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Speech by Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Debate on The President's Address, on 18 May 2018 in Parliament

18 May 2018

1. Mr Speaker sir, I rise in support of the motion.

2. Over these past five days, Members have shared their concerns, and also their hopes, for Singapore and Singaporeans.

a. MPs spoke about the immediate issues that Singaporeans are concerned with, such as jobs, cost of living, inequality.

i. These are important.I am glad MPs are listening to and reflecting the views and feelings of their residents.
ii. We hear you, we are taking action to address our people’s needs and concerns, including the cost of living. I explained in this year’s Budget some of the measures that we are taking to meet the immediate concerns of Singaporeans.

b. MPs also spoke about our longer-term challenges: geopolitical and economic shifts in our region and the world, technological advances and disruptions that will transform how we live and work, and new social divides that test our cohesion.

i. These long-term issues too are important.We must not only navigate the choppy waters that are immediately around us, but have a sense of where we are going, where we are headed towards.
ii. When it comes to the longer-term challenges, we are taking action, we are working to secure opportunities for our people.Our Industry Transformation Maps and Community Networks for Seniors, among other things, are major initiatives in this regard.

3. Each generation must forge its own way forward.As the Prime Minister put it, a government must govern.Today, I would like to share some thoughts on how we can take Singapore and Singaporeans into the future.There are two vital parts to this:

a. How we continue bringing out the best in our people; and,

b. How we continue building a culture of partnership and trust in Singapore.

Our People: Bringing out their best               

4. First, how will we continue bringing out the best in our people? This is the central question that should occupy each generation of leaders. Because Singaporeans are at the heart of everything this Government does.

a. This stays constant, whichever the generation of leadership – 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G or 10G.

b. What does change are the circumstances.New circumstances call for new approaches from us.

5. So each successive generation must ask anew – How do we bring out the best in our people?How do we make life even better for our people?

a. Since 1965, we have delivered better lives.

i. Singaporeans of all backgrounds enjoy a safe and secure environment, home ownership, world-class education, and good job opportunities.

ii. Our people lead fulfilling lives and age with dignity, with the assurance of good quality and affordable healthcare.

iii. A child born in Singapore today has one of the best odds in the world of having a safe, healthy and fulfilling life.

b. We are at a more advanced stage of development now.With better lives, come bigger dreams.

6. Can we do better to support our people? We can, and we must. In every sphere – from healthcare to education, from the economy to the creation of jobs, transport to security – we will push the bounds to continue to better the lives of all Singaporeans.

a. Ye Kung spoke about how we must strive ceaselessly to tackle inequality so that Singapore remains a place of opportunities for all.

b. Chee Meng set out how we will better support vulnerable workers so that they can face change with confidence.

c. Lawrence described our city of tomorrow – one that embraces the future, and is more innovative, inclusive and resilient.

7. I first said ‘Every School a Good School’ in this House. After I did, some MPs said, “Every hawker centre a good hawker centre” and “Every MP a good MP”.

a. ‘Every School a Good School’is about bringing out the best in every child. This is what our schools have been doing, recognising that every child is unique.

b. How have we been working towards this?Through a combination of hard and soft ways.

i. Resource each school well.

ii. Fire up educators with a sense of mission and purpose.

iii. Create diverse pathways and programmes that cater to the different interests and talents of our children.

c. Equally important, is how we have built on each other’s work. This came through very clearly whenever I discuss with Education Ministers at that time, and with Ministers around the world.

i. In MOE, I was fortunate that past Ministers for Education, including DPM Teo, DPM Tharman, and Eng Hen in this House, passed to me and my team a strong foundation to build upon.

ii. I am glad that Chee Meng and now Ye Kung have continued to build on this.

8. We are now taking this same aspiration beyond our schools to our whole economy and society.Just as we run our schools to bring out the best in every child, we can shape our economy and society to give every Singaporean the opportunities, the skills and competencies to fulfil their potential.

a. Chun Sing spoke of Singapore Unlimited. Indeed, this is how we can broaden opportunities for our people.

b. Josephine at MOM, and Chee Meng at NTUC, are building on what their predecessors have built, by enabling workers to adapt and grow, and providing extra support for low-wage workers, mature workers and middle-aged middle income workers.

9. Bringing out the best in our people is not just about helping Singaporeans to make the grade or make a living.It is about supporting Singaporeans to make a good life and to make a difference.

a. For this reason, it is not only what we know, or what we can do, that matters. It is what we are made of, what we stand for, that counts.

b. Indranee spoke on our values, and how they define us as a people. Masagos called for us to grow not just any meritocracy, but our Singapore brand of meritocracy – where the successful give back to society, where we share common experiences, and where Government policies enable our people to move up.

c. There are some values and instincts that are intrinsic to the Singaporean.If we are to bring out the best in every Singaporean, we must stay true to these values.

10. Our existing values of thrift, hard work, resourcefulness and resilience serve us well and we must uphold them.In a new world of greater change, we will need a new emphasis on our values, and develop 21st-Century competencies.

a. From our founding, we have been open to goods, ideas and peoples from around the world.

i. Going forward, we must also be open to change.

ii. And not only to the change that comes to us, but go out and actively engage with it, seek our place amidst the change.

iii. This means keeping a sense of adventure about new possibilities, and having courage in the face of challenges.

b. We have always embraced our wealth of cultures, languages and religions, and turned this diversity into a strength.

i. Going forward, I hope we also treat the growing diversity of perspectives, causes, and success pathways as our endowment to treasure and nurture.

c. Our pioneers, in a spirit of self-determination, fought hard for us to be masters of our own destiny.

i. Going forward, we must stay united against new forces, new fault lines, that may divide us.

ii. We must discern and guard against misinformation, stay aware of what is happening around the world, understand and defend what Singapore stands for.

iii. And when we chart our way together, we must do so with respect for the truth, and a sense of responsibility to one another.

11. To bring out the best in our people, we must continually find ways to respect, encourage and support Singaporeans to give expression to our values, whether it is:

a. Through acts of service, such as Values-in-Action education and philanthropic programmes, to act on their care and compassion for others;

b. Through platforms such as the Global Innovation Alliance, for our people to venture out into the world, to innovate and create value; or,

c. Through opportunities, like Our Singapore Fund, to celebrate our identity, cultures and all that make being Singaporeans and Singapore special.

12. Our goal is to spark Singaporeans’ sense of wonder and curiosity when young.Let us fire up their passion to explore and discover, and encourage them to invent and innovate throughout their lives.

a. We should move away from an overemphasis on grades. Build on the strengths and interests of each child, and develop each to his or her fullest potential. We must strive for multiple ladders of success, multiple peaks of excellence.This will take time, but we must continue to persevere.

b. Life is full of wonders and possibilities.To be Singaporean must mean to have the opportunities and abilities to see, to seize, and to seed more of, life’s possibilities.Our goal must be to make this true for every Singaporean.

Our Partnership: In a relationship of trust

13. That is how we will continue bringing out the best in our people.Next, I would like to speak about building a culture of partnership and trust, to keep Singapore a special place for all of us.

a. Singapore can have a place in the world only as long as we stand for something special, and only as long as we stand united.

i. We can stand for something special if we draw together the most of everyone’s diverse strengths, from across all parts of our society.This takes a pervasive culture of partnership.

ii. And we can only stand together if we have strong bonds of trust between us.

14. Partnership and trust work together, nourish each other.

a. The more we partner one another, the better we understand one another, the more the trust will grow.

b. With more trust, we partner and work together even more readily.

c. A unity of purpose grows out of our diversity of strengths – through partnership.

15. And unity matters. Other countries watch us. If there are divisions, these will be exploited. You see this in many parts of the world. If we stand united, we stand tall among nations.

a. In this house, we have Government MPs, opposition MPs, Nominated MPs and NCMPs, and we engage in vigorous debate, as we should.

b. But when it comes to the crunch, there must be no doubt about one thing: that every single one of us is totally committed to the long-term interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.

c. Whatever our views, let us come together to safeguard our sovereignty, and serve the long-term interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.

16. President Halimah has called for us to foster a deeper people-government partnership.

a. This partnership must be sincere and grounded in trust, with all stakeholders playing meaningful and complementary roles.

b. Each generation of leaders has worked to strengthen the people-and-government and people-to-people partnerships, building trust between Government and the people and between all parts of our society. At critical junctures, we came together to chart our course for the future.

i. The Next Lap (1991), Singapore 21 (1999), Remaking Singapore (2002).

ii. More recently, Our Singapore Conversation, SG50, SGfuture.

c. The fourth generation political leadership is committed to building this partnership, and growing the trust.

17. PM said that we need new ideas, new bonds and new connections in every generation.

a. The public is interested in how the fourth generation political leadership is taking shape. They recognise, rightly, that this is important for our country’s future.

i. To build new ideas, new bonds, and new connections, we must also develop leadership in all parts of our society.

b. As our challenges become more complex, the Government will not have all the answers. We need to harness the diverse strengths of our society, through leaders at different levels in different parts of our society. By working together, we can achieve something greater than the sum of our parts.

c. So we must go beyond political leadership, to develop and embrace leadership in every part of society – from our unions and trade associations, to non-government organisations and voluntary welfare organisations. We must be united by a sense of common purpose and galvanise whole-of-nation efforts to take Singapore forward.

d. Leadership in every part of society will define the quality of our partnerships.It is only when all parts step up, that we can best draw from diverse strengths across society to make a difference.

18. My own interactions with leadership in all parts of society has been enriching and humbling.

a. Our Singapore Conversation and SG50 introduced me to leaders from many fields.

i. They care deeply about an issue or a group of people, take proactive steps to make things better.This is leadership.

ii. More than that, they appreciate different points of view, engage in honest dialogue and work together with other groups.This is partnership.

b. The Committee on the Future Economy, and now the Future Economy Council, are energised and strengthened by the contributions of leaders in business, unions, academia.

i. Mr Thomas Chua, Associate Professor Randolph Tan and our Labour MPs have been involved, and they can attest.Many private sector leaders are also working closely together with our political leaders in a number of focused committees to develop and act on this.

ii. Just last week, I shared what we are working on with a very eminent visitor from a very advanced economy. When I described to him what we were doing with our Industry Transformation Maps, how we are bringing people together, he lamented, “We are not even thinking about these issues, much less bringing people together”. And he ended our discussion by saying, “This is why I am so impressed with Singapore and this is how you are going to stay successful”. So I think what we have achieved is not something to be taken for granted, and that it is not the natural order of things. We must continue to nurture this very carefully.

iii. Businesses, unions, experts develop new products or business models to take their sectors forward.This is an exercise of leadership.

iv. With the experience they gained, they give back to the Future Economy process with ideas, feedback, even training programmes, to level up across the board.This is partnership in action.

c. Whenever I join our charities and VWOs for their events, I meet passionate leaders who are actively building a more caring and cohesive community, showing leadership.

i. Indeed, many members of this House are serving your residents and Singapore in more ways than one, through your own active philanthropic work.

  • Ms Denise Phua at the Autism Resource Centre;
  • Ms Rahayu Mahzam with the Malay Youth Literary Association;
  • Ms Chia Yong Yong with the SPD;
  • Assistant Professor Mahdev Mohan with organisations in the legal field;
  • Mr Louis Ng at ACRES.
  • And many other Members – it would not be possible for me to mention every one.

But this list shows how much all of you care.

ii. More and more, I see different charity organisations are coming together to do more together, and businesses are doing skills-based volunteering, lending their unique strengths to charities.All this shows partnership in action.

d. All this, to the benefit of our whole society.And all this is possible because every individual, each organisation, is able to develop to their best in the first place.And this is something special and valuable that we must build upon.

e. I am sure Members in this House all want to see more of such leadership in all parts of society, and partnership between all parts of our society.Government will nurture this, even as we do our part to give support where it can make a difference, and to foster a stronger partnership between the Government and people.

19. The Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) is a good example of how we can partner one another to tackle one of our key challenges – an ageing society.

a. CNS brings together government agencies, voluntary welfare organisations and community groups as one team to help our seniors stay active and well.

b. The idea of partnership may appear simple, but the potential of this partnership to touch lives – about a million seniors by 2030 – is significant.

i. The CNS is evolutionary in design, but revolutionary in impact.It is an example of the kind of boldness that President Halimah has called for.It will be a big step forward in building a caring society.

c. It will be a big step too in building our Singapore culture of partnership and trust.

20. Partnership and trust extend beyond our shores.We need to work closely together with our immediate neighbours, and strengthen our relations with ASEAN members and all our major partners.

a. Singapore is ASEAN Chair this year. PM has chaired some very significant meetings. We are using this opportunity to work together with our neighbours and to make our contribution towards a more integrated, innovative and resilient ASEAN.

b. I recently chaired the ASEAN Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting in Singapore, and co-chaired the ASEAN+3 Meeting in Manila with the Korean Deputy Prime Minister.

i. These were very successful meetings that bring forward our partnership in our region. And I am very encouraged by our enthusiasm to find ways and means to cooperate and partner one another. It augurs well for the future of our region, and the future of Asia.

Charting our Future Together

21. Members of the House have shared what we see are the key issues for our society in the years ahead, and what we would like to build for our future Singapore. You have raised important questions, issues and ideas, and we must take them beyond this chamber. Singapore belongs to all Singaporeans, and we need a Whole-of-Singapore effort to make this journey forward.

22. We will partner Singaporeans each step of the way in our journey of building our future Singapore. The fourth generation leadership will listen with humility and respect. We will consider all views with an open mind, and adjust our course accordingly. We will communicate the thinking behind our decisions clearly. We will bring Singaporeans together and give everyone a role to turn good ideas into concrete action.

23. The fourth generation leaders and MPs will launch a series of discussions with different groups of Singaporeans to kick-start this process. We will share our ideas and seek Singaporeans’ views on them. In doing so, we capture a wider range of views and perspectives in our diverse society.

a. We will reach out to Singaporeans at different stages of life. Young Singaporeans are already coming forward through the ongoing Youth Conversations. Their views are important because they are our future. But we want to hear from others like the Gen X, Baby Boomers and Pioneers too.

b. We will reach out to different segments of society – people in different occupations, who have different interests and passions, and who are contributing back to society in different ways. We will reach out to our workers through the unions. We will reach out to our communities through the grassroots and CDCs. Beyond these efforts, we want to reach out directly to volunteer groups, hobby groups and others who are actively contributing to society in their own ways.

c. As there has been a variety of views shared in this House, we will take stock of them in the coming weeks, before providing further details on the discussion series.

25. Through our discussions, we will share our ideas and seek your views. We will build trust and ambition for Singapore, and foster a common purpose. We will galvanise action and partnerships across society towards our common goals.

26. Mr Speaker sir, I will now say a few words in Mandarin.

27. 国与家是紧密相连的,有国才有家,有家才有国。所谓 “有国才有家” ,新加坡繁荣稳定的发展,才能让国人安居乐业, 过上幸福的生活。同时, “有家才有国”,新加坡的未来也掌握在所有国人的手中。尤其是年轻一代,更是有责任为我国创造新的可能性。多变的外部环境和日新月异的科技是挑战,更是机遇。我们将为国人创造良好的环境, 帮助大家把握机遇, 发挥所长,实现梦想。我们希望行行出状元,有更多来自社会各界的杰出人士和领袖,一起努力建设国家。我们也希望把 “我为人人,人人为我” 的精神发扬光大,增强社会凝聚力。第四代领导人和国会议员会继续倾听民声,广纳民意。我们将开展一系列的对话会,加强和社会各界, 包括慈善团体、社区组织等机构的交流。第四代领导人也将不忘初心,致力于改善民生,把国人的福祉放在第一位。这样一来,政府也能加深与国人之间的互信。只要大家在顺境中同甘, 在逆境中共苦, 一起朝着共同的目标和使命前行,我们就能打造更美好的新加坡!


28. President has laid out the fourth generation leadership’s agenda for the coming years.Singaporeans want to be involved in this.We can face the future well if we continue to bring out the best in our people, and if all of us pull together in this spirit of partnership.I have shared with the House our plans to engage Singaporeans in a series of discussions, and to give everyone a role to turn good ideas into actions.

29. Mr Speaker sir, may I conclude with a line from our national anthem: “marilah kita bersatu, dengan semangat yang baru” – Come, let us unite in a new spirit.

a. It has been decades since the anthem was composed – Today, we sing these lyrics in a profoundly changed world.

b. Yet the call has rung true across the generations, and sounds just as clarion for ours.

i. For our generation, unity is just as important as ever.

ii. For our generation, our new spirit must be one of greater partnership and trust.

c. Let us unite in this new spirit of partnership and trust. Let us strive together as one people.

d. United in our values, undivided in our diversity, giving our best as one for Singapore and Singaporeans.