Good afternoon, everyone. Very good to be here. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed going around the tables hearing from you and listening to your conversations. I know that you are responding to three questions,* but most of the people I talked to gave me your views on the first question, which is where the country and the community is heading, and I heard quite a number of feedback and responses there. So I will say a few words on this.
Understandably, in the near term, everyone is concerned about the gloomy outlook. We are entering stormy weather, with the economy, in terms of slowing down of global growth, inflation remaining high, the war in Ukraine continuing, so these are all uncertainties. People are concerned about that.
At the same time, there are also longer-term uncertainties, because the economic environment generally is going to change, not just temporarily but in a more permanent fashion. We have been very used, I think for more than a decade, to a system of low interest rates, low inflation. The whole thing is optimised around that. But it is likely to change more permanently to a different regime.
On top of that, you have a trend of more fragmented global economy, more fragmented supply chains, geopolitical tensions, worsening US-China relations – all of this means a very different world that we are likely heading toward in the next 10 to 15 years. So that is something we must brace ourselves for – recognising that there will be more challenges coming up.
But at the same time, we should not feel overwhelmed by these challenges, because I think even in the midst of these uncertainties and volatility, Singapore can still make a good living. We can continue to be a hub for the region in the world, a place where people want to come to do business, to create jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans. And we can continue to provide and do well for our people, for many more years from now.
Someone just now said, “I’m concerned that my children may not experience the same kind of well-being as my generation. Because you look at the world, it's going to be so different. Our population is aging, the economy is maturing, so will my children be better off than me?”. That is a very understandable concern. But you have to remember Singapore in the ‘60s; the income levels, standards of living were very poor. We have moved very quickly to where we are today. That exponential leap from Third World to First World is not going to be experienced again.
But our starting point is very different. When my parents started work, they were earning a few hundred dollars a month as a teacher; scrimped and saved to buy a HDB flat. Now the starting salary is much higher. So it is not about seeing that same jump, but how can we continue to have high standards of living, and make sure that it continues year after year, generation after generation, and make sure that it continues to be better. It is not just for people at the top or even at the middle, but even those at the lower income can catch up. And we continue to be a society that is highly mobile, and everyone can strive to be the best. That is what we are trying to do and I have every confidence that we can do that in Singapore. If there is one place in the world that can achieve this, we can do it in Singapore.
That is one of the reasons why we started this Forward Singapore exercise – to engage Singaporeans, and to think through what are the policy changes we need to make in order to build a fairer and more inclusive society. We want to see income inequalities continue to come down in Singapore. We want to make sure that mobility remains high and that Singaporeans will feel a greater sense of assurance and protection, even amidst great uncertainties. Those are the changes we hope to make, and the Singapore we would like to build for the next decade and beyond.
The Malay-Muslim community will be an integral part of this. Your progress, I think, is also a story that mirrors Singapore's progress. This year is MENDAKI’s 40th anniversary. PM was at the opening of the event and talked about how the community has progressed significantly, especially with the strong focus by MENDAKI on education. I think if you continue with that effort amongst the community with the help of the Government; if you continue with that strong spirit of volunteerism among so many of you, helping one another within the community; and importantly, if you continue to emphasise the spirit of learning, excelling in everything you do, I have every confidence that the community will continue to do even better.
And when you look ahead in the next decade and beyond, we will be able to see many more Malay-Muslims excelling across all the different areas of the economy, and we can do much more to uplift the lower income and disadvantaged groups too. So that is very much a journey I look forward to walking with all of you.
*(Note: The three questions discussed by attendees at the MENDAKI Raikan Ilmu Closing Ceremony included:
- Where is our country and community headed to?
- How might we ensure that our community plays a key part in achieving our shared vision of a Community of Success?
- How might we contribute as individual professionals and as a collective group? How might we grow our numbers of contributing professionals?)