Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Message 2006
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Message 2006
My fellow Singaporeans,
1. After the past few years upgrading and restructuring our economy, Singapore is in a much stronger position than before. Our strategies are working, and our economy is growing and creating jobs.
2. For the first half of this year, growth was 9.4 percent. For the full year, MTI has raised our growth forecast to between 6.5 and 7.5 percent. The strong economy has generated 81,500 jobs in the first half - the highest number in a decade. More than half of these jobs have been taken up by residents. Our efforts to re-design jobs and re-skill workers are also helping more older and lower-skilled Singaporeans to upgrade themselves and earn more.
Global Outlook and Risks
3. The global economic outlook remains positive. The US economy is slowing down. However, this moderation is balanced by stronger growth in Japan, and gradual improvements in several European countries, especially Germany.
4. In Asia, the strong momentum of China and India continues to fuel the dynamism and optimism of the entire region. Southeast Asia is benefiting from this, although several countries face political problems which could affect confidence and growth.
5. While the overall outlook is favourable, we must continue to track and anticipate developments around us, especially potential threats to our growth and security.
6. The Middle East is in upheaval. Iran's nuclear programme is raising grave international concerns. Iraq is almost in a state of civil war. The fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah and Hamas continues. Singapore hopes that the senseless cycle of violence in the Middle East will be stopped. But if the crisis worsens and disrupts world oil supplies, energy prices will shoot up even higher, and trigger a global recession.
7. The WTO Doha Round negotiations have stalled. If the trade talks fail, protectionism will grow. As an open economy which depends on free flow of trade and investments, Singapore will be very vulnerable, but our free trade agreements will protect us and safeguard our access to important markets.
8. Bird flu is a real concern. It is a serious problem in Indonesia. Should the virus mutate to spread from human to human across the world, tens of millions may die. We have contingency plans to deal with such a pandemic, but no plan can cover every eventuality.
9. Extremist terrorism remains a threat. Terrorist networks have been disrupted in Malaysia and Indonesia, but some dangerous terrorists are still on the loose and Singapore is one of their targets.
Adapting to Change
10. To deal with these and other challenges, we need able and dedicated leaders in every sector. We need a good and effective government to lead the country. And we need Singaporeans to work together to take our nation forward.
11. As a small country, we must accept the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. We must watch closely the changes around us, and respond promptly when opportunities or threats emerge. We stand out from our competitors precisely because we react faster and more effectively to new situations. We must also work with our neighbours to deepen our cooperation in ASEAN, and make Southeast Asia a vibrant region which investors cannot ignore. So while we focus on issues within Singapore, we must never take our eyes off what is happening around us, or be slow to react to them.
12. I know that this strategy demands a lot from Singaporeans. It means exploring new and risky approaches, instead of clinging to familiar arrangements. It needs trust and confidence between the people and the Government. It also requires us to help those less able to cope with the rapid changes. For example, when oil prices rise, electricity costs more to produce, and buses, taxis and trains cost more to run. We cannot keep electricity tariffs and public transportation fares fixed. But we can and will directly help those in need. This is what the Government has been doing through programmes like U-Save and the recent Progress Package.
A More Open and Diverse Society
13. One important strategy to cope with changes is to make our people more resilient, better able to tackle issues on their own instead of looking to the Government to solve every problem. We are building a more open society, and encouraging freer debate. The media are airing more diverse issues and perspectives. The public is more engaged in helping the Government to work out policies and solve problems. Civic groups are organising themselves, running special schools, protecting the tone of neighbourhoods, or promoting informed debate.
14. The internet is a tremendous tool which is changing the world. We should make full use of it to link up with the world, engage one another, and be a productive economy and vibrant society. But the internet creates new problems too. Not everything on the internet is reliable; it is not easy to tell apart fact from fiction in cyberspace; and instant communications can cause people to over-react hastily and unthinkingly to events. Therefore we must learn how to live with this new medium, and adapt to it. This is a challenge to many societies, not just Singapore.
15. Going forward, we will continue to open up in a considered and progressive way. Singaporeans should express themselves freely but responsibly. We need to help solve problems and build our nation, not chip away at the pillars of our society. We will not always agree with one another, but we must stay cohesive and united in our common vision for Singapore.
16. The people's votes in May settled the team to lead Singapore, and the direction that Singapore should take, over the next five years. We should now focus on overcoming the problems ahead. At the end of the term, the Government will put its record before the people, for voters to judge whether their lives have improved. This way, by focussing on the future, we will stay on top of our challenges and ahead of the competition.
Strengthening our Core
17. Amidst all the changes, some things remain the same - we are still a small country in an uncertain world, other countries are larger and better endowed than we are, and we will still have to work harder and smarter than them. Therefore as we encourage diversity, we must also strengthen our core and stay together as one people.
18. This will be all the more important for the younger generation. They are growing up connected to the internet and the world, and this new landscape is a natural part of their lives. Young Singaporeans enjoy a first-class education. They have many opportunities to pursue their passions and fortunes both in Singapore and abroad. We must do more to engage our young, and strengthen their roots in Singapore. We must imbue in them the conviction that Singapore is a special and unique place that belongs to them, and that Singapore's future depends on them. They must develop an instinctive obligation to give back to society and enable many more Singaporeans to enjoy the opportunities they do.
19. Many years ago, when Singapore was just a fishing village, our forefathers came here in search of a better life. In 1965, after a period of communist and communal strife, independence was thrust upon us. Suddenly we were on our own. But we worked hard and built modern Singapore from scratch. Let us uphold this spirit of self reliance, this openness to change, and this determination to succeed, as we build a brighter future for all.
20. I wish all Singaporeans a Happy National Day.