Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his speech at the parliamentary debate on the President’s Address, spoke about several topics, including Singapore’s response to COVID-19, our employment landscape and the future of Singapore’s politics.
On COVID-19, PM Lee said that the PAP Government’s overriding consideration, from the beginning when COVID-19 hit us, was to protect the lives of Singaporeans. Singapore’s COVID-19 response depended critically on Singaporeans working together, and giving the government their trust and support, he added.
He explained that it is not possible always to make the right decisions but “the key is to watch things closely, learn from experience, and adapt our responses promptly as new information emerges and the situation changes”.
2) Social Safety Nets
On social safety nets, PM Lee said that the Government will need to strengthen social support for Singaporeans, during and after their working lives. He stressed that the Government must identify pragmatic solutions which will make a real and sustainable difference, and give people justified assurance and not create new problems in the process.
“It is not just floating ideas like minimum wage and unemployment insurance, but assessing their impact carefully,” he added.
PM Lee also cautioned against drawing down on what we have inherited and that is the way to “build Singapore for the long-term, and secure the future for our children and grandchildren”.
3) Foreign Workers
All around the world, anti-foreigner sentiment is on the rise because people are feeling worried and insecure about their futures. To grow our economy, PM Lee explained that Singapore has no choice but to top up with foreign workers.
Singapore has foreign worker policies to help control the inflow and ultimately ensure that the foreign workers who do come in, add to the workforce in Singapore, rather than substitute for them, he added.
“The key issue is about controlling the quality, and making sure the people we bring in are those who can contribute to Singapore.”
4) Jobs for Singaporeans
PM Lee shared that while the perception of foreign competition is sharper during a downturn, both the Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass numbers have come down since COVID-19.
He said that more Singaporeans are now available and ready to take up PMET jobs. Therefore, the Government needs to tighten the EP qualifying criteria and raising the S Pass salary floor.
Understanding Singaporeans’ concerns about fair treatment, he reiterated that Singaporeans are being considered fairly for jobs, promotions, or retrenchments and “the government will always be on the side of Singaporeans”.
5) Singapore an International Hub
Singapore has succeeded by being an international hub, tapping talents worldwide, and serving a global market, PM said. But he cautioned that as we adjust our work pass policies, we must be careful not to give the wrong impression that we are now closing up, and no longer welcoming foreigners.
PM said that as a people open to the world and welcoming others who can add value to our society, has made Singapore the exceptional, cosmopolitan city we are today, plugged into the global economy and being valued.
“The Government will adjust our policies to safeguard Singaporean jobs, but let us show confidence that Singaporeans can hold our own in the world,” he stressed.
6) Parliamentary Debates
To make politics work in Singapore, PM Lee said that both the government and opposition must share an overriding objective – to work for Singapore, and not that the debate must be “based on principles and facts, and guided by shared ideals and goals”.
The government will take an open and constructive approach and have a full discussion, he said, but if there are still different views, “the government will have to make the decision that it judges best, and take full responsibility”.
Concluding his speech, PM reminded Singaporeans that Singapore was born from crisis and Singaporeans have overcome many crises, and COVID-19 would be the occasion for Singaporeans to do better, emerge stronger, and become more united.
“Do not doubt. Do not fear. Our economy will prosper anew. Our children and our grandchildren will continue marching forward to a fairer, ever more just and equal society.”