deepening Singaporeans’ sense of shared identity and mutual responsibility towards one another.



Mdm Halimah promised that the government will improve social safety nets to help Singaporeans better cope with disruptions and setbacks in life in a world of rapid change.

The President said that the government will study how to keep citizens employable for life amid uncertainty in the world economy and faster technological change, enabling every citizen to do a "significant skills reboot" in the course of their working lives.

Singapore will also take better care of the growing number of seniors, through programmes like HealthierSG, enhancing retirement adequacy and expanding care and living options for them.

It will also keep public housing affordable and accessible for Singaporeans, she said.

Listen: What would it take for Healthier SG to work?

President Halimah Yacob and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, speak with Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh and MPs Jamus Lim and He Ting Ru at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong arrives at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

On building a smart and liveable city, Mdm Halimah said Singapore will continue to renew and transform its urban landscape, and become more "people-friendly" through strengthening the culture and heritage of neighbourhoods, with better-connected streets and green spaces conducive to walking and cycling.

"We will make our housing estates more vibrant spaces where children grow up together, where shared memories are formed, and where we nurture our unique identity as a multi-racial and multi-religious nation," she said.


Mdm Halimah said that to renew and update Singapore's social compact, the nation's next generation of leaders - known as the 4G - have engaged more than 14,000 Singaporeans in the past six months in the Forward Singapore exercise.

One of the priorities for Singapore will be to strengthen its "collective responsibility" to shape its new compact, said Mdm Halimah.

"More government action should not result in a greater sense of dependency and entitlement. Instead, the government will, through its actions, reinforce individual and family efforts, and bring forth contributions from other stakeholders," she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat arrives at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong arrives at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

She added that to tackle the complex challenges ahead, Singapore will need a stronger network of stakeholders to participate in nation-building, including businesses that champion socially responsible and sustainable practices, a "passionate" civil society and an active citizenry.

"By pooling our individual expertise, experiences and resources, we can achieve better outcomes for ourselves, our fellow citizens and our nation, Singapore," she said.


The leadership transition to the 4G team is "well underway", said Mdm Halimah, adding that the team has proven their ability and grit through their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Singapore's fourth generation of ministers is led by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong who was promoted to DPM in June last year in a clear sign that he will be the next Prime Minister.

His appointment, coming after DPM Heng Swee Keat stepped aside from the leadership succession, ended speculation on who would take over when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong steps down.

"The trust between our political leadership and people, and between Singaporeans themselves, is a key strength we must continue to nurture and cherish," said Mdm Halimah.

Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong takes a selfie with Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling and MPs Sharael Taha and Don Wee at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

In many societies, instead of bringing people together, political parties aggravate rifts by divisive appeals for support from competing groups, resulting in political gridlock and a lack of trust in governments and institutions, she said.

"We cannot afford to let this happen in Singapore. In an open, diverse society, people will always have different views. We must debate them honestly and robustly. But our conversations also must be constructive, respectful and responsible, based on facts and sound analysis," said the President.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)
MP Tin Pei Ling at Parliament House on Apr 10, 2023. (Photo: CNA/Jeremy Long)

Singaporeans' interactions with one another must be anchored on mutual respect and trust, and advance the public interest, she added.

"As we commemorate the centenary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s birth, we should reflect on the values and principles of the founding generation of leaders," said Mdm Halimah.

"We should reaffirm and uphold our shared values, while re-examining what needs to be updated and possessing the courage to break new ground. Only then can we forge ahead confidently, firm in our footing and sure of our destination."

Source: CNA/hm(gs)


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