With Singapore approaching its 50th year of independence, President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday called on its citizens to pledge anew to build a better and brighter country, as he sketched out new plans to improve their lives.
Evoking the country's past to rally Singapore for the future, the President recalled the spirit of the pioneers in overcoming obstacles to build the nation.
"The best way to honour our pioneers is to uphold this same pioneering spirit - to dream and fight for Singapore," he said.
"We, and especially our young, must take the torch, run faster and further, and keep Singapore's light burning bright."
His customary address to open the second half of the 12th Parliament's term after a month-long break held a special significance, as the President noted: Singapore is celebrating its 50 years of independence next year. "At 50, we are still a young nation, with great promise ahead," he said.
Before a packed chamber of ministers and MPs including former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Tan outlined the Government's new strategies to help the young and old, build stronger families and communities, and improve the quality of life for all in a continuation of the new way forward this Government has set out earlier.
He noted that the Government has made major shifts over the last decade to build a more inclusive society and transform the economy, and he sketched out broadly more changes and enhancements to come in areas ranging from education and housing, to the Central Provident Fund and national service.
On education, he acknowledged parents' concerns about competition in schools such as the PSLE and said the Government will improve the system so that "no single point in our education system will wholly determine the future".
It will strive to keep pathways upwards open to all Singaporeans as Singapore must remain a nation of opportunities for all. "Those who do not succeed at first should have a second chance, indeed, must always have the chance to try again," he said.
The Government will do more to strengthen social safety nets, not only with the new MediShield Life universal insurance to come, but also to improve key retirement schemes in the CPF savings and CPF Life annuity, he said without elaborating.
More choices will be given to Singaporeans to monetise their homes for retirement, and new housing options will be offered for family bonding.
Dr Tan also painted a future of Singapore as a "Smart Nation" with more green, urban living, more transport options, better delivery of public services, and more citizen engagement.
"Our plans for the future reflect our determination to keep adapting, improving and upgrading ourselves," he said.
But even as he spoke of a bright future, he had words of caution.
As more public funds are used for social programmes, the spending must be sustainable. It must be matched by the efforts of individuals and the community, who feel a sense of responsibility for one another "and not just a sense of entitlement to the benefits of citizenship".
Neither can Singapore be "just a marketplace in the global economy", he said, as it is "first and foremost our home".
The President also called for "constructive politics" that would not weaken Singapore, even as he welcomed vigorous debate on the challenges ahead.
And noting troubles in Ukraine and tensions in the region, he said the country's security cannot be taken for granted. "Singapore will always be a small country, constantly navigating dangers and threats in an uncertain world."
On the future, he said "our best years lie ahead" and called on Singaporeans to "pledge anew to build a better, brighter Singapore".
From Monday, the ministries will announce details of their new programmes, which Parliament will spend a week debating from May 26.
PM Lee's To-Do List
- Strengthen social safety nets beyond home ownership and Workfare
- Develop new housing options to encourage extended families to live closer together
- Make Singapore a Smart Nation with safer, cleaner and greener urban living and measures such as increasing transport options
- Ensure quality and affordable health care for all such as through the new Medishield Life
- Keep politics constructive, encouraging debate on issues, while ensuring people remain united
- Keep social spending sustainable, even as government spends more on programmes
- Improve CPF savings and CPF Life annuity schemes for retirement
- Give recognition and support to NS men
- Reform PSLE, so that no single point will determine a person's future. Boost continuing education for adults
- Keep housing affordable for all, and develop more options for retired Singaporeans to monetise their homes
This article was published on May 17 in The Straits Times.
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