In his 2023 New Year message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to "stay united as one people" amid a challenging economic situation and geopolitical tensions in other parts of the world.
PM Lee talked about the challenges and uncertainties that Singapore will go through in 2023, but he also looked back on the key highlights of 2022.
The international outlook "remains troubled", said PM Lee, as he addressed the still ongoing Russia-Ukraine and the persisting U.S.-China tensions.
He also touched on China's Covid-19 situation, saying: "How quickly China recovers from Covid-19 remains to be seen."
PM Lee added that the U.S. and EU "may well enter recession", which will affect Singapore's economy.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) expects slower growth of between 0.5 to 2.5 per cent in 2023.
"We must brace ourselves for the uncertainties ahead. In such testing times, we must above all stay united as one people," PM Lee said.
A lot to be thankful for in 2022
Despite the uncertainties that lie ahead, PM Lee noted that there is "a lot to be thankful for" in the past year, as Singapore saw things going back to normal after a nearly three-year battle with Covid-19.
In 2022, Singapore held its first full-scale National Day Parade since the pandemic and resumed hosting flagship international events, including the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.
The Singapore Grand Prix also made a return, PM Lee noted.
With the easing of border measures, Singaporeans were able to celebrate festivals and reunite with family and friends at home and abroad.
"I made several overseas trips recently and was happy to see Changi Airport buzzing with life," said PM Lee, adding that the return of visitors from around the world has extended Singapore's recovery to the hotels, shops, F&B, and service sectors.
However, PM Lee still encouraged Singaporeans to keep their vaccinations current and to protect themselves with the latest bivalent vaccines.
"We are watching the Covid-19 situation closely, particularly how the year-end travel season and the surge in cases in China may affect us. If despite these risks things remain stable, we can take the final steps to lift the remaining social restrictions, to establish post pandemic normalcy."
PM Lee also called for "our deepest gratitude" to those who worked on the frontlines in the battle against Covid-19, saying "they represent the best of Singapore" and noting that a number have been conferred national awards for their contributions.
Enhancing preparedness for future pandemics
Singapore's experience with Covid-19 has "taught us valuable lessons for future crises", said PM Lee.
"We will enhance our preparedness for future pandemics, as well as strengthen our healthcare system and community networks more broadly," he added.
The government will push ahead with the Healthier SG initiative, to mobilise general practitioners (GPs) to partner Singaporeans to live longer and healthier, said PM Lee.
PM Lee also touched on the one per cent GST increase rate starting Jan. 1, 2023, which he said will "help finance our growing healthcare budget".
The government is implementing a comprehensive package to help households cope with cost of living pressures and cushion the effects of the GST hike, including utilities rebates and Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers.
More assistance is on the way in the new year, said PM Lee.
"I thank everyone for contributing our fair shares to public revenues. This will help us greatly to take proper care of fellow Singaporeans, especially our more vulnerable seniors, both for today and for our children's generation."
Planning and building for Singapore's future
The government is also planning and building for Singapore's future "in many ways", PM Lee said.
Upcoming developments include the Tuas Port and Changi Airport Terminal 5, which PM Lee talked about at the National Day Rally earlier this year.
More recently, another 11 MRT stations on the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) opened.
On housing, PM Lee explained that the government has been "working hard" to catch up on construction delays caused by Covid-19.
"We are sparing no efforts to build more HDB flats, and keep public housing affordable and accessible for Singaporeans, especially couples starting families. Last month HDB launched close to 10,000 new flats, its largest ever single BTO offering.
Next year HDB will launch another 23,000 new flats. We will maintain this high tempo to meet the strong demand for housing, and expect to build up to 100,000 new BTO flats from 2021 to 2025."
A more inclusive society
PM Lee also talked about the effort put in the past year to make Singapore a more inclusive society.
The government announced policies to ensure that both sexes are protected and treated equally, whether at home or at work.
The White Paper on Singapore Women's Development was unanimously endorsed by Parliament earlier this year.
In addition, the Enabling Masterplan 2030 will help persons with disabilities find jobs.
"We are working with unions and employers to secure CPF contributions and work injury compensation for platform workers" added PM Lee.
He also mentioned the repeal of Section 377A, describing it as "a longstanding and difficult issue, with views strongly held on both sides".
PM Lee said: "I am heartened that Singaporeans have responded with restraint and supported our balanced approach – to decriminalise male homosexual acts, while protecting the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman from being challenged in the courts."
Looking ahead to the new year, PM Lee said that Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and the 4G leadership team have been "busy with the Forward Singapore discussions, partnering Singaporeans to refresh our social compact and chart new directions forward".
Many Singaporeans have shared their feedback and views, and also stepped forward to volunteer in areas where they can contribute and partner with the government, according to PM Lee.
He added: "This collective sense of ownership and responsibility is crucial to renewing and strengthening our social compact. We look forward to the outcomes of the discussions, and to completing the exercise in the second half of next year."
PM Lee ended his new year message by saying:
"Even the darkest of clouds have silver linings, but only for those bold enough to seize opportunities. We have weathered the pandemic safely and emerged stronger.
Our Covid-19 response has enhanced our international standing. There is great interest in Singapore – many businesses and individuals want to set up shop here and in the region. We must seize the moment. Welcome promising investments and talents of all nationalities to Singapore, while building up our own skills and capabilities, venturing forth to chase our dreams in the region and the world. Together, we will build a brighter future for Singapore and all Singaporeans."
"I wish everyone a Happy New Year!" he concluded.
Top image by Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).