Monday, 9 August 2021

National Day Message 2021: Singapore preparing to reopen economy, but cannot take social cohesion for granted, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

While country has come together to fight COVID-19, battle has led to strains in society
By Calvin Yang, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2021

Singaporeans can look forward to a careful reopening of the economy, having worked together, looked out for others and relied on one another through the crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But they cannot take social cohesion for granted, he stressed in his National Day message yesterday, noting the fight against Covid-19 has taken a toll on everyone.

"Now, more than ever, we need to watch out for one another, for signs of fatigue, distress or anguish among our friends and family. We should have the courage to ask for help ourselves if we need it," he said in a speech recorded at the Botanic Gardens' Symphony Lake.

The pandemic has also strained fault lines in society and brought up difficult issues the country needs to deal with, he added.


PM Lee noted that lower-wage workers have found it harder to cope with reduced incomes and unexpected job losses, and have been given more help. But as a skills-based economy takes shape, they will need more sustained support.

A tripartite workgroup has been developing proposals to improve their prospects. These will build on Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model to boost incomes, and create new opportunities for upskilling and job progression.

"Real progress for lower-wage workers is an essential part of inclusive growth," PM Lee said.


On foreign work pass holders, PM Lee said he understood the anxieties, and the Government has to tweak its policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners here.

But he cautioned against turning inwards, saying that this would damage the country's standing as a global hub and cost jobs and opportunities. "It goes against our values of openness, and of being accepting of others who are different from us."

On race and religion, he said maintaining harmony is unremitting work, as social norms evolve. "With every new generation, our racial harmony needs to be refreshed, reaffirmed, and reinforced," he said.

Recent racist incidents, while worrying, are not the norm, he said. "Many more happy interracial interactions happen every day, but these seldom go viral. The negative incidents do not mean that our approach is failing. However, they illustrate how issues of race and religion will always be highly emotive, and can easily divide us."

PM Lee said it is helpful to air and acknowledge these sensitive issues candidly and respectfully, as Singapore's harmony took generations of sustained effort.

"This harmony did not result from every group stridently insisting on its identity and rights; it was the fruit of mutual understanding and compromise by all parties - the majority as well as the minorities.

"We must not lightly give up this hard-won and delicate balance. As our society evolves, we have to continually adjust this balance to maintain our social harmony," he said.


PM Lee also touched on the Covid-19 situation, citing the major cluster of cases at Jurong Fishery Port that spread to wet markets and resulted in tighter measures, leaving many disappointed.

"It felt like a setback after all the progress we had made. But our goal was always to protect both lives and livelihoods," he said, pointing to the difficult balance that was required. "There are certainly areas where we could have done better. But ultimately, we have kept everyone in Singapore, including migrant workers, safe."

"We are in a more resilient position," added PM Lee. "From time to time, new crises will again test our resolve and unity. But Covid-19 has shown that we can face them with grit and determination, and stay one united people."





Singapore marks 56th birthday with 600-strong ceremonial parade at Marina Bay
7 in 10 fully vaccinated as Singapore passes goal of two-thirds by National Day, ahead of plans to open country up on 10 August
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2021

The Republic marked its 56th year since independence yesterday with a scaled-down ceremonial parade, as it strives to move towards normality in the drawn-out fight against Covid-19.

Under a cloudless, brilliant blue sky, 600 masked men and women in uniform marched at the Marina Bay floating platform.

The pandemic meant there were only 100 spectators, including front-liners, community volunteers and Cabinet ministers, but the city skyline bore witness to an annual ritual unbroken since Singapore marked the first anniversary of its independence.

The simple, solemn affair - similar in proceedings to last year's parade at the Padang - unfolded with the usual military precision. This is the second year the parade has been held amid the pandemic.

The singing of the National Anthem was synchronised with the state flag fly-past, followed by a fighter jet "bomb burst" manoeuvre as a salute to the nation. A 21-gun salute was fired as President Halimah Yacob reviewed the parade.


With the country still in the middle of tightened restrictions, the mostly empty stands - along with a closed-off Marina Bay - presented a significantly different picture from the last National Day Parade (NDP) at the floating platform in 2018.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a Facebook post yesterday, noted that the scaled-down parade was very different from the "usual rousing NDP".

But the marching contingents, and perennial favourites of the state flag fly-past and F-15SG fighter jets' "bomb burst" salute still thrilled and moved everyone, whether at the floating platform or watching at home on TV, he said.

"We have never failed to hold a ceremony on Aug 9 every year to reaffirm our independence and sovereignty, whatever the circumstances. This year was no different," he wrote.


Yesterday also marked a milestone - 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, a significant achievement as the country prepares to reopen its economy and resume more activities. Some restrictions, such as dining in, will be eased from today, 10 August.

The nation passed the two-thirds by National Day goal, which was announced in June. Then, the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 had said vaccination was key to taming the virus and allow for the economy to be opened up safely.

Since then, much of the efforts had been focused on getting the message through to seniors, who have generally been more hesitant about getting jabbed.

Yesterday's 45-minute ceremonial parade was announced only three weeks ago, along with the postponement of the original NDP to Aug 21. Although the number of participants at the ceremonial parade was less than a third of previous ones at the floating platform, it was more than the 200 people who marched at the Padang last year.

Other than the 600 participants on-site, another 200 people from nine youth uniformed groups and 12 social and economic organisations joined virtually in pre-recorded segments, in a first for an NDP.

They included Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Families for Life, who participated for the first time with a marching contingent each.

SIA contingent commander Kane Ong, 40, who has been with the airline for 15 years, said the scaled-down parade and postponement did not dampen his spirits. "We are still taking this message across, all over Singapore, that regardless of situation or adversity, the show must go on - our nation's birthday must still be celebrated."

Among those who made their way to the Marina Barrage in anticipation of the fly-pasts around the island was staff nurse Halifah Anapi, 54. "As a healthcare worker, I would say Singapore has been managing the Covid-19 situation very well. I'm proud to be a Singaporean and happy to celebrate with the nation," she said.

Additional reporting by Tay Hong Yi
















Anxieties over foreign work pass holders being addressed: PM Lee
Policies to be adjusted to manage quality, numbers, concentrations, but nation cannot turn inwards
By Calvin Yang, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2021

Singaporeans' anxieties over foreign work pass holders are being addressed, and the Government has to adjust its policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners here, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"If we do this well, we can continue to welcome foreign workers and new immigrants, as we must. Turning inwards is against our fundamental interests," he added in his televised National Day message yesterday.


He said Singaporeans understand the need to welcome the talent and expertise that the economy requires to grow. These include work pass holders who contribute towards expanding the economy and creating more opportunities for Singapore.

"When we complement our own workforce with skills from around the world, more companies will invest here, and this then creates more jobs for Singaporeans," he explained. "This is a virtuous cycle."

PM Lee recognised the worries that Singaporeans have over competition for jobs, particularly when the number of foreign work pass holders is large.

The uncertainties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have also worsened these anxieties.

The same work pass holders who reinforce the team and contribute to the company may also compete directly with their local colleagues, PM Lee acknowledged in his address.

"Sometimes, the locals feel unfairly treated, for instance, when they miss out on being hired or promoted," he added.

"Outside work, from time to time, there are also social frictions, because some work pass holders and their families have not fully adapted to our social norms, nor fully integrated into our society."

Said PM Lee: "I understand these anxieties and problems. The Government is addressing them."

However, he cautioned against turning inwards, adding that such a shift would damage Singapore's standing as a global and regional hub, and cost its people jobs and opportunities.

"Most importantly, it goes against our values of openness, and of being accepting of others who are different from us," he added.

"We uphold these values, because they have anchored us, and helped us progress over the years as a nation."
















PM Lee on attending Aneka Ragam Rakyat concert which helped build 'one people, one nation'
By Ang Qing, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2021

To help citizens appreciate one another's cultures and practices, the then newly elected People's Action Party (PAP) Government in 1959 organised a series of multicultural concerts, called Aneka Ragam Rakyat, or People's Variety Concerts, with the first launched at the Botanic Gardens that year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited these concerts in his National Day message yesterday as he noted that strains over race and religion that have surfaced recently were not completely new. "When Singapore became self-governing in 1959, different racial groups lived separately, attended different schools in different languages, and worked in different types of jobs and businesses," he said.

Those free concerts, which were also held all over the island, helped bring together people from the various ethnic groups. Over 200 concerts were held until 1964.

"I remember my parents bringing me to watch the first Aneka Ragam Rakyat, which was held here at the Botanic Gardens," PM Lee said, speaking from the Symphony Lake at the gardens.

"These concerts were an early start to our journey to becoming one people, one nation."

The first performance on Aug 2 in 1959 attracted 22,000 people. It was opened by PM Lee's father, first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The usual line-ups represented the four major cultural streams - Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western. They included Malay drama, Peking opera, Western classical music and Indian classical dances.

In October 1959, the first performance in a rural location - Bukit Panjang village - was staged before 7,000 people. Later that month, the first offshore concert was held at Pulau Bukom Kechil with a 3,000-strong crowd.


While they began as a weekly event, the concerts were eventually held on special occasions like celebrations for Malaysia Day after Sept 16, 1963, when Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak merged with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia.

However, irreconcilable differences between leaders in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur over the issue of race led to separation - and the Republic's independence - on Aug 9, 1965.

















Singapore's nation building and the COVID-19 test
The pandemic has strained fault lines and raised difficult issues. But it has also shown that we can face them with grit and determination, and stay one united people, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day message yesterday. Here is the full text of his speech.
The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2021


My fellow Singaporeans,

I am standing here at the Symphony Lake in the Botanic Gardens. This is a favourite spot for many of us. It is not quite as busy now because of the heightened alert, but it is still very popular.

Our battle against Covid-19 has seen many ups and downs. Covid-19 is formidable. Globally, it has taken millions of lives, sickened hundreds of millions of people, and disrupted countless jobs and businesses. In Singapore, each time we think we are getting it under control, it has surprised us.

Recently, we discovered a major cluster of cases at Jurong Fishery Port. The virus spread from there to wet markets all over Singapore. This put our unvaccinated elderly at risk. We had to tighten up again, to slow down transmission, protect our seniors, and buy time to vaccinate more people.

Many Singaporeans were disappointed at this turn of events. It felt like a setback after all the progress we had made. But our goal was always to protect both lives and livelihoods. We have tried to strike this difficult balance through a combination of public health measures, social discipline, and financial support for families, workers and businesses. We also depended on the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers and those supporting them. There are certainly areas where we could have done better. But ultimately, we have kept everyone in Singapore, including migrant workers, safe. Thankfully, very few lives have been lost to Covid-19.

Today, we are vaccinating 1 per cent of our population daily. More than two-thirds of our residents are fully vaccinated. Among our elderly, more than 85 per cent have received at least one dose. A higher proportion of our population is now better protected. We are in a more resilient position. We can now look forward to a careful, step-by-step reopening of our economy. This is how we can move into the new normal.

Meanwhile, the fight against Covid-19 has taken a toll on all of us. Now, more than ever, we need to watch out for one another, for signs of fatigue, distress or anguish among our friends and family. We should have the courage to ask for help ourselves if we need it. Singaporeans have worked together, looked out for others, and relied on one another throughout this crisis. Our social cohesion has held. But we cannot take this for granted. Covid-19 has strained fault lines in our society, and brought up difficult issues that we need to deal with.


Let me touch on three of these issues:

Lower-wage workers

First, we must support our lower-wage workers. They have felt the impact of Covid-19 most acutely. Like all Singaporeans, lower-wage workers and their families have good and affordable healthcare, housing and education. They have found it harder to cope with reduced incomes and unexpected job losses as they have less savings and buffer. We have therefore given them more help in this crisis.

In the longer term, we will see an increasingly skills-based economy. Our lower-wage workers will need more sustained support. A tripartite workgroup has been developing proposals to improve their lives and prospects. These will build on Workfare and the Progressive Wage Model to boost their incomes and create new opportunities for upskilling and job progression.

Real progress for lower-wage workers is an essential part of inclusive growth. In Singapore, no matter where you start in life, we want to make sure you and your children will have every chance to improve yourselves and move ahead.


Foreigners

Second, we must address Singaporeans' anxieties over foreign work pass holders. Work pass holders help expand our economy and create more opportunities for us. When we complement our own workforce with skills from around the world, more companies will invest here, and this then creates more jobs for Singaporeans. This is a virtuous cycle. Singaporeans understand this: that we need to welcome the talent and expertise that our economy needs.

However, when the number of work pass holders is large, our people naturally become worried about competition for jobs. The uncertainties of Covid-19 have worsened these anxieties. Work pass holders reinforce the team, but may also compete directly with their local colleagues. Sometimes the locals feel unfairly treated, for instance when they miss out on being hired or promoted. Outside work, from time to time there are also social frictions, because some work pass holders and their families have not fully adapted to our social norms, nor fully integrated into our society.

I understand these anxieties and problems. The Government is addressing them. We have to adjust our policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners in Singapore. If we do this well, we can continue to welcome foreign workers and new immigrants, as we must.

Turning inwards is against our fundamental interests. It would damage Singapore's standing as a global and regional hub. It would cost us jobs and opportunities. Most importantly, it goes against our values of openness, and of being accepting of others who are different from us. We uphold these values, because they have anchored us, and helped us progress over the years as a nation.


Race and religion

Third, we must manage issues of race and religion carefully. We pride ourselves on being a uniquely harmonious, multiracial society. But maintaining social harmony takes unremitting work. Our social norms evolve with each successive generation, shaped by different life experiences and aspirations.

These norms are also influenced by external trends, because we are so open and connected to the rest of the world. Therefore, with every new generation, our racial harmony needs to be refreshed, reaffirmed and reinforced.

Recently, several racist incidents have gained wide publicity, amplified by social media. Such incidents are worrying, but they are not the norm. Many more happy inter-racial interactions happen every day, but these seldom go viral. The negative incidents do not mean that our approach is failing. However, they illustrate how issues of race and religion will always be highly emotive and can easily divide us. Therefore, such issues will always need close attention.

It is helpful to air and acknowledge these sensitive issues. We need to do this candidly and respectfully. It took several generations of sustained effort to bring our races and religions together, and grow the common space that we now share. This harmony did not result from every group stridently insisting on its identity and rights; it was the fruit of mutual understanding and compromise by all parties - the majority as well as the minorities.

We must not lightly give up this hard-won and delicate balance. As our society evolves, we have to continually adjust this balance to maintain our social harmony. It is the Government's duty to manage these issues on behalf of all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion. To do this, we will need your cooperation, support and trust.


Conclusion

All these stresses and strains that we have been facing are not unique to Singapore. Many other countries are struggling with far deeper divisions. Nor are the issues completely new to us. When Singapore became self-governing in 1959, different racial groups lived separately, attended different schools in different languages, and worked in different types of jobs and businesses.

To help everyone appreciate one another's cultures and practices, the newly elected PAP Government organised a series of multicultural concerts. They were called the Aneka Ragam Rakyat, or People's Variety Concerts. I remember my parents bringing me to watch the first Aneka Ragam Rakyat, which was held here at the Botanic Gardens. These concerts were an early start to our journey to becoming one people, one nation.

Our nation building has come a long way since, but our journey continues.

From time to time, new crises will again test our resolve and unity. But Covid-19 has shown that we can face them with grit and determination, and stay one united people.

As this year's NDP theme song goes, "We did it before, and we'll do it again!" I am confident that Singapore can keep on building a more harmonious society, a more prosperous economy, and a more successful nation for generations to come.







































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