Saturday 8 June 2024

Construction of Founders’ Memorial begins, opening slated for 2028

A memorial that honours Singapore’s founders and keeps alive their ideals in our nation-building journey
By Ng Keng Gene, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2024

Construction of the Founders’ Memorial – dedicated to Singapore’s pioneers and the values they exemplified – has officially started, and it is scheduled to open in 2028.

The memorial at Gardens by the Bay’s Bay East Garden will offer visitors an “integrated gallery and gardens experience”, said the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Within its two two-storey buildings, which will be connected by a common basement, will be a viewing gallery that overlooks Singapore’s city skyline, exhibition galleries, and multi-purpose rooms for workshops and programmes.

NHB said multiple paths will extend from the memorial into the larger Bay East Garden, with the memorial itself designed to depict a path – a symbol of the nation-building journey that Singapore’s founding generation and its leaders undertook.

The ground-breaking ceremony was held at Bay East Garden on June 5, and officiated by Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong. It was on June 5, 1959, that the first Cabinet of self-governing Singapore was sworn into office.

At a reception held at Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Field Hall after the ceremony, SM Lee said the memorial will tell of how the nation’s founding leaders “overcame the odds to build a strong, united, and independent Singapore”. Stories will capture “how they led the people of Singapore through successive battles”, he said.

“First against colonialism, then communism, and finally communalism; and how they then built a nation based on the values and ideals embodied in the pledge, launching us on the journey that has led to the Singapore that we see today.”

He was joined at the ceremony by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and Founders’ Memorial Committee co-chairs Lee Tzu Yang and Tan Tai Yong, as well as community representatives including students, memorial volunteers and donors.

Those who participated in the ground-breaking planted saplings that were grafted from trees planted by Singapore’s leaders during the early years of the nation’s greening journey.

Species planted included the yellow flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum), a native species that was planted by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1971 at Tanjong Pagar Community Club; a sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), planted by Dr Goh Keng Swee in 1975 at Labrador Park; and a sea apple (Syzygium grande), which Mr S. Rajaratnam planted in 1980 at Block 12 North Bridge Road.

The saplings planted on June 5 will be featured in the Founders’ Memorial’s landscaping in the future, said NHB.

The memorial – mooted in 2015 following Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death – was previously slated to be completed in 2027, but its construction timeline was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its design by Japanese architecture firm Kengo Kuma & Associates, working in collaboration with Singapore firm K2LD Architects, was announced in March 2020 following an international competition launched in January 2019.

NHB said the memorial “aims to inspire Singaporeans to commit themselves towards a better future, as it will serve as a space to capture the spirit of our nation and unify Singaporeans”.

Between June and December in 2024, a mural titled Our Memorial, Our Singapore by local illustration studio 8EyedSpud will be displayed at Bay South Garden, near the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.

By scanning a QR code that accompanies the mural, people can select activities they are most keen to engage in at the memorial and Bay East Garden – “a continuation of the memorial’s public engagement journey”, said NHB.

They may also leave well-wishes, which may be part of future hoardings for the memorial during its construction.

Mr Lee Tzu Yang said the committee will continue to engage Singaporeans “because the Founders’ Memorial is envisioned as a space owned by every generation, including future generations of Singaporeans”.

Public workshops and a pilot exhibition – titled Semangat Yang Baru: Forging A New Singapore Spirit – have been held to gather feedback for the upcoming memorial.

More than 900 stories and artefacts have been received for the memorial thus far following a public call, and over 140,000 people attended the exhibition, Mr Lee Tzu Yang said.

A Project Citizens campaign will be launched as part of the engagement to invite Singaporeans to contribute stories about the country’s founding history.

Commemorating the nation-building journey

SM Lee said that besides focusing on key leaders in Singapore’s first two decades of nation-building, the memorial’s project team is curating an installation specially to commemorate the founding generation.

“Through their words and deeds, the memorial will bring alive the values and ideals these pioneers exemplified, championed, and inculcated into Singaporeans,” he added.

Citing the backdrop to Singapore’s independence in August 1965 – the race riots of 1964 and Indonesia’s Konfrontasi – SM Lee said that unlike the independence of other post-colonial nations, the mood in the Republic was sombre.

The founding leaders rallied the population, and Singaporeans, whatever their previous political allegiances, united behind them, said SM Lee, adding that they witnessed various milestones, such as the withdrawal of British forces and the development of the Singapore Armed Forces, as well as housing and educating the people.

Even more importantly, they established fundamental values and ideals that set the country’s long-term direction: democracy, justice and equality, meritocracy and a drive for excellence, an unwavering commitment to honest, clean government and, above all, a multiracial society, SM Lee said.

He added that while the founding leaders did not get everything right, they made the right choices on the most important issues and Singapore succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Singapore’s origin story is unique, he said, noting that in the post-war era, many former colonies became independent countries like the Republic.

“But not many successfully shifted from the independence struggle to nation-building, from rousing revolutionary mobilisation to the patient slog of improving people’s lives. Singapore did,” he said.

He added that while Singapore has several memorials that mark significant events in its modern history – the Civilian War Memorial and Kranji War Memorial, for instance – “we do not yet have a memorial to commemorate our nation-building journey”.

“Now, almost 60 years after Separation, and 80 years after the Second World War, the time has come for us to build one,” said SM Lee.

He added: “I hope this Founders’ Memorial will become a space where Singaporeans reflect on our ongoing nation-building journey; appreciate our precious inheritance from the founding generation; and resolve to continue building a harmonious and successful Singapore, based on our foundational values and ideals, for generations to come.”

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Lawrence Wong sworn in as Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister on 15 May 2024

PM Lawrence Wong to Singaporeans: ‘Join me and my team in our journey forward’
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2024

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong called on Singaporeans to join him in the ambitious goal of building a society where everyone matters “and a Singapore that matters to all Singaporeans”.

There will be no easy formulas to apply, and no models to follow in this task, he said on May 15 after being sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister at the Istana.

But he and his fourth-generation political leaders, together with the help of Singaporeans, will experiment to discover fresh solutions and blaze new paths.

“Everyone will have a stake in our nation’s progress. Everyone will play a key role in shaping our future,” he said in his inauguration speech.

Addressing Singaporeans for the first time as their prime minister, he promised to serve with all his heart, to never settle for the status quo, and to “always seek better ways to make tomorrow better than today”.

As prime minister, his mission was clear: To continue defying the odds and to sustain the miracle of Singapore.

“So that we can reach even greater heights. So that we can be a beacon of hope and unity for ourselves and our children,” he added.

Laying out his plans to take Singapore forward amid a more challenging world, PM Wong said there will be those who doubt Singapore’s ability to go further.

But he was sure they would be proven wrong as they have been in the past.

“When the going gets tough, we do not crumble. We press on, with faith in our fellow citizens and in Singapore’s future. We strive harder, reach further, and prove that with determination and hard work, there is no challenge we cannot overcome,” he said.

This is the spirit he will bring to his new role, he added.

In a ceremony before an audience which he said embodied the “rich fabric of our nation”, he solemnly took his affirmation of allegiance and of due execution of office.

Led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, he swore to bear faith and allegiance to Singapore and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He also swore to faithfully discharge his duties according to law to the best of his knowledge and ability, and without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

Watching on at the Istana lawn were students, teachers, unionists, business leaders, athletes, artists, community volunteers and the front-liners PM Wong had thanked tearily in Parliament in 2020 for their contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

When he was done, he was handed a scroll, the instrument of appointment, by President Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Then, in order of seniority, Mr Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as senior minister, Mr Gan Kim Yong and Mr Heng Swee Keat as deputy prime ministers, and Mr Teo Chee Hean as senior minister.

This was followed by 14 ministers, nine senior ministers of state and five ministers of state.

PM Wong, who has been taking classes in Malay and Mandarin, spoke first in the two languages before moving on to English.

The ceremony, held at the Istana at night after a heavy afternoon downpour, marked not just a change in leadership but also in generations.

Citing this, he said his generation have been shaped by their experiences, having seen the vital importance of good leadership, political stability and long-term planning, and have also benefited from the imaginative policies of Singapore’s founding fathers.

Their leadership style will differ from previous generations’, he said.

“We will lead in our own way. We will continue to think boldly and to think far,” he added.

He also pledged to build on the foundations laid by the earlier generations, acknowledging that he and his team stood on “the shoulders of giants”, such as Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team who led the country through independence and established the key pillars of governance; and second prime minister Goh Chok Tong and his team who took the country through the next lap, and nurtured a kinder and gentler society.

For his predecessor, SM Lee, PM Wong reserved a special tribute.

He thanked the outgoing prime minister for his guidance and mentorship, and on behalf of the nation, for his devotion to the service of the country and people, and his stewardship of Singapore.

“Mr Lee spoke often of the need to keep Singapore exceptional. He was exceptional himself – in his devotion, his selflessness, and his dedication to serve,” said PM Wong.

A smiling SM Lee leaned forward in a bow in his front-row seat, to applause from the audience.

President Tharman, in a speech before the swearing-in ceremony, said much could be recalled about SM Lee’s leadership in areas from foreign to security policies. “But it is above all the norms and standards that Mr Lee upheld and reinforced – the intangibles of political leadership – that define his most important legacy,” he added.

“His selflessness and personal integrity, and the expectations of high standards of conduct that he set for those in political office. His making time to listen to people from all walks of life, and different points of view, in making decisions that are fair and in the best interests of Singaporeans. His resolve to tackle difficult issues early, never leaving them to future leaders to resolve, even if it means paying an immediate political price.”

Singapore should never let slide these expectations of integrity, incorruptibility and conduct that SM Lee and his predecessors have established, as there will be no going back when standards slide, said Mr Tharman.

Even as he started out in his new role, PM Wong, who had emerged as the front runner for the role of prime minister in 2022 after the 4G’s earlier choice, DPM Heng, stepped down, had succession on his mind.

One of his key priorities is to identify and persuade younger Singaporeans, men and women in the 30s and 40s, to join his team, he said.

“So I call out tonight to all my fellow citizens: Help me to provide Singaporeans with the government they deserve. Let us make a difference, and serve our nation together,” he said.

Later in the night, PM Wong arrived to an enthusiastic reception in Yew Tee where more than 1,000 people had gathered to watch his swearing-in ceremony.

PM Wong, who has been an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC since 2015, said to them: “The best days of Singapore are still ahead of us, the best chapters of our Singapore story lie ahead – let’s work together to build a better Singapore together.”

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Singapore’s next Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announces changes to Cabinet on 13 May 2024

Gan Kim Yong promoted to DPM in Lawrence Wong’s Cabinet; minimal changes to line-up
By Wong Pei Ting, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 May 2024

Singapore’s next prime minister Lawrence Wong unveiled his Cabinet on May 13, with Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong to be appointed as deputy prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Wong, 51, who will be sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15, will continue as Finance Minister, a role he has taken on since May 2021.

Outgoing PM Lee Hsien Loong had remained finance minister for three years after he became prime minister in 2004.

At a press conference, DPM Wong – flanked by Mr Gan and DPM Heng Swee Keat – said he sought to balance the need for continuity and renewal in assembling his Cabinet.

DPM Wong said of Mr Gan, who co-chaired the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 alongside him: “Through the course of working together, we’ve come to get to know each other’s working styles better, and in this period of increased geopolitical tensions, his experience in international economics will also help us navigate a more contested global environment.”

Mr Gan, 65, said he was grateful and humbled to be given the opportunity to step up, although he is “not quite” part of the People’s Action Party fourth-generation team.

Mr Gan will continue as Minister for Trade and Industry, a position he has filled since May 2021. At the press conference, he also said he would continue to focus on economic issues in this role.

Mr Heng, 63, will remain as Deputy Prime Minister, but Mr Gan will be the acting PM in the PM’s absence, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a separate statement. Mr Gan will also assume responsibility for the Strategy Group within the PMO, which coordinates policies and plans across the Government.

DPM Wong said Mr Heng and Mr Gan are experienced ministers and will provide a steady hand in this initial period of transition. “I will be able to tap their views and expertise as I take on my new responsibility, and they will also help me to mentor our younger office-holder colleagues,” he said.

If his government is re-elected, DPM Wong said he plans to rotate the younger 4G ministers in different portfolios and give them wider exposure and experience. “Amongst them, I’m sure some will be able to step up and take over from their senior colleagues in due course,” he said.

Nevertheless, DPM Wong said more “fresh blood” is needed as some of the older ministers are likely to retire either at the end of this term or shortly after.

Pointing out that he is actively looking for new candidates with the potential to be office-holders at the moment, he said he aims to further renew and strengthen the team with new members, especially men and women in their 30s and 40s.

“There is no higher priority for me and that is to form the best possible team to serve Singapore and Singaporeans,” he added. He said that there will be a few among the junior office-holders who will be able to take on larger responsibilities as well.

The PMO also announced that Mr Gan will replace DPM Wong as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The new line-up – announced after DPM Wong accepted President Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s invitation to form the next government – also provided confirmation that PM Lee, 72, will stay on in the Cabinet as senior minister. PM Lee will also remain chairman of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council.

Meanwhile, two ministers of state – Ms Low Yen Ling, 49, and Mr Desmond Tan, 54 – are to be promoted to senior ministers of state. They will serve in the new role in their existing portfolios, under the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth for Ms Low, and under the PMO for Mr Tan.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam, 43, will be promoted to minister of state. With the promotion, she will relinquish her appointment in the Ministry of Law, but continue to serve in the Health Ministry as she takes up a new appointment in the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Meanwhile, two backbenchers have been brought in to strengthen the team. They are Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai, 56, and Jurong GRC MP Shawn Huang, 41, who served as a fighter pilot before entering politics and is director for enterprise development at Temasek.

Mr Huang will be appointed senior parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance, while Mr Murali, who is a lawyer, will step into a larger role as minister of state in the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Transport.

The appointment holders will be sworn in on May 15, with the exception of Mr Murali, who will be appointed and sworn in on July 1, and the senior parliamentary secretaries, who will be sworn in on May 24.

Earlier in the day, Mr Tharman exchanged letters with both PM Lee and DPM Wong, in which the President thanked the outgoing PM for his “selfless service” in government, and said he has “every confidence” that the incoming PM will lead Singapore with honour.

In a Facebook post that followed, President Tharman said he saw first-hand PM Lee’s sense of duty to Singapore and his ability to inspire over the years he had spent working with him as a Cabinet minister before he resigned in 2023 to stand for the presidency.

The President also said he had watched DPM Wong “grow as a leader”, having known him for over two decades. “I have the highest regard for him,” he said. “He will in my view make an excellent PM for Singapore in the changing times to come.”

Saturday 11 May 2024

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's interview with Singapore media ahead of the leadership transition

Bringing everyone along: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reflects on 20 years at the helm
As PM Lee Hsien Loong prepares to step down from his post on 15 May 2024 he shares his views on Singapore, the world and the road ahead.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanks Singaporeans for what country achieved over last 20 years
People live in peace and contentment today due to efforts of citizens, he says
‘I tried to bring everybody to run with me. And I think we did have some success’: PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 May 2024

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he has no regrets after leading the country for 20 years, having done what he set out to do with Singaporeans.

Singapore is a shining little red dot today, where people live in peace and contentment, and this is due to the effort of its citizens, he added.

As he prepares to step down from leading the country, PM Lee has this message for the people: “We’ve achieved much together... we are proud to be Singaporeans, and I am comforted by that. This is the result of everyone’s hard work, and I thank you for your effort and support.”

In wide-ranging interviews in English and Chinese looking back at his years in office, a relaxed and smiling PM Lee said he was ready to hand over to a new leader to take Singapore forward.

“We have been preparing this for a very long time,” he said at the interviews held at the Istana on April 24 and 26.

Noting that there have already been two successful leadership transitions, he expressed confidence that the third will be as smooth and peaceful.

PM Lee, a former brigadier-general who entered politics in 1984 and was appointed minister of state soon after, will stay on as senior minister in the new Cabinet after the handover.

Asked if he would deal with tricky issues as founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew did after stepping down, or travel the world like second prime minister Goh Chok Tong did to cement friendships, PM Lee said: “To the extent that I have people who know me and whom I can talk to, I will certainly make use of that and engage them. Specific, sensitive policy, that is up to the prime minister to decide.”

He added: “If he arrows me to do it, I will take the arrow.”

Whatever his role in the new team, he will only be in a supporting role, PM Lee stressed.

He said he told his successor: “I will be here to do my best to help you to succeed. You have to be your own person. You have to make the decisions.

“You have to lead in your own way, persuade people in your own way.

“I will give you the benefit of my experience and my views. But you have to set the tone, you have to carry the decisions.”

The Singapore that PM Lee and his team inherited in 2004 had just emerged from the Asian financial crisis and the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, outbreak.

At his inauguration speech on Aug 12, 2004, he had told Singaporeans: “Work with me to make Singapore a home we love, a community we belong to, and a country we are proud to call our own.”

In the years since, the country has stayed open amid the backlash against globalisation, and moved to provide stronger social safety nets. Gross domestic product per capita more than doubled from $46,664 in 2004 to $113,779 in 2023.

At the same time, income gaps widened, and Singapore moved towards redistribution programmes and more collective responsibility.

ComCare was launched in 2005 to bring support schemes together, and Workfare in 2007 to top up the wages of lower-income workers. The Progressive Wage Model followed in 2012 to uplift the wages of those at the bottom. MediShield Life and CareShield Life were then introduced to provide financial assurance for those who need long-term care.

But the Singaporean attitude should remain one of working hard and being prudent, and if things turn out well and Singapore has a good year, everybody can enjoy the upside, he said.

This upside, too, should not be just a distribution – “where you spend the money and it is gone” – but something society feels addresses real needs and deserves support.

Under PM Lee, the Government also introduced generational safety nets, in the form of the Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation packages for Singaporeans now in their 60s and older.

A visibly emotional PM Lee said: “They brought us here. If they had not stood and fought at the critical moment, and then slogged and built their whole lives to take Singapore forward, saved and enabled the next generation to move higher and further than they did, we would not be here today.”

Now that the Republic has accumulated some buffer, this is a way to thank and honour those generations, with a gesture that will help them in their golden years, he said.

With 20 more years of nation-building, the Singapore identity has become stronger, said PM Lee. “It is 20 more years of ups and downs, and trials and tribulations, and joys and sorrows.”

This identity was forged through crises, from the global financial crisis which hit in 2008 to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From time to time, Singapore has also had to work through prickly issues like the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code in 2022, which penalised sex between men, and allowing public sector nurses to wear the tudung to work.

These experiences enabled Singaporeans to understand one another better, accept one another’s differences, and work out practical arrangements, said PM Lee.

“But to say after this, we can fly solo – the Government does not need to watch, can take hands off the steering wheel or the controls, and it will look after itself – I do not think so. Never,” he added.

It is not possible because these issues will forever be sensitive, there have to be limits to discussions, and the Government needs to set the tone, he said.

“It is better for the Government to guide it, allow more discussions, allow freer exchange of views, and you can allow more liberal practices too. But I think we have to handle (sensitive issues) with very great care – always.”

This national identity will also always be subject to influences from the outside world, such as “wokeness”, religious norms, cultural norms, sexual norms and family norms.

Singapore will always be both part of a global humanity, and yet also a nation.

“I want to keep this Singapore nation cohesive, united, open, but not dissolved and just melted away. And that, for Singapore, for the long term, that is one of our key nation-building tasks,” said PM Lee.

While he will hand over his role as prime minister on May 15, there has been no announcement yet of when he will hand over the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to his successor.

Observers expect that he will remain PAP’s secretary-general until at least November, when the party celebrates its 70th anniversary and holds internal elections. DPM Wong told The Economist in a May 6 interview that he would take over as secretary-general “in due course”, without stating a timeframe.

Over the years, the party has changed, said PM Lee: generationally with new leaders; in policies and how it pitches them; and also how it engages the people to get buy-in.

“We have changed a lot over the years, and it is for the better,” said PM Lee, who has been MP for Teck Ghee ward, now under Ang Mo Kio GRC, since he was first elected into Parliament in 1984.

What has remained constant is the PAP’s commitment to Singapore, and its determination to maintain high standards of integrity and competence, he said.

Under his watch, the PAP was returned to power in four general elections – in May 2006, May 2011, September 2015 and July 2020.

PM Lee said each generation of leaders has had to govern in the way that worked best for the Singapore of that era.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew governed in a certain way, it worked for his generation. It wrought miracles practically, but it was his generation, and him. Mr Goh Chok Tong did it his way for a younger generation, different from Mr Lee.

“And I have tried to do it my way, different from both Mr Lee and Mr Goh. If I tried to do it their way, either one, I think I would have failed,” said PM Lee.

Asked to assess his own performance, PM Lee gave his usual response that it would be up to others to judge.

But he became emotional as he thanked Singaporeans for having come on this journey with him. That is what he would cherish most about having served as Singapore’s third prime minister.

“I didn’t try to run faster than everybody else. I tried to bring everybody to run with me,” he said.

“And I think we did have some success.”

Friday 3 May 2024

May Day Rally 2024

‘We have built a strong foundation for future generations’: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
In his last major speech at the May Day Rally, he asks Singaporeans to rally behind leadership team, to make the nation succeed
By Chin Soo Fang, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2024

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he has prepared a leadership team to succeed him that deserves Singaporeans’ confidence and support, and asked that all Singaporeans rally behind it to make the nation succeed.

Despite dark clouds on the horizon, the Republic has built a strong foundation for its future generations to continue to write new chapters of the Singapore story, PM Lee said at the May Day Rally on May 1.

In a valedictory speech at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, he said he felt “a sense of satisfaction and completeness” as he prepared to hand over Singapore in good order to his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, on May 15.

“I have done my duty, and I am very happy I chose this path of public service all those many years ago,” said PM Lee to a standing ovation from the 1,400 unionists, business leaders and government officials who were present.

However, leading a country is never a one-man job but that of a national team, he said as he thanked MPs and union leaders, as well as Singaporeans for their trust and support.

“I have strived to lead you and to govern Singapore in the way you deserve, to mobilise Singaporeans to show what we can do together,” he said. “I have also prepared a leadership team to succeed me that deserves your confidence and support.”

‘We have improved everyone’s lives’

PM Lee, who had spoken at almost every May Day Rally since he became prime minister in 2004, said he had sought in his tenure to build on Singapore’s strengths under past leaders such as founding PM Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team overcame tremendous odds to forge an improbable nation with multiculturalism as its creed, and made home ownership, education and healthcare available to all.

Mr Goh showed it was possible to take Singapore forward with a different style for a different era, and under his leadership, Singapore matured and became more vibrant, resilient and cohesive, PM Lee said.

Of his 20 years since he took over in 2004, PM Lee said Singapore has become better off.

Investments in promising sectors such as biotech, information technology and financial services have paid off, while the economic base has diversified as the country climbed the value chain, from factories to research and development in pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology.

Singaporeans’ quality of life has also improved across the board, including for those with lower incomes, he added.

New Housing Board towns with green spaces and amenities have been built, such as Punggol, which has turned from an ulu (Malay for “remote”) place to an attractive town full of young families.

Meanwhile, older towns have been kept up to date with the many upgrading programmes that made them fit for a more elderly population.

“This is why, unlike public housing projects elsewhere in the world, our HDB estates never turn into slums or ghettos,” he said.

Public transport has likewise improved, going from just the red (North-South) and green (East-West) lines to a much more colourful map today with the addition of the purple (North East), yellow (Circle), blue (Downtown) and brown (Thomson-East Coast) lines.

In time to come, there will also be a light green Cross Island Line and light blue Jurong Region Line, PM Lee added.

Singapore has also invested heavily in a first-class healthcare system to make it accessible and affordable to all, and poured more resources into pre-schools and infant care while transforming the broader education system to have more diverse pathways.

“In Singapore, unlike in some other countries, your postal code does not determine your destiny,” he said.

The Government has also made every effort to leave no one behind as the country progressed, PM Lee added, alluding to the promise he made in his 2004 swearing-in speech to forge an inclusive society.

One of his earliest moves as PM was to create ComCare, which brought together existing social programmes and enhanced them to channel more resources towards the needy.

Workfare was then launched to supplement the incomes of lower-wage workers, and the Progressive Wage Model to raise wages and skills in a sustainable way.

Today, children from disadvantaged backgrounds also get an extra boost through KidStart, while ComLink+ works with vulnerable families to put them on the path of home ownership.

Other components of Singapore’s social safety net were also strengthened, PM Lee added.

MediShield Life and CareShield Life help deal with large medical bills and long-term care costs; CPF Life and Silver Support are for retirement adequacy; and the Pioneer, Merdeka and Majulah packages take care of older Singaporeans.

PM Lee said he was also proud of the Singaporean pride and work ethic that has evolved, which the trade unions had helped to foster.

Whether they are teachers who spend their own time to help weaker students, uniformed personnel who become first responders even when off duty, or healthcare professionals who go the extra mile for their patients, Singaporeans take their responsibilities seriously even though not everyone can be at the top of the totem pole, he said.

“Ours is a society that takes pride in whatever we do and makes a point of doing it well,” he added.

“A society that is egalitarian and meritocratic in its ethos, where those who have done well feel a sense of duty to give back to the society that nurtured them.”

Next chapter of the Singapore story

The next chapter of the Singapore story is off to a strong start, though there are many uncertainties in the world, PM Lee said.

These include rising tensions and rivalry between big powers, deglobalisation and protectionism, technological advances and climate change, and questions of war and peace.

“The world has changed, and we must come up with updated creative responses, but some hard truths have not changed,” he said. “These imperatives will stay relevant in the years ahead.”

First, social cohesion is important, and race, language and religion are traditional fault lines that will never go away for Singapore.

While huge efforts have been made to build a shared Singaporean identity, the nation will always be subject to external forces that pull different segments of its population in different directions.

Singaporeans cannot disavow their diverse ethnic roots and religious affinities – Chinese Singaporeans with China, Indian Singaporeans with their various ancestral homes in India, Malay Singaporeans with the rest of the region, and with the global Muslim ummah (Arabic for community), he said.

While these can be vulnerabilities, Singapore does not want to lose these rich cultural and historical heritages.

“Therefore, for us, racial and religious harmony will always be a continuing work in progress,” PM Lee said. “Never think that we have ‘solved the problem’ and that we have left it behind.”

There are also other potential divisions, he noted, between the haves and the have-nots; Singaporean-born and naturalised citizens; conservatives and liberals; and the current and future generations.

“All these differences can be exploited politically, to pit Singaporeans one against another, and divide and weaken us,” he said. “Hence, we have got to continue to work hard to overcome social stresses and tensions, to enlarge our common space, and to strengthen our shared Singaporean identity.”

This is why the Government moved to allow Muslim nurses in Singapore’s public healthcare sector to wear the tudung, and repealed Section 377A of the Penal Code. These were controversial and difficult issues, but they were tackled instead of being left to fester, PM Lee said.

“So we prepared the ground carefully, worked out practical compromises and moved to a more sustainable, long-term position, while fostering mutual understanding and acceptance.”

Second, the PAP Government has always planned and acted for the long term. While having a vision and sense of stewardship beyond immediate problems and crises is important for every country, most find it very hard, he said.

Pointing to the rally venue, he recounted the long journey to turn Marina Bay into today’s reality.

The Government started thinking about reclaiming land there in the 1960s, and the reclamation project began in 1971. When he took over as PM, the Government started talking about integrated resorts (IRs).

“This was one of my first major decisions as prime minister – whether or not to allow IRs in Singapore, which would introduce casino gambling to Singapore,” he said. “After a full public debate, we decided to proceed, but with suitable safeguards in place.”

The IRs opened in 2010, just in time to catch the recovery from the global financial crisis, and they took off, he said. Today, besides the IRs, Singapore also has Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Barrage, Marina Reservoir and an iconic skyline around the bay.

There are more plans for Singapore in the decades ahead, he said. They include a new megaport in Tuas, a new Terminal 5 at Changi Airport, a redeveloped Paya Lebar after the airbase there is relocated, and a Greater Southern Waterfront for future generations to live, work and play.

Singapore will also reclaim a Long Island along the east coast, to protect itself from rising sea levels, and create more land and another freshwater reservoir, he added.

“I have no doubt that the next team and their successors will conceive more creative and ambitious projects, which will challenge us, inspire us and take our country to the next level,” he said.

Stability key to Singapore’s exceptionalism

The third fundamental principle is political stability and trust, PM Lee said.

Singapore’s whole system is anchored on a strong base of trust between the people and their Government: The people elect a PAP Government, and in turn the PAP Government works hard to maintain their trust and support.

“It shows, through words and through deeds, that it has the nation’s best interests at heart and is improving your lives,” he said.

At each election – 15 times in a row – the PAP has won a renewed mandate, fair and square, and continued to deliver results for Singaporeans, he added.

“Getting our politics right is absolutely crucial,” he said. “Please understand: We have succeeded, and Singapore has made exceptional economic and social gains, because our system is exceptional.”

The system does not have to fail outright for Singapore to get into trouble – as a 700 sq km island without a hinterland or natural resources, just being average means that the Republic will be worse off than other countries, he stressed.

“Graver still, if our system malfunctions – becomes beset by populism, tribalism, nativism, or obsessed by short-term gains, like some other countries – then we will certainly be sunk,” he said, on why it is crucial that Singaporeans uphold an ethos of excellence and to maintain political stability.

Concluding, he urged the people to make the most of the advantages that Singapore has accrued – adequate reserves, international respect, a cohesive society, and a vibrant and inclusive economy – without taking them for granted or tossing them away.

PM Lee, who was also marking his 40th year in politics, said that having done his best to lead a team that has stewarded Singapore and safeguarded its future, his successors must do the same.

“That is our path forward: For each generation to steward Singapore to the best of its ability, so that the next generation can take on a better Singapore, and, in turn, lead our nation onwards and upwards.”