The Covid-19 pandemic is the most dangerous crisis that humanity has faced in a very long time, and it will throw up immense challenges for Singapore.
Addressing the nation in a televised broadcast last night, he did not downplay the magnitude of the task at hand.
International trade will be hit. Many industries may never recover fully from the pandemic. Jobs will be lost. “The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us,” he said.
This is especially true of Singapore, which has made a living by connecting itself to the rest of the world, said PM Lee.
“But despite these immense challenges, I say to you: Do not fear. Do not lose heart.”
Singapore is still well-positioned to play its part in international trade of the future, said PM Lee. It had also started to prepare for uncertainties and transform its economy, even before the pandemic hit, and this could now pay dividends.
PM Lee’s broadcast on the topic, “Overcoming the crisis of a generation”, is the first of six national broadcasts over the next two weeks by Singapore’s leaders, on how the country might grapple with a post-Covid-19 future.
The last time there was such a series of broadcasts was in 1968, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and several of his ministers spoke shortly after the British announced their withdrawal from Singapore. The leaders spoke on how the country might deal with the challenge.
Yesterday, PM Lee said that while the Government has intervened decisively, its support measures cannot shield Singapore from “tectonic shifts” taking place in the global economy.
“Unlike other countries, we can draw on our reserves, and don’t have to pay for our support measures by borrowing,” he said. “But even for us, this level of spending is hard to sustain.”
The Government has rolled out four Budgets totalling close to $100 billion – an unprecedented amount – in Covid-19 support, or almost 20 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product. To fund this, it is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves.
Describing the major global shifts taking place, PM Lee said that US-China relations are worsening. The movement of people will be more restricted, and countries will strive to become less dependent on others, especially for essential goods and services.
This will have strategic implications, he said. “Countries will have less stake in each other’s well-being. They will fight more over how the pie is shared, rather than work together to enlarge the pie for all.
“It will be a less prosperous world, and also a more troubled one.”
All these developments will affect Singapore, which has made a living by connecting itself with the world, he said.
But in a rallying call to Singaporeans, PM Lee asked them not to lose heart and not to fear, despite the immense challenges they faced. “Singapore will not falter in its onward march,” he said.
He cited three advantages that would enable Singapore to emerge even stronger and better from the crisis.
First, the country is highly connected to global trade and investment flows, and has built up an international reputation over many decades.
Investors value the assurance of a government that plays by the rules, he said. “The way Singapore has responded to Covid-19 – openly and transparently, neither avoiding reality nor acting arbitrarily at the first sign of trouble – has only strengthened this advantage.”
Second, Singapore has had a head start by transforming and deepening its capabilities through skills upgrading and innovation. The country is also rebuilding its transport and trade links, and making its supply chains more resilient by diversifying its sources of food.
Third, there are programmes and plans in place to cope with the challenges. PM Lee said the Government’s biggest priority now is helping Singaporeans to keep their jobs or find new ones.
Steps must also be taken to strengthen the social compact and ensure every Singaporean has equal opportunities, he said. Beyond that, the country must consider how to strengthen its social security nets.
“If you fall down, we will help you to get up, stronger. You can be sure you will be taken care of.”
He said that the many acts of solidarity and kindness during the pandemic have shown that Singaporeans can emerge stronger from the crisis, with a sharper consciousness of being Singaporean.
“This is why I believe we can continue to be exceptional – a fair and just society, where everyone can chase their dreams,” he said.