Saturday, 16 January 2016

Singapore’s 13th Parliament Opens

Opening of Parliament President's address

After SG50, time to 'write the next chapter together'
President spells out govt plans to work with the people to renew economy and forge caring, inclusive society
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor, Politics, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

After a year in which Singaporeans celebrated how far their nation had come in the last 50 years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday sketched a sobering picture of the outlook for the country as it begins a new chapter.

Addressing a packed House at the opening of the 13th Parliament after a fortnight that saw turmoil in the region's stock markets and a terror attack in Jakarta, Dr Tan said Singaporeans cannot expect an easy journey ahead.

The fundamental realities of Singapore - a small country with no natural resources bar its people, that thrives because it safeguards its interests in a world where size and power still matter - will not change, he said.

Thursday's bomb blasts in Indonesia are a reminder of how close terrorism can strike. "We are fully on guard against this threat, but we cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in Singapore," he said.

Dr Tan added that the need to upgrade the economy means people and businesses have to adapt, and a fast-ageing, increasingly diverse society also poses new challenges.

"To remain special, we must first resolve to move ahead together," the President said, as he outlined the Government's programmes for the next five years and beyond.

These will focus on five key aims: keeping Singapore safe and secure, renewing the economy, fostering a more caring society, transforming the urban landscape and engaging Singaporeans in nation-building.

The Government will continue to invest to safeguard the nation's security while expanding its international space through diplomacy.

It will also invest in education, from pre-school to lifelong learning, so that people will "always have pathways upwards". Students and workers will also be equipped for a new job landscape through SkillsFuture. Healthcare will be kept affordable, accessible and of high quality, while seniors will be helped to lead fuller lives.

Major infrastructure plans, such as the redevelopment of Paya Lebar Airbase and a new Southern Waterfront City, will transform the urban landscape. These "acts of faith in Singapore's future" will take several terms of government to complete, Dr Tan added.

He also pointed out that for such policies to succeed, Singapore needs "good politics".

This means a capable and honest leadership that can deliver "good policies", bring people together and benefit all of society at a time when some societies face deep divisions and political gridlock.

Singapore's political system, he added, must have "appropriate stabilisers and checks and balances", providing opportunities for alternative views to be considered, and assure minority communities that they can fully take part in the mainstream of national life.

And while modifications over the years - from the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme to GRCs to the office of the President - have delivered stability and progress for Singapore, the political system needs to be refreshed as circumstances change, he said.

Yesterday's Parliament sitting was the first since the Sept 11 General Election that saw the People's Action Party Government returned to power with 70 per cent of the vote and 83 out of 89 elected seats.

Dr Tan noted that policies in its last term had improved the well-being of all and brought citizens closer together, and will continue to do so, and voters affirmed this by giving it a stronger mandate.

"The work of securing this nation and improving our lives is never-ending. We must continually adjust our programmes and politics to ensure that Singapore keeps on an upward path," he said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Madam Halimah Yacob was re-elected as Speaker, and all 89 elected MPs and two NCMPs took their oath of allegiance to the country. She welcomed the 21 new MPs, and looked forward to their bringing new ideas to debates and policymaking.

Dr Tan noted that 50 years ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew called on MPs to "leave no stone unturned in seeking a just and enduring future for all the people". Singapore today is the cohesive and progressive society that our pioneers strove to build. "It is for us now to write the next chapter together," Dr Tan said.

Ministries will give details of their programmes from next Monday. Parliament will then debate these plans and policies from Jan 25.





I opened the first session of the 13th Parliament this evening. After celebrating 50 years of independence last year,...
Posted by Dr Tony Tan on Friday, January 15, 2016






GOVERNMENT'S KEY AIMS

Keep Singapore safe and secure

• Invest in security and expand international space through diplomacy

• Ensure society stays united and resilient against terror threat

Renew the economy

• Committee on the Future Economy to develop strategies to stay relevant, competitive

• Invest in education, including SkillsFuture

Foster a more caring society

• Healthcare to be strengthened, kept affordable

• Help seniors lead fuller, more fulfilling lives

Transform the urban landscape

• Build more affordable, high-quality public housing and a "car-lite" city

• Major infrastructure plans include Southern Waterfront City and redevelopment of Paya Lebar Air Base

Engage and work with Singaporeans in nation building

• Foster partnerships and collaboration among citizens

Ensure good politics and leadership

• Need to ensure capable, honest political leadership and take leadership renewal seriously

• Government will study whether and how to improve political system





The 13th Parliament was sworn in yesterday. In his Address at our 1st session, President Dr Tony Tan cautioned that even...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, January 15, 2016






Switching gears to keep Singapore going
Economy at turning point but Govt won't lose sight of goal of caring society: President
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

With economic growth projected to slow down in the coming years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said last night that the Government will switch gears to ensure that Singapore will remain relevant and competitive in the global marketplace.

A new approach is necessary because the more mature Singapore economy is at a turning point, he said when opening the 13th Parliament, which marks the start of the Government's five-year term.

But he also pledged that the Government will not lose sight of a key and continuing goal: To foster a caring society that can remain over the long term, and lend a hand to those who have been left behind.

This means Singaporeans can expect the Government to continue with measures in healthcare, active ageing and infrastructure to boost the quality of life.

It will also partner with citizens to "create our common future".

In remarks that come against the backdrop of ongoing concerns about the health of China's economy, oil prices and political tensions in the Middle East, Dr Tan said that with limited land and labour here, and more severe global competition, Singapore must upgrade the economy to sustain growth.

Doing this is vital "so that Singapore will always be a place where our children can chase rainbows and fulfil aspirations", he added.

But this requires restructuring, which is going to hurt some sectors more than others.

Said Dr Tan: "There will be winners and losers among companies, with some painful dislocation, but economic progress will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans."

He cited two ongoing initiatives - the Committee on the Future Economy, and SkillsFuture - that will help chart the next phase of Singapore's development.

The committee led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will develop economic strategies; while the national SkillsFuture initiative, which promotes lifelong learning, will ensure employees have the skills wanted by employers.

Dr Tan also said the Government will continue investing in education, starting from pre-schools and including lifelong learning.

SkillsFuture must also succeed, he said, as he encouraged Singaporeans to embrace the initiative: "SkillsFuture can succeed only if it is a movement encompassing workers, companies and Government, parents and students."

"Only by mastering skills can workers be equipped for the jobs of the future. We want to build a society where every individual, whatever his background, can do well if he applies himself."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance and Trade and Industry, told The Straits Times that economic restructuring "is not going to be an easy journey".

This will involve businesses moving from value-adding to value-creation, which requires investment and the development of more capabilities, said Mr Liang, who is an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

This is necessary as continuing on the value-adding path will subject companies here to competition from cheaper regional counterparts, he explained.

He added that value-creation will involve promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, and embracing lifelong learning so as to keep ahead of the curve.

In his speech, Dr Tan said the Government will look after those who have been left behind, but without relying on "over-generous welfare schemes" that have been unaffordable for many developed countries.

Healthcare will be kept affordable, accessible and of high quality. The primary care sector will also be strengthened so that Singaporeans can gain from long-term partnerships with their family doctors.

The Government will also build on regional health systems and partner private sector and voluntary welfare organisation healthcare providers to "take care services beyond hospital walls".

Meanwhile, the $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing will help seniors lead fuller and more fulfilling lives. One in four Singaporeans will be 65 or older by 2030, and there will be only two working-age citizens for every senior citizen, down from five now.

"Ours should be a society where the bonds of kinship run deep and people look out for one another ... including those who have just joined us, or those who are here only a while," he said.

GPC chairman for Social and Family Development Seah Kian Peng last night outlined several areas he hopes will receive more focus. He said more has to be done to ensure childcare options for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to provide more support for caregivers to those with special needs.

Mr Seah, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, also wants a "more coordinated, holistic and integrated approach" to help families facing issues that straddle various agencies. Such families include single-parent families, or families where the main breadwinner is in jail.

While the Government has set up a network of social service offices islandwide to administer ComCare assistance and plan social services in neighbourhoods, he said "the question is ... how we can make sure they do a very effective job".

In his speech, Dr Tan said the Government will build more affordable and high-quality public housing, leverage technology to be a citizen-driven smart nation, and promote a "car-lite" society where walking, cycling and public transport are default modes for more commuters.

It will also continue to consult citizens for their ideas, so that a common future can be shaped despite differing individual aspirations.

"We must foster partnership and collaboration among citizens so that everyone plays a part in building our nation," Dr Tan said. "In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another."





Government to study if political system needs tweaking
It has to be refreshed from time to time as country's circumstances change: President
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

Singapore has renewed its political system over the years to suit the country's circumstances and needs, and the Government will study if further improvements are needed for its long-term benefit, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

He disclosed these plans as he addressed the House about the importance of having good politics so that good policies can succeed.

Making a distinction between the two, Dr Tan said good politics hinges on people electing governments that develop and deliver on sound policies that will strengthen the country and bring unity.

Good policies, on the other hand, ensure all citizens benefit from the country's success, he added.

"This was how, for 50 years, we conceived and implemented sound policies to improve the lives of people. We had good politics because our policies benefited everyone; and we had good policies because our politics expanded our common spaces," he said.

Dr Tan urged the Government to ensure politics continues to work for the long-term good of Singapore.

Thus far, he said, Singapore's political system "discourages narrow interest-based politics and encourages clear electoral outcomes", and has served the country well.

To ensure this continues, he added, the political system must let the Government govern effectively, so Singapore does not go down the road of countries "suffering from deep divisions in their societies, and crippled by political gridlock".

The political system must also incorporate checks and balances, allow alternative views to be taken into account, and ensure minority communities are not shut out or marginalised, he said.

This is the reason Singapore's first-past-the-post electoral system had been modified over the years to suit the country's circumstances and needs, he said.

For instance, in 1984, Non-Constituency MPs were introduced to ensure those who did not vote for the governing party would have their views heard in Parliament.

Nominated MPs were brought into the House in 1990 to offer non-partisan voices, while group representation constituencies were introduced to guarantee Parliament has at least a minimum number of minority MPs.

Dr Tan also pointed to the elected president, instituted in 1991, as a "critical element" in the political system. While executive powers are vested in the Government, the president holds a "second key" and has specific custodial powers over the spending of reserves and important public sector appointments.

Taken together, these innovations have delivered stability and progress for Singapore, but the system has to be refreshed from time to time as the country's circumstances change, said Dr Tan.

"The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term."

Equally important to ensuring good politics, he said, is having a capable and honest political leadership. On this count, the Government has to take leadership renewal seriously and "consciously and systematically" nurture every generation of leaders. The new leaders must then "win anew the people's trust, for the right to leadership is not transferable from one generation to the next".

"Our system must make it an imperative for every politician to be honest and trusted, and to do the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans," he added.

Analysts said it could be a signal that tweaks may be made to the parliamentary system.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said it is an acknowledgement of Singaporeans' growing desire for greater political diversity in Parliament.

As for the elected president, Professor Tan and former People's Action Party MP Inderjit Singh felt it was unlikely for changes to be made before the next presidential election, which must be held by August next year. Doing so could be seen as the Government trying to influence the outcome.

Changes made now may seem as if the Government is trying to influence the outcome in favour of its preferred candidate, or avoid a repeat of the close fight in 2011, they said.

Mr Singh, however, said the office was in need of a review because it had become "a proxy for party politics".

"In the last presidential election, it was quite clear the feelings from the 2011 GE continued to be played out," he said.

Similarly, Institute of Policy Studies senior fellow Gillian Koh said that having an election may already be politicising the office.

The fact that the president is elected could "give voters and the candidates the idea that the president has all the powers of, say, a Member of Parliament or even a prime minister in terms of that 'political mandate' ", which is not the case, she added.





Singaporeans must reject violence, deepen mutual understanding
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

With the threat from ISIS and terrorism getting more severe, Singapore has to be prepared and cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in the country, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday.

While the Government is "fully on guard" against the threat, Dr Tan urged every Singaporean to also play his role in keeping Singapore safe, both by rejecting violence and working to deepen mutual understanding between communities.

"The threat from ISIS and terrorism has increased significantly.

"Attacks elsewhere have shown that terrorism can arise at home, and not just come from abroad," he said, pointing to Thursday's bomb blasts in Jakarta as a reminder of how close to home terrorism can strike.

"A terrorist attack here will not only cause death and injury, but could also tear apart our social fabric," he said.

Having painted a clear picture of the security situation facing the country, Dr Tan said it was imperative that Singapore resists the impulse to divert attention and resources away from security as other domestic needs grow.

"Our geopolitical realities remain unchanged from 50 years ago. We must continue to invest in our security and expand our international space through diplomacy," he said.

"If we cannot safeguard our sovereignty, we cannot secure our livelihoods."

The security climate also means it is even more important now to keep Singapore united and resilient, and to preserve its multiracial harmony, he added.

Quoting part of the National Pledge, he said: "If we trust and accept one another 'regardless of race, language or religion', we will remain strong and united even if others seek to sow fear and division amongst us."

Mr Vikram Nair, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said Dr Tan's speech was a good reminder that the terrorism threat in the region has grown, even if Singaporeans may not feel it.

"Singaporeans always feel very safe at home and tend to take security for granted, and the blast in Jakarta is a reminder that things are not so safe, and that security should remain a priority," he said.

Mr Nair added that while the nation's defence has to be strong, he is also interested to see the policies different ministries have in their addenda to the President's Address next week to strengthen unity at home.

"It's important to see what we can do to build up our society from inside as well, to prevent terror groups from influencing citizens from within the country," he added.

"And this has to be part of a larger strategy, as cohesiveness doesn't come under any one ministry."

Mr Christopher de Souza, GPC chairman for Home Affairs and Law, said the Jakarta attacks show that Singapore can never be overprepared when it comes to security.

"The Home Team must continue to be highly vigilant and continue to work with Singaporeans and the resident population to detect and deter threats from our shores."

Should Singapore be attacked, he added, "we have to work as one united people to overcome the challenges and retain our social and community cohesion".





How good politics works in practice
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

Just what is good politics?

This was top on my mind as I listened to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's address to open the 13th Parliament yesterday.

Speaking four months after the Sept 11, 2015 General Election in which the People's Action Party (PAP) Government won a strong mandate from voters, President Tan began with sober reminders of Singapore's geopolitical realities. It will always be a small country in a volatile region, and one where terrorism is a "dangerous and persistent trend", an apt reminder given the Jakarta bomb blasts a day earlier.

He also spoke about the need for economic restructuring, and for a caring society. He then went on to stress that good politics is needed for the Government to carry out its programmes.

"Good policies and good politics go together. Good policies ensure that all citizens benefit from Singapore's success, fostering a society that encourages everyone to come together in building a nation.

"Good politics ensures that we elect governments that develop and deliver on sound policies, strengthen the country and bring people together."

How to ensure that politics works for long-term good?

He highlighted two factors: having an honest and capable political leadership with high standards of ability and integrity; and having a political system that allows effective government in the interests of all, discouraging "narrow interest-based politics".

He went on to touch on what the Government means by good politics. But just how this works in practice might best be gleaned by looking at past Parliaments.

First, good politics is politics for the long term, with a government that plans for the future and carries out its plans.

In 1991, the Eighth Parliament had the Government talking about a third polytechnic being completed within its term of government, by 1995. Today, there are five.

In 1997, the Ninth Parliament discussed a new vibrant city centre around Marina South. Today, as Singaporeans who visit the Marina Bayfront area know, and the world knows as images are screened globally on F1 racing nights, those plans are a reality.

In 2011, in the 12th Parliament, there was talk of plans to expand MediShield to cover the very old. Today, with MediShield Life offering lifelong health insurance for all, the reality has gone beyond what was promised five years ago.

Last night, the President pledged infrastructure changes that will take "several terms of government" to complete. Such a claim would be ludicrous in many countries with weak or revolving-door administrations, but given this Government's track record, and if Singapore continues to get its politics right, it will be no empty boast.

Second, good politics is one where capable, honest leaders get voted in, and political parties renew their ranks.

Among the 91 MPs sworn in yesterday were 19 first-time elected MPs, all from the PAP. There were two new Non-Constituency MPs, both from the Workers' Party. Seats for the NCMP posts go to the top opposition losers in an election.

This will be the first Parliament that opens without the presence of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died last March, sparking an outpouring of national grief. That Singapore hums along, even thrives, post-LKY, is testament to the success of its political regeneration.

Third, good politics is based on government partnering citizens, not lording it over them.

President Tan stressed the need for the Government to engage and partner with citizens for nation-building.

He said: "The future of Singapore is what we make of it. We must foster partnership and collaboration among citizens so that everyone plays a part in building our nation. During SG50, we saw how willing Singaporeans were to contribute and share a part of their lives with one another. Let us all participate in shaping our common future. In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another."

Here, citizens will be watching to see what form such a partnership will take.

President Tan referred to a few national platforms for such engagement - such as the recent series of Our Singapore Conversations, the forthcoming SGfuture dialogues, and the Future Economy committee.

These are laudable but rather limited platforms for citizen partnership, being initiated by the Government and top-down.

Genuine partnership requires the Government to have the humility to take a step back, pause and rethink when others take the lead, such as when artists call for a censorship review, business leaders say costs are out of whack, or voluntary groups propose new care models.

Fourth, good politics makes for more accountable government that embraces diversity. Here, President Tan explicitly said that the political system must let alternative views be considered, and assure that minority communities are integrated, not shut out of the mainstream.

But sceptics often ask if "good politics" is really just the Government's code word for continuing a political system where the PAP remains dominant and exercises its executive power with few external checks.

This is pertinent in a system where 83 out of the 89 elected MPs are from the PAP.

One institution designed as a check on a potential rogue government is the elected presidency, which President Tan referred to yesterday. He hinted at the need for change, calling for a "refreshed" system, "so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term".

Given this Government's commitment to carrying out things on its agenda, political change will surely happen.

But what shape will it take?

Here, the Government's own emphasis on good politics must guide reform. Change allows for capable, honest governance for the long term. It must strengthen citizen-government bonds and partnership. Most of all, it must improve democratic accountability, not serve to strengthen the Government's executive power, leaving it further from being checked.





Call for unity as MPs are sworn in
Set aside party divisions, act in best interest of the people, says Speaker of the House
By Charissa Yong and Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

As all the 91 members of the 13th Parliament assembled for the first time for the opening of Parliament yesterday, they were reminded of the need to set aside party divides.

Shortly after being re-elected Speaker of Parliament, Madam Halimah Yacob called on both sides of the House to face the challenges looming on the horizon together.

The global economic uncertainties and unprecedented challenges to Singapore's safety and security can be overcome only by the collective resolve and strong determination of all Singaporeans, she said.

And parliamentarians must lead the way: "Regardless of the party that we represent, or the interests that we wish to champion, we are first and foremost the representatives of the people, and we must act in their best interest." MPs said her call for unity probably anticipates more intense debates in the House in the coming days.


Make speeches that are honest, sincere and heartfelt, there is no need to play to the gallery, says Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob addressing MPs. http://bit.ly/203GMrk
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 15, 2016


Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, in her first speech as Leader of the House, said she welcomed "sincere, serious debate from members" when discussing vital issues affecting all Singaporeans.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) said that as Parliament will see intense debates over where Singapore will be heading in the next 50 years, the role of the Speaker will be all the more important.

But there was little sign yesterday of the heat of last year's general election, which saw the People's Action Party win 70 per cent of the vote.

The election of Madam Halimah as Speaker was unanimous, returning her to the post to which she was first elected in 2013.

MPs from both sides of the House lauded her re-election, noting in their speeches or during chats at the reception afterwards that she was a trailblazer for women. Three MPs rose to support her election as Speaker.

In Malay, Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said Madam Halimah endeavoured to be fair and just to every MP regardless of their political views, while Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) praised her in Tamil for always helping those of her constituents who were in need. Ms Tin, in Mandarin, said Madam Halimah was a role model for women here.

Preceding their speeches, members of the PAP and the Workers' Party (WP) took their oath of allegiance to the country side by side during the afternoon ceremony.


WATCH: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is sworn in as the 13th Parliament sits for the first time. http://bit.ly/1nmYrMx
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Thursday, January 14, 2016


The 89 elected MPs took it in groups - 12 in all - except for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He was followed by other members of his Cabinet in order of general seniority, and then by officeholders and backbenchers.

Non-Constituency MPs were sworn in last.

The MPs were also brought together by language, with the WP's Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) taking his oath in Malay alongside PAP MPs Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC), Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

Three MPs took their oath in Mandarin: WP chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), and the PAP's Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC).

The PAP's Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) and the WP's Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), seated next to each other, found common ground in being new fathers and swopped stories on raising their young daughters.

Some differences from the 12th Parliament were visible: Ms Fu, in particular, brightened up the front bench, standing out in her vermillion suit jacket in a row of men in black and grey.

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's absence in the House was palpable, and Madam Halimah paid tribute to the founding Prime Minister, saying: "I am sure succeeding generations of members will continue to be inspired by his work and vast contributions to this House."

She encouraged MPs to speak from the heart, quoting Mr Lee, who had said: "You must have convictions. If you don't have convictions, you are going in for personal glory or honour or publicity or popularity, forget it."

Urging them to keep their speeches short, she noted wryly that a speech's length was no indication of its impact.

"Perhaps, if it's succinct I can see more of your hands when you put them up," she quipped to laughter. MPs have to raise their hands to be called on if they want to raise a point after a speech.

One seat was conspicuously vacant - that of the WP's Lee Li Lian.

She was offered a Non-Constituency MP position after failing to defend her seat in Punggol East in the 2015 General Election, but declined to take it up. The decision on whether to fill the third NCMP seat now rests with Parliament.

Proud parents, spouses and children of the MPs mingled at the reception, with Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David's 87-year-old grandmother taking a photo with him and PM Lee.

At the other end of the age spectrum was 17-year-old Ryan, son of new MP Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).

Said the student who was in Parliament for the first time: "I've seen my father help people at community centres for many years and I'm happy he has a bigger role and can help more people now."

NCMP Dennis Tan was also seen introducing himself to some of the older PAP MPs. The friendly atmosphere, however, would not stand in the way of making him fulfil his role as an opposition MP, he said. "I think both parties will do their job and speak up for Singaporeans."





SINCERE DEBATE WELCOME

The coming session of Parliament will present us with many difficult but necessary decisions. To provide Singaporeans with quality living, our infrastructure and landscape must be refreshed, our economy must continue to be dynamic and our social safety nets must be strengthened... We must do all these amid an uncertain global environment, uncertain internal challenges, including those of a changing demographic with a fast ageing population.


"We welcome sincere, serious debate from Members as we discuss these vital issues affecting all Singaporeans, decide on the future that we want to create and launch the next chapter of our country’s story together": Leader of the House Grace Fu sets the tone for the first session of the 13th Parliament. http://bit.ly/203GMrk
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 15, 2016


These concerns are complex and there is no straightforward way to address them all. Facing up to them would involve making trade-offs and there will be energetic debate in this House on the course of action we must take. We welcome sincere, serious debate from members as we discuss these vital issues affecting all Singaporeans, decide on the future that we want to create and launch the next chapter of our country's story together.

LEADER OF THE HOUSE AND MINISTER FOR CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH GRACE FU, urging MPs to discuss Singapore's challenges sincerely and seriously.




SPEAK FROM THE HEART

Make speeches that are honest, sincere and heartfelt. There is no need to play to the gallery. It is much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic, so you should figure out what's important to your message and speak from your heart... Regardless of the party that we represent, or the interests that we wish to champion, we are first and foremost the representatives of the people, and must act in their best interest. We certainly have our work pretty much cut out for us.

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE HALIMAH YACOB, in a thank you speech to MPs after being elected Speaker





Opening of Parliament President's address

No easy journey ahead for Singapore
President Tony Tan Keng Yam set out the Government's priorities in its new term when he opened the 13th Parliament last night. Below is an edited excerpt of his speech.
The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2016

We are in a stronger position than our founding generation was, and have a deeper sense of nationhood. But whether it is the next five or 50 years, we cannot expect an easy journey.

The fundamental realities of our existence will not change. We remain a small country with no natural resources apart from our people. We earn a living only because we are useful to the rest of the world. And in a world where size and power still matter, Singapore thrives only because it safeguards its interests.

Our region has become more integrated with the establishment of the Asean Community. If Asean remains stable and our neighbours prosper, we too will prosper. But if Asean is fraught with tension or our neighbours stumble, we too will suffer.

Terrorism has become a dangerous and persistent threat. Hundreds of terrorists from South-east Asia are fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some of them have returned home with their networks, expertise and radical ideology. They want to establish a wilayat, a province under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) caliphate, in the region. Yesterday's bomb blasts in Jakarta are a reminder of how close terrorism can strike. We are fully on guard against this threat, but we cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in Singapore.

Our economy is at a turning point. Now that our economy is more mature, we will grow more slowly. With limited land and labour, and more severe global competition, we must upgrade our economy to sustain growth. But upgrading means restructuring, which means our people and businesses will need to adapt and change.

Our society is rapidly ageing. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 or older. There will be only two working-age citizens for every senior citizen, down from five today.

We are becoming more diverse, not only in terms of race and religion, but also in our interests and perspectives.

How do we ensure our island-nation remains a shining red dot, so that our children and grandchildren will thrive?

Our programmes in the last term of government reflected our commitment to move forward together. We strove to leave no one behind, even as we created opportunities for all. We dealt with pressing concerns in housing, healthcare, transport and population. Our lives improved tangibly: 81,000 families received keys to new HDB homes; there were 760 more buses on the roads; and we added 40 new stations to our rail network.

The Government also made major shifts in social policy. Building on policies since 2006, the community and the state took on greater responsibility for individuals and families who needed more support. With MediShield Life, all Singaporeans now have lifelong healthcare coverage and peace of mind. Silver Support will provide support for our seniors in need.

But we also built for a better future. We committed to long-term investments that will transform Singapore: doubling our rail network by 2030, building Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 in Changi, building more hospitals and polyclinics, refreshing old towns like Toa Payoh, and planning new developments such as Bidadari, Tengah and the Southern Waterfront City in the longer term. We are connecting our waterways and parks, and setting aside green spaces like Pulau Ubin and the Rail Corridor.

Our programmes improved the well-being of all Singaporeans and brought people closer together, and will continue to do so. The people affirmed this by returning the People's Action Party Government to office with a stronger mandate.

FIVE PRIORITIES THIS TERM

In this term of government, we have five key aims to fulfil: keep Singapore safe and secure; renew our economy; foster a more caring society; transform our urban landscape; and engage and partner with Singaporeans in nation-building.

First and foremost, we can remain sovereign only if we are able to determine our own fate. Our geopolitical realities remain unchanged from 50 years ago. We must continue to invest in our security and expand our international space through diplomacy. We must resist the impulse to divert attention and resources from security as domestic needs burgeon. If we cannot safeguard our sovereignty, we cannot secure our livelihoods.

The threat from ISIS and terrorism has increased significantly. Attacks elsewhere have shown that terrorism can arise at home, and not just come from abroad. A terrorist attack here will not only cause death and injury, but could also tear apart our social fabric.

Hence, we must keep our society united and resilient. Every Singaporean has a role to play in keeping our country safe and preserving our multiracial harmony. All must reject violence, and keep working to deepen mutual understanding and expand our common spaces. If we trust and accept one another "regardless of race, language or religion", we will remain strong and united even if others seek to sow fear and division among us.

Second, we must renew our economy so that Singapore will always be a place where our children can chase rainbows and fulfil aspirations. The Committee on the Future Economy will develop strategies to ensure that Singapore remains relevant and competitive. Upgrading will entail restructuring. There will be winners and losers among companies, with some painful dislocation, but economic progress will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans.

We cannot predict the future, but we must adapt as the world changes. Therefore, we will continue to invest in education, from pre-school to lifelong, so that our people will always have pathways upwards. SkillsFuture must succeed because only by mastering skills can workers be equipped for the jobs of the future. We want to build a society where every individual, whatever his background, can do well if he applies himself. SkillsFuture can succeed only if it is a movement encompassing workers, companies and the Government, parents and students.

Third, we will press on with fostering a caring society that is sustainable over the long term. We do not want to end up like many developed countries that cannot afford their over-generous welfare schemes. The Government will keep healthcare affordable, accessible and of high quality. We will strengthen the primary care sector, so that Singaporeans benefit from long-term partnerships with regular family doctors. We will build on our regional health systems, and partner private sector and voluntary welfare organisation healthcare providers to take care services beyond hospital walls.

But it is not enough, and not sustainable, to just keep funding more treatment and building more capacity. All of us can play our part by living healthily and living well. The Action Plan for Successful Ageing will help our seniors lead fuller and more fulfilling lives. They are valued members of our families, communities and workplaces.

Ours should be a society where the bonds of kinship run deep and people look out for one another. A society where we extend our concern for immediate families and friends to the broader community. A society consisting of generous hearts who treat one another with warmth and dignity - including those who have just joined us, or those who are here only a while. Building a caring society starts with each one of us.

Fourth, we will continue to build the best home for Singaporeans. We are building more affordable, high-quality public housing, supporting vibrant communities surrounded by beautiful green and blue spaces. As a compact city, we can be "car-lite". Walking, cycling and riding public transport must become the default for more commuters. Then we can all have a higher quality of life.

Our major infrastructure plans will take several terms of government to complete. These are acts of faith in Singapore's future that will benefit our children and Singaporeans yet unborn. Some, like the Southern Waterfront City and the redevelopment of Paya Lebar Airbase, will transform our urban landscape. Others will enliven our heartland and everyday living spaces.

Technology will transform the way we live. As we saw in the Future of Us exhibition, technology can open up many possibilities: For example, with autonomous vehicles, we can build a much more efficient transport network, and rely less on private cars. Ours may be a compact city, but it can be highly liveable, green, energy-efficient and conveniently connected-up. We can be a "citizen-driven" smart nation, constantly improving through the ideas of people.

Finally, the future of Singapore is what we make of it. We must foster partnership and collaboration among citizens so that everyone plays a part in building our nation. During SG50, we saw how willing Singaporeans were to contribute and share a part of their lives with one another. Let us all participate in shaping our common future. In doing so, we will strengthen our bonds and deepen trust with one another.

This was the spirit of Our Singapore Conversation. Individual aspirations may differ, but we all realised that we must work together to create our common future. This spirit was sustained through our SG50 celebrations, and profoundly deepened when we mourned the passing of our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The SGfuture dialogues and the Committee on the Future Economy are but two national platforms for us to make our future together.

IMPROVE THE POLITICAL SYSTEM

For our programmes to succeed, we need good politics. Good policies and good politics go together. Good policies ensure that all citizens benefit from Singapore's success, fostering a society that encourages everyone to come together in building a nation. Good politics ensures that we elect governments that develop and deliver on sound policies, strengthen the country and bring people together. This was how, for 50 years, we conceived and implemented sound policies to improve the lives of people. We had good politics because our policies benefited everyone; and we had good policies because our politics expanded our common spaces.

How do we ensure our politics continues to work for the long-term good of Singapore?

First, we must continue to have a capable and honest political leadership. This will not happen by chance. Every generation of leaders must develop the next generation consciously and systematically. Every successive government must take leadership renewal seriously. And every new generation of leaders must win anew the people's trust, for the right to leadership is not transferable from one generation to the next.

We must always hold political leaders to high standards of ability and integrity. Our system must make it an imperative for every politician to be honest and trusted, and to do the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans.

Second, we must have a political system that enables a government to govern effectively and in the interests of all. We often see countries suffering from deep divisions in their societies, and crippled by political gridlock. Our system discourages narrow interest-based politics, and encourages clear electoral outcomes. This has served us well.

At the same time, our political system must also incorporate appropriate stabilisers and checks and balances. It must give opportunities for alternative views to be considered and taken into account. It must assure the minority communities that they will not be shut out or marginalised, but can participate fully in the mainstream of national life.

This is why over the years we have modified the first-past- the-post electoral system to suit Singapore's circumstances and needs. We instituted Non-Constituency Members of Parliament to ensure that those who voted against the governing party will always have their views represented in Parliament. We created Nominated Members of Parliament to offer non-partisan views from various sectors of society. We formed Group Representation Constituencies to guarantee at least a minimum representation of Malay, Indian and other minority race Members of Parliament.

The office of the President is another critical element that fosters resilience and stability in our political system. Executive power is vested in the Government, but the President holds a second key, with specific custodial powers. This helps to ensure that major decisions are taken wisely and prudently, especially decisions to spend the reserves and to make important public-sector appointments.

Our innovations have worked. Our political system has delivered stability and progress for Singapore. But this system must be refreshed from time to time, as our circumstances change. The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term.

Singaporeans have given the new Government a strong mandate. They have sent a clear signal that they want to work with it to build a better and brighter future. The Government will work closely with the people, for the long-term interest of Singapore and Singaporeans. The ministers will mobilise support for their programmes and policies. In particular, the younger ministers will build their experience governing Singapore, and their rapport with Singaporeans. Members of Parliament, new or re-elected, from the ruling party or the opposition, all have a responsibility to do their best for our people.

Fifty years ago in this House, Mr Lee Kuan Yew called upon Members of Parliament to "leave no stone unturned in seeking a just and enduring future for all the people who make up the society". Singapore today is the cohesive and progressive society that our pioneers strove to build.

It is for us now to write the next chapter together. Let us renew our pledge to build a better Singapore as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion. Let us build a Singapore that leaves a stronger mark on the world than its size suggests.

Together, we will progress as an exceptional nation with a thriving economy, and a caring and inclusive society.





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