SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE SWEARING-IN OF THE NEW CABINET ON THURSDAY, 1 OCTOBER 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen
This year, as we celebrate our 50th year as an independent nation, we paid tribute to our pioneers. Their resilience, resourcefulness and sense of responsibility laid the groundwork for our success. They believed in a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural Singapore. They believed that by working together as one people, they could build a better life for themselves and their children. We enjoy the nation that was founded on these beliefs. More important, these beliefs live on in us.
In this SG50 year, we also reflect on our journey as a sovereign people, and the values and principles that enabled us to make progress, stay united and be successful.
Our sense of togetherness has never been stronger. The passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister, in March this year brought the nation together. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally Speech:
“Now we do not have to struggle to find words to define the Singapore spirit or to say what being Singaporean is. Now we know that we are Singaporean.”
The Singapore Spirit showed itself in many ways. During the recent SEA Games, Singaporeans came together to cheer all our athletes. Our athletes displayed tremendous fortitude and spirit. They did us proud. And at many ground-up SG50 events, Singaporeans expressed their love for their country in ways that were meaningful and special to them.
We have much to celebrate. The city has been transformed, our HDB heartlands and parks are beautiful, and our economic progress has created many opportunities for our people. Above all, we celebrate not just the tangible progress we have made, but the sense that this is our home, truly; this where we belong, where we build our future together.
I am pleased that in the last term of Government, Singapore continued to make good progress. The Government has worked hard to improve the lives of Singaporeans. Despite the global economic uncertainty and the debt crisis in Europe, the Singapore economy did well, growing by 11% in real terms between 2011 and 2014. With economic restructuring, we created many new and diverse jobs, and real wages grew for most Singaporeans.
We are investing heavily in education, from our preschools to give every child a good start in life, to our ITE, polytechnics and universities, to help every young person reach his or her fullest potential. We have diverse pathways to success.
SkillsFuture was launched to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to upgrade throughout their lives. This will enable Singaporeans to thrive in the workplace of the future, regardless of their starting points.
The Government renewed its commitment to a more caring and inclusive society. We provided our pioneers greater peace of mind through the Pioneer Generation Package, which greatly reduced medical bills. We introduced MediShield Life to provide better healthcare coverage, for all, for life, including for those with pre-existing conditions.
Our social safety nets have also been strengthened. Lower- and middle-income households are benefitting more from the GST Voucher Scheme. We have also reduced the cost of living through many other schemes – like the Community Health Assist Scheme, the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme, and new public transport concessions.
We have remained cohesive in spite of a more diverse populace. Fault-lines such as race and religion can divide us, and cause irreparable and lasting damage to a society. External forces can pull at us too - ISIS and terrorism remain a deep concern. A few Singaporeans have gone to the Middle East to fight for ISIS.
But despite our differences, we remain united. We stayed true to the convictions expressed by our first President, Encik Yusof Ishak, who said:
“We in Singapore should not fall into the tragic error of viewing the variety of language, religion, culture and race as a stumbling block to progress and prosperity. On the contrary, if we approach these differences with goodwill, tolerance and healthy curiosity this rich variety will ultimately turn out to be our salvation. It is this tolerance for variety, among other things, which today makes Singapore the dynamic and progressive city it is.”
We continue to find strength in our diversity. The Government has sought to build common spaces for Singaporeans, and to engage them in shaping our future. Indeed many of the policy changes that were made in the last term of Government were the result of such consultations, including the path-breaking Our Singapore Conversation (OSC).
However, the road ahead is long and there is much that remains to be done. We live in a volatile region that grows ever more uncertain. Economic and political problems in our neighbouring countries will affect us. Issues that cut across national boundaries will test our mettle as well as regional bonds. Even as we seek to play a constructive role internationally, we must be alert to adapt to fast changing developments in our region.
The world economy has hit a rough patch. All nations, rich and poor, are facing greater challenges, including some of the biggest economies in Asia. How they fare will have knock-on effects on us. Domestically, we face the challenges of an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. If we fail to address these challenges robustly, our economy will falter, lose its vibrancy and we will find it harder to improve the lives of our people.
An election can potentially be divisive. But it can also bring a country together. Prime Minister Lee called the General Elections on September 11. I am happy that Singaporeans sent a clear signal that they wanted to stay united in the face of regional and global uncertainties, and to work with the government for a better future.
Today, we turn a new page in Singapore’s history. I extend my thanks to the Ministers and Members of Parliament who are stepping down after years of dedicated service to Singapore. At the same time, I welcome the new Members of Parliament.
The Prime Minister and his team have won a strong mandate to take Singapore forward. It gives me great pleasure to swear in the bold, strong and forward-looking Cabinet that Prime Minister Lee has assembled. But before I do so, may I offer a word of advice: Singaporeans have chosen to place their trust in you because they believed you were the most worthy of that trust. The trust of the people is a precious thing. It does not come easy. You must continue to strive to deserve that trust. You must continue to engage Singaporeans honestly and openly. You must continue to speak frankly with them on the tough issues, and lead with humility.
Singaporeans are a good-hearted and strong-spirited people. They will stand together in the hardest of times. And as they have shown over the past 50 years, they are capable of responding to exceptional leadership to accomplish remarkable things.
Prime Minister, the people of Singapore have placed their trust in you and your team. I wish you and your Government all the best as you work with Singaporeans to take Singapore to greater heights.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I now ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to come forward to take his Oaths of Allegiance and for Due Execution of Office, followed by the Ministers he has designated as members of his Cabinet.