A stronger and better Singapore will emerge from COVID-19 crisis despite 'immense challenges': PM Lee
SINGAPORE: The next few years will be disruptive and difficult, but Singapore will emerge stronger and better from the COVID-19 crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Jun 7) in a televised address to the nation.
Singapore has economic strengths, a trusted international reputation and programmes in place to cope with the challenges, Mr Lee said.
In addition, many Singaporeans have stepped up to help others in need, he noted.
"The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us. But despite these immense challenges, I say to you: Do not fear, do not lose heart," Mr Lee said in his speech, the first in a series of national broadcasts on Singapore’s future beyond COVID-19.
"Singapore will not falter in its onward march. I believe we can still secure a bright future for ourselves. An even better and stronger Singapore will emerge from this crisis.”
READ: PM Lee, Cabinet ministers to deliver series of national broadcasts on Singapore's post-COVID-19 future
Laying out the challenges that lie ahead, Mr Lee said that Singapore will have to learn to live with COVID-19 for the long term.
“We must all adjust the way we live, work and play, so that we can reduce the spread of the virus and keep ourselves safe,” he said.
But COVID-19 is not just a public health issue, it is also a serious economic, social and political problem, and “a totally unprecedented situation”, said Mr Lee.
“It is in fact the most dangerous crisis humanity has faced in a very long time,” he said.
In full: PM Lee's address on Singapore's post-COVID-19 future, the first in a series of ministerial broadcasts
“Because of COVID-19, the global economy has virtually ground to a halt. Governments have spent trillions of dollars to support businesses, economies and jobs. Yet, tens of millions of jobs have been lost. Families are experiencing hardship.”
Singapore’s GDP has been forecast to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, its worst contraction ever.
To cushion the impact of the pandemic, the Government had announced support measures in four Budgets this year, which will cost close to S$100 billion or 20 per cent of the country’s GDP.
READ: Singapore's GDP expected to shrink between 4% and 7% as 2020 growth forecast cut again on COVID-19 impact
While Singapore can draw on its past reserves and does not have to borrow to fund its support measures, this level of spending cannot be sustained, Mr Lee said.
“More importantly, these measures cannot shield Singapore from the tectonic shifts taking place in the global economy.”
WATCH PM LEE'S ADDRESS:
Warning that international trade and investments will slow down further, the Prime Minister said that the world will not be returning to the open and connected global economy anytime soon.
Movement of people will be more restricted, international travel will be much less frequent, while health checks and quarantines will become the norm.
“It will no longer be so easy to take quick weekend trips to Bangkok or Hong Kong on a budget flight,” said Mr Lee.
Countries will also try to become less dependent on others - especially for essential goods and services - and this will have strategic implications, he noted.
“They will fight more over how the pie is shared, rather than work together to enlarge the pie for all,” he said. “It will be a less prosperous world and also a more troubled one.”
Singapore has benefited enormously from an open and connected global economy but it will have to prepare for a very different future, said Mr Lee.
Although trade and investment may shrink, Singapore is well-placed to connect itself to new opportunities and create new jobs because of the country’s economic strengths, international reputation built up over many decades, said the Prime Minister.
“Some flows will be diverted or dry up, but other new channels will open up. There will still be overseas markets and opportunities for international partnerships,” he said.
“We just have to work harder and smarter at it.”
SINGAPORE’S HEAD START
Despite the uncertain times ahead, Singapore has several advantages, and its “open and transparent” handling of the COVID-19 outbreak here has only strengthened its position, said Mr Lee.
“In a troubled world, investors will value the assurance of a government that plays by the rules, a people who understand what is at stake and a stable political system that enables businesses to continue operating even in a crisis.”
He said that Singapore also had a head start in preparing for the uncertainties ahead with its plans for economic transformation, investing in worker retraining and digitalising both the public and private sectors, as well as building innovation and R&D capabilities.
“Nobody can predict what exactly the world will look like after COVID-19, but however things turn out, these future economy strategies will stand us in good stead. We need to pursue them even more vigorously now,” Mr Lee said.
Singapore also has programmes and plans to cope with the challenges of COVID-19, he said, listing the various governments schemes to help Singaporeans retain their jobs or to find new ones.
These include the Jobs Support Scheme that subsidises a portion of local workers’ wages, Workfare special payments for lower-income workers, the Self-employed Person Income Relief Scheme for freelancers of those who are self-employed, as well as the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package for fresh graduates.
“These schemes have enabled people to hold on to their job and provided income support for millions of Singaporeans and their families,” said Mr Lee.
In addition, the National Jobs Council led by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be coordinating the efforts of government agencies, unions and employer groups to save and create jobs.
STRENGTHENING THE SOCIAL COMPACT
Mr Lee also spoke of the changing strategic landscape globally, with worsening relations between the US and China leading to escalating tensions. It will be a more dangerous world for a small country like Singapore, he warned.
“We must ensure our security, and protect and advance our interests when dealing with other countries, big and small. We must also work with like-minded countries to support free trade and multilateralism, and enhance our voice and influence in the world,” he said.
Domestically, Singapore has to strengthen its social compact and think carefully about how to improve its social safety nets. Sustainable social support will help people cope with uncertainties, but everyone must have the incentive to be self-reliant, he added.
Promising that every Singaporean will have equal opportunities, Mr Lee said: “If you fall down, we will help you to get up, stronger. You can be sure you will be taken care of. In Singapore, no one will be left to walk his journey alone.”