08 Aug 2009



A very good evening dear friends, fellow Singaporeans and friends of Singapore. I am delighted that you are able to join the Embassy for this evening's National Day celebration. Tomorrow, Singapore will celebrate its 44th birthday. When I turned 40 a few years ago, a good friend cautioned me that it would be downhill from then on. He may well be right as I certainly experience more aches in my joints nowadays and I am less flexible and nimble. As we celebrate the 44th year of independence, we look back at a very difficult past one year for Singapore on the economic front. Real GDP has contracted over three successive quarters, retrenchment has increased and unemployment currently stands at 3.3%. Everyone in this room must have felt the impact of the economic down-turn in one way or another. But I am certainly more upbeat about the long-term prospects for Singapore. At 44, Singapore is still a young nation and unlike my aching joints and slower movements, it is still nimble, flexible and strong. Hence, I am confident that Singapore will continue to thrive and prosper for many, many years. My confidence in Singapore's promising future is grounded on three reasons.

2 First, Singapore has a good track record of weathering and overcoming crisis. Many of us in this room will still remember the 1997 Asian financial crisis and SARS in 2003 and how Singapore pulled through. In response to the current global economic down-turn, the Government has swung into action quickly. It introduced a massive S$20.5 billion stimulus package that included innovative initiatives such as the Jobs Credit scheme, re-training and job re-design in order to minimise job loss. While the worst is not over yet, the latest economic data released by our Government has been encouraging and better than expected. The economy expanded at an annualised rate of 20.4% between April and June, with quarterly contraction slowing to -3.7% and the estimated decline of the economy for 2009 has been revised to between 4-6%, rather than the initial estimate of 6-9%. Nevertheless, full recovery will depend on the health of the global economy and the road ahead is still fraught with uncertainties.

3 Second, Singapore's political, social and economic fundamentals remain strong. We have a strong, capable and clean Government; a reputable and transparent legal system; and an efficient and effective civil service. Economically, Singapore has continued to pursue new growth strategies and expand the economic space for Singapore companies overseas. The Middle East is a prime example. Since intensifying our engagement with the Middle East in 2004, Singapore companies have secured S$15 billion worth of projects in this region. In brief, we are constantly innovating and improving.

4 Third, Singaporeans have remained cohesive and faced the economic crisis with resilience. I am optimistic that we will pull through as long as we continue to stick together and work hard, in the same way that our fore-fathers had successfully overcome the many challenges that confronted Singapore following independence. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had shared last month, "Singapore is fortunate to have a population that understood and supported what the Government had to do". I believe that this applies to all of us here too. The pillar underpinning Singapore's cohesiveness has been, and will always remain, the mutual respect and tolerance among the various races and religions. This is something that we must jealously safeguard, both personally and together as a nation. We should never under-estimate the faultlines within our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Hence, when we recite "regardless of race, language and religion" in our national pledge, we mean it. While we should not be complacent, we can also be proud of what we have achieved in terms of racial and religious harmony. Many foreign leaders including the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar have been impressed by what they see in Singapore.

5 Before I conclude, I want to extend a special welcome to the newly arrived students. My family and I have also only just arrived in Cairo recently and we are delighted to have the opportunity to meet so many of you this evening. This is my third stint in Egypt and I am happy to note that the small but vibrant Singaporean community continues to thrive here in Egypt. I look forward to the opportunity later to get to know everyone better. On this note, I wish everyone a Happy National Day and an enjoyable evening. Thank you.

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