Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Why is Singapore raising the GST?

Singapore's GST hike to go through after Bill passed in Parliament on 7 Nov 2022

GST will increase from 7 per cent to 8 per cent from Jan 1, 2023 and from 8 per cent to 9 per cent from Jan 1, 2024

Tourists, foreigners living in Singapore paid half of net GST in 2018 and 2019

Assurance Package to help households offset GST hike to get $1.4 billion boost, will now total $8 billion

Workers’ Party’s alternatives to GST hike do not add up, GST hike among options needed to meet funding gap: DPM Lawrence Wong
By Hariz Baharudin and Ng Wei Kai, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2022

The suggestion that the goods and services tax (GST) increase should be postponed due to current inflationary pressures does not hold water, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Monday.

The Government’s support measures delay the effect of the hike by at least five years for the majority of Singaporean households, he said.

That the support is targeted at lower- to middle-income households, rather than broad-based, will also minimise any additional inflationary pressures, he added.

“We have designed the overall package to ensure we neither stoke inflation inadvertently nor choke aggregate demand, and this is an appropriate macroeconomic stance to adopt at this juncture,” he said.

Rounding up the debate on the GST (Amendment) Bill, which saw 15 MPs speak, Mr Wong rebutted alternatives raised by Workers’ Party MPs Louis Chua and Jamus Lim (both Sengkang GRC) saying these entailed spending more from past reserves and leaving less for the future.

The Government has also explored other sources of revenue, and still needs to raise the GST, he said.

Why increase GST now?

The Government had considered the GST hike carefully and decided that it was necessary to do so, given how Singapore’s economic challenges are not just near-term or cyclical in nature, Mr Wong said.

The ongoing war in Ukraine, disruptions to energy and food supplies, rising geopolitical tensions and more fragmented supply chains are realities Singapore has to deal with possibly for a more prolonged period, he added.

“International economic conditions have fundamentally changed,” he said.

While inflationary pressures here are expected to ease in the second half of next year, inflation rates are unlikely to go back to what they were over the past decade, he added.

It is for this reason that the Government has extended comprehensive support to Singaporeans, especially lower and middle income families.

Mr Wong had at the start of the debate announced a $1.4 billion boost to the support package for households to offset the GST hike’s impact, amid higher inflation. This means the Assurance Package, first announced in 2020, will now be worth $8 billion, up from $6.6 billion before.

Responding to a point Mr Chua made on how households’ annual expenditure will increase due to inflation, Mr Wong said that the support they get will increase.

Mr Chua had cited the example of a middle-income couple with two young children, and estimated that with inflation, their annual expenditure would go up by $2,500.

Mr Wong acknowledged the rise in spending, but pointed out that the support they get this year would be around $1,500.

This support will keep to the Government’s commitment to offset more than half of the inflation-driven increase in cost of living this year for middle-income households, he said, adding this does not take into account wage rises for individuals which many will likely enjoy.

Associate Professor Lim had also cited how Japan saw an increase in inflation after it increased its version of the GST three times in the past 25 years.

Mr Wong pointed out that Japan was in a deflationary environment, and had raised the GST and had its inflation double from a “chronically low” 1 per cent to 2 per cent - and temporarily.

“Let’s avoid raising these alarmist examples that may not be so relevant to our context,” he said, adding that Singapore must continue to learn the right lessons from others.

He noted that while there are considerable uncertainties in the economic outlook, there is nothing uncertain about government expenditures, especially in healthcare.

Noting that MPs like Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang), Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) had made this point, Mr Wong said even as Singapore deals with healthcare spending, it has to resource many other spending needs.

These include planned investments on early childhood education, efforts to uplift lower wage workers as well as helping to ease concerns of SMEs, self-employed persons and those keen to purchase HDB flats.

“It’s a few billion here, a few billion there, they all add up. None of these needs has become less urgent because of the global economic situation. On the contrary, we must do more, especially in an uncertain and volatile environment,” said Mr Wong.

“That is why having considered this so carefully before the Budget, after the Budget, even in the last few months when the global economic environment had deteriorated, we felt that there was no possibility for us to delay the GST increase any further.”

Why not try alternatives to the GST hike?

Mr Wong also addressed four alternatives to the GST hike that WP MPs had raised.

One, the suggestion that Singapore has enough fiscal surplus to delay the hike of 1 percentage point set for January 2023.

Mr Wong said: “I wish that were so.”

He noted Prof Lim had suggested the Government is shielded from inflation because when inflation goes up, so does its revenues as prices also increase.

“But he didn’t mention this: Government spending must also go up correspondingly,” said Mr Wong, citing public servants’ salaries and support schemes for residents.

He added that while the Government collected more revenue than expected in the last financial year and had a surplus of $1.9 billion, it had already used this surplus as well as the return from the first half of this year to fund two support packages.

In June and October 2022, the Government announced two $1.5 billion support packages targeting lower-and-middle income Singaporeans.

Mr Wong said: “The bottom line is that any surpluses are imaginary - they are not there and will not allow us to delay the GST.”

Two, there have been suggestions to use more of Singapore’s reserves, including increasing the proportion used from returns on investments and changing the definition of land sales revenues.

Mr Wong said WP’s position, which it said was not raiding but slowing down the rate of accumulating reserves, sounds attractive but will leave future generations with less resources.

Such a move would be irresponsible, he added. “Let’s not succumb to the temptation of taking this easy way out, making things worse for our children and grandchildren.”

Mr Wong noted that global uncertainties are also likely to slow the growth of Singapore’s investments anyway, making tapping on these to delay a GST hike even more untenable.

Three, Prof Lim had suggested exempting essential items from GST, a point that had been raised by Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) at the Budget Debate in February.

Mr Wong said this does not work in practice.

Such tiered GSTs are cumbersome, he said, citing a recent BBC article about India’s system.

In August, an Indian firm making pizza toppings went to court claiming their mozzarella topping should be classified as cheese - which had a GST of 12 per cent.

The court disagreed, arguing that because the topping had other ingredients such as vegetable oil it should be taxed at 18 per cent in a class known as ‘edible preparations’.

Mr Wong said there is no end to these challenges, and such tiered systems are not effective.

“When you exempt a basket of goods or essential items in the end you benefit the well-to-do, because the well-to-do will spend more on everything, not just luxury items but basic necessities as well,” he said.

This was a conclusion also reached by studies from numerous governments and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), he added.

Mr Wong said Singapore’s GST system - with its series of offsets and rebates - is deliberately designed to be fair and effective, contrary to Prof Lim’s view that these were a patchwork of offsets.

Four, suggestions continue to be made that Singapore should explore other streams of revenue such as property, income, corporate and sin taxes.

Mr Wong said while these have been carefully considered, the sums do not add up.

Increasing corporate and income taxes could result in investors leaving Singapore, especially amid tight global competition for talent and investments, he said.

He added that GST revenue alone is in fact not enough to fund policies the Government wants to push through, from healthcare spending to improving conditions for low-wage workers.

“Really, that question is not GST or these other alternatives - we need GST, and these other alternatives,” he said.

Mr Wong added: “The WP is entitled to your own position. By all means, oppose the GST, adopt a different position, fine.”

Monday, 7 November 2022

Singaporeans cannot have it both ways – more opposition MPs but also effective PAP government: PM Lee Hsien Loong at PAP Conference 2022

PAP needs strong mandate to govern Singapore firmly and decisively: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 6 Nov 2022

Singaporeans cannot have it both ways, where many want the People’s Action Party (PAP) to continue governing the country but also to have more opposition MPs elected to keep the Government on its toes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

After many years of the PAP in power, many Singaporeans want the party to continue governing the country as it has been doing a good job, and no one else can do it better, he noted.

So they vote for the opposition, fully expecting that the PAP will still be returned to power and can function as effectively, regardless of whether it receives strong or weak support at the polls, he said in a speech at the PAP’s biennial party conference on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, we cannot have it both ways. Whether voters give the new Government a strong or weak mandate makes a very big difference,” he told over 3,000 party members and activists.

“With a strong mandate, when the Government needs to act strongly and decisively – whether at home and abroad – everyone will know that it is acting with the people’s support. And everyone will know that Singaporeans are united, tackling problems as one and moving ahead together.”

PM Lee, who is the PAP’s secretary-general, said a strong mandate will give the government the confidence and backing to make tough calls and steer Singapore safely through ups and downs. He cited how the Government could impose tough measures such as the circuit breaker, mandatory mask-wearing, strict border controls and vaccination regimes as there was no doubt it had the people’s full confidence.

Had the PAP won the 2020 General Election narrowly with a 51 per cent vote share, instead of 61.2 per cent, it would have still formed the government and ruled Singapore to the best of its ability, said PM Lee.

But it would have lost many good MPs and ministers, and its leadership team would have been considerably weakened, he added.

“Singapore would have gone into battle with Covid-19 divided and disheartened. It would have been much harder for the Government to act decisively, or for Singaporeans to respond cohesively and resolutely,” he said.

“Our Covid-19 experience might well have been very different... And I can assure you our international position would have been considerably weakened too, both regionally and globally. A Singapore ruled by a government hanging on to power by its fingernails is bound to be pushed from pillar to post by other countries.”

PM Lee said the stakes are raised at each successive election. The more seats the opposition wins, the more the general election becomes a decision on which party will form Singapore’s next Government, he added. At the 2020 election, the Workers’ Party won 10 seats – two group representation constituencies in Aljunied and Sengkang, as well as the Hougang single seat. The PAP has delivered on its policies and promises through the decades, but this is not enough, PM Lee said, stressing that it needs to convert people’s approval of its performance into votes.

He sketched out three things it must do to “win the political battle”.

First, the party must put across its political message so that people know PAP leaders are “conviction politicians” who adopt policies and programmes because they are convinced these will benefit Singapore in the long term.

“But, more important than the details of policies, we have got to convince Singaporeans why the policies matter to them, and how they match people’s needs and aspirations,” he said.

Second, the PAP has to counter moves by the opposition and show voters where the opposition falls short, he said.

While it is the opposition’s job to scrutinise government policies and highlight mistakes, the PAP, too, has to point out instances when its opponents fail to measure up or they act against Singaporeans’ interests, he added.

“It is very easy for the opposition to support only the pleasant things the Government does, but to oppose the harder moves that are sometimes not avoidable,” he said, adding that a responsible opposition should be accountable for what it proposes and what it opposes.

Third, PAP MPs and branch activists must work the ground and show residents how the party makes a difference to them by improving the amenities in their towns, resolving conflicts and issues and advocating their concerns.

PM Lee said that party branches need to ramp up physical activities, which were paused during Covid-19, and make up for lost time by wearing their party whites and covering the ground comprehensively.

He also paid tribute to party members working in opposition wards in Aljunied, Hougang and Sengkang, and commended them for engaging residents, helping needy households and supporting bereaved families, even though they cannot hold Meet-the-People Sessions.

If Singapore’s politics go wrong, its governance will go wrong too, and so will the lives of all Singaporeans, he warned.

He cited how politics in other countries have turned contentious and volatile – governments get distracted and paralysed, and society becomes divided.

“The government has neither the ability nor the mandate to push through hard decisions or to see beyond immediate problems. What is politically expedient overrides what is in the longer-term good of the people and country. And then, we are all in deep trouble,” he said, noting this has happened in the United States and United Kingdom.

PM Lee noted that the US is having its midterm elections on Tuesday. “There is great foreboding on how the results will turn out, and how that will change their politics, possibly even making it worse”, he said.

Some think that Singapore politics will always work well as it has for 60 years, and that the natural order of things is for the country to keep on succeeding, with the Government always thinking and planning 30 or 50 years ahead, PM Lee said.

But what Singapore has today is not natural at all, and the sort of Government that it has is rare, he said.

Almost everywhere else, the Government hardly thinks beyond the next general election, and Singapore has only become like this through the blood, sweat and tears of many generations.

The PAP does not take its duty lightly, and things can easily go wrong here as well. PM Lee said that Singaporeans are not inherently better, smarter or more virtuous than people in other countries.

“Maybe we are more cohesive (but) there is no vaccine to protect us from the same dark forces of anger, fear, racism, xenophobia,” he said.

“Similar divisive emotions and tensions can build up here too, can well up here too, can explode here too. We can end up with the same messy politics and broken country that we see elsewhere.”

“To prevent this and to keep things working well for Singaporeans, the PAP must stay true to its founding mission. Not only to continue to deliver results, but to keep on convincing minds and appealing to hearts, and winning the political battles.”

On party renewal, PM Lee said the PAP has already identified some promising potential candidates for the next election, with more in the pipeline.

“I am confident that come the next general election, we will again be able to present a talented, diverse and representative team of candidates, both experienced and new, ready to work with voters and take Singapore forward.”

Saturday, 15 October 2022

Cost of Living: $1.5 billion support package to help Singaporeans cope with inflation; 2.5 million people to get up to $500 cash in December 2022

$1.5 billion Support Package builds on the support measures announced in Budget 2022, April 2022 and June 2022
By Hariz Baharudin and Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2022

A new $1.5 billion support package will give Singaporean households additional help to deal with rising prices, with more aid going to lower to middle-income groups, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announced on Friday.

Some 2.5 million eligible adult Singaporeans will receive a special cost-of-living payment of up to $500 in December, as part of the package.

They will get the payment together with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Assurance Package cash payout that was announced at Budget 2022 to offset the impact of the upcoming one percentage point hike in GST from 7 to 8 per cent on Jan 1, 2023.

Every Singaporean household will also get additional Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers worth $100 next January. This means that together with the $200 CDC vouchers announced during the Budget this year, a total of $300 of such vouchers will be given out then.

The Ministry of Education will also increase the income eligibility thresholds for financial assistance schemes to defray school expenses for more students from January 2023. It will also enhance the bursary quantum for full-time Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students.

Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, said the latest measures have been designed with two groups of Singaporeans in mind who have been affected by higher inflation - lower-income Singaporeans and elderly retirees with no income from work.

Those earning less would be more disproportionately impacted because their wages may not rise sufficiently to cope with higher prices, said Mr Wong, adding that the older retirees would also be negatively impacted because they do not have incomes and have to deal with higher prices.

“That is why we have been monitoring the situation with respect to these different segments of Singaporeans, and the additional spending that they will have to incur,” he added.

The latest support package, together with earlier measures announced at the Budget as well as in April and June 2022, will fully cover the increase in cost of living for lower-income households on average, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The package will also fully cover more than half of the increase in cost of living for middle-income households on average this year, the ministry added.

Full year inflation for 2022 is expected to come in at 6 per cent, Mr Wong said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore had, earlier on Friday, said there was considerable uncertainty around the outlook for both inflation and growth, with core inflation set to remain high in the first half of 2023.

MOF said more support will also be given to help people deal with rising transport costs.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the Government will provide an additional subsidy of about $200 million to cover the 10.6 per cent fare increase that will be carried over to future fare review exercises.

"This additional subsidy helps to mitigate the impact of the fare increase on commuters and pay for higher costs of providing public transport services due to the increase in energy prices, manpower costs and inflation," said MOF.

Additionally, 600,000 public transport vouchers worth $30 each will be given to eligible Singaporean households, which can be used to top up fare cards or buy public transport concession passes.

MOF said there will be no draw on past reserves for the new support package. It will be funded by the better-than-expected fiscal out-turn in the first half of this financial year, which began in April.

The ministry added that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was milder than expected, enabling more sectors of the economy to open up in tandem, boosting the nation's economic recovery.

The support package comes amid rising inflation, it noted. While supply chain frictions have eased slightly, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and geopolitical tensions continue to put pressure on the prices of goods and services.

"As a small, open economy, Singapore is particularly susceptible to imported price pressures, through channels such as food and energy. Domestically, a tight labour market continues to support strong wage growth," said MOF.

"As such, we must be prepared for inflation to stay elevated for some time."

On Friday, Mr Wong also said that there will be an update to the GST Assurance Package, in order to take into account higher than expected inflation.

Details on these changes will come in Budget 2023, and Mr Wong stressed that the Government is fully committed to cushioning the impact of the GST increase for all Singaporeans.

The GST rate will increase by one percentage point from 7 to 8 per cent on Jan 1, 2023, and by another percentage point to 9 per cent on Jan 1, 2024.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Healthier SG: Residents aged 60 and above can enrol in one resident, one doctor scheme from second half of 2023

Singapore Government releases White Paper on Healthier SG on 21 September 2022
By Joyce Teo, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2022

Singapore's ambitious plan to have one family physician and one health plan for each and every one of its residents will start with those aged 60 and above in the second half of 2023.

The Healthier SG Programme will also offer cheaper drugs for chronic diseases at general practitioner (GP) clinics, among other benefits. With it, MOH aims to shift its focus from "sick care" to preventive care so as to eventually help every resident stay on the path to better health.

Eligible residents will be invited to enrol in the programme with a primary care clinic of their choice via SMS. Those in the 40 to 59 age group will be invited to enrol in the following two years, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a White Paper that was submitted to Parliament on Wednesday. The White Paper will be debated in Parliament in October.

Since March, the ministry has engaged more than 6,000 residents and other stakeholders for their views on the strategy.

Under the Healthier SG Programme, residents will develop a relationship with a primary care doctor who will holistically manage their health.

At the first visit, which will be free, the doctor will work out a health plan that can include diet adjustments, an exercise regimen and regular health screenings and vaccinations.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told the media at the MOH headquarters in College Road on Wednesday that the plan has social prescriptions like "how you eat, how you sleep, how you cut down on salt and sugar, quit smoking, exercise, so on and so forth".

Community partners will be roped in to help manage residents' health, as the idea is to move healthcare away from acute hospitals to the community to help keep people healthy. Residents will be able to join free programmes to keep fit, for instance.

A key change that MOH will introduce to get residents on the programme is to make drug prices at participating GP clinics more comparable with those at polyclinics through a combination of enhanced drug subsidies and drug price limits. This will be done for drugs used to manage common chronic diseases.

With this, people will no longer have to end their relationship with their long-time GPs when they develop diabetes or hypertension just because the drugs for these conditions are cheaper at polyclinics.

MOH will announce the details for this at a later date.

The ministry also said that it will fully subsidise nationally recommended screenings and vaccinations for Singapore citizens, and waive the need for residents to co-pay 15 per cent of their bills in cash when using MediSave for the treatment of common chronic conditions under the Chronic Disease Management Programme.

"We are shifting away from co-payment for this basic preventive care to fully support residents (in) preventive care," said Mr Ong.

There will be a health points reward system to get people to take action, such as to enrol and complete their first consultation, and engage in health activities.

However, to get Healthier SG off the ground, MOH will first have to mobilise family doctors in private practice.

MOH will offer GPs an annual service fee for each enrolled resident, which will vary according to the risk profile, scope of care and the progress made, as well as a tech support grant.

These doctors will need to join a so-called Primary Care Network, partner a healthcare cluster, and be digitally enabled. The Primary Care Networks, which hire nurses and coordinators for chronic disease management and other shared tasks, will support the GPs in their work. There are currently 23 polyclinics and about 1,800 GP clinics, of which 670 clinics have formed such networks.

To ensure the level of care is consistent across GPs, MOH is developing a set of care protocols with primary care leaders to guide family doctors on how to manage key chronic conditions.

Healthier SG will start with the care protocols of three of the most common chronic conditions: diabetes, hypertension and lipid disorders. In the future, the protocols will expand to cover more conditions and areas such as mental health.

"Everyone involved, including healthcare providers, the Government and residents, will need to do things differently," MOH said in the White Paper.

"Healthier SG is probably the most significant change to the health system since Independence. We have had six decades where we emphasised reactive sick care rather than health promotion," said Associate Professor Jeremy Lim, director of the Leadership Institute for Global Health Transformation at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

The incentives under Healthier SG are created to promote health, rather than healthcare and, for the residents, inertia will be the biggest enemy, he said.

It will take years for such a major transformation of the healthcare system to take off and experts said the start will inevitably be challenging before the results show.

"Healthcare expenditure may rise initially and even more rapidly as we discover more people who have medical problems," said Dr Wong Chiang Yin, a public health specialist in the private sector.

"We must have the tenacity to stomach this and stay the course before the benefits of Healthier SG kick in at a later stage," he added.

Thursday, 25 August 2022

Singapore moves to repeal Section 377A

Section 377A: Constitution will be amended to protect Parliament's right to define marriage, says Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
Government spells out plans to safeguard family as it repeals Section 377A
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2022

As it repeals Section 377A, the Government will also make it clear in the Constitution that it is Parliament's prerogative to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and to make other pro-family policies on that basis, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Monday (Aug 22).

This is different from enshrining the definition of marriage in the highest law of the land, which some religious groups and conservative Singaporeans have pushed for. But Mr Shanmugam said the move will stave off legal challenges on the definition of marriage.

His comments, in an interview with The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the National Day Rally that Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, would be repealed.

In tandem, the Government would move to safeguard marriage, PM Lee said. As the law stands, he added, marriage as it is now defined can be challenged on constitutional grounds in the courts, just like Section 377A has been challenged.

Religious and conservative groups, some of whom see the colonial-era law as a moral marker, have welcomed this guarantee, and suggested that marriage will be defined in the Constitution.

To this, Mr Shanmugam said: "I want to be clear because I think there's some confusion. The definition of marriage is not going to be in the Constitution. That's not the intention."

Instead, the Government plans to explicitly state in the Constitution that Parliament can define the institution of marriage in the way it has been defined in the Women's Charter, and can make other pro-family policies on the basis of that definition. This will make it difficult to challenge the definition of marriage and the policies that rely on it, he added.

"This will not change... under the watch of the current Prime Minister, and it will not happen under my watch - if the PAP were to win the next General Election.

"Likewise, we will not change the laws and policies that rely on this definition of marriage, and that relates to public housing, adoption, what we teach our children in schools, advertising standards, film classification, and so on. Basically, the overall tone of society will not change - our laws and policies will remain the same," he said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said its policies on the issue would not change, and the Ministry of Communications and Information also said its approach to regulating media content would remain.

In the interview, Mr Shanmugam said that if the proposed amendments to the Constitution are not made, the prevailing definition of marriage risks being challenged on the basis of being discriminatory under Article 12 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

"It can be challenged, it can be asked...why should marriage only be between a man and a woman? Why shouldn't it be possible for two men, or two women, to be married?, he said.

"Such arguments about marriage have been made elsewhere successfully."

If this happens, "everything could go in one sweep", including many of the other laws and policies built on the current definition of marriage, such as those on public housing, education and media policies, he added.

The danger of this happening became clear when the Court of Appeal said in a February judgment that Section 377A could be discriminatory under Article 12 of the Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law.

Mr Shanmugam, who with Attorney-General Lucien Wong advised the Cabinet on the issue, said: "If Parliament doesn't act, either because of fear or because of a lack of will, and therefore doesn't deal with the law which may be in breach of the Constitution, then...(it) is not doing its job. Then, you make it difficult for the Courts to exercise restraint."

Keeping quiet and letting the Courts deal with it would have been more politically expedient, he noted, since emotions run high on both sides.

But if Section 377A or even the definition of marriage were struck down like that, it would risk damaging the fundamental fabric of society, he added. Such political issues should not be decided by the judiciary, but by the legislature.

In fact, the intended amendment to the Constitution leaves open the possibility for Parliament to change the definition of marriage through a simple majority.

While constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass, changes to other pieces of legislation, including the Penal Code which Section 377A is a part of and the Women's Charter, requires a simple majority.

Mr Shanmugam said: "This government's position is very clear and you've also heard what Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has said.

"We are committed to strengthening the current structure of marriage, strengthening the family structure and the policies that surround that structure of family. We think that's what is fundamental for Singapore. And in fact, we are amending the Constitution to strengthen their position."

He added that any political party or group that wants to push for same-sex marriage will be able to do so. "They will have to put that in their manifesto, fight elections, get a majority and then change the definition of marriage," he said.

Asked when the repeal of Section 377A would happen, he said "the changes itself, in terms of legal drafting and so on, will not take much time".

He added: "I am not in a position to give you an answer on that right now. But I do not expect that it will be very long."

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

National Day Rally 2022

Singapore must be ready for sudden shifts in region: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2022

Singapore's neighbourhood has enjoyed peace for so long it is hard to imagine things being different. But anyone who thinks that war cannot break out in the region needs to get real, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Touching on the state of global security in his English National Day Rally speech, PM Lee on Sunday (Aug 21) called on Singaporeans to be mentally ready for disruptions to the region's stability.

Singapore's external environment has become very troubled amid worsening United States-China ties and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, said PM Lee.

Speaking at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Headquarters at Ang Mo Kio, PM Lee said that the relationship between the US and China, which sets the tone for global affairs, is worsening.

The two powers are divided over many issues, he warned. This includes their rival ideologies and systems of government, China's growing influence in the world, as well as many specific problems, including trade disputes, cyber espionage, the South China Sea and Hong Kong.

Most recently and worryingly, there have been sharply escalating tensions over Taiwan, added PM Lee.

Yet the two superpowers need to work together on many pressing global issues, including climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation, said PM Lee.

"Their tense relationship is making this almost impossible," he said. "And this is bad news for the world."

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently held a video call and made plans to meet in November, their first in-person meeting since Mr Biden took office last January. But neither side expects relations to improve any time soon, said PM Lee.

"Furthermore, we must all hope that there are no miscalculations or mishaps, which can make things much worse very quickly," he added.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine also has profound implications for the world and for Singapore, said PM Lee.

The invasion violates the United Nations (UN) Charter and fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are particularly important to Singapore given that its existence and security relies on countries upholding these principles, he said.

This is why Singapore cannot legitimise Russia's wrongful actions, he added. In March, Singapore strongly condemned Russia's actions, and imposed sanctions on focusing on the exports of military and technological goods, as well as financial measures.

"Russia claims that what it calls a 'special military operation' in Ukraine is justified by 'historical errors and crazy decisions'. If we accept this logic, what happens if one day others use this same argument against us?" asked PM Lee.

The war has also created deep hostility between Russia and other states, especially the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), a military alliance of 30 countries in Europe and North America.

With nuclear powers on both sides and relations having completely broken down, it is hard to imagine any satisfactory end to the conflict, said PM Lee.

The war in Ukraine also affects security in the Asia-Pacific as it has complicated already-strained US-China relations, as well as relations between China and America's partners in Asia, like Australia and Japan.

Singaporeans should expect more geopolitical contestation in the Asia-Pacific, said PM Lee.

"Our region has enjoyed peace for so long that it is hard for us to imagine things being different. But look at how things have gone wrong in Europe, how suddenly and quickly," said PM Lee.

"And can you be sure that things cannot go wrong like that in our region too? So we must get real, and we must get ourselves prepared psychologically.”

On how Singapore can respond to these external dangers, PM Lee said that it must stand firm on fundamental principles of international law and work with other countries to uphold a rules-based order.

This can be done by speaking up at the UN. Conversely, taking cover and keeping quiet will hurt Singapore in the long-term, he said.

There is also a need to take national service seriously, and keep the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team strong and credible. "If we do not defend ourselves, no one is going to defend us on our behalf," stressed PM Lee.

But the bottomline is that Singaporeans must stay together as one united people and never allow themselves to be divided, whether by race, religion, income, social differences or place of birth, he said.

This is especially pertinent in the face of foreign actors looking to exploit Singapore's vulnerabilities and influence its people for their own interests.

"If we are taken in and we are divided, we will stand no chance. But united, we can deal with any problems that come our way," he said.

PM Lee had similarly highlighted the importance of Singapore’s resilience and unity in the face of an increasingly uncertain and complex world in his earlier Malay and Chinese speeches.

A united Singapore, a high-quality leadership and high trust between people and their leaders are essential for the nation to respond creatively and resiliently to challenges it faces, year after year, he said.

“We may have the best laid schemes, but without these three fundamentals, they will come to nothing.”

8 highlights from NDR 2022: Masks optional in most indoor settings, Section 377A to be repealed
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2022

An easing of indoor mask-wearing restrictions and a repeal of a long-contested law criminalising gay sex are among the key announcements in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

Here are eight highlights from his speech:

1. Masks off in most indoor settings

Singaporeans will soon be able to take their masks off in most indoor settings, returning to almost pre-Covid-19 normality.

PM Lee said that with the country's situation stabilising, the Government will reduce mask requirements further to prevent fatigue from setting in.

Masks will be required only on public transport, where people are in prolonged close contact in a crowded space, and in healthcare settings such as clinics, hospitals, residential and nursing homes, where there are vulnerable persons, said PM Lee.

He said schools in particular should not require students to wear masks in class. Children need to see the facial expressions of their teachers and of one another, as this is crucial for their learning and development.

More details will come from the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic.

2. Section 377A to be repealed

Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, will be repealed, said PM Lee.

Sentiments have shifted over the years as more Singaporeans accept that sex in private between consenting men should not be a criminal offence, he said.

But most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in societal norms across the board, including how marriage is defined and what is taught to children in schools, he noted.

In consultations held by the Government on this topic, the main worry among those with reservations is what they feel Section 377A stands for, and that repealing it may encourage more aggressive and divisive activism on all sides.

Even as Singapore repeals Section 377A, it will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage, said PM Lee. Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognised in Singapore, he said, adding that many national policies such as public housing and adoption rules rely on this definition.

The Government does not intend to change these policies or the definition of marriage.

He added that currently, the definition of marriage could be challenged in the courts, like Section 377A has been. If such a challenge succeeds, it could cause same-sex marriage to become recognised.

Hence, to protect the definition of marriage from being challenged in the courts, the Government will amend the Constitution.

This will help Singapore repeal Section 377A in a controlled, carefully considered way, said PM Lee.

3. Be prepared for external dangers

The external environment has become very troubled, as United States-China relations - which set the tone for global affairs - are worsening, said PM Lee.

Both powers are divided over many issues, from trade to the South China Sea to Taiwan. But they also need to work together on pressing global problems like climate change, pandemics and nuclear proliferation.

Their tense relationship is making this almost impossible, which is bad news for the world, he said.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has violated the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are particularly important to Singapore.

The war has also created deep hostility between Russia and other states, and affected security in the Asia-Pacific by complicating already strained US-China relations, and between China and America's partners in Asia like Australia and Japan, said PM Lee.

Pointing to how things have gone wrong in Europe, he asked: "Can you be sure things cannot go wrong like that in our region too? So we must get real and we must get ourselves prepared psychologically."

To do so, Singapore must stand firm on fundamental principles of international law, take national service seriously and keep the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team strong and credible, and stay as one united people, he said.

4. Brace for economic challenges

Cost of living is at the top of everyone's minds, acknowledged PM Lee. While most sectors are recovering from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine has clouded the country's outlook.

Inflation was already becoming a problem pre-war and the war made things worse by pushing up energy prices worldwide and causing shortages and price spikes in grain globally.

The Government is doing everything necessary to support Singaporeans, in particular the middle- and lower-income families, and will do more if the situation worsens, said PM Lee.

But the basic reality is that international economic conditions have fundamentally changed. The era of globalisation is over. China's growth and exports are slowing and countries are relooking their own supply chains to prioritise resilience and self-sufficiency.

Singapore has little influence over the global inflation picture, said PM Lee.

To become better off, the country has to press on with economic upgrading and restructuring, redouble transformation efforts and encourage workers to upskill.

5. New homes to be built in Paya Lebar

An estimated 150,000 new homes - public and private housing - can be built where the Paya Lebar Air Base is located, said PM Lee. This is roughly the number of homes in Punggol and Sengkang today.

The relocation of the airbase will start in the 2030s. The airbase and its surrounding industrial areas will yield a space five times the size of Toa Payoh.

The new town will have amenities and recreational areas as well as commercial and industrial developments to bring jobs closer to homes.

Once the airbase moves out, some building height restrictions around it in towns like Hougang, Marine Parade and Punggol can be lifted, said PM Lee.

This means the town can be redeveloped to make better use of the space there.

6. Developing Terminal 5 and Tuas Port

After a two-year pause brought on by the pandemic, work on Terminal 5 at Changi Airport will restart, said PM Lee. The new terminal will serve about 50 million passengers a year, more than T1 and T3 put together.

The design of the terminal will draw on lessons learnt from the pandemic and allow spaces to be converted for testing or the segregation of high-risk passengers.

Autonomous vehicles could be deployed to support baggage and cargo transport. T5 will also be greener and more energy-efficient, said PM Lee.

Next to it, the Government will develop the Changi East Urban District, a new business and lifestyle destination.

The mega Tuas Port began operations last December, with two berths opened. Three more will start operations by December this year.

When fully operational, the port will have 66 berths spanning 26km and be capable of handling the largest container ships.

Because Singapore had planned ahead, its port was able to handle extra volumes during the pandemic while ports in other countries experienced closures, severe congestions and long delays, said PM Lee.

Phase 1 of Tuas Port has just been completed, with three more phases to come before it is fully completed in about 20 years from now. It will be the world's largest fully automated port.

Then, it will handle 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units - a cargo capacity measurement - which is almost double today's volumes, he added.

7. Need to attract top talent from around the world

The ministries of manpower and trade and industry and economic agencies will soon be announcing new initiatives to attract and retain top talent from around the world, said PM Lee.

Singapore has attracted the interest of many talented individuals and international companies, thanks to its trusted brand of quality, reliability and efficiency and its track record in tackling Covid-19.

The country must seize the opportunity to secure its place in the post-Covid-19 world, he said.

It needs to do more, especially in sectors with good potential, to get people to come here, said PM Lee.

If Singapore can get the people it wants to come, it will help the country shine brightly as a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth.

It will also make Singapore's own talent want to stay here, to participate in building a dynamic and outstanding nation, he said.

8. Getting three fundamentals right

PM Lee said that to tackle the challenges facing Singapore, the country must get three fundamentals right: a united people, a high-quality leadership team and high trust between the people and their leaders.

"We may have the best laid schemes, but without these three fundamentals, they will come to nothing."

He singled out good leadership as non-negotiable. Pointing to countries with unstable governments and where policies never make it through political gridlock, he said: "Often, it is not just the leaders who disappoint, but the whole system that has failed."

The result is the loss of faith not just in individual politicians or parties but in the whole political system and political class.

He said Singapore's very survival depends on having the right leaders, and leadership succession is therefore of paramount importance.

With the younger ministers having chosen Finance Minister Lawrence Wong to be their leader, PM Lee said that he was happy that his succession plans, which had been put on hold when Covid-19 hit, are back on track.

"I am also glad that from everything I see, Singaporeans are supportive of Lawrence and his leadership of the team."