THE YEAR IN 2012
1. Singapore made steady progress in 2012. We improved Singaporeans’ lives and addressed our more pressing concerns. HDB launched a record number of BTO flats to meet our housing needs. We upgraded public transport services by completing the Circle Line extension and launching the Bus Service Enhancement Programme. We also enhanced our living environment, through iconic developments like Gardens by the Bay, and in housing estates like Punggol.
3. We also strengthened social safety nets to prepare for our ageing population and changing social needs. The Inclusive Budget in February introduced many programmes to help the elderly, less fortunate and disabled, and marked a significant step forward. For instance, we introduced permanent GST Vouchers to offset the GST paid by lower- and middle-income households, and extended subsidies for nursing homes, home- and community-based healthcare to two-thirds of Singaporean households.
4. However, growth was slower this year, at 1.2%. The weak US, European and Japanese economies dampened our growth, but some industries have also had difficulty hiring the workers they need to grow. Next year we expect to grow by 1-3%. In our new phase, we must expect slower growth than we have become accustomed to. Slower growth does not mean we will face less pressure. Companies especially must put more effort into raising productivity. The government will lend them support to do so. Only through higher productivity can we sustain real wage increases for Singaporeans.
Our Singapore Conversation
5. One long-term initiative that we launched this year is the Our Singapore Conversation. The Conversation engages Singaporeans on our shared future, and many have participated. It has been a productive airing of views, enabling Singaporeans to listen to different perspectives. A “conversation”, by definition, cannot merely be about each one of us putting across our own point of view. We have to learn to walk in one another’s shoes.
6. The next step is to translate the ideals and aspirations voiced in the national conversation into programmes that improve our lives. We will analyse the problems and work out solutions to realise our visions. We also need to forge a consensus on the way forward, accommodate one another in a spirit of give-and-take, and place shared national goals ahead of individual interests. Only then can we strengthen our sense of common destiny, of being co-owners in this society as fellow Singaporeans.
7. One issue where we must seek consensus is population, a longstanding challenge that we have been discussing in earnest this past year. It is critical that we strike the right balance in our population policies. At stake is a vibrant and cohesive nation, for Singaporeans, now and into the future.
8. Fundamentally, the population issue is about maintaining a strong Singaporean core. We need to balance two different imperatives carefully. First, we must deal with practical necessities, rationally and objectively. We need to prevent our citizen population from ageing and shrinking. We have to find effective ways to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies, and consider how many new immigrants to take in. We must keep our economy competitive and create good jobs for Singaporeans, and understand the mix and size of our labour force to support such an economy. We must work out how many homes, hospitals and train lines to build, and how quickly, as our population grows.
9. But our population policies cannot just be about numbers. Ultimately, a strong Singapore core is about the spirit of Singapore – who we are, what ideals we believe in and what ties bind us together as one people. We must therefore also give full weight to the intangible human considerations. We all need the anchors of family and friends, a sense of familiarity and home even as our society changes rapidly. We need to improve relations – between citizens and new arrivals, young and old, different races and religions – to preserve our social harmony. And we need to foster an open, confident spirit in our society, and stay connected to the world. Above all, we must affirm our common Singaporean values, norms and identity, forged through shared experiences and memories, regardless of where we originally came from.
10. The White Paper on Population will set out all these considerations. We will publish the White Paper in January, debate it in Parliament and set the direction of our population policy.
EMBRACING THE RIGHT VALUES
11. To realise our aspirations and manage our challenges, Singapore must have good governance. We need capable and committed leaders, who uphold high standards of integrity and set good personal examples, so as to have the moral authority to lead our nation.
12. We have seen several instances this year of lapses by persons in senior positions. These are unfortunate and disappointing. No system can be perfect, but we must do our utmost to run a clean and good government. This means investigating wrongdoings thoroughly, and putting things right decisively and openly. We have upheld this system rigorously since 1959, and have won international respect for our clean and transparent system of governance. We must never slacken our vigilance or lower our standards.
13. But penalties and laws are not enough by themselves to keep the system straight. It is crucial that all of us know right from wrong and conduct ourselves with honour, integrity and probity, especially those in positions of responsibility. We must not just do the right things; we must also do things right. Such an attitude reflects the ethos of our society and the values we uphold.
14. There are many positive examples of Singaporeans doing good deeds and helping others. An engineer who ignored the danger to herself and helped fellow workers to evacuate from a tilting oil rig before leaving it herself. A taxi-driver who returned $1 million in cash that his passengers left behind. Students who help handicapped classmates in school and with their homework. These individuals reflect the best of our society, and embody all that is good in Singaporeans. They inspire us to be better in our own lives – as people, friends, neighbours, classmates and co-workers.
15. Our success as a nation is defined not just in economic terms, but also by our ideals and values. We must balance our material and intangible goals. We are not impersonal, calculating robots, mindlessly pursuing economic growth and material wealth. But neither can we seek fulfilment and happiness without coming to terms with and responding to the realities of the world around us. We must develop our economic capital, while investing in our social and cultural capital. We must be realistic about our challenges, and yet passionate about our causes. We must work hard to excel, but also temper the pursuit of individual success with social graciousness, care and compassion for others, especially the less fortunate.
16. We can transform Singapore into something even more special if we strike the right balance between head and heart in all these ways. The future may be uncertain, and we will certainly face many challenges, but we will succeed if we cherish our dreams, live our values, and commit ourselves anew to achieve the best for one another and for Singapore. When the Lions overcame the odds to clinch the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup for a record 4th time, our entire nation cheered as one people. We stick together in difficulty and rejoice together when Team Singapore makes history. That is the Singapore Spirit.
17. I wish all Singaporeans a Very Happy New Year.