Singapore is in a much better situation than other developed countries facing slowing growth and an uncertain economic outlook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.
Unemployment is low, including among youth, and incomes are rising even for lower- and middle-income families, he told 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) members at the biennial party conference yesterday.
Mr Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, said: "We are still creating more jobs than there are Singaporeans to fill them, and we are creating better jobs for the future."
But there can be no let-up given the difficulties ahead, he added, citing how, even as a good education system enables young people to compete for good jobs, skills have to be continually upgraded as jobs change.
"Change is happening fast, and it is going to get even faster."
Mr Lee's comments come against a backdrop of economic restructuring and slower growth. Singapore's economy is forecast to grow at 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent this year, down from 2 per cent last year.
Retrenchment numbers for this year, which reached an estimated 11,890 over the first nine months, are also expected to be higher than last year's 13,440.
Given the uncertain international environment, the Government must strive hard to keep improving the lives of Singaporeans, especially in the areas of education, skills upgrading and social support, he said.
Housing is a big issue in other major cities, especially for young people, Mr Lee said.
He added that being able to have a home when people start a family helps to foster a sense of nationhood and unity.
"It is one way we make this a home for all Singaporeans."
Mr Lee also said that for Singapore to stay successful, the PAP must continue to be a strong national party that brings people together and takes the country forward in an increasingly fragmented world.
In order to do so, the party must continue to reach out to as well as represent all segments of society.
"It works both ways. If our society is united, then it is easier for the PAP to represent a broad mass of Singaporeans," he said.
"Conversely, if the PAP government pursues policies that benefit Singaporeans across the board, that bring Singaporeans closer together, then our society can remain united."
Mr Lee also spelled out two other things the party had to do to stay strong and win future elections: Serve the people and never take voters for granted, as well as provide strong leadership for Singapore.
"We count it a privilege to serve. We cannot be like political parties in some other countries, where people join a party for the spoils - because you enter politics, you get payoffs, you get contracts, you get deals, you are on the inside track, you get personal benefits, sometimes huge ones."
He added to laughter: "Here, if you join the PAP, you expect hard work - and tough speeches. But we must never slacken. We cannot afford to take voters for granted."
This article by The Straits Times was published in The New Paper, a free newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.