Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's message for the new year drew focus to Singapore's path ahead beyond managing Covid-19.
In the immediate term, PM Lee spoke about the continuing fight against Covid-19, the need to generate new growth and prosperity in a post-pandemic economy.
He also touched on the longer term goals, such as Singapore's industry transformation efforts, building on Singapore's Smart Nation efforts, the Singapore Green Plan 2030 and the need to raise GST.
"This is the rationale for raising a broad-based tax like the GST, coupled with a comprehensive scheme of offsets to cushion the impact on lower income households.
The GST forms one important component of our system of taxes and transfers that also includes income and wealth taxes.
We have seen this need coming for some years. Now that our economy is emerging from COVID-19, we have to start moving on this. Budget 2022 will therefore lay the basis for sound and sustainable government finances for the next stage of Singapore’s development."
Ready to face new challenges in the pandemic
"Entering the new year, the fight against Covid-19 is not over," said PM Lee.
He noted that the Omicron variant has brought new uncertainties, but asserted that Singapore can be "quietly confident" in our ability to cope with the pandemic.
He said that the nation's position is greatly strengthened compared to two years ago, having rolled out booster jabs and started vaccinations for children below 12.
In addition, Singapore has learnt how to better manage the public health challenges while minimising the impact on our economy.
Generating new growth in a post-pandemic economy
In the new year, PM Lee said that Singapore's immediate tasks will "go beyond managing Covid-19".
"We must continue to generate new growth, new jobs, and prosperity in a post-pandemic economy," he said.
He mentioned that this will largely be dependent on a stable global and regional environment, central to which is relations between the U.S. and China.
Although differences between the two powers "remain many and deep", he said that their recent high‐level engagements and practical cooperation on climate change are encouraging.
PM Lee added that Singapore will continue to pursue trade liberalisation and regional integration for the benefit of Singaporeans.
One example he noted is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will come into force on Jan. 1, 2022.
As for longer term goals, PM Lee talked about pressing on with industry transformation efforts to enhance existing strengths, help companies restructure, and upgrade workers' skills.
"We will seek out new growth areas, including in the digital and green economies, building on our Smart Nation efforts and the Singapore Green Plan 2030," he added.
A transition year
"The year ahead will be a time of transition," said PM Lee.
He noted that Singapore's economy is "recovering steadily", and should grow in step with global economic recovery barring fresh disruptions.
Singapore's GDP is expected to grow by three to five percent in 2022.
He also said that emergency support measures will be progressively phased out as businesses revive, and cross-border travel will be safely expanded, Omicron permitting.
In 2022, Singapore will also continue to bring in much needed migrant workers, and ensure international talents feel welcome and are able to complement Singaporeans.
A great year in sports
PM Lee also underscored Singapore's accomplishments in sports in 2021, bringing up Yip Pin Xiu’s two swimming golds in the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
"In these challenging times, Team Singapore has inspired us with their tremendous spirit, and done us proud," said PM Lee.
He also noted the achievements of Aloysius Yapp in pool-billiards and Shayna Ng in bowling, who have worked their way to the top in global competitions.
The year also ended on a high note, with the Lions showing "grit and determination" in their Suzuki Cup run, and Loh Kean Yew becoming Singapore's first ever world badminton champion.
"One people and one Singapore"
"The pandemic has been a crucible of fire for this generation of Singaporeans," said PM Lee.
He talked about how Singapore closed borders for the first time in history, how frontline and healthcare workers have worked tirelessly, and how Singaporeans have innovated and adapted quickly to new ways of living, working and learning since the start of the pandemic.
Going forward, he emphasised the need to mend rifts deepened by the pandemic, care for the mental health of people, and meet the needs of an aging society, among others.
He also mentioned the change in policy to allow Muslim nurses in public hospitals to wear tudung with their uniforms as a step towards building a more inclusive Singapore.
Closing off his message, PM Lee said:
"Throughout this pandemic, we have stood together, supported difficult decisions, made many sacrifices, and come through safely.
We can confidently say that we have measured up as one people.
In a crisis, everyone saw the need to make tough choices, and accepted hard policies for the common good."
He reminded Singaporeans to "stay united as one people and one Singapore".
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Top image via MCI.