Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 New Year Message by PM Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore economy expected to grow 1% to 3% this year
PM stresses that despite tough times, country will pull through because of its people
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 1 Jan 2017

Singapore's economy is expected to have grown by more than 1 per cent last year, lower than initial forecasts, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Yet the country is "not doing badly" considering the global uncertainty, he added, noting that despite the easing off in demand for workers, unemployment remains low and jobs are still being created.

The Government had narrowed its growth forecast for 2016 to between 1 per cent and 1.5 per cent. It expects growth to be between 1 per cent and 3 per cent this year.

The slowing economy has cast a pall of gloom over many employers and workers.

Mr Lee, in his New Year message, sought to lift their spirits by citing the steps taken to map new ways to boost the economy and help out-of-work Singaporeans. "Rest assured, the Government is watching (the situation) closely."

To help them regain their confidence, Mr Lee urged people to take a leaf out of the books of Singaporeans who embody the "spirit and resilience" of high performers.

He named such achievers as Mr Muhd Shamir, 34, who launched a technology start-up after working seven years as a molecular biologist and everyday heroes like volunteer Lalithama Nair, 55, who mentors teens to care for the environment.

Olympian Joseph Schooling and Paralympian Yip Pin Xiu were also held up as inspiring role models.

But what of the listless economy? Mr Lee outlined the government action, including schemes that help workers learn new skills and tailor-made plans that will transform and move each industry up the value ladder.

In a few weeks' time, the Committee on the Future Economy will unveil its recommended strategies for the country's long-term growth.

"Another major focus has been strengthening ties with major partners to create opportunities for Singapore companies and Singaporeans," Mr Lee added.

He cited, among others, the legally-binding agreement with Malaysia to build a high-speed rail line.

But these are difficult times, he said, citing the rising nationalism in some developed countries and growing resistance to globalisation.

Singapore, however, cannot take the same route.

"Our best choice is to stay open, to continually re-invent ourselves, and to stand out among the countries of the world."

At home, he cited how the Government is making Singapore a city for people of all ages.

About 26,000 households have received subsidies to buy homes and 150,000 needy senior citizens are receiving money for daily living under the Silver Support Scheme.

Also, more parents can send their children to "good and affordable" pre-schools because of schemes that keep childcare fees low, he noted.

But one change Mr Lee is looking forward to is Singapore having a Malay head of state again, after 47 years. This is founded in the changes made to the Presidential elections, which include a provision for a president from a minority community to be elected from time to time.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister remains confident that whatever the challenges, Singapore will pull through because of "our people".

Among the "everyday heroes" he highlighted is pioneer generation ambassador Satyabhama Karunakaran, 73, who not only explained government schemes to seniors, but also offered them help.

"Their sustained, collective efforts help to make a strong and cohesive society," he said.

PM Lee lauds everyday heroes in New Year message
Spirit, resilience of ordinary Singaporeans will help nation weather uncertain times ahead, he says
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 1 Jan 2017

Retired schoolteacher Satyabhama Karunakaran was 48 when she lost her husband to a heart attack.

Ten years later, tragedy struck again. Her daughter, just 34, died of a brain tumour.

But Mrs Satyabhama, still sprightly at 73, has channelled this grief into connecting with other senior citizens grappling with loss.

For two years now, she has gone door to door as a Pioneer Generation Ambassador, explaining government schemes and policies to the elderly, and inspiring them to stay active and positive.

Mrs Satyabhama, along with fellow ambassadors Koh Ting Beow and Azizah Abdul Rahim, were among the everyday heroes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to in his New Year message.

"Their sustained, collective efforts help to make a strong and cohesive society," he said yesterday.

Mr Lee also pointed to the "spirit and resilience" found in ordinary Singaporeans that he said will help the Republic weather the uncertain times ahead.

In a Facebook post yesterday, he wrote: "Our people are resilient and united, and many are doing their part to help others and contribute back to society."

Mrs Satyabhama, who lives in Anchorvale, some blocks away from her remaining child, said a crucial part of her volunteer work is lending senior citizens some strength and a listening ear.

"Many of these elderly are living through periods of great loss. Some are losing their spouses or even children," she said. "I know what they're going through. I can tell them, you're in so much pain but you will survive. Sometimes, that's all they want: some hope."

Mr Lee also highlighted start-up founder Muhd Shamir, for launching a co-working space for other start-ups and helping to organise an SG50 initiative called Kita X which encouraged young Singaporeans to dream up ideas for the nation's next 50 years.

Mr Shamir, 34, launched logistics management software VersaFleet four years ago and is now expanding his company to countries such as Malaysia and South Korea.

The former molecular biology researcher is optimistic about the local entrepreneurship scene.

"It's quite fortunate that Singapore has been positioning itself as a start-up hub.

"And in these times with more entrepreneurs, there is a whole community that can support them, nurture them and prop each other up," he said.

Ms Adelene Teck, 43, was cited by Mr Lee as an example of Singaporeans actively pursuing lifelong learning. The mother of a 10-year-old girl chose to go back to school after more than two decades as an occupational therapist.

The diploma holder enrolled in the Singapore Institute of Technology, where she now learns alongside classmates 20 years her junior to get a degree in occupational therapy.

She said: "Over the past 20 years, the world has transformed so much in terms of technology, knowledge and culture, so I felt a strong need to return to full-time, cutting-edge studies."

Mr Lee also lauded Singapore's sporting heroes - swimmer Joseph Schooling and Paralympians Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh - who helped the country reach new heights in the global sporting arena last year.

Such triumphs, he said, were the result of years of dedication, sacrifice and hard work: "They dared to dream, and were determined to make their dreams come true."

Community gardener Lalithama Nair, 55, dreams of future generations of Singaporeans doing their part to protect the environment.

She was hailed as an "everyday hero" by Mr Lee, for conducting free programmes for schoolchildren to learn gardening.

She has been running the lessons for the past eight years, for some 100 children each year.

"We cannot wait for something to happen, we have to make the change," said Madam Lalithama.

"People care more about the environment now. The future is bright."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2017 New Year Message

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