Monday 27 August 2012

National Day Rally 2012 Highlights

Help write the next chapter in Singapore story, says PM Lee
He invites all to look beyond present woes to a home with hope and heart
By Lydia Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

THE future is for Singaporeans to create and the Prime Minister has called on everyone to help chart a new, clear direction for the country and to help make the future they want happen.

In his ninth National Day Rally, Mr Lee Hsien Loong last night invited Singaporeans to look beyond present woes, such as those in housing and transport. These, he said, will be fixed.

The future beckons, and the challenge is to make Singapore a gracious home over the next 20 years, one that offers hope to its people.

The Prime Minister posed this question to the 1,500-strong audience at the University Cultural Centre, and the thousands more watching at home: What should the next chapter of the Singapore Story be about?

He hopes many will join in the quest for an answer through the national conversation on Our Singapore, which Education Minister Heng Swee Keat will chair.

"Think seriously about our future, contribute your ideas and work together to make it happen. Singapore must keep improving in such a rapidly changing world. If we stand still, we will fall behind... But if we adapt to changes and exploit new opportunities, we will thrive," he said.

Mr Lee spoke for more than two hours in Malay, Mandarin and English, celebrating as he did in rallies past, the achievements of a diverse group of Singaporeans - from students to a construction worker who cannot read. He received a standing ovation at the end.

For the first time, he also shared the stage with three new members of his team, Mr Heng, Senior Minister of State Lawrence Wong and Minister of State Halimah Yacob. They gave their take on the national conversation and how to keep Singapore inclusive. Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew did not attend the rally.

In a speech that spoke to the soul of Singapore, PM used three words to frame how he viewed the next chapter of the Singapore Story: hope, heart and home.

As a country that is also a city, Singapore cannot afford to stand still, he noted. It must keep pace with a rising China and India, cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai and Bangalore that are becoming more vibrant, and leading cities like New York and London.

Key to giving hope is the creation of opportunities, and the Government will do its part through education, which Mr Lee said was "the most important long-term investment in our people".

He announced 3,000 more full-time university places a year from 2020, paving the way for 40 per cent in each cohort to attend university.

The Government will invest substantial resources in pre-school education, to raise its quality, keep it affordable and level up children from disadvantaged homes, he pledged.

Mr Lee also hopes that the Singapore of tomorrow will have a bigger heart. Reports of Singaporeans who quarrel over common spaces are troubling, as are the nasty views, expressed online and anonymously, about foreigners. The latter damage Singapore's reputation as they cause others to see it as xenophobic, said Mr Lee, citing a recent New York Times article titled "In Singapore, Vitriol Against Chinese Newcomers".

He urged Singaporeans and newcomers to work at integration, saying: "We may be a small island but we cannot be small minded... We must also be a caring, generous and decent people."

At the heart of this issue was the question: Just what sort of people do we want to be, he said, urging Singaporeans to be a people who take pride in themselves and have a heart for their fellow human beings.

Such big-heartedness, he noted, is often understood in terms of social safety nets for those in need. This year's inclusive Budget marked a major shift towards more help for the elderly, the disabled, and the low- and middle-income earners.

But such spending comes at a price. The Government already spends part of its returns from investing the reserves, and these funded 14 per cent of expenditures last year.

Explaining that, unlike politicians elsewhere, he preferred to tell citizens the truth, he said: "As our social spending increases significantly, sooner or later our taxes must go up - not immediately but certainly within the next 20 years."

Safety nets must be matched by self-reliance and resilience. To survive, Singaporeans need to be "tough as individuals, close as families, cohesive as a society, and strong as a nation", and to press on in the face of setbacks.

On the Government's part, it will not give up on efforts to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies, as families are central to people's sense of home and of who they are. There will be a new package of measures to encourage marriage and parenthood in the White Paper on population due out in January.

Home is also about the memories that Singaporeans share, said Mr Lee, sharing his own memories, including growing up in his family home at 38 Oxley Road.

With his eye on the past and the future, Mr Lee returned to his theme of the Singapore Story. "Our drive to keep the Singapore Story vital and fresh for all of us must never falter," he said, and called on Singaporeans to join in to shape the next chapter.

40% of each cohort to get shot at local universities
16,000 places yearly by 2020 at six institutions offering full-time courses
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

SINGAPORE will soon have six universities offering full-time degree programmes, giving 40 per cent of each school cohort a shot at university education right here at home by 2020.

That is up from the current cohort participation rate of 27 per cent. It translates to 16,000 undergraduate places yearly, up from this year's 13,000.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the increase at the National Day Rally last night. The additional places will be provided through the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University (UniSIM) which will become Singapore's fifth and sixth universities.

He said SIT, which offers niche degree programmes in partnership with overseas universities, will increase its yearly intake beyond the projected 2,000 in 2015, and offer its own degrees.

UniSIM which offers part-time degree courses for working adults will start running full-time degree programmes but remain a private university.

The Ministry of Education will give out more details tomorrow.

Mr Lee's announcement on the increase in university places comes one year after he launched a review of the university sector to look into how more undergraduate places can be opened up for Singaporeans.

The 15-member review panel, led by Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong, concluded that any new university must not be another research-intensive university like the National University of Singapore or the Nanyang Technological University.

Instead it should have a more applied, practice-oriented focus and produce a different type of graduate.

Mr Lee acknowledged the rising aspirations of Singaporeans for a university degree.

"Every parent wants his or her child to do as well as possible, go to university. And many ITE (Institute of Technical Education) students hope to go on to the poly and most poly students aspire to get a degree," he said.

Mr Lee agreed with the review committee that it is important to produce graduates with skills which are useful and in demand. He warned against churning out graduates regardless of quality or employment opportunities.

Noting the experience of a few other countries, including Britain and the United States, and even China, where there is unemployment or underemployment of graduates, he said: "Singapore must avoid leading people up the wrong path, misleading them that if you spend three years of your life doing this, at the end you will have a happy outcome.

"We must make sure that if we encourage people to go that way, that at the end, the prospects are good."

He did not forget working adults aiming to pursue degrees.

He recognised that it took tremendous commitment to juggle work and study and said the Government will look into extending bursaries and loans to those studying part-time at UniSIM.

Junior college and polytechnic students eyeing a place in the local universities as well as their parents welcomed the announcement on more university places, which two parents described as "generous".

Previous increases in the university cohort participation rate did not go beyond 5 percentage points.

Parents like Mr R. Murugiah, 46, a shop manager, who has two sons enrolled in polytechnic, said it was a nice National Day present for parents like him.

He added: "I have been worried because there is no way I can afford to send my two sons overseas, so I am relieved that they are making more places available."

SIT's president Tan Chin Tiong said SIT will look into offering its own degrees as well as dual degrees with its foreign university partners.

UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat said his university, which already has a strong industry orientation, will add diversity to the higher education landscape.

Pre-school stat board to be set up
By Ong Hwee Hwee, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

A NEW statutory board will be set up to oversee pre-school education, in response to growing calls for the Government to devote more attention to this area.

And in a further signal that it is heeding these calls, the Government will also run a few pre-school centres under a pilot scheme. These centres will test new concepts in kindergarten education.

To keep pre-school - especially kindergarten education - affordable, more operators will also be roped in to provide programmes targeted at the mass market.

These were some measures announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday to address a hot-button issue: how to bridge gaps in a sector of uneven standards, while keeping pre-schools affordable for the less well-off and disadvantaged. More details will be announced this week.

The state of the pre-school sector here came under the spotlight following a recent study commissioned by the Lien Foundation which ranked Singapore 29th out of 45 countries in standards of early childhood education. Affordability and quality were highlighted as weak areas.

There are some 500 kindergartens and 950 childcare centres here.

Mr Lee acknowledged that more needs to be done despite the great strides Singapore has made in promoting learning from a young age.

Education used to start only at Primary 1 "once upon a time", he noted. "My mother only learned to read when she went to school, and it wasn't because she was disadvantaged or deprived, it was the norm," he said. "But when it came to my turn, she sent me at a young age to Nanyang Kindergarten to learn Mandarin."

Nowadays, more than 99 per cent of all children here attend pre-school, he pointed out, even though it is not compulsory.

The Government will help by investing "substantial resources" in pre-school.

One key priority he identified: raising the quality of programmes for children aged five and six, especially those offered by mass market operators such as the PAP Community Foundation and the National Trades Union Congress.

To boost this segment of the market, more such operators will be roped in, he said, without naming the operators.

Besides quality, affordability is important. More support will be given to those from the middle- and lower-income families, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, he said.

Other areas that need more work include better training for teachers.

But even as the Government takes on a bigger role, it will not nationalise the sector, as suggested by some, stressed Mr Lee.

"Some people want the Government to pao ka liao," he said, using the Hokkien slang for "do everything". "I think the Government has a role to play but the Government's role is not to do everything."

Parents should be free to choose from different programmes offered by a mix of operators.

"We should instead emphasise on raising the base," he said.

The Education Ministry and the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports will be in charge of improving the sector and this will take some time. "But I am confident we will see results in five to seven years."

Pre-school experts welcomed the announcements.

Of the statutory board, Mr Lee Poh Wah, chief executive officer of the Lien Foundation, said: "It's a good first move to indicate a serious and long-term commitment to educational equity."

Logistic supervisor Kenny Neo, 35, who has two daughters aged four and five months, said of the news: "It shows that parents' views are taken seriously."

'No homework is not a bad thing. It's good for young children to play, and to learn through play. So please, I've heard of parents who send their children to two kindergartens. I read of parents who send their kindergarten-aged children to tuition. Please don't do that.' 
-- PM Lee Hsien Loong, warning against what he called 'over-teaching'

'It's good for young children to play'
By Ong Hwee Hwee, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

LET your children enjoy their childhood. And there's no need to send your pre-schooler for tuition to prepare him for Primary 1.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had this advice for over- zealous parents last night.

While some parents want their children to get a head start, it is important not to "over-teach" them.

"Pre-school is to teach the kids certain skills which are best learnt at that age - languages, social skills, basic motor skills.

"It's not meant for you to prepare with a P1, P2 textbook and to drill the kid at three or four years old so that by the time he goes to P1, he already knows what the teacher's supposed to teach him."

He said research by child development experts have found that hothousing pre-schoolers may lead to harmful "over-teaching".

"You do harm. You turn the kid off, you make his life miserable," he said.

"Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It's good for young children to play, and to learn through play."

And to parents who send their children to two pre-schools or tuition, he had this to say: Don't.

"I've heard of parents who send their children to two kindergartens. I read of parents who send their kindergarten-age children to tuition," he said. "Please don't do that."

Housewife Pamelia Tng, 31, said she agreed with the Prime Minister, but it's easier said than done.

She sends her three children - aged seven, six and two - for enrichment classes but she "slows down at home".

"You want your kids to enjoy their childhood but you have to make sure they can catch up with their peers. That's always a struggle for parents," she said.

Double standards towards foreigners worry PM
Bad behaviour by foreigners creates storm but good deeds go unnoticed
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed worry last night about the double standards being shown towards foreigners in Singapore.

When a foreigner says or does something wrong, especially to a Singaporean, the response is vitriolic and overwhelming.

But bad Singaporean behaviour often goes uncriticised, and a good deed by a foreigner often unnoticed, he pointed out.

Delivering his National Day Rally speech at the University Cultural Centre, Mr Lee said it is "fair enough" to oppose the Government's immigration policies. But a knee-jerk, one-sided response to cases of foreigner misconduct "reflects badly on us".

Coverage in the international media of xenophobia here, like a New York Times article last month headlined "In Singapore, Vitriol Against Chinese Newcomers", damages Singapore's global reputation, he said.

More fundamentally, such coverage "speaks poorly of the sort of people we are".

Mr Lee cited the example of Chinese undergraduate Sun Xu's derogatory posts about Singaporeans, posted on his microblog in February, which set off an online storm.

Mr Sun, 25, a National University of Singapore student, was "roundly and rightly chastised by Singaporeans", he said.

There are, however, many nasty posts by Singaporeans about foreigners, even websites devoted to "tormenting and berating" certain groups of foreigners - "but very few people stand up to say this is wrong, shameful, we repudiate that. I think that is no good", he lamented.

Mr Lee also rued the way instances of exemplary behaviour by foreigners in Singapore are ignored, while those of bad behaviour go immediately viral.

He cited a Straits Times forum letter last month about a foreign nurse on a bus being the only one to help a sick old woman, while the other passengers ignored her.

No one whipped out their smartphones to film this incident, nor was there any Internet response to the letter, he noted.

Incidents of misbehaving foreigners are inevitable, but "ditto Singaporeans", he said.

Smartphones and social media have made it easier for people to offend and take offence, but in an impassioned voice, he asked: "What sort of people do we want to be?

"We need to be people who are proud of ourselves, who have a heart, who can feel for our fellow human beings, who will be courteous, respectful and behave with others as we would like others to behave towards us.

"It's not my job to give a lecture or a sermon," Mr Lee concluded solemnly. "This is a speech. But I have to point this out. This is my duty.

"It's ultimately up to us how big-hearted we want to be. We may be a small island, (but) we cannot be small-minded."

Success stories in integration do exist, he noted, such as newcomers from China serving as grassroots leaders, or a German permanent resident who shops at Tekka Market, makes his own sambal and loves durians.

Ms Le Ha Thanh Mai, a Vietnamese student at Singapore Management University, was described by Mr Lee as so localised that no one could tell she was a foreigner except for her name.

Later, the 21-year-old, who has been studying here since she was 15, told The Straits Times: "I'm grateful to be here, and really hope I can be a good example for Singaporeans to see that there are many foreigners here who are contributing back."

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said it was brave of PM Lee not to mince his words on the topic. "You could sense his disappointment. It could just be a small segment of Singaporeans propagating this stuff, but it spreads and makes people think that this is a true reflection of Singapore."

'It reflects badly on us. It damages our international reputation. People think that Singapore is anti-foreigner and xenophobic... It speaks poorly of what sort of people we are.' 
PM Lee, expressing concern over the rising anger seen against foreigners

PM Lee laments Ugly Singaporean behaviour
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

GROWING instances of ugly Singaporean behaviour have troubled him, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

These Singaporeans have been "reserving" public roads outside their houses with flowerpots or dustbins so they can park their cars.

They have quarrelled with their neighbours over the washing of common corridors, placing of furniture and noise, and they have objected to the building of elder-care facilities or studio apartments in their precincts - while suggesting they be sited nearby in another estate.

For now, these cases are a minority, he said during his National Day Rally speech last night, but still seem to be part of a "rising trend of not-so-good behaviour". "We seem to be getting less patient, less tolerant, less willing to compromise in order to get along."

This is perhaps due to the disappearance of the "kampung spirit" of old, he said. In the past, neighbours met regularly at common spaces, whether waiting for a lift that stopped only once every three floors, or watching TV at community centres.

Now, Singaporeans lead more private lives and interact less with their neighbours. And "less interaction results in less consideration, maybe more self-centred behaviour".

"We should not let this spread, and make us ugly Singaporeans. I think we will be ashamed of ourselves," he said.

"It's not just a matter of courtesy, but goes much deeper than that. It reflects how unselfish we are, how much we respect other people."

He noted that Singapore's harmonious society has been built on big-heartedness and accommodation, citing the way void decks are shared for Chinese funerals and Malay weddings alike.

Such natural compromises show the spirit of give and take and mutual accommodation among Singaporeans, he said: "We're all in this same country together."

But he also said he has been encouraged by other trends, like the way more young people are taking up social cases.

He mentioned Ms Tok Kheng Leng, 20, a social work student at the National University of Singapore, who mentored other young people and led overseas youth expeditions.

Ms Tok told The Straits Times that, in her view, ugly Singaporean behaviour arises out of the fear of losing out, due to the limited resources here.

But she hopes that more people can see that there is much to gain in giving.

"I'm not waiting till I'm older to volunteer because I think I have the capacity now," she said. "I receive a lot in the process. The youths I interact with teach me a lot too."

Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee welcomed Mr Lee's strong words on the topic.

"It's good that he used this occasion to tell these people that this is really unacceptable behaviour, and that, being a small country, we cannot afford such selfishness."

Taxes must go up within 20 years
Increase is inevitable as social spending climbs, says PM Lee
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

THE Government is already relying on the national reserves to boost social spending without having to raise taxes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

Last year, $8 billion was channelled to the Budget from the Net Investment Returns (NIR) - this accounted for 14 per cent of expenditure, and was more than what the Government collected in personal income tax.

It was also four times what it collected through certificates of entitlement, said Mr Lee.

But as social spending continues to rise significantly, taxes must go up "certainly within 20 years", he said. "Nothing falls from heaven." He emphasised that politicians from many other countries often champion social spending "but pretend it costs taxpayers nothing".

In a dig at a point that politicians, including Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao, have made, Mr Lee said "even in Singapore, some people will tell you, that's just a social investment. Since it's an investment, it looks after itself".

"But let me tell you the truth: As our spending increases, sooner or later our taxes must go up."

The Government can tap up to 50 per cent of the NIR for expenditure, though it does not reveal whether the contributions have ever hit the limit.

In a sign that it does not intend to channel funds more liberally from the reserves, Mr Lee cautioned that "we have to draw from the reserves in a sustainable way, so that it stays there and you can continue to have money year after year".

"We have a responsibility to future generations. We must husband these reserves so that future generations won't say, 'Ah, my grandparents, they spent it all.'"

He also emphasised that stronger social safety nets must be coupled with self-reliance and resilience in society.

"To survive, we must be resilient: tough as individuals, close as families, cohesive as a society and strong as a nation."

Urging those who have succeeded to have a sense of mutual responsibility for other Singaporeans, he said: "You have succeeded by working hard, but you have also benefited from the system which nurtured you and from the many others who helped you to do well. Without that, you would have been nothing.

"And I think that our successful people have to feel that obligation that, having done well, they (must) make the effort and help others too."

Altering lives, not just clothes
By Leonard Lim and Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

BY MOST accounts, Ms Josephine Ng was a successful career woman. The marketing agency she founded boasted clients in the Fortune 100 list. After it was acquired by an American multinational in 2001, she continued to work there until 2003.

She then opted for a break and quit her job.

Three years ago, she decided she needed to give back to society. She started a social enterprise called Alteration Initiative to employ women-in-need, train them to be seamstresses and give them a decent wage.

She was cited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday as an example of how people who have benefited from the system that nurtured them must maintain a sense of mutual responsibility and help others to succeed.

"You may be a great entrepreneur, you may be a very successful banker, you may have invented something, but there were schools, there were parents, there were teachers, there's a society... which enabled you to do well. Without that, you would have been nothing," he said.

Ms Ng's social enterprise, located at Chevron House in Raffles Place and Mandarin Gallery, employs about 30 women now. Some are disabled, others are from low-income backgrounds.

"Letting them sew is good because they can work from home and any time they want," said Ms Ng, 43.

"We are upskilling them, giving them basic skills such as sewing, and training some up for operations and customer service."

New HDB flats for singles?
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

THE Government is studying whether singles can buy flats directly from the Housing Board, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted last night.

Currently, singles, and only those aged 35 and above, can buy resale HDB flats and use government grants. They cannot buy new flats directly from the HDB.

But with resale flat prices rising, it has caused concern as singles find buying a home increasingly unaffordable. "It is something on the minds of many Singaporeans, because the singles numbers have gone up," he said.

"I fully understand these concerns. I should say MND (Ministry of National Development) also fully understands the concerns. And I should also say (National Development Minister) Khaw Boon Wan is looking actively at the matter," he said to applause.

Mr Lee was addressing what the Government is doing to address current concerns over housing, as well as jobs, transportation and health care, in his National Day Rally speech.

The Government is looking to cut the waiting time needed to book HDB flats, and has been launching new HDB flats.

"I am confident nearly every Singaporean household can afford their own home. We have done it before and we can do it again," he said.

He added that he is confident there is enough space to accommodate an expanding population through developing more housing estates and reclaiming more land in the long run.

The Government is also tackling problems related to jobs and infrastructure, Mr Lee said.

It is bringing in new investments to create new and better jobs. The new Singapore-Industry Scholarship, for example, has already sponsored 90 Singaporeans who go to university and then work in a local firm, he said.

It is also investing $60 billion over 10 years in building up the train transportation network, and building more hospitals, nursing homes and day care centres.

On transport, he said that while the long-term investment was being laid out, new bus services will start being rolled out from next month to ease the crunch.

Housing priority for parents?
Govt mulling if such a move and paternity leave could boost birth rate
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

IN A move that is bound to stir controversy, the Government is thinking of giving couples with young children priority when they book HDB flats.

A less controversial measure to boost Singapore's declining birth rate: allowing paternity leave, or some form of it.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made these announcements last night when he turned to a perennial rally topic: How to arrest Singapore's total fertility rate, which was a dismal 1.2 last year.

The Government is looking at a range of measures, which take in views from a public consultation exercise ahead of the release of the White Paper on population next January.

Mr Lee noted that housing issues are now "off the boil" with more flats having been built and many more in the pipeline.

"I think that we should give some consideration to giving couples with young kids priority when they book HDB flats," he said. "Firstly it will solve their problem faster. Secondly, it may encourage them to have a kid so that the flat will come faster."

He noted how in other countries, people get married, have children, then eventually save up and buy a house. "In Singapore, it's the other way round. House first. Then you think about marriage. Then you think about kids."

As to how parents care for the baby once it arrives, he said that keeping maternity leave to 16 weeks "was about all right". The National Trades Union Congress recently proposed extending it to six months.

"You can make it longer but employers have serious worries and we should take them seriously. And I think employees have worries too," he said.

Then, with a smile, he announced: "But this idea of paternal leave in some form - either you give some to the husband or you make some of the maternity leave convertible, we have said 'no' for a very long time, but I think it's time we change."

This is "to signal the importance of the father's role and your shared responsibility for raising the children. So please use the paternity leave for the purpose it is given".

The audience applauded.

Another measure he raised was to give each newborn baby a Medisave account, which will come with a "small hongbao" to lessen the load of childhood medical expenses. More will also be done to promote work-life balance, such as encouraging flexible work arrangements and improving work culture and employers' attitudes.

Mr Lee added: "Maybe you should take seriously the idea of having one day a week when you close shop at 6 o'clock and if you are seen in the office after that, that's a minus for promotion purposes!"

More help should also be given to low- and middle-income families for childcare and infant care.

While Singapore's total fertility rate is on the downward trend, the Government "cannot give up" in its quest to encourage Singaporeans to settle down and start families, said Mr Lee.

However, not everything can be solved by the Government, he noted. It can do only so much to change workplace culture, while money alone will not encourage people to have children.

Observers and family groups hailed the move to legislate paternity leave but had reservations about giving couples with children priority for housing.

But banker Neil Yang, 29, and his teacher wife Elizabeth, 25, said the move might help young couples like themselves start families earlier.

'Reaffirm, recalibrate and refresh'
Minister outlines guiding principle of national conversation on future
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

THE national conversation on the future of Singapore will be first and foremost about putting Singaporeans at the heart of the country's concerns, said Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat.

It will be an opportunity for Singaporeans to come together and ask what matters most and where they want to go as a people, he added. In short, it will seek to "reaffirm, recalibrate and refresh", he said.

He set out yesterday the guiding principle of the national conversation he has been tasked to lead, as chief of a committee to engage Singaporeans in taking a fresh look at policies and discuss the future Singapore they want.

The committee has yet to be formed. But in his first National Day Rally speech, ahead of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address, Mr Heng urged all Singaporeans to get involved in the national effort, "including those who normally stay silent".

Mr Lee later painted in broad strokes the dramatic backdrop awaiting Singapore as countries change, technology advances and events within Singapore evolve.

While Singapore's economic leap from Third World to First World is well known, he asked: "What is the next chapter of this story? Where do we want Singapore to be 20 years from now?"

One major factor will be technological change. Casting his mind to 20 years ago, he noted that national service recruits used coins and phone cards to make calls home. Now, they use cellphones.

The Internet did not exist in Singapore in 1992. Today, Singapore is one of the most wired countries in the world.

"So just think back to those 20 years and ask yourself: 'How you can imagine what 20 years from now will be like?' Not just the technology, but what the technology has done to our lives?"

Entire industries will change, some jobs will disappear, others will be redesigned. The social norms of how people communicate and interact with one another will also evolve, he said.

He gave a glimpse of some technologies that he thinks will have a major impact: unmanned aerial vehicles that one day, may even be used by Singapore Airlines to fly passengers, and machines that can be controlled by brain waves.

Domestically, a more mature economy, an ageing society and a better educated population are already changing Singapore.

But whatever the global and domestic trends, the future of Singapore is not predetermined. "It depends on ourselves: what we make of our resources, our education, our people. What we hope Singapore will be and what we will Singapore to become.

"What we decide, we want to be there, let's get there. We have to set a clear direction, we cannot just be blown off course or drift with the tides onto the rocks."

On his decision to have three new office-holders speak at the Rally, Mr Lee said he wanted "fresh people, fresh voices and fresh ideas for Singapore". He indicated that others may be invited to speak at future Rallies.

Meanwhile, Mr Heng, in outlining what he hopes to achieve in the national conversation, stressed that it must reaffirm what is good and relevant about the fundamentals in Singapore.

But some strengths can be overdone, he warned, and added: "Extreme meritocracy and competition can lead to a winner-take-all-society, with the winners thinking little of others.

"We need to restore a balance to hard-nosed material pragmatism," he said.

Observers see the new format as a bid to make the national conversation open and inclusive.

Said Nominated MP Nicholas Fang: "Calling it a conversation suggests the emphasis is going to be on being more interactive, and a sincere reflection of what people are truly worried about."

Undergraduate Han Dong, 23, said the changes ahead will give young Singaporeans more options in their career, lifestyle and family choices: "So if people want their options to be taken into consideration, they need to take part in the conversation."

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh said that while Mr Lee had set broadly, a direction for the future Singapore, "it is still wide open for everyone to come in".

'Happiness is linked to people around us'
Lawrence Wong lists 3 ways Govt will help citizens achieve happiness
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

IN the eyes of Senior Minister of State Lawrence Wong, happiness is one of Singapore's "values and ideals" enshrined in the National Pledge.

Also, "there is no such thing as personal happiness; happiness is 100 per cent relational", he said, quoting a scholar from Bhutan, known for its Gross National Happiness index.

"In other words, our happiness is linked to the people around us," he said as he delved into three ways the Government would help Singaporeans achieve happiness.

First, by creating opportunities for all. Children today grow up with "far more opportunities" than their parents, said Mr Wong, who will give up his Education portfolio in November to head the new Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

But the Government will continue to expand pathways at the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities to develop every student's talent, he said. Many young Singaporeans have told him they wish to attend university. "We've heard you, and we are taking action," he said.

Mr Wong heads a university review committee, and last night was the first among three new office-holders to speak at the Rally.

In his speech, he also pledged to enhance the quality of life for Singaporeans. The Government is investing in the arts, culture and sports - important areas which are avenues for leisure, expression and self-improvement.

Finally, happiness is built on strong communities, said Mr Wong as he quoted the saying a Bhutanese friend had shared with him. As happiness is derived from relationships, he said interacting with the community is more important than income or education levels in determining happiness.

However, "many feel that we have somehow lost a bit of the kampung spirit".

One priority of his new ministry will be to strengthen community bonds, he said, pledging its support for ground initiatives.

But the most important factor in realising the Pledge's ideals is not the Government, he said. "Rather, it is us - we, the people, 'we, the citizens of Singapore'."

Calling on Singaporeans to step forward to build the Singapore they want, he said they can choose to be happy when they serve a higher purpose.

Like the young Singaporeans who have inspired him with their work in civic causes and community projects, Mr Wong said: "Happiness lies in our hands."

Halimah urges all to help the poor move up
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

MAINTAINING social mobility in a mature economy will be tough, but Singapore has to stay the course in helping low-income families move up, said Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob.

Otherwise, she sees the country racked by social segregation and instability.

"We must... help those who, due to personal circumstances or through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves," Madam Halimah said yesterday in her English speech.

But people's dignity must also be respected, and those who do not want support should not be forced, she added.

She also pledged that the Government is committed to pumping in more resources to strengthen the social services sector and help, for instance, families that need dedicated support and intervention tailor-made to their needs.

Singapore's income inequality is among the highest in the developed world. Its Gini coefficient - a measure of inequality - was 0.473 last year.

But the widening income gap should not keep the able and poor from rising, said Madam Halimah, who was the second of three office-holders to speak ahead of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"Every talent, not just the purely academic, must be nurtured," she said.

The state, however, cannot tackle the problem alone. Madam Halimah, who left the labour movement after last year's General Election to join MCYS, said the Government has to partner social service agencies to better understand the needs of poor families and develop relevant services.

The community can also help by looking out for one another. She cited Foodbank Singapore, a not-for-profit organisation started by siblings Nicholas, 33, and Nichol Ng, 34, that links people in need with companies and individuals with excess food.

Everyone has a part to play. "None of us is a passive bystander; none of us can be a mere spectator. We are all co-creators of our common future," she said.

Her call resonated with Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, 34, who co-founded and runs social enterprise The Thought Collective, whose programmes include giving financial aid to needy students.

"My experience has been enriching, I hope more Singaporeans step up to help the community."

PM Lee's National Day Rally 2012 Speech
National Day Rally: Reactions

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