Friday 15 December 2023

Cost of living means different things to different folks in Singapore

The Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living index does not shed light on the bills that ordinary Singaporeans pay.
By Lin Suling, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2023

As a sign of the lengths Singapore will go to in a bid to up its wow factor and entice more travellers here, consider the dramatic four-storey waterfall display unveiled at the recently refurbished Changi Airport Terminal 2 in November.

Just about everyone I know has already visited the attraction, now the centrepiece of the T2 departure hall, and told me the four-minute musical extravaganza is not to be missed.

Now, you may be forgiven for confusing this 14m by 17m digital display with the man-made, HSBC-sponsored rain vortex at Changi Airport’s Jewel, which was opened a mere four years ago. That spectacular sight remains the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

If two waterfalls – one digital, one physical – sound like overkill, that is probably precisely the intent. Singapore is already home to the world’s largest air-conditioned glass greenhouse, Gardens by the Bay, and hosted the first Formula One night race globally.

We must keep filling this carousel of new shiny things so we can remain vibrant and attractive to visitors, investors and corporate leaders.

Singapore thus far seems to be doing this well. Why else would expats keep coming back to Singapore despite it being billed the most expensive city nine times in the last 11 years by The Economist?

News of Singapore – along with Zurich – topping the 2023 Worldwide Cost of Living index on Nov 30, nonetheless, raised many eyebrows.

Many Singaporeans have suggested that it confirms their longstanding concerns that making ends meet in Singapore is becoming an uphill climb for the man in the street.

Online, netizens cite anecdotal experiences corroborating this jump in prices, from the doubling of the cost of a bowl of fish soup at their local coffee shop to complaints about certificates of entitlement (COEs).

Another pointed to news of thwarted attempts to smuggle 120kg of beef and pork as an unequivocal sign that more Singaporeans are turning to the black market to fill their stomachs. Never mind that meat smuggling is possibly the most creative strategy to beat inflation nobody has ever heard of.

And most discussions eventually reached the same conclusion: that the Singapore Government has slipped, in letting in foreigners who push up prices while leaving Singaporeans behind.

The most expensive city in the world for whom?

What to make of all this? Some information about how the Worldwide Cost of Living is put together offers perspective.

The full index of how cost of living stacks up across 173 countries is available only with a US$1,195 (S$1,602) fee. Its website suggests this full report is useful for human resources, corporates, financial institutions, and legal and insurance firms, as “this purpose-built Internet tool quickly calculates cost-of-living allowances and (aids in) building compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers”.

A closer look at the items used in this benchmark of relative cost of living, which is meant to be a comprehensive dataset of over 400 individual price points across 200 goods and services, throws up things such as international school tuition fees, public golf course fees and three-course dinners.

These may just be a few outliers that stick out. Even so, not only are they hardly stuff the average Singaporean spends on, they are also more accurately the make-up of what the typical expat around the world splurges on.

Here in Singapore, I would also add to this list the doubling of Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty for purchases of homes by foreigners, and higher personal income taxes for top earners beginning from the 2024 year of assessment.

Curiously, despite these higher projected expenses, the foreigners just keep coming.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Henry Kissinger, Lee Kuan Yew and a friendship that influenced the world

Both men were realists who spoke frankly, and global leaders listened to them. They also shared a close bond.
By Shashi Jayakumar, Published The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2023

There is a delicious anecdote about a meeting in November 1968 at Harvard University, at what later became the Kennedy School of Government. Some professors were railing against the war in Vietnam and then US President Lyndon Johnson.

Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in Harvard for a sabbatical of five weeks, on being invited to give a response, said tersely, “You make me sick”, before proceeding to give a clear and concise summary of why America had to stay the course and provide security against the communists bent on undermining South-east Asian nations.

Mr Lee remembered the incident in his memoirs as a respectful difference of views and omitted the pungent words.

But Dr Henry Kissinger, then a professor at the faculty encountering the Singaporean for the first time, related the entire incident in his own study of Mr Lee’s leadership, and in his last book before his death last week at the age of 100.

On arrival at Harvard, Mr Lee had said that he was there “to rest, to rethink, to reformulate policies, to get fresh ideas, to meet stimulating minds, to go back enriched with a fresh burst of enthusiasm for what I do”.

And what minds they were: political scientist Samuel Huntington, Graham Allison (the young postgraduate student at Harvard assigned to accompany Mr Lee to seminars, later a famous professor who co-authored a book on him), and the economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Paul Samuelson.

Some, like Ray Vernon of the Harvard Business School, and Michael Porter (whom Mr Lee met later) were to subsequently give advice to our leaders on Singapore’s development and economic policy.

Mr Lee maintained friendly contact or correspondence with some of these men for years.

From 1967 (his first trip to the United States as prime minister), impressed with the spirit, talent and innovatory zeal he found, the Singapore leader would make annual or biannual visits to the US to understand and engage US policymakers, and to seek out and engage with other bright minds in and out of government.

November 1968 marked the beginning of a seminal friendship between Mr Lee and Dr Kissinger.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Long Island to be reclaimed off East Coast could add 800ha of land, create Singapore’s 18th reservoir

Singapore to start environmental and engineering studies into "Long Island" off East Coast from early 2024
By Ng Keng Gene and Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2023

Three tracts of land could be reclaimed off East Coast Park in the coming decades, creating about 800ha of land for new homes and other amenities, as well as a new reservoir.

Called the Long Island, these land tracts – collectively about twice the size of Marina Bay – are Singapore’s response to the threat of rising sea levels and inland flooding in the East Coast area.

Land in the area is largely lower than 5m above the mean sea level, the extent that sea levels are projected to rise to by the end of this century if extreme high tides coincide with storm surges.

On Nov 28, National Development Minister Desmond Lee announced that public agencies will carry out technical studies for the Long Island project over five years, starting from early 2024.

Over the next few years, members of the public will be consulted for their ideas and suggestions for the project, which will take several decades to plan, design and develop.

The current plan is for three elongated tracts of land to be reclaimed in the area, extending from Marina East to Tanah Merah. The easternmost land tract will start from Tanah Merah, while the westernmost tract will be an extension of Marina East. Between these two tracts, a third tract will be reclaimed.

A large tidal gate and pumping station will be built in between each new land mass. These will control the water level in a new reservoir bordered by East Coast Park and the new land masses, and, in the process, reduce flood risks in the East Coast area.

National water agency PUB said the reclamation project is likely to create Singapore’s 18th reservoir.

Like the gate at Marina Barrage, the two gates at the new reservoir in East Coast will open to release excess storm water into the sea during heavy rain when the tide is low. At high tide, the pumps will be used instead to release the storm water.

Mr Lee said the new reservoir can also be used for water activities such as canoeing and dragon-boating.

Besides offering flood protection and increasing Singapore’s freshwater supply, the project will help meet future development and recreation needs, said Mr Lee.

Waterfront homes are expected to be built on the reclaimed land, along with amenities and industrial facilities. About 20km of new coastal and reservoir parks could be added, tripling the length of waterfront parks in the East Coast area, he said.

Plans for reclamation off East Coast were first unveiled in 1991, as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Concept Plan. It was envisioned then that a series of reclaimed islands would provide waterfront housing and leisure opportunities.

At the 2019 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said reclaiming a series of islands offshore and linking them up with barrages could protect existing low-lying areas and create a freshwater reservoir.

URA showcased a possible concept for reclamation works at its long-term plan review exhibition in 2022.

In his speech on Nov 28, Mr Desmond Lee said the Government has been studying various coastal protection options, including building a sea wall up to 3m tall that would stretch from Marina East to Tanah Merah.

The wall would be accompanied by 12 sets of tidal gates and pumping stations – one set at each of the 12 existing outlet drains along East Coast. The gates would stop seawater from flowing inland during high tide, while the pumping stations would pump storm water from the drains into the sea when the gates were closed.

Mr Lee said this option is technically feasible but not ideal for East Coast Park, as large stretches of the park would have to be closed to the public when building the sea wall. When completed, it would permanently limit park users’ access to the waterfront for recreation and sports.

The 12 tidal gates and pumping stations would take up a lot of space within East Coast Park – about the area of 15 football fields – resulting in the loss of existing greenery and recreational facilities.

Mr Lee noted that the public hopes to retain unimpeded access to the waterfront, as well as preserve the heritage and recreation spaces along the coast.

A more optimal solution is to integrate coastal protection measures with reclamation plans for the area, he added.

Saturday 25 November 2023

Tripartism can work in Singapore because the PAP Government is pro-growth and pro-worker: PM Lee Hsien Loong

NTUC National Delegates’ Conference 2023 on 22 November 2023
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2023

The pro-growth and pro-worker policies of the PAP Government are why tripartism can work in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Such policies include creating good jobs while training workers to be able to do them, and making sure every Singaporean benefits from good housing and healthcare that are heavily subsidised by the state, he added.

As a result of its focus on these twin priorities of growing the economy and enabling workers to benefit fully from such growth, the Republic has created a “Singapore premium” where workers doing the same job here earn significantly more than their peers in the region.

Companies and investors are also prepared to pay more to be in Singapore to take advantage of its harmonious industrial relations and business-friendly environment, said PM Lee at the opening of the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference at Orchid Country Club on Nov 22.

“They value being in a country that knows where it is heading, where everyone pulls together for the common good, everything works, and life can get better for all.”

With the Government leading the country in the right direction, it is thus much easier for the tripartite partners to work together to create prosperity and share the fruits of growth, he added.

Tripartism is the three-way relationship between employers, unions and the Government that is focused on long-term interests and sustainable win-win outcomes.

Beyond good governance and sound national policies, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government has also done its best to give Singaporeans good value for their tax dollars even as standards of living and aspirations go up, said PM Lee, who is the party’s secretary-general.

It has done so by running a lean and efficient public system, where government spending and taxes are kept low so that workers can enjoy the fruits of their own labour directly.

Essential public services such as public transport and water are also run efficiently and cost-effectively, requiring reasonable charges for their use without putting the whole burden on taxpayers.

This approach means charges have to go up from time to time as the cost of providing services rises, but the Government will give households that are most in need extra help, he said.

Speaking to some 1,500 union leaders, tripartite partners and other guests at the four-yearly event, PM Lee noted that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had, at the watershed 1969 modernisation seminar, expressed his conviction that Singapore’s future depends on it having strong unions.

“I am convinced that in a vastly changed world – a world that is continuing to change rapidly, this is still true,” PM Lee said.

“The labour movement will play a vital role in Singapore for many years to come. And I know my successor Lawrence Wong thinks so too.”

Among the key outcomes of that seminar was the resolution for tripartite relations to be consensual instead of confrontational, and to develop a workers’ cooperative movement to provide essential goods and services while keeping prices low for members.

He noted that in the early days, PAP labour leaders such as the late Mr Devan Nair and Mr Ho See Beng formed the NTUC to rally the pro-PAP unions against the left-wing Barisan Sosialis, which organised multiple strikes and fomented mayhem to try and bring the Government down.

“I recall this history for a reason. As I told the PAP convention recently, the PAP was not born dominant and neither was the NTUC,” he said.

These baptisms of fire are why the symbiotic relationship between the PAP and NTUC is not merely an institutional arrangement, but rooted in history and forged in battle, he added.

PM Lee said that while many employers and governments elsewhere believe unions should play a smaller role in a rapidly changing world, the PAP rejects this view.

Its traditional roles of fighting for workers’ rights and ensuring good jobs will still be relevant, though the labour movement also has to reinvent and reimagine itself.

This includes guiding workers to keep up with a changing job market, working with the Government to provide all Singaporeans with a fair chance at success, and continuing to broaden its representation of different segments of the workforce, including gig workers and the migrant workforce, he said.

“We continue to strengthen our model of tripartism and keep it a lasting competitive advantage in an uncertain world,” he said.

“That way, we create a better future for our workers and for Singapore.”

Thursday 23 November 2023

ComLink+: New financial incentives to spur low-income families to work towards improving their lives

Low-income families with young children to get up to $30,000 in total payouts under ComLink scheme
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2023

Low-income families will be given financial incentives and other support if they work towards improving their lives, in a national push to give them a leg-up.

Families with children living in highly subsidised Housing Board rental flats who qualify can get up to $30,000 in total payouts if they meet certain employment criteria and make voluntary Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions to save up to buy their own homes.

About 14,000 families on the Community Link (ComLink) scheme are eligible for these new areas of support, which will be rolled out from the second half of 2024.

The measures are aimed at motivating families to send their children to pre-school by the age of three, find a stable job that pays CPF, and save up to buy their own homes. For example, beneficiaries can get between $450 and $550 every three months in a mix of cash and CPF payouts if they find a CPF-paying job with a salary of at least $1,400 a month.

One package helps families to clear their debt, such as for utility and housing arrears. This debt clearance package will match dollar for dollar up to $2,500 in sums repaid by the family, so the total debt cleared would be up to $5,000.

ComLink+ is a key plank of the national drive to reduce income inequality and boost social mobility under the Forward Singapore report, which was launched on Oct 27.

Speaking at the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners appreciation event on Nov 20, Mr Masagos said: “We want Singapore to continue to be a place where social mobility is kept alive for all, especially low-income families who may face unique challenges.

“Many Singaporeans share this vision and agree that more support for low-income families is needed. At the same time, they think this needs to be done in a manner that does not erode self-reliance and agency.”

Mr Masagos described the ComLink+ scheme as a key shift beyond providing just basic, short-term social assistance. The additional financial support will help ease the financial pressures on the families and help them achieve their longer-term goals faster, he added.

“It may take a generation or more, but we know that by reinforcing families’ ability to provide their children with a good start in life today, we give them a better chance of a brighter tomorrow.”

The latest scheme builds on the existing ComLink programme that started in 2019, where low-income families with children living in HDB rental flats are given coordinated and comprehensive support ranging from job assistance to children’s development.

The ComLink+ support measures will be trialled for three years to assess their effectiveness before any potential scale-up, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said.

Areas of support under four packages

1. Pre-school education

Each child enrolled in pre-school will get a one-time $500 top-up to the Child Development Account (CDA), which is a special savings account for the child that can be used to pay pre-school and healthcare fees, when they turn three.

Those between the ages of three and six will get a $200 top-up to their CDA every three months if they attend pre-school regularly. Regular attendance is defined as when the child is in pre-school at least 75 per cent of the time.

Local research has shown that children who attend pre-school from the age of three are less likely to require additional learning support in primary school.

However, the pre-school enrolment and attendance rate of children from lower-income families are lower than the national average, especially at the age of three and four. For example, 88 per cent of children aged three to four nationwide were enrolled in pre-school, compared with 78 per cent for those in lower-income families in 2021, the MSF told The Straits Times.

This package is funded by a corporate donor.

2. Stable employment

Beneficiaries will be given financial incentives if they find a job that pays CPF contributions with a gross salary of at least $1,400 a month. Each adult with a job that meets these criteria will get financial top-ups of between $450 and $550 in a combination of cash and CPF payouts for every quarter that he or she is employed.

If two adults in the same household qualify, they will each get an extra $50 every three months. A maximum of two adults per family can benefit from this employment package geared towards encouraging families to find a stable job.

3. Debt clearance

To help families clear their debt, this package will match dollar for dollar, up to $2,500, the amount the family repays for what the MSF calls verifiable debt. This refers to debt owed to licensed companies, such as utilities and housing arrears, that can be verified and for which repayments can be tracked. Debts to unlicensed moneylenders and sums owed to family and friends are not covered.

Families can benefit from this debt clearance package only once. To qualify, they must not be receiving financial aid from the Government’s ComCare scheme.

An MSF spokesman said: “With less disposable income and savings, lower-income families are more susceptible to falling into debt or arrears, especially if they encounter unexpected setbacks or have inherited debt.

“Even a relatively small debt can severely impact lower-income families financially, psychologically and emotionally, affecting their ability to resolve their debts and work towards long-term goals.”

This package is funded entirely by donors, including Singapore Pools.

4. Saving for home ownership

To help families save up to buy their own flats, for every dollar that the family voluntarily contributes to the CPF Ordinary Account, the Government will top up $2. A family can receive only up to $30,000 in total payouts across this package and the employment package. This package is funded by the Government and DBS Bank, an anchor partner for ComLink+.

Mr Masagos said over 170 partners, which includes DBS, OCBC, UOL’s Pan Pacific Hotels Group, are providing support to ComLink families in various ways.

The financial top-ups will be given for as long as the family remains eligible for the particular package or until the family reaches the payout limit specified for each package, whichever is earlier.

These four areas of support in the packages were designed based on the key needs and aspirations families on ComLink had shared, the MSF said.

Mr Masagos said ComLink officers will be trained to act as family coaches to motivate and support families in working towards their goals.

He said: “When families feel understood and supported, they are more likely to actively participate in the decision-making process and take steps towards their goals. With support from family coaches to meet their immediate needs and stabilise their situations, families tell us they feel more optimistic about their future.”

Saturday 18 November 2023

Age Well SG: Singapore sets aside $800 million from FY2024 to FY2028 to help seniors age well at home, in their communities

Age Well Sg to Support Seniors to Age Actively and Independently In the Community
By Joyce Teo, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2023

More seniors will be supported to age well in the community under a programme that will set aside $800 million over five years for active ageing centres to expand their outreach and increase the range and quality of programmes.

Announcing the increased funding and other details of a multi-ministry Age Well SG programme on Thursday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said: “For many seniors, their biggest enemy is social isolation and loneliness. That’s when your health really deteriorates. We want them to be socially connected.”

He was speaking at a press conference at the NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Lengkok Bahru, Bukit Merah, on Thursday.

There will also be improvements made to housing and streets under the Age Well SG programme, which is also spearheaded by the Ministry of National Development (MND) and Ministry of Transport.

Singapore is ageing rapidly. By 2030, it will have more than 900,000 seniors aged 65 and above, with an increasing number living alone.

Mr Ong said each active ageing centre’s annual budget hovers around $400,000 and the fund injection would lead to a budget rise of at least 50 per cent.

“With greater resourcing, we also have higher expectations for agencies now,” he added. “It is not difficult to fill out an AAC (active ageing centre) with the same visitors every day. It is much more difficult to be able to reach out to the great majority of seniors all living around (the AAC) and able to engage them in meaningful ways.”

The activities at the AACs are meant to keep seniors healthy, but they must also suit the preferences of those living in the vicinity, he said. Communal dining is one activity that allows them to make friends.

Active ageing centres will also work with community partners such as Sport Singapore or the People’s Association, and make use of all the spaces in the community, including coffee shops, pavilions and community clubs.

They will need to work closely with healthcare clusters to implement health screening services in the community and integrate with the Healthier SG preventive health strategy to keep Singaporeans healthy.

At the NTUC Health Active Ageing Centre in Lengkok Bahru, for instance, there is a weekly community health post manned by nurses and a well-being coordinator from Singapore General Hospital, who can help seniors with, say, smoking cessation, counselling and advance care planning, or connect them with home care services.

Active ageing centres will be supported by Silver Generation or SG ambassadors and new senior volunteers whom they can recruit.

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) will roll out a programme to train senior volunteers to run programmes at active ageing centres or befriend seniors at risk of social isolation.

Mr Ong said the aim is to double the number of senior volunteers trained by AIC to around 4,000 by 2025, up from around 1,900 Silver Generation ambassadors at the moment.

“Volunteerism is a very important way for seniors to feel that they can continue to contribute to society and the people around. It will be a core function of the AACs to drive senior volunteerism,” he added.

While active ageing centres are meant for seniors who are well, those with care needs can look forward to a wider range of solutions. The Ministry of Health (MOH) and AIC, with support from the Manpower Ministry, have launched applications for a sandbox scheme to explore the viability of new stay-in shared caregiving models in the private sector.

Five companies, including one that offers assisted living in houses, have been identified for the sandbox scheme, with the aim of servicing an estimated 800 seniors. The models will be reviewed within two years, and, if they work, they will be scaled up, Mr Ong said.

A shared caregiving model may see a few seniors living together in the same flat. They form a new kind of family, a social circle, and can support one another, he added.

“At the same time, within this new household of a few seniors, you can have caregivers at less than the ratio of one to one... And that way, we’ll also reduce the manpower needed to deliver the care services,” he said.

Participating companies will be eligible for work permit quotas and foreign manpower concessions to give them the flexibility of recruiting caregivers from traditional and non-traditional sources.

For seniors who may have to undergo repeated assessments at multiple care providers, MOH will introduce a single point of contact to coordinate all their care needs.

This will happen progressively from the second half of 2024, and will provide the seniors and their caregivers with a more seamless care journey.

The coordinating provider will use a standardised care assessment tool to plan for a senior’s care needs, which will reduce the need for multiple assessments and unnecessary referrals by different care providers.

For instance, a senior who is discharged from hospital after a fall can be referred to an active ageing centre, which will be his single point of contact.

The centre can arrange for him to receive home personal care and senior care centre services provided by a different centre.

And, from April next year, caregivers will be able to tap up to $400 in Caregivers’ Training Grant per year, double the $200 currently. They can also use their SkillsFuture Credit to pay for eligible caregiver courses.

Another part of Age Well SG involves improvements to the living environment. National Development Minister Desmond Lee said a bigger, more concerted push will be made to address seniors’ needs in the built environment.

At home, seniors will get more senior-friendly features, including bigger easy-to-press switches, home fire alarm devices and foldable shower seats in their Housing Board (HDB) flats, as MND expands the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme into EASE 2.0, he added at the press conference.

A wireless alert alarm system will be progressively expanded to all seniors living in public rental housing, many of whom lack family support.

Outside the home, senior-centric upgrading works will be progressively rolled out in more than 20 older precincts with a high density of seniors, including Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah.

These include enhancements such as barrier-free access ramps and amenities like fitness trails.

To provide Singaporeans with more assisted-living options, MND, MOH and HDB will launch up to 30 Community Care Apartment projects by 2030.

These flats pair senior-friendly housing with on-site social activities and care services that can be customised according to their needs.

The first Community Care Apartment residents will move in next year, when their Bukit Batok flats are ready.

Singapore’s second Community Care Apartment project, in Queensway, was launched in late 2022.

A third one in Bedok will be available in the upcoming HDB Build-To-Order sales exercise in December.

By 2030, all towns will have “friendly streets”, with features such as kerbless crossings and lower speed limits as well as wider and more accessible footpaths, said Acting Minister for Transport Chee Hong Tat at the press conference.

Having safe roads, friendly streets and accessible facilities will give seniors the confidence to move around, he added.

Monday 6 November 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong to hand over leadership to DPM Lawrence Wong by November 2024 if all goes well, before next GE

People's Action Party Awards and Convention 2023
PM Lee Hsien Loong says he has full confidence in 4G team, and DPM Lawrence Wong will lead party at next General Election
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2023

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will lead the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the next general election, taking over the reins from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of the polls.

PM Lee said on Sunday: “Lawrence has told me that he is ready... I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team and there is no reason to delay the political transition.”

He was speaking at the party’s biennial convention held at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, addressing more than 1,000 party members.

He said that while he did not manage to pass on the baton before his 70th birthday last year as hoped, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, “if all goes well, I will hand over by PAP’s 70th birthday next year”. The party was set up on Nov 21, 1954.

The next general election (GE) has to be held by November 2025.

PM Lee noted that the ministers had already chosen DPM Wong to be their leader, a choice endorsed by the PAP MPs. The major decision that was left to make was when the handover should take place, before or after the next GE.

Handing over to DPM Wong before the GE would mean he would be the one leading the party in the campaign, and would win his own mandate and take the country forward with the full backing of the nation, said PM Lee.

“Leadership transition for any country is always tricky. Many things can go awry. Both Singaporeans and people outside Singapore, near and far, are watching very closely. Everything depends on the success of this third transition in our history,” he added.

He said that he had thought over the decision carefully and discussed it thoroughly with DPM Wong and ministers from the 3G and 4G teams.

He acknowledged that DPM Wong and the 4G team have been serving for many years now, and have taken on greater responsibilities.

They are preparing well to take the helm and have earned their spurs during the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

Increasingly, they are setting the national agenda, such as through the Forward Singapore exercise, he said. “Therefore, I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence before the next GE,” said PM Lee.

“After that, I will be at the new PM’s disposal. I will go wherever he thinks I can be useful,” he added.

“I will do my best to help him and his team to fight and win the next GE, and to fulfil their responsibilities… I want to help him fulfil his responsibilities, leading the country, so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and my 3G minister colleagues, for many, many more years to come.”

Fighting back tears, PM Lee said: “It has been my great fortune and honour to have served the country, first in the SAF, and then in the party and government, for all of my adult life.”

As he paused to compose himself, loud cheers erupted around the hall as party members stood to applaud him.

Noting that Singapore and the PAP have been thoroughly transformed through his time as prime minister for almost 20 years, he added: “Some things never change… We remain dedicated to Singapore, we still feel the call of duty to serve the people, we still have a duty to future generations to keep this island safe and secure.

“These things have not changed under my watch, and they will not change under the 4G team. I ask each of you to give Lawrence and his team your full support, help them win a strong mandate, and work with them to take Singapore to greater heights.”

DPM Wong, in his speech earlier, spoke of how he had been working hard to get ready to receive the baton from PM Lee.

“I will not be in this alone. I will have a team of 4G leaders whom I have worked closely with over the years. We are ready to lead,” he said, adding that he is ready for his next assignment.

On his leadership approach, DPM Wong said he does not start with the assumption that he knows everything or has all the answers.

Instead, he prefers to begin by listening to a diverse range of perspectives and views and staying open to different ideas.

“I’ve been in Government long enough to know that I cannot please everyone. But I will do my best to explain my decision, to be upfront about the problems and trade-offs, and win the support of the broad majority of Singaporeans,” added DPM Wong.

Saturday 28 October 2023

Forward SG report unveils social support plans, lays out mindset shifts needed amid changing times

Moves to ensure basic needs of Singaporeans are met and social compact is refreshed
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2023

A road map towards a more equitable and thriving Singapore has been put forth by the fourth-generation (4G) leadership, fleshing out the moves the Republic will make in the coming years to stay cohesive amid a time of change.

These include a greater helping hand for groups such as the less well-off, mid-career workers and seniors, through means such as additional financial support and improved infrastructure.

And there will be more done to ensure that Singaporeans’ basic needs at every life stage will be met, such as in education, retirement, healthcare and housing.

These moves come as Singapore has reached a key inflection point where there will be more disruptions, workplace churn and impact on people’s lives, and the Government recognises that more must be done to provide assurance for the people, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference to launch the Forward Singapore report.

The 180-page report unveiled on Friday also articulated the mindset shifts required for Singapore to achieve the goals set out, such as for wider definitions of success and a stronger sense of collective responsibility towards one another.

It will not be possible for the Government alone to do everything through policy changes, nor is it possible for any individual to succeed on his or her own efforts alone,” DPM Wong said later at the launch of the Forward Singapore Festival, where the public can learn more about the report’s initiatives.

Instead, it will be up to everyone, including employers, community groups, families and individuals, to keep the Singapore miracle going, he added.

The report caps off a nationwide engagement exercise headed by Mr Wong that has involved more than 200,000 Singaporeans since it kicked off in June 2022.

The exercise sought to refresh Singapore’s social compact – the glue that holds society together – given the challenges facing the island, which range from a more fraught external environment to a rapidly ageing population to greater job insecurity due to rapid technological change.

One key move the 4G team intends to make to take the country forward is to create more opportunities for all Singaporeans to chart their own paths in life. This includes increasing salaries and respect for a wider range of vocations, better social support for those who face career hurdles, and nudging those who succeed to give back to society.

On the jobs and education front, the report unveiled plans to provide a “substantial top-up” of SkillsFuture Credit, as well as a “significant package” to help mature and mid-career workers reskill and upskill.

Institute of Technical Education graduates will get support to upgrade their skills early in their work life to close wage gaps, while more will be done to recognise those in jobs involving “hands” or “heart”, such as electricians and nurses.

“If society is more supportive of individuals pursuing these careers, we can create a virtuous cycle, where society in turn benefits from better and more reliable services,” it said.

Among efforts to help ageing seniors is the nationwide expansion of a pilot announced in March that will result in wider footpaths and longer green-man timings at traffic crossings.

Programmes that support retirement adequacy for those with lower incomes, such as the Silver Support Scheme and the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, will be updated.

Young parents will also get more help, as the report recognised a need to better support families.

This includes a commitment to studying the feasibility of increasing paid parental leave, and to increase centre-based infantcare places by 70 per cent – or 9,000 spots – by 2030.

On the timeline to implement these changes, Mr Wong said the 4G team will prioritise issues that are more salient and of greater concern for Singaporeans. For instance, policy shifts have already been made or announced in the areas of housing and retirement. These include changing the housing classification system to the Standard, Plus and Prime model, and the $7 billion Majulah Package to help citizens aged 50 and over, that were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in August.

Other items, where specific recommendations have been set out, will be implemented in Budget 2024 and over the coming year, said Mr Wong.

Also at the press conference on Friday were other ministers including Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, and Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

The Forward Singapore report took in people’s ideas for the country’s future, which were contributed at 275 dialogue sessions, as well as through surveys and roadshows. It noted that one topic that constantly emerged at discussions was how the idea of a “good life” had evolved, especially among the younger generation who desire meaning and purpose in life, besides a good salary. The Singapore Dream, which used to be measured by the five Cs of condominium, car, cash, credit card and country club, had fallen out of favour, but there was still a tendency for society to measure success by old yardsticks such as the size of one’s pay cheque or home, the report noted.

Mr Wong said Singaporeans today still want a good life, but it is clear from the engagements that the Singapore Dream has evolved to be about more than just material success. “It’s also about fulfilment, meaning, and purpose in what we do,” he said.

“That’s why I firmly believe the refreshed Singapore Dream is less about I, me, and mine; it’s more about we, us, and ours. It’s recognising that we are not left to fend for ourselves; but that we are all in this together.”

Besides encouraging Singaporeans to tap the range of existing programmes to give back to society, a new Singapore Government Partnerships Office will be set up for agencies to work more closely with citizens.

In sum, the report represents a vision to guide the next bound of development for the Republic, where various groups come together to build a better Singapore, it said.

Mr Wong said: “We have a full agenda ahead of us, and we look forward to working with all Singaporeans to write our next chapter of the Singapore Story,” he said.