President Halimah Yacob delivered her opening address for the commencement of Singapore's 14th Parliament on Monday (Aug. 24), her second address to Parliament, after her first in 2018.
Her address will set out the government's priorities and policies for its next term, the first time she delivered the address in a new term of government.
During her address, titled "Securing our future in a different world", President Halimah said that Singapore will face many major challenges in the upcoming years, under the shadow of the Covid-19 crisis.
To tackle these problems, Singapore must stay united, and be ready to adapt to the changing situation, in order to keep Singapore thriving.
Here's a summary of her speech:
1. Singapore must remain vigilant to prevent new wave of Covid-19 infections
President Halimah noted that Singapore has recently completed testing all migrant workers in dormitories, and are progressively returning them to work safely.
However, despite largely keeping new infections under control, and keeping fatalities low, Singapore must continue to remain vigilant, in order to prevent a new wave of infections.
She stressed that Singapore must readjust its Covid-19 strategies as the situation develops, and prepare its healthcare system for a possible resurgence of cases.
2. Singapore must stand out in order to survive and thrive
Although Singapore has thrived for decades under globalisation and a stable international order, "Covid-19 has reshuffled the deck", said President Halimah.
Singapore's external environment has become less benign and predictable, and countries are fighting to meet their own needs.
The current situation is especially challenging for Singapore, given how much we rely on trading and doing business with the rest of the world.
President Halimah said that for Singapore to survive and thrive, we must stand out compared to other nations, emphasising that "Singapore is still a little red dot in an uncertain world".
"We must do things that others cannot do, and do the things that others can do, even better," she said.
3. Jobs remain the government's top priority
President Halimah said that Singapore's economy is facing its worst recession since independence, with the economy likely to shrink by 5 per cent to 7 per cent this year.
Hence, the government recognises the fears and anxieties about jobs that Singaporeans have today, and will continue to make jobs their top priority for the next few years.
The government will continue to support businesses, especially SMEs, with cash flow and credit, so they can stay afloat and hold on to their workers.
They will also continue to help middle-aged workers by matching them to suitable jobs and SkillsFuture programmes.
However, President Halimah also said that Singapore's economy will undergo significant structural changes, with some sectors unable to return to what they were before.
There is great urgency in transforming Singapore's economy, and Singapore cannot take its hub status for granted.
She said that Singapore will resume air travel safely, in order to maintain Singapore's role as a global and regional hub, while fortifying the nation's resilience in critical areas such as food, healthcare and supply chain management, in order to develop new sources of growth.
4. Singapore's meritocratic system must evolve
President Halimah also touched upon a key pillar of Singapore's society: meritocracy.
She said that meritocracy has "served us well" for the past 55 years, but acknowledged that Singapore's model of meritocracy may be due for some changes.
Unfettered meritocracy can foster excessive competition, she said, and the government must recognise the need to help families who are disadvantaged, in order to give their children a fair start in life.
"We want to keep our society open and socially mobile, and not allow it to stratify and ossify over time, " said President Halimah.
5. Younger Singaporeans prefer talking about race issues more candidly
During her speech, President Halimah spoke at length about the need to strengthen Singapore's shared sense of identity.
She said that multiracialism will always be a core element of our Singaporean identity, and that everyone, "regardless of race, language or religion", must have an equal place in our society.
However, she also pointed out that Singapore's multiracialism is "still work in progress", and noted that each successive generation in Singapore will bring different life experiences and perspectives.
For example, younger Singaporeans prefer talking about such issues more candidly and openly, which she described as a "positive development".
However, she warned that such conversation needs to be conducted with restraint and mutual respect, in order to avoid fracturing Singapore's social cohesion.
6. Concerns regarding work pass holders will be addressed
Another potentially divisive issue that is closely connected to our Singaporean identity, according to President Halimah, is the sense of competition for jobs from work pass holders.
She acknowledged that this has become a major source of anxiety, and assured Singaporeans that these concerns "will be addressed".
President Halimah said that the interests of Singaporeans are always paramount, but at the same time, we cannot afford to turn away those who can contribute to Singapore.
"Our Singaporean identity has been formed and strengthened not by excluding those who arrive later, but by successive arrivals adding to the richness of our society", she said.
She said that debates on such sensitive matters can easily become polarised, but urged Singaporeans to work harder to listen to and under one another, as the government opens up "more areas for meaningful discussion".
7. Both Government and opposition have roles to play to built trust in public institutions
One significant change in Singapore's 14th Parliament is the designation of a Leader of the Opposition, which reflects the larger number of opposition MPs in Parliament.
She said that the government and the opposition have roles to play to build trust in Singapore's public institutions and achieve good outcomes for Singapore.
President Halimah said that given the magnitude of upcoming challenges, the government must expect to encounter more differences in views and interests among Singaporeans.
She emphasised the need to handle such differences constructively, in order to secure the safety and future of our nation.
"On some issues, we can agree to disagree. But on issues core to Singapore's survival and future, we must do our best to find common ground and build a broad consensus," she said.
President Halimah also said that the opposition has its own part to play.
Beyond raising questions and criticisms of the government, the opposition should also propose policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated in Parliament, she said.
Top image via The Istana Singapore.