Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the Swearing-in Ceremony of the New Cabinet

27 July 2020

Prime Minister


Cabinet Ministers


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Just six months ago, it was a very different world.


In Singapore, we were advancing steadily on the course we had set over many years to develop our country: upgrading our economy and our workforce; developing our physical infrastructure; strengthening our social safety nets; fulfilling the aspirations of our people; and ensuring that Singapore remains a land of opportunity, where every Singaporean who works hard can make good for themselves.


At the same time, we watched with growing concern some developments in other countries. Globalisation and free trade were in retreat. Geopolitical tensions were rising between the big powers. Many societies around the world were under stress, with their peoples angry and frustrated about their lives, and this sentiment fuelling a wave of nativism and protectionism. These veins of unhappiness were erupting in various forms, be it Brexit in the UK, the Yellow Vests in France, or the drastic loss of support for moderate political leaders in the US, Europe and elsewhere. 


Singapore, being a highly open society, was exposed to these same pressures. But fortunately, we were coping better than most, because our people were united, and our government focussed on addressing our people’s concerns, and improving their lives. In the last five years, we have made significant progress.


On the economic front, we strengthened Singapore’s competitiveness. The Future Economy Council, chaired by DPM Heng Swee Keat, led the effort to transform our industries to prepare them for the future, and retrain our workforce to stay productive and employable.


We also strengthened our social compact. The government made major investments and policy reforms, to improve people’s lives and prospects, and to make the basic needs of life more affordable and accessible. We enabled young Singaporeans to buy HDB flats earlier to start their families. We invested heavily in preschools and enhanced preschool subsidies, to give every child a good start in life. We gave our people peace of mind on healthcare costs, particularly our elderly, through the Pioneer Generation Package and Merdeka Generation Package, and schemes like MediShield Life and CareShield Life. And we supported Singaporeans in their lifelong learning journeys, through SkillsFuture and continuing education. To support those who need extra help, the government enhanced Silver Support, Workfare, and ComCare, and improved social service delivery on the ground. Singaporeans from all walks of life stepped forward to partner the government in all these efforts through the SGTogether Movement, to create a shared future where every Singaporean had a stake, and to build a fair and just society with opportunities for all.


Then suddenly this year, with COVID-19, we found ourselves in the crisis of a generation. It is an upheaval that could derail our course, and set back Singapore for many years. Our progress in the last five years, and over many years before that, has given us a strong base to work from. Even so, we have had to muster all our strength and our resources, to mount an emergency response to this overwhelming challenge. Over the last six months, the government has been totally occupied with the COVID-19 outbreak and its economic fallout. We hugely expanded our medical facilities to treat COVID-19 cases. We introduced rigorous safe distancing measures, scaled up testing and contact tracing, and implemented the circuit breaker to slow down transmission of the virus. We launched a massive and complex operation to bring the outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories under control, and keep both the migrant workers and Singaporeans safe.


To cushion the impact of the outbreak on our jobs and income, the Minister for Finance introduced four Budgets in quick succession, injecting close to $100 billion. The government sought my permission to draw more than half of this from the Past Reserves. Having consulted the Council of Presidential Advisers and considered the requests carefully, I approved the draw on reserves, and gave the government my full support. I concurred with its assessment that we needed to bring all our resources to bear to deal with this existential challenge – the most serious since our nation’s independence – and protect Singaporeans’ lives and livelihoods.


After six months of unremitting effort and the tireless work of our frontline heroes, we have stabilised our situation in Singapore.  But the crisis is far from over. The government called a General Election to secure a fresh mandate and a new full term, in order to make the necessary and difficult decisions to deal with the troubled times ahead. Now that the election is over, we must focus on the challenges and the agenda ahead.


If anything good has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the reaffirmation of our Singapore spirit. Our resilience as one people has brought us through this crisis so far. I am heartened by the way Singaporeans from all walks of life have collectively mobilised resources to help one another in this most difficult of times. I am proud of how we have stood together, in solidarity with one another.  So for this next phase, I ask Singaporeans to similarly unite behind the government that we have elected, and give it our full support to see Singapore through this crisis.


Prime Minister, I have confidence that you and your team will steer Singapore safely through these tumultuous times, so that we can resume our journey to build a better future for ourselves. 


Ladies and Gentlemen, I now ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to come forward to take his Affirmations of Allegiance and for Due Execution of Office, followed by the Ministers he has designated as members of his Cabinet.


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