PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech on 19 August 2018 at the Institute of Technical Education College Central.
For the English translation and video with English dub, please scroll down to the bottom of the page.
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年轻家庭 住房 + 教育 费用
夹心层 医疗 + 教育 费用
第三，我们的生活方式改变了。这些年来，随着经济增长和科技的进步，人民的生活水平， 已显著提高。以前的一些“奢侈品”，还有一些新的产品，比如冷气机和手机，现在都成了很多人 的“必需品”。同时，大家出外用餐的次数增加了，休闲娱乐的选择也多了，出国旅游已经越来越平常了。看看每年的旅游展，都是人山人海。并且不只是每年一次，现在正有旅游展。在新加坡博览会举行。
另外，电费今年也起了。不过，电费的情况比较复杂， 需要一些时间来解释。让我先问一问大家：你们认为，现在的电费，跟10年前相比，是上涨了，还是下跌了？ 谁觉得现在的电费比10年前贵的，请举手。
谁觉得现在的电费比10年前便宜的，请举手。 现在让我们看数据。请看看这张图表。横轴是年份、2008年到2018年，垂直轴是电费。十年前（2008）第三季，电费是25点07分 (25.07)，刚刚超过两毛半。这十年来，看看电费的走势，有起有落、有起有落。现在的电费，是23点65分 (23.65)，低过两毛四。所以，答案揭晓：正确的答案是，现在的电费比10年前便宜！刚才猜对的，请自己掌声鼓励一下。电费上涨时，大家往往记得很清楚。可惜的是，电费下跌的时候，我们可能没有注意到，或者有点健忘。所以这个就造成了一个政治问题。
电费的高低不是政府所能够控制的。因为我国主要是利用天然气来发电。而天然气全部都是进口的。 天然气的价钱是根据国际燃油价来设定的。 所以，我们会跟着油价的起伏来调整电费。
在为新的小贩中心招标时，我们就规定竞标业者必须提供经济实惠的选择。他们要确保绝大多数的摊位，至少有一样食物，价格不超过3块钱。也就是说，我们不只看标价，也看业者是否有提供经济的食物，让人们选择。例如，在淡滨尼天地 (Our Tampines Hub)的小贩中心，你就可以买到经济可口的鸡饭。今晚，我就邀请了这位鸡饭摊主；以及其他8位来自全岛各地的小贩，来招待大家。群众大会结束之后，你们就可以品尝这些小贩们的拿手好菜，希望你们会喜欢！
小贩中心不单可以帮助大家减少日常开销，也是我国重要的文化遗产。它们就像是我们的社区饭厅。无论华人、马来人、印度人还是欧亚裔人士，大家不分种族、宗教和收入高低，都能够聚在小贩中心，一起用餐。在这里，大家可以享用nasi lemak、炒粿条和roti prata等本地美食。 当然，我希望大家还记得我们去年在群众大会上谈过的课题，尽量挑选比较健康的食物，例如：soto ayam、酿豆腐和thosai 。
今年的国庆庆典就介绍了五位国人的生活经历 。他们克勤克俭，乐观进取，关怀社群，以各自的方式为新加坡做出贡献。其中一位就是88岁的红头巾婆婆——胡润心。胡老婆婆细说了当年下南洋，来到新加坡讨生活的故事。为了可以过更好的日子，胡老婆婆和她的姐妹在工地做粗重的工作，当时的生活很艰苦。胡老婆婆见证了新加坡的蜕变，并为我国的发展感到自豪。胡老婆婆的回忆让许多人十分感动，包括我在内。听听她怎么说。 “
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English translation of Chinese speech
Good evening! We have had a good year overall. Our economy is growing steadily. Productivity has improved, and wages have gone up. Thank you all for the hard work and good results.
I attended the 50th anniversaries of JTC, Keppel and DBS over the last few months. They are all celebrating Golden Jubilees this year. 1968, 50 years ago, was a critical year in our nation-building. Singapore was newly independent, and we were not yet on a stable footing. The British announced unexpectedly in January 1968 that they would withdraw their forces from Singapore by 1971, earlier than planned. This was a severe blow to us. Our businesses and workers depended on British forces here, which contributed more than 20% to our GDP. We had just started National Service in 1967, and did not yet have a strong SAF. Our survival and security were at risk.
To maintain the confidence of Singaporeans and investors, and to reassure our people of their jobs and livelihood. Then Finance Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee instituted policies and set up several new institutions, including JTC, Keppel and DBS, to promote industrialization. We managed to create much needed jobs and brought down the unemployment rate, which was as high as 7%. Those were difficult times, but Singaporeans came together with grit and resilience.
Compared to those early years, Singapore has been totally transformed, and our lives have improved significantly. We now have a world class education system; we enjoy affordable and high quality healthcare; and we have a high rate of home ownership. With a more mature economy, our growth rate has slowed, but we continue to grow steadily. Our unemployment remains low, and wages continue to rise. Various Government policies ensure the fruits of growth are shared widely among all our people.
Cost of Living
However, people still feel cost of living pressures. They sense that they have to spend more, that their earnings never seem to be quite enough.
Why do people feel this way? I think that there are four main reasons why Singaporeans are feeling cost of living pressures. Let me explain them.
Young Families: Housing and Education Costs
First, let’s look at the concerns of young families. They are buying their first flat. They are also planning to have children, and want to provide the best for them and give them a good start. Therefore, these young families pay close attention to the costs of housing and preschool education.
Sandwiched Generation: Healthcare and Education Costs
Second, there is the sandwiched generation, looking after both their children and their parents, the young and the old. With an ageing population, more families are in this situation. What are they worried about? They are worried about medical expenses because their parents are getting old, and will have more medical conditions to treat. They are also worried about the costs of education, as their children are still young. Therefore, the sandwiched generation is concerned about healthcare and education costs.
Third, our lifestyles have changed. Our quality of life has improved, as a result of economic growth and technological progress. Things that were once considered luxury items or perhaps did not even exist before, like air conditioners and handphones, have now become everyday necessities. People eat out more, and have more entertainment and leisure options. Overseas vacations have also become more common. Travel fairs are always packed with crowds. Our standards of living have gone up. This is a positive development, because it means that our lives have improved. However, to sustain this higher quality of life, people are spending more than before, and this can put pressure on households. So cost of living can increase as a result of changing lifestyles.
Lastly, inflation has led to price increases. According to statistics, the overall price increase is modest. And overall, wages have gone up. We have done better than most developed countries. However, I know that not everyone’s wages has increased. For some, their wages have stagnated. Others worry about losing their jobs because of economic changes. Some have lost their jobs and retirees who no longer have incomes, and are living off their savings, they are worried about their savings running out. Therefore, for these Singaporeans, when prices increase, they feel as if “their wallets have shrunk”.
In summary, these are the four key reasons why people feel cost of living pressures: The concerns of young families, the worries of the sandwiched generation, lifestyle changes and price increases.
The major expenditure items which Singaporeans are most concerned about are housing, healthcare and education. The Government looks at these very closely. We will make sure that housing, healthcare and education are affordable, so that Singaporeans do not have to worry about them. I have spoken about education many times in previous NDRs. Tonight, in my English speech later, I will speak about healthcare and public housing, and the adjustments the Government will make in these areas to better meet the needs of Singaporeans.
In my Chinese speech, I will focus on price increases and lifestyle changes. I will explain what the Government can do, as well as what you yourself can do, to alleviate cost of living pressures.
First, let me talk about price increases. The Government has tried to keep inflation low and prices stable.
But we cannot completely prevent prices from increasing, for example, water prices have gone up recently.
This is the first time in nearly 20 years that the water price has increased. We put off the increase for as long as we could. But in the end, we had to do it, because the cost of producing clean water has increased significantly over the years. We also need to build more NEWater factories and desalination plants to produce more of our own water in Singapore. Water will always be a precious resource for us, a strategic and security issue as well as a sensitive foreign policy matter. This was the case 53 years ago. This is still the case 53 years later, and if you read the newspapers, you will know that our vital interests where water is concerned have not changed.
Electricity tariffs have also increased recently. But this is a more complicated issue, which needs a longer explanation. Let me first do a little quiz.
Do you think that today’s electricity tariff has gone up or come down, compared to ten years ago? If you think that today’s electricity tariff is higher than what it was ten years ago, please raise your hands. If you think that today’s electricity tariff is lower than what it was ten years ago, please raise your hands. This is a straightforward question. You don’t have to check the internet, just make a guess, and I will make a count.
Now let us look at the data. Looking at this chart, the horizontal axis indicates the years from 2008 to 2018, and the vertical axis indicates the electricity tariffs. Ten years ago, in 3Q 2008, the electricity tariff was 25.07 cents/kwh, which is slightly more than 25 cents. Since then, the tariff has gone up and down over the years. And today, it is 23.65 cents/kwh, less than 24 cents/kwh. So the answer is: today’s tariff is lower, compared to ten years ago. Unfortunately, we all remember vividly when the electricity tariff goes up, but when the tariff comes down, we forget quickly.
We cannot control electricity tariffs. Because we use natural gas to generate almost all of our electricity and we import all our natural gas, which is pegged to global oil prices. Therefore, we will adjust electricity tariffs according to fluctuations in oil prices.
Let me show you another chart. The horizontal axis indicates the years from 2008 to 2018, and the vertical axis indicates oil prices. Let us look at electricity tariffs and oil prices for the last ten years. You can see that our electricity tariffs track changes in oil prices.
Some people have asked: why should electricity tariffs be in step with energy price fluctuations? Why can’t the Government fix the electricity tariff? There are two reasons why we can’t. First, we are not an oil producing country. Fixing electricity tariffs will mean costly subsidies. This is not financially sustainable in the long run. Second, if we do this, it means that those who consume more electricity will receive more subsidies. And who do you think uses more electricity? Wealthy or low income families? It is the wealthy. Subsidising the cost of electricity by fixing a low tariff is not the best way to help low income families.
A more effective way is to give direct subsidies to low-to-middle income families for their utilities bills. This is what the Government has been doing. We have U-Save rebates for all households living in HDB flats. Households living in smaller flats receive the most U-Save rebates. Those living in bigger flats also receive U-Save rebates, but the rebates are lower. We also increased the U-Save rebates last year. Households in one- and two-room HDB flats will receive close to $400 of U-Save rebates this year, which is about 4 months’ worth of utility bills.
I have spent some time today explaining the relationship between utility prices, energy prices, and U-save rebates. I hope people will understand that we have adopted the best approach to lessen the burden of Singaporeans.
While the Government will do its part to alleviate people’s cost of living concerns, each of us also has a responsibility to “look after our own wallets” — save water, save electricity, and at the same time, shop around for the best prices, and be a smart consumer. I will now talk about lifestyle changes. I will explain using three examples: smartphones, infant milk formula, and hawker centres.
Handphones have completely changed our lifestyles and how we communicate. In the 1990s, most Singaporeans families only had one landline. Everyone in the family took turns to use the phone. The telecommunications bill was about $8 a month, or $100 a year. Today, most households no longer have landlines. Every family member – young and old, grandparents and even young children – now has a handphone and they are mostly smartphones. Handphones have become a necessity in our daily lives. Without them, we can’t surf the internet, receive information, or contact our friends. We feel cut off from the world. Our lives become “unbearable”.
This is the way forward to become a Smart Nation. We should not regress. However, this also means telecommunications bills will grow.
CDAC found that some low income families had telecommunications bills as much as $300, which is more than 10% of their household incomes. But there are also other families whose telecommunications bills only come up to $100, and yet their data plans can meet their needs.
I am glad that CDAC has been giving households financial advice and suggesting ways to bring down their telecommunications bills. For example, don’t use 4G to watch movies when you are outside. You can download the movie first using your home’s WiFi. When you are out, you can tap on Wireless@SG when it is available. If we watch our data usage, we will not have to worry about high telecommunications bills. We can still surf the internet, connect with friends, and videochat with our children and grandchildren.
Infant Milk Formula
My next example is infant formula. Many parents are concerned about the cost of infant formula.
Infant formula is more expensive in Singapore than in some other countries. I understand that every parent wants to have the best for their children. To be honest, grandparents are just the same. Breast milk is best, but often mothers need to supplement breast milk with infant formula. Infant formula makers have taken advantage of this to develop all sorts of premium brands. They have also marketed aggressively, misleading parents into thinking that if it is more expensive, it must be better. As a result, parents spare no expenses and tend to buy the expensive brands for their children.
The Government set up a task force, led by SMS Dr Koh Poh Koon, to tackle this problem. The task force addressed the issue in various ways. First, it simplified import processes, and brought in more brands and parallel imports. Hospitals have also come on board. Public hospitals now offer more affordable brands so that the newborns will not get used to drinking expensive brands. Some private hospitals are also adopting this approach. The Government has also indicated clearly that it will tighten regulations for the labelling of infant formula and put a stop to misleading advertising. In the past, there were many advertisements showing babies or cute animals with mortar boards, as if drinking that particular brand will make the children smarter. I am glad that there are fewer such advertisements now. It is clear to infant formula makers that the Government is determined to solve this problem. At the same time, the task force launched a campaign to educate parents that more expensive infant formula is not necessarily better. Unless the child has a special medical requirement, all infant formulas sold in Singapore are suitable for our children, and will meet their nutritional needs. When I was an infant, there were no such expensive brands of infant milk formula, yet my generation still grew up healthily. So I believe the next generation will not have a problem.
Through our efforts, there are now more reasonably priced options for consumers to choose from. Average prices of formula milk have dropped. More importantly, young parents are better informed. They are now able to make better choices, based on their needs and budget. Therefore, they can save money, reduce the cost of living, and feel under less pressure.
Not every household needs to buy infant formula. So my third example is hawker food, because everyone needs to eat. Fewer families cook at home today. We have more dual-income families these days. They have no time to cook after working the whole day. It is more convenient for them to eat out. This lifestyle change is completely understandable but eating out costs more than cooking at home, so it pushes up the cost of living.
One way to help Singaporeans manage the cost of eating out is to build more hawker centres. We have built seven new centres in the last few years, and 13 more are on the way.
Stalls in the new hawker centres are required to provide affordable food choices. Almost every stall will offer at least one economical meal option, priced at $3 or less. In other words, when we tender out the hawker centres, we do not assess bids on their tender price alone, but also on whether the operators can offer affordable options. For example, you can get affordable and tasty chicken rice at Our Tampines Hub. We will have food from this chicken rice stall and eight other hawker stalls from all over Singapore at the reception. Hope you will enjoy these specialities after the National Day Rally.
Hawker centres are important not just to keep the cost of living low. They are a cultural institution, a unique part of Singapore’s heritage and identity. Hawker centres are our community dining rooms. Singaporeans of all races — Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian — and of all religious faiths and income groups, are able to eat together in hawker centres and enjoy our nasi lemak, char kway teow and roti prata. But I hope that you also remember what we discussed at last year’s National Day Rally, and as far as possible, choose healthier options like soto ayam, yong tau foo and thosai. When we travel overseas, we find ourselves craving for local hawker food. When we hold Singapore Days overseas, the hawker food is the biggest draw for homesick Singaporeans. Hawker food is the best cure for homesickness!
Our hawker centres and hawker food resonate with many Singaporeans. Mediacorp Channel 8’s “Tuesday Report” has a popular series of documentaries, “Where We Connect”, introducing hawker culture. Let us take a look. From the clip, we can see that our hawker culture is a part of our community, our collective memories, and our national identity.
Three years ago, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was a proud moment for Singaporeans. As of now, it is our first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We now want a second UNESCO inscription. This time we will nominate our hawker culture to be inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In our various consultations, there was widespread support from Singaporeans to nominate our hawker culture because it is “Uniquely Singapore” and reflects our daily lives. The UNESCO inscription will help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations. It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage. I hope everyone will strongly support this nomination, so that our hawker culture can stand proudly on the world stage.
Tonight, I spoke about our early years and economic journey, how our standards of living have improved, and how the Government is working with you to cope with cost of living pressures. But a nation cannot just be pursuing economic growth and material achievements. What holds us together are the intangibles: our values, our shared memories, and our collective sense of mission.
This year’s National Day Parade featured five individuals who shared with us their life experiences. They led difficult and frugal lives, but they were optimistic and driven, and they cared about the community. Each of them contributed to Singapore in his or her own way. One of them was Madam Woo Yun Sum, an 88-year-old samsui woman, who came to Singapore to earn a living. It was hard labour at the construction sites, but Madam Woo and her fellow Samsui sisters persevered so that they could have better lives. She witnessed the dramatic transformation of Singapore and she is proud of what we have become. Her touching life story moved many people, including me. Let’s hear what she said.
“When there is rice, eat rice; when there is porridge, eat porridge”. Madam Woo’s words remind us of the importance of staying positive and being content, even as we seek to improve our quality of life.
53 years ago, Mdm Woo and the pioneer generation toiled and built Singapore from scratch. The generations who followed them built on the foundations the pioneers laid. They too have worked hard so that we can have better lives. Now we are in a stronger position to realise bigger dreams and scale new heights.
Today, it is our generation’s turn to build Singapore. And we too must be resolute and open new frontiers, so that our children and grandchildren will have an even brighter future.
This is how we keep Singapore going, generation after generation. So that Singapore will always remain an exceptional country that stands tall in the world and an endearing home for all of us. Thank you.
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