Friday 21 April 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President in Parliament on 19 April 2023

Amid unprecedented global situation, remain united, be go-getters and uphold Singapore’s reputation: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2023

Amid an unprecedented global situation that is graver than what Singapore has experienced for a very long time, it is important that the nation should stay united.

Singapore must not allow itself to be divided along fault lines, or turn inwards like what other countries with larger populations and domestic markets are doing, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

Instead, Singaporeans must remain united, maintain the go-getting spirit, and uphold the country’s good standing in the world, he added.

PM Lee spent over a third of his 50-minute speech in Parliament laying out the challenges facing Singapore strategically and economically, and the implications for the country.

While Singapore’s relationships with neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia are close, stable and encouraging, the situation further afield has turned much more troubling, even dangerous, he warned.

“Singaporeans need to realise the gravity of the external situation. We are facing not just one storm, but several,” he said on the third day of the debate on the President’s Address. The address had laid out the key priorities of the Government going into the second session of the 14th Parliament.

The storms include the Russia-Ukraine war, deepening hostility between the United States and China, and protectionism undermining the multilateral trading system.

PM Lee called for continued unity as he noted that Singaporeans have come through repeated challenges over the past six decades because they have worked together, taken adversity in their stride, and kept faith with one another.

Elsewhere, opposing groups are getting worked up, mobilising their followers, and pitting citizens against one another, said PM Lee.

“In Singapore, when faced with a divisive issue, our approach has always been to find a middle way, bridge the differences, strike compromises and heal divisions. Not grand posturing; not playing cultural or identity politics; not dividing and polarising people,” he said.

“Our instinct always is to keep Singaporeans together. We have to keep on thinking and acting like this. Please do not take our harmony for granted. It is a very precious thing, and very fragile. We must continuously work on it, and build up our social cohesion and national strength.”

The troubled external environment will create new stresses and strains in society, which must not divide Singaporeans along fault lines in society, such as the “haves” versus “have nots”, or “locals” versus “foreigners”, or between different races and religions, said PM Lee.

High inflation from the war will cause difficulties for many households, especially lower- and middle-income families, he said.

Tensions between China and the US will expose the population to “emotional pulls, commercial pressures and influence campaigns, from one side or the other, to take their point of view and support their cause”.

There will also be more uncertain growth and greater disruption with the fracturing of the global trading system.

“In this new troubled world, it is all the more important for us to close ranks. Divided, we stand no chance,” he said.

“We must not shy away from hard choices, but deal squarely with difficult issues based on facts and sound analysis.”

Apart from remaining united, it is equally important that Singaporeans have the go-getting spirit of self-reliance and enterprise, to create prosperity for the nation and achieve the best they can in a very troubled world, said PM Lee.

This is an attitude Singapore has always had and has not forgotten, he noted, citing examples of Singaporeans who have ventured overseas as far as Rwanda.

“But we are not just asking Singaporeans to work harder as individuals. We have a strategy to make a living for our nation as a global city and an international hub. It will be tough, because globalisation is going the wrong way,” said PM Lee.

He noted that larger countries may be able to afford the costs of turning inward, but as a small island state, Singapore cannot.

“Our survival depends on our being able to do business with the world, to deliver value to others. So our strategy must be to double down on staying open and connected to the world, and continue making ourselves useful as a global city and an international hub.”

But staying open and connected means being exposed to competition from the world, so Singapore must maintain its edge by continually upgrading capabilities and building new ones. It must also transform and restructure the economy to stay abreast of new technologies and industries, he added.

The quality of the country’s government and leaders matters, too, he added. As part of leadership renewal, the 4G ministers are increasingly responsible for the safety and well-being of the country, PM Lee said, as he called on Singaporeans to elect leaders they trust to take the country forward.

He also urged people to embrace the outsized ambition and effort of earlier generations for the city-state to be an exceptional place in the world.

This means continuing to uphold Singapore’s good international reputation, turning opportunities into successes and keeping consistent principles.

“This is the way for Singapore to be taken seriously, and to count for more than our size. We may be a small island state, but we are not a small people, and neither are our hearts nor our aspirations. Let us think boldly, aim high, and seek far.”

Thursday 20 April 2023

The policy shifts and politics of rage in a contested Singapore: DPM Lawrence Wong

In his speech on the President’s Address, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong outlined five key shifts as part of a new social compact. What was equally important was what he said about politics and the role of the opposition.
By Grace Ho, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2023

A new approach on skills, social support, and caring for seniors.

A new definition of success.

A renewed commitment to one another.

These were the five key shifts Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong outlined on Monday as part of a new social compact, on which discussions are well under way with the nationwide engagement exercise Forward Singapore.

The ideas are not dramatically new, but reinforcing them ahead of the Forward SG report, due in the second half of 2023, will keep them fresh in the public consciousness.

More importantly, what the 4G leadership stands for is finally coming into sharper focus after 2018 when succession first became a hot-button issue, while not necessarily signalling a radical departure in policy.

Mr Wong himself took care to disabuse commentators of the view that the 4G team has shifted to the left. He pointed out that it is not a simple case of characterising positions along the traditional political spectrum of left and right, but appealing to a broad base instead of blindly copying models from other countries.

Take broadening meritocracy, for example. Mr Wong and others such as Education Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke on it during Monday’s and Tuesday’s debate on the President’s Address – and before that, Mr Wong at the launch of Forward SG in June 2022.

But even as far back as in 2013, then Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was already speaking of a broader, “continuous meritocracy”, regardless of one’s academic background, in an interview with The Straits Times.

The proof is in the pudding. The raft of policy changes in the ensuing decade, from doing away with the PSLE T-score, to full subject-based banding and lifetime cohort participation rate, are the clearest realisation of this consistency and continuity in policy and messaging.

Ample hints have been given of other substantive changes in the works. These, too, have their early advocates.

Mr Wong’s mention of a targeted re-employment support scheme is something which labour MPs such as Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) have pushed for – the latter when he called for a more permanent scheme following the Covid-19 Recovery Grant, which provided temporary financial support for workers experiencing involuntary job loss and income loss during the pandemic.

More social support for vulnerable groups to ease the financial burden on parents of children attending special education schools and care centres, for example, have been prefaced by recent Budget announcements and championed by both sides of the House, including backbenchers.

“We intend to make this shift in our social strategy so every Singaporean can be confident: In this harsh, unpredictable world, we will have your back, and we will support you,” Mr Wong said on Monday.

Role of a responsible opposition

Amid the policy shifts announced, which have gathered broad support, however, the negativity in the Facebook comments on Mr Wong’s speech gives cause for concern.

Social media draws out the most misanthropic segments of the public. Yet, it is this loathing and distrust of anything the People’s Action Party (PAP) government says and does, displayed among some netizens, which I fear will become increasingly hard to stem.

It is what American political journalist Ezra Klein calls negative partisanship, or being driven not by positive feelings about what you support, but bad feelings towards the party you oppose.

Here, the opposition has a role to play. Mr Wong threw down a challenge on Monday when he said that instead of putting forth opportunistic or populist ideas that chip away at trust in the Government, the opposition should offer a serious alternative agenda and be upfront about the trade-offs and funding.

That might be a bridge too far to cross for politicians with little technocratic policy experience, but there are simple ways in which parliamentary debates can remain constructive and helpful.