Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Singapore National Day 2022

NDP 2022: A night of celebration at Singapore's first full parade since Covid-19 pandemic
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2022

About 25,000 people gathered at the Marina Bay floating platform to mark Singapore's 57th birthday on Tuesday (Aug 9), in a show that recognised the hardships inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic and celebrated a return to relative normalcy.

A human sea of red and white sat elbow to elbow, joining in the Kallang Wave and soaking in the rat-a-tat of rifle salutes at the first ticketed National Day Parade in three years.

About the only thing that signalled how the pandemic is not over was some spectators wearing face masks. Parade organisers had "strongly encouraged" this but it was not mandatory.

This year's parade was a world of difference from 2020 and 2021, when Covid-19 restrictions reduced the NDP to symbolic affairs watched live by only small, safe-distanced audiences.

Last year's show even had to be postponed by two weeks following a resurgence of cases in the community.

Amid the noise of Tuesday's celebrations, a moment of hushed silence was, for many, the most poignant of the night.

At the start of the second act of the show directed by theatre veteran Adrian Pang, a single source of light emerged from the pitch-black stage.

There, standing alone, was singer-songwriter Aisyah Aziz. In a velvety voice, she sang a song of compassion: "Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear?... You can reach, reach out your hand."

The song, You Will Be Found, from American musical Dear Evan Hansen, launched a section of the show about the price exacted by the pandemic.

The theme of this year's NDP, Stronger Together Majulah, was chosen for the need to stick together during these tough times. It is embodied in the logo of two figures holding hands to build a caring and inclusive society.

The celebrations at the floating platform kicked off at about 5.30pm, with hosts Joakim Gomez, Sonia Chew, Siti Khalijah and Rishi Budhrani urging the crowd to wave their lights and flags and do the Kallang Roar.

Among those soaking in the atmosphere was housewife Normala Ahmad, 60. "I miss gathering and celebrating like this," she said. "Let's hope there are no more pandemics."

Teacher Ravindran Rajasekeran, 37, who was also watching at the platform, said: "During the pandemic, a lot of normal things we took for granted were restricted. It's good to see the parade back to normal."

At 6.30pm, 10 parachutists from the Red Lions descended in a spiral from the sky to cheers of delight.

The final parachutist landed heavily and was stretchered off.

In a Facebook post later, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Third Warrant Officer Jeffrey Heng's condition was "currently stable, alert and conscious" and he was receiving medical attention.

This information was also conveyed to the spectators, who cheered in relief.

Immediately after came the land, sea and air Total Defence display.

The audience was informed on the big screen that "threatening personnel" were encroaching on Singapore's waters. This sparked a high-speed water chase, helicopters performing climbing manoeuvres close to the crowd, troopers raiding a "hijacked" public bus, and tanks firing into the distance.

Gripping and loud, this segment involved at least 50 vehicles from the air force, army, navy, the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Last performed five years ago, a display combining such varied elements is unlikely to be seen again for a while.

This is the last parade to be held at the Marina Bay floating platform as it will be replaced by a permanent structure called NS Square, which will be ready by the end of 2026.

Next year's NDP will be held at the Padang.

In between the defence display, about 2,000 participants marched on stage for the parade, inspected by President Halimah Yacob.

This year is the 55th anniversary of national service, and the parade paid tribute to past and present national servicemen.

The event's master of ceremonies asked those in the audience who had served or were serving NS to stand to receive a salute. There was hesitance and abashed smiles among some men.

But there were those, like Mr Irwan Ramli, who immediately stood up, solemn and straight.

Mr Irwan, 42, who works in logistics operations, served in the Singapore Civil Defence Force. He said of his stint: "We saved lives and learnt a lot of new things every day."

His wife, logistics executive Norlie Ramli, 42, added: "I'm very proud of him for giving back to the country."

Celebrations returned to a high with former Singapore Idol Taufik Batisah's rendition of the theme song Stronger Together, culminating in the national anthem and pledge.

The celebrations struck a chord with Madam Chia Foong Lin, 67, a retiree, who said: "I hope there will be peace and harmony, both at home and in the region, for a long time."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2022 National Day Message

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Singapore's death penalty for drug trafficking saves lives, Shanmugam tells BBC

A single hanging of a drug trafficker is a tragedy; a million deaths from drug abuse is a statistic
By David Sun, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2022

Critics of Singapore's mandatory death penalty for convicted drug traffickers miss the point that it saves lives and protects Singaporeans, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has said.

In an interview on the BBC's HARDtalk programme that aired on Wednesday (June 29), he noted that the BBC focused on the hanging of one drug trafficker, but not on the severe drug situation in South-east Asia, and the thousands of lives at stake.

"To misquote a well-known quote, a single hanging of a drug trafficker is a tragedy; a million deaths from drug abuse is a statistic. That's what this shows," he said.

Presenter Stephen Sackur had asked the minister whether he had any doubts that the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking was the right policy.

Mr Shanmugam replied that capital punishment is imposed because there is clear evidence that it is a serious deterrent for would-be drug traffickers.

"The trafficker wants to make money. He, you know, is damaging the lives of drug users, their families - damaged, often seriously destroyed," he said.

He cited a 2021 report by the World Health Organisation that showed there were 500,000 deaths linked to drug abuse in just one year.

In America, there were more than 100,000 deaths due to drug overdose in a year, and life expectancy declined in 2015, for the first time since World War I, due in large part to the opioid crisis.

Mr Sackur accepted that the drug problem was serious, but asked if the hanging of Malaysian Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam earlier this year was proportionate and compassionate, given he had an IQ of 69.

Mr Shanmugam said the courts found Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled - which was confirmed by the psychiatrist called by his lawyers - and had made a calculated and calibrated decision to bring the drugs into Singapore.

He added that in October 2021, at around the same time Nagaenthran's appeal was dismissed, the United States executed two men who had similar IQs and whose lawyers argued they were similarly intellectually disabled.

"What's the difference between Mr Nagaenthran and the two persons executed in the US in October 2021, in terms of IQ?" he asked.

Mr Shanmugam added that in the 1990s, Singapore was arresting about 6,000 people a year for drugs, but this has now dropped to about 3,000 people a year.

Compared with 30 years ago, there are more drugs around the region, and Singapore would be completely swamped without tough penalties, he said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, he noted, "said that this place is swimming in meth and a record haul of one billion meth tablets were seized in South-east Asia. We are in that situation".

Singapore's deterrent penalties have "saved thousands of lives", he said.

Mr Sackur also asked about Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises homosexuality, and Mr Shanmugam replied that Singapore's position is that people engaging in gay sex will not be prosecuted, and the Supreme Court has said the Government's position has legal force.

He explained that this approach was taken because while societal attitudes are shifting, a significant proportion does not want the law repealed.

"So we have arrived at this sort of messy compromise, the last 15 years, and we have taken this path because these issues are difficult," he said.

But Singapore is relooking its laws and engaging in a wide set of consultations to try and arrive at some sort of landing, he said.

Asked if the law will be repealed in the near future, Mr Shanmugam said he was in no position to answer that question with finality.

Mr Sackur also asked the minister for his thoughts on racism in Singapore.

The minister said it cannot be denied that racism exists here, as in most other multiracial societies.

"The question is how systemic it is, and how much does it happen?" he said.

"My own experience as a minority in Singapore, and the experience of many others is: On the whole, compared with many other societies, it's much less in Singapore."

The minister was also asked about the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, which Mr Sackur said had been described as a "legal monstrosity" by press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

Mr Shanmugam questioned the organisation's credibility, noting that it had in 2021 ranked Singapore below Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

"I dismiss Reporters Without Borders. Completely nonsensical," he said. "We invited them in for a select committee hearing, and in the true heritage of free speech, they chickened out."

Mr Shanmugam was also asked about geopolitics and US-China tensions, and which side Singapore would pick if it had to.

He said: "We will not choose sides. We will go with what we think is right."

Mr Sackur ended the interview with a question on how Singapore is going to survive in a world where globalisation is in retreat.

Mr Shanmugam said it would be much more difficult, but added that people have been asking which countries are safe to physically be in and to put their money in.

"There has been a flight to quality," he said.

"There has been a movement to Singapore - money, as well as people. And I think there's an appreciation that Singapore is one of the good places to do business in."

Thursday, 30 June 2022

FORWARD Singapore: 4G ministers to engage Singaporeans in six areas to get views, update policies

Lawrence Wong launches 'Forward Singapore' to set out road map for a society that 'benefits many, not a few'
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2022

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (June 28) called on Singaporeans to offer ideas to shape the future of Singapore, which he described as at a crossroads post-Covid-19.

Their contributions will be part of a Forward Singapore road map to be released in the middle of next year that will set out both policy recommendations and how various parts of society can better contribute to the nation's shared goals, based on its values of a united people and a society that is just and equal.

"I hope to see a society and system that benefits many, not a few; that rewards a wide variety of talents, not a conventional or narrow few; that values and celebrates all individuals for who they are and what they can achieve; and provides all with opportunities to do better throughout their lives," he said.

Mr Wong, who took on the role of deputy prime minister on June 13, was addressing unionists at a dialogue organised by the National Trades Union Congress at the NTUC Centre at One Marina Boulevard.

The year-long Forward Singapore exercise will be led by Mr Wong and will have six pillars headed by his fellow fourth-generation leaders, in areas such as jobs, housing and health.

This is Mr Wong's first major speech since becoming DPM and since being named leader of the ruling People's Action Party's 4G team in April, paving the way for him to be Singapore's next prime minister.

Mr Wong, who is also finance minister, said that it is important to refresh and update the social compact so that it remains fit for the changing circumstances.

"A social compact that is deemed fair by all segments of society strengthens social capital and fosters trust, and this is what enables us to progress together as a nation," added Mr Wong.

On the other hand, the fraying of such compacts across Europe and North America over the past decade as people felt left out of their countries' progress has fuelled the rise of extremist political parties and caused these societies to turn inward and xenophobic, unable to reach consensus on important national issues, he said.

Mr Wong said he understood the struggles that Singaporeans face - perhaps more so today than in the past - and added that he hopes to have honest conversations about these concerns and how to tackle them together.

Students, for instance, feel pigeon-holed in a system where stakes are high from very early in their lives, while graduates and workers are anxious about their careers and being priced out of the property market.

Older workers sometimes struggle to be considered for new jobs after being displaced or retrenched, he added.

"Sometimes, those who do not meet the traditional yardsticks of merit may find opportunities closed to them. They may feel beaten down by early failure, and feel discouraged from trying again," said Mr Wong.

As the world and society have changed and continue to change, it cannot be business-as-usual as today's stable state of affairs can be easily disrupted tomorrow, he said.

He added: "If our social compact fails, a large segment of Singaporeans will come to feel estranged from the rest of society, believing the system is not on their side.

"Trust in the Government and among various segments of society will plummet. Politics in Singapore will turn nasty and polarised and we will become a low trust society, like so many others in Asia and Europe.

"And Singapore, if this happens, will surely fracture."

"Fortunately, Singapore's situation is not as dire as in many of these countries," said Mr Wong.

The city-state is in better economic shape than most, and has shown a strong sense of social solidarity amid the pandemic.

But the country is now at a crossroads - the Russia-Ukraine war fuelling global inflation; rising geopolitical tensions; disrupted supply chains and a more bifurcated world.

Domestically, Singapore is dealing with a rapidly ageing population, a concern about slowing social mobility, and fears of not doing well enough or being left behind.

Strengthening the social compact means Singapore can turn each set of challenges into opportunities, which Mr Wong cited as a key reason for embarking on this exercise.

Mr Wong outlined four key areas where the social compact can evolve: the economy, meritocracy, social support and solidarity.

First, on how the economy is run, Singapore has always relied on open and free markets to grow, but if left unchecked, the workings of the free market can lead to excessive competition and rising inequalities, said Mr Wong.

"That's why we have always tempered extreme market outcomes and resisted a winner-takes-all economic regime," he added.

For example, staying open means accepting some degree of competition from foreign workers and professionals both here and overseas, which can cause anxiety.

Mr Wong said that Singaporeans are always at the centre of everything the Government does, pointing out heavy investments in skills retraining and upcoming legislation to ensure employers uphold fair employment practices.

In the same spirit, the Government will ensure public housing remains affordable, especially for the young and first-timers, and will continue to uplift vulnerable workers through schemes such as Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model.

The progressive system of taxes and transfers will be further strengthened, so that everyone contributes something but those with more give more to help those with less, said Mr Wong.

Second, on meritocracy, Mr Wong said it is still the best way to organise society, but acknowledged its downsides, such as the rich giving their children more opportunities and the risk of privilege being entrenched across generations.

"We cannot abandon meritocracy, but I believe we can improve it and make ours a more open and compassionate meritocracy," he said.

One way to do so is to do more early in the life of every child, especially those from less well-off families, so that the circumstances of their birth do not determine their future in life, said Mr Wong, who noted that the Government has already invested in pre-school education.

Another way is to broaden the conception of merit beyond academic credentials by recognising and developing talents in diverse fields and providing opportunities for people to advance at multiple stages of their lives.

"The most important change is not something that the Government can legislate into reality, because we must all, as a society, learn to value the contributions of every worker in every profession and every field," said Mr Wong.

Third, technological and economic disruptions call for a review of whether current social support is adequate, said Mr Wong.

The Government will study how it can do more to help workers tide over difficult times and how it can provide better care for the growing number of seniors.

But all this requires more resources, so society has to collectively determine how much more the government should spend, and on what, as well as how much more people are prepared to pay to fund this spending, said Mr Wong.

Lastly, on solidarity - Mr Wong said the evolving social compact should consider how to unite Singaporeans and provide for future generations.

"Some things should not, cannot, can never change - like our fundamental principle of multi-racialism," said Mr Wong.

Singapore's diversity is a source of strength, but it also requires constant adjustments to get the balance right - progressively expanding common space while allowing each community as much room as possible to go about its way of life, he added.

A strong social compact must provide not just for this generation but across generations, and "it is our sacred duty not to squander what we have inherited", said Mr Wong.

Mr Wong said he and his 4G team are sincere and committed to listening to and partnering Singaporeans, to build on momentum gained and to apply lessons learnt over the years.

He called on Singaporeans to participate in the exercise, and noted that the journey to take Singapore forward will not be easy.

"I hope we can all approach this with open minds and big hearts, be willing to give and take, as we negotiate difficult trade-offs, so we may arrive at where we want to be, stronger and more united than when we started."

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Singapore Cabinet changes with effect from 13 June 2022

Lawrence Wong promoted to Deputy Prime Minister as part of Singapore Cabinet changes
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2022

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong will be promoted to Deputy Prime Minister from June 13, in a move that cements his standing as the successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He will be the Acting Prime Minister in the absence of PM Lee, 70.

Mr Wong will also continue as Minister for Finance, and assume responsibility for the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister's Office, taking over this role from Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The Strategy Group oversees key priorities and issues facing Singapore over the medium to long term, such as population and climate change.

Mr Heng, 61, will remain as Deputy Prime Minister.

He will also continue as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, and oversee the Future Economy Council as well as assist PM Lee in overseeing the National Research Foundation and Productivity Fund Administration Board.

After the announcement, Mr Wong said in a Facebook post that when he was asked by his fellow 4G ministers to lead the team, he knew he would be taking on what would possibly be the biggest responsibility of his life.

Reiterating the commitment he made when he was chosen to lead the team, he said: "As I've said before, I will do my best and give every ounce of my strength to serve Singapore and Singaporeans. In turn, I seek your support, as I take on my latest appointment as DPM, and take another step forward in embracing my new responsibilities.

"I look forward to walking this journey with all of you, and working with everyone - to steer Singapore through the many challenges we are facing today, and to chart our new way forward together for a better tomorrow."

DPM Heng, in a separate Facebook post, pledged to work with Mr Wong.

"We took another important step towards leadership renewal today, with the appointment of Lawrence Wong as DPM," he said.

"Lawrence has our fullest support. I will give my all to help him succeed, while serving alongside him as DPM and as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies."

The Cabinet changes, announced by the Prime Minister's Office, move Singapore's leadership transition process further along, after it hit a snag when Mr Heng stepped aside as leader of the 4G team in April last year.

The Cabinet has traditionally had two deputy prime minsters since the 1980s, with the exception of a short period in the 1990s when PM Lee was the only DPM on board, and since May 2019, when DPM Heng was the only person holding the post.

Besides Mr Wong's promotion, eight office-holders will be promoted or given new portfolios and responsibilities.

Minister of State for National Development, and Communications and Information Tan Kiat How will be promoted to Senior Minister of State.

Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth and Social and Family Development Eric Chua will be promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary.

Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam will also be promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary. She will remain at the Ministry of Health and take up a new appointment in the Ministry of Law, and relinquish her appointment at the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat, who joined the labour movement last year, will relinquish his role as deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress and return to Government full-time. He will be given an additional portfolio in the Ministry of Finance.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Koh Poh Koon will give up his Health portfolio and join the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling will relinquish her Education portfolio and join the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Minister of State for Home Affairs and Sustainability and the Environment Desmond Tan will relinquish both portfolios. He will be appointed Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, and take on Mr Chee's role in the labour movement.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng will take on an additional portfolio in the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

The latest changes come a year after seven 4G ministers were given new roles in a major reshuffle in May 2021.

At that time, Mr Wong was given the key finance portfolio.

In April this year, PM Lee announced that Mr Wong had been selected as leader of the 4G team by his peers and that Cabinet ministers had affirmed the choice.

The decision was then endorsed by all PAP MPs in a party caucus.

Mr Wong was a senior civil servant before contesting the 2011 General Election, and became minister of state for defence and education. He was acting minister for culture, community and youth in 2012, and promoted to full minister in 2014.

He became national development minister in 2015, took on an additional role as second minister for finance in 2016, and was made education minister after the 2020 General Election. He became finance minister in May last year.

Others in the PAP 4G team also expressed support for Mr Wong.

In a Facebook post, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said: "With promotion certainly comes greater responsibilities, and as a team, we are always ready to lean in and support one another."

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin thanked Mr Wong and the other office-holders for "leading and making a difference".

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

May Day Rally 2022

Singaporeans must be prepared for more economic challenges in the year ahead, says PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 May 2022

Singaporeans must be prepared for more economic challenges in the year ahead even as the Government does all it can to cushion the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, especially on the cost of living, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (May 1).

"The fundamental solution... is to make ourselves more productive, to transform our businesses, to grow our economy, to uplift everyone," he noted. "Then our incomes can go up, and that can more than make up for higher prices of energy and food. Then we can all become better off in real terms."

PM Lee was addressing unionists at the May Day Rally at Downtown East, with some attending the hybrid event virtually.

In his speech, he outlined the Government's measures to alleviate cost-of-living pressures on Singaporeans. These include the $560 million Household Support Package announced at Budget 2022, which comprises U-Save and service and conservancy charges rebates and Community Development Council vouchers to reduce living expenses for nearly all households - with lower- and middle-income households receiving more.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has also tightened monetary policy to reduce imported inflation, leading to the Singapore dollar appreciating.

Singapore is also taking steps to secure its own food and energy supplies, in the event of these being disrupted by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which started on Feb 24.

"All this will help, but we must be prepared for more economic challenges in the year ahead," said PM Lee, pointing to inflation remaining high and central banks in developed countries tightening their monetary policies and raising interest rates.

"Global growth will be weaker, and there may be a recession within the next two years," he warned. "We have to face up to these realities."

Singapore, with its tight integration in the global economy and small size, will always be a price taker when it comes to world markets, said PM Lee. "We have very little bargaining power. If the prices go up, our prices go up. If supplies are short, we are squeezed. We cannot avoid these global headwinds."

Noting that Singapore imports nearly all its supplies of energy, he said that the doubling of oil prices in recent months has come at a cost - to households, businesses and the Government - of around $8 billion, as estimated by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

He added: "There are limits to what Singapore can do to influence broader international trends. We will push back against deglobalisation. We will speak up to encourage the US and China to constructively engage each other.

"But ultimately, all these matters depend on the major powers themselves, and the relations between them, and how the war in Ukraine unfolds."

Said PM Lee: "We have speaking rights, but we are a small voice. Singapore has to take the world as it is, and develop a strategy that works for us in this troubled environment."

Turning inwards, relying heaving on domestic markets and producing more things onshore is a viable strategy for larger countries - but this is "not a choice open to Singapore", he said.

“Our strategy can only be one - and that is to stay open, to make our economy stronger, more resilient, and to keep on seizing opportunities for growth, developing new capabilities and becoming a more competitive economy,” said the Prime Minister.

"Because if we do that, then despite the uncertain climate, despite the pressures against globalisation, investors will still find it worthwhile to put their projects in Singapore, our exports will still find foreign markets, and we can still earn a living for ourselves in the world."

Monday, 25 April 2022

Trust is most precious resource in Singapore's COVID-19 response: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the SGH Lecture and Formal Dinner 2022

Singapore cannot let valuable lessons from COVID-19, 'for which we have paid dearly', go to waste: PM Lee
By Timothy Goh, Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2022

Trust has probably been the most critical factor in Singapore's pandemic response - and the nation must learn from Covid-19 and not let lessons from it go to waste, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (April 24).

These include upholding Singapore's standards of medical excellence and further developing its expertise in public health.

He was speaking at the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) Lecture and Formal Dinner 2022, which was held at Shangri-La Singapore.

Addressing about 300 guests on site, as well as about another 1,000 gathered online, PM Lee cited a study in The Lancet which found that higher levels of trust in the government and among the population were associated with greater compliance with Covid-19 restrictions and higher vaccination rates.

"In fact, by this measure, trust levels mattered much more even than the quality of healthcare and access to universal healthcare.

I do not believe this means a good healthcare system makes no difference – it is absolutely necessary. But it does show how crucial trust levels in the society are to public health and healthcare outcomes," he said, adding that Singapore is fortunate to be a high-trust society.

He said that the strong public trust built up over the decades between Singaporeans and the Government, and in one another, sets the Republic apart from many other countries.

This involves trust that the Government has the best interest of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart, that the Government is competent and will make the right decisions on behalf of Singaporeans, and that every citizen will play their part - not just for themselves and their loved ones, but for others as well.

"This trust is a most precious resource. It is the fundamental reason why Singaporeans were able to come together during the pandemic, instead of working against each other," said PM Lee.

He cited four examples of this: People here abiding by "burdensome" safe management measures, patiently enduring repeated rounds of easing and tightening, going for vaccinations and booster jabs, and exercising personal and social responsibility.

"In other countries, a precaution as simple and essential as wearing a mask became a heated point of contention between citizens... Fortunately, in Singapore the opposite happened," he noted.

3 key thrusts of trust: Competency, commitment, transparency

PM Lee said that a big part of this was due to the public's trust in the healthcare system here, which in turn was based on three things.

First, trust that healthcare workers here are professional, and know their job well.

Second, that they are dedicated and selfless, committed to the care, treatment and well-being of their patients.

Third, that the healthcare system is open and honest with the public, even when things fail to go as intended.

For instance, said PM Lee, during the vaccination campaign, the Health Ministry regularly reported statistics on serious adverse events.

He said: "Some may be tempted to think that it would have been easier to keep things quiet, and avoid causing unnecessary alarm with bad news. It would have been expedient and convenient, but it would have been very unwise.

"If we kept quiet, it might work once, or twice. But rumours will spread, people will gradually lose faith in the system, and we will eventually pay a high price - the loss of public trust.

"We should always be upfront when we encounter problems and setbacks, and address them honestly and transparently. If we make a mistake - own up, take responsibility, and strive to put things right.

He noted that this is not easy to do, but is absolutely essential to strengthening public trust, especially during crises when stakes are high.

PM Lee said that there is a need to continue nurturing trust in the healthcare system during normal times, by always maintaining high standards of competency, commitment and transparency in the system.

In the next crisis, there will then be a "deep reservoir of trust" that can be drawn upon, he added.

"And, of course, even when the going gets tough, and especially when the going gets tough, we must continue to live by these cardinal values, and continue to strengthen the trust that we depend on to stay together and pull through," he said.

"We cannot thoughtlessly revert to the status quo ante after this crisis."

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Singapore eases COVID-19 safe management measures from 26 April 2022

No limits on group size, masks not mandatory at workplaces as Singapore eases most COVID-19 rules

Singapore to lower DORSCON level from orange to yellow from 26 April 2022

TraceTogether no longer required in most settings from 26 April 2022
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2022

There will no longer be limits to group sizes or workplace capacities here from next Tuesday (April 26), as Singapore announced a major easing of its remaining Covid-19 safety measures.

For the first time in more than two years, the Republic's disease outbreak response system condition (DORSCON) level will also be stepped down from orange to yellow, in what Health Minister Ong Ye Kung called a major milestone in Singapore's pandemic journey. DORSCON gives an indication of the disease outbreak situation and measures needed to control infections.

In a series of sweeping changes and the strongest push yet for a return to normal, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday that from next Tuesday, individuals will no longer be required to keep to a group of 10 people for mask-off activities, while the use of SafeEntry and TraceTogether will cease at most venues.

With the coronavirus situation largely under control, the cap on the number of unique visitors per household, previously 10 people at any one time, will be lifted. Safe distancing will also no longer be required between individuals or between groups, said the ministry.

At the same time, the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 urged Singaporeans to stay vigilant and maintain readiness in the face of potential risks, and stressed that the pandemic is not over.

Mr Ong, who is co-chair of the task force, said one such risk is of a new wave of infections emerging in the coming months as protection from vaccines and past infections wanes. Another worrying risk is of the emergence of a new variant of concern.

"This continues to be a potential curveball that may knock us back to square one, and we must be alert to that," he said at a press conference on Friday.

All workers may now also return to the workplace from next Tuesday, up from the current limit of 75 per cent of those who can work from home.

Workers will also be allowed to remove their masks at the workplace when they are not interacting physically with others and when they are not in customer-facing areas. Masks are still required indoors outside of work settings.

"While this concession will provide some flexibility for workers as more return to the workplace, everyone is advised to exercise social responsibility and maintain an appropriate safe distance from others while unmasked," said MOH.

The ministry added that even with these changes, employers are encouraged to retain and promote flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting and staggered work hours, as permanent features of the workplace.

There will also be no more capacity limit for large events and settings where there are more than 1,000 participants in mask-on settings. The current limit is 75 per cent of such capacities.

From next Tuesday, TraceTogether and SafeEntry check-ins will be required only at large events with more than 500 participants and certain nightlife establishments.

While F&B establishments will still require vaccination-differentiated measures, the onus will be on patrons and customers to ensure they are fully vaccinated, said Mr Ong.

The ministry said that with the current changes, almost all of Singapore's safe management measures, with the exception of the wearing of masks indoors, will be eased.

"However, this does not mean that they become moribund," said MOH, adding that these safety management measures continue to serve as the key levers to regulate social interactions, and the parameters can be adjusted if the situation requires it.

Noting that Singapore has gone through many rounds of restrictions, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said on Friday that the changes are a "very significant step forward" in Singapore's journey to live with Covid-19.

"Two years isn't that long, but it somehow feels like a lifetime ago because so much has happened, and we have been through so much together," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force, virtually from the United States where he is on a work trip.

"And working together, we have been able to keep everyone in Singapore safe, to protect lives and livelihoods, and to achieve one of the lowest Covid-19 fatality rates in the world."

Singapore could not have done so without the contributions of each and every person, including its healthcare and front-line officers, and Mr Wong thanked everyone for playing their part.

"With these changes, we can now have a well-deserved breather after two very difficult years of fighting the virus. But let's always remember, we are getting closer to the finish line but the race is not over," he said.

"The pandemic is certainly not over. A new variant will emerge sooner or later… No one can predict what this next variant will be. And if need be, we may very well have to tighten our restrictions."

Friday, 15 April 2022

Lawrence Wong to lead PAP's 4G team, paving way for him to be Singapore's next Prime Minister

Humbled and grateful for the trust and confidence: PAP's new 4G leader Lawrence Wong
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has been selected to be the leader of the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team, paving the way for him to be Singapore's next prime minister.

Cabinet ministers affirmed their choice of Mr Wong, 49, as the leader of the 4G team on Thursday (April 14), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement.

This decision was then endorsed by all government MPs in a party caucus, added PM Lee, who is secretary-general of the PAP.

The statement comes a year after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 61, announced he had decided to step aside as leader of the 4G team, to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when PM Lee retires.

At the time, the 4G ministers had asked for more time to reach a consensus on their next leader, as the country was still battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

But with the pandemic situation having stabilised recently, they were able to relook the issue of succession.

Giving details of how the decision was reached, PM Lee said that after consulting the ministers, he asked former minister Khaw Boon Wan, a former PAP chairman, to start a process involving the ministers, as well as Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, both former 4G ministers.

"Mr Khaw met each one of them individually, to sound out their personal views in confidence and to facilitate a new consensus on a 4G leader. The views of the Prime Minister and the two Senior Ministers were not sought," the statement said.

"Mr Khaw found that the overwhelming majority of those consulted supported Minister Wong as the leader."

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Khaw briefed Cabinet ministers, as well as Mr Tan and Mr Ng, on his findings, and all endorsed the decision for Mr Wong to lead the team.

This decision was subsequently presented to and endorsed by PAP MPs in the evening.

The statement also said PM Lee will make adjustments to Cabinet appointments and these will be announced in due course.

"This decision on succession is a crucial one for Singapore. It will ensure the continuity and stability of leadership that are the hallmarks of our system," PM Lee said in a Facebook post.

"The right to lead is not inherited. It has to be earned afresh by each generation of leaders. Singapore will always need a strong team in charge, with a leader who can bring others together, and draw out the best of each team member," he added.

"I have every confidence that Lawrence and his team will continue to give their best for Singapore and Singaporeans."

Mr Wong is a co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on Covid-19 and was appointed to the key finance portfolio in the last Cabinet reshuffle in May 2021.

He was a senior civil servant before he entered politics in the 2011 General Election, and became Minister of State for Defence and Education. He was appointed Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth in November 2012 and promoted to full minister in May 2014.

He became Minister for National Development in 2015, took on an additional appointment as Second Minister for Finance in 2016, and was made Education Minister after the 2020 General Election. He became Finance Minister in May 2021.

Mr Wong said in a Facebook post that he was humbled and grateful for the trust and confidence of his colleagues, who have chosen him to lead them, and for the support of his fellow MPs.

"From the very beginning in 1959, our model of political leadership has never been about one person, but the team. Each of us contributes, complements each other, and gives our best to Singapore," he said.

"My colleagues in the 4G leadership have stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in the fight against Covid-19. The experience of the past two years has cemented our cohesiveness and strengthened our resolve to steward Singapore safely through this crisis and beyond."

He added: "It is my privilege to be called upon to lead this team. I will do my utmost to uphold this responsibility. But as we have been reminded many times, the right to lead cannot be inherited. Together with the rest of the 4G team, I will continue to serve Singaporeans wholeheartedly, and strive to earn the trust and support of each and every one of our fellow citizens."

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said he looked forward to continue working closely with Mr Wong and the team, adding that many geopolitical and economic uncertainties and social challenges remain.

“The 4G team will continue to work closely together with Singaporeans to improve their lives while seizing opportunities to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations,” he said.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said he had witnessed Mr Wong’s dedication and commitment to Singapore and Singaporeans, adding that he puts his heart and soul into what he does, and is never a seeker of credit or fanfare.

“The 4G team, now led by Minister Lawrence Wong, will continue to put Singapore and Singaporeans at the heart of every decision we make. I will do my utmost to support him, and look forward to be part of his team,” he added.

Observers said Mr Wong’s communication skills, seen in his delivery of his maiden Budget speech in February, gave him an edge.

DPM Heng said: “It was not an easy Budget to deliver, but he did so with verve, steadiness and a sense of fairness.”

He added: “I have found him to be a leader who considers things carefully, is able to bring people together, and has conviction to do what’s right for Singapore.”

Lawrence Wong clear choice to helm PAP's 4G leadership, with 15 of 19 stakeholders backing him
By Warren Fernandez, Editor-in-Chief, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

The choice of Mr Lawrence Wong to helm the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) leadership was made by an "overwhelming majority" of those involved, and this was subsequently endorsed by its top leaders and all its MPs.

This process of forging a consensus on who should lead the party, and Singapore, should the PAP win the next general election, was undertaken in a systematic and thorough way, to allow for candour, introspection and objectivity, and to help forge unity and support for the outcome.

Mr Wong, 49, emerged as the top choice of 15 out of the 19 stakeholders involved.

The 19 were all the Cabinet ministers, excluding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the two senior ministers, and included Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, both former 4G ministers.

Each of the 19 was interviewed separately by former PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan over the past month after the Budget debate in March. They were asked for their preferred choice - other than themselves - and had to rank potential candidates in order of their preference.

None of the other names garnered more than two votes, said Mr Khaw, indicating a clear majority of 79 per cent for Mr Wong.

This was more than a super-majority, he added.

Details of the vote were disclosed at a media conference held at the Istana on Saturday morning (April 16). It was chaired by PM Lee and attended by Mr Wong and Mr Khaw, to elaborate on Thursday's announcement of the party's choice of its next leader.

PM Lee said this was a major step forward in the political succession process, which he felt could not be delayed much further, as the uncertainty was not good for the country, given the many challenges ahead.

Now that the 4G choice was made, he would discuss with Mr Wong the timeline and next steps, with a view to handing over when Mr Wong and the 4G team are ready. This process would be done "carefully and deliberately", he said.

He would discuss with Mr Wong and decide later what was the best strategy for the PAP to contest the next election, which is due by November 2025.

This might include handing over to Mr Wong and his team ahead of the polls to allow them to contest and seek a fresh mandate from the electorate. Alternatively, PM Lee could lead the PAP team to fight the election, and if the PAP wins, Mr Wong would step up as PM some time thereafter.

"It will depend on how things evolve, it's something which we'll decide later on. But either way, our plan is for Lawrence to be the next PM, if the PAP wins the next GE. That has been settled.

"And the reaction from the public over the last two days shows that many people are happy we have taken this decision, and are happy with the decision."

This process of forging a consensus around the next leader was important, he added, since as first among equals in the Cabinet, the PM must have the support of his ministers, who bear collective responsibility for their decisions.

"Otherwise, the Government cannot function," said PM Lee, adding that the process was to pick the 4G leader, not his deputy or a 5G leader. It would be up to Mr Wong to pick his choice of deputy and his team later.

"To be effective as a PM, he must be able to trust and rely on his ministers, and his ministers must also be team players, supporting the PM, their PM, and supporting the team. And they all have to help the team to score goals collectively for Singapore."

For his part, in his first public outing since Thursday's announcement, Mr Wong said that he would work hard, together with his colleagues, to continue to win and earn the trust of Singaporeans.

He noted 4G leaders had already taken a “first step” in a multi-year plan to renew and strengthen society’s social compact in this year’s Budget, and would comprehensively review policies to see what more could be adjusted and improved.

“So, this would be a major agenda for the 4G team,” he said. “But beyond that, we will as a team continue to work hard to win the trust and support of every Singaporean, to create bonds and connect with them, and to develop new ideas that will resonate with Singaporeans, and especially with a new generation of Singaporeans."

He added: "I fully recognise the growing diversity of experiences and perspectives amongst Singaporeans, and I would like every Singaporean to know and feel that they will always have a stake in our society, even as we chart our new way forward together.

Acknowledging that he had his work cut out for him as he embarked on "possibly the biggest responsibility of my life", he added that he was "under no illusions about the demands of the job".

"It will get more challenging with greater political contestation and the growing desire for diversity in Parliament.

"And as PM said in Parliament recently, we do not assume that the PAP will win the next general election. Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the Government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets.

"Knowing full well that we will have to earn the right of leadership, I will continue with the same principles that have guided me all these years, which is to give of my best, to engage and listen, and to learn and improve continually."