Singapore can still secure a bright future for itself despite the difficult times ahead, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, listing three advantages that stand the country in good stead to emerge even stronger and better from the Covid-19 crisis.
First, the country has economic strengths and an international reputation built up over many decades. It is highly connected to global flows of trade, investment, capital and people.
While international trade and investments may shrink, said PM Lee, they will not disappear entirely.
“There will still be overseas markets, and opportunities for international partnerships… We just have to work harder and smarter at it.”
He said investors value the assurance of a government that plays by the rules. Singapore’s trusted international reputation and political stability will enable businesses to continue operating, even in a crisis.
“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 in preparing for uncertainties, by investing heavily to upgrade its workers through SkillsFuture, digitalising both the private and public sectors, and building its innovation and research and development capabilities.
Such future economy strategies must be pursued even more vigorously, now that many businesses will no longer be viable, he said. “We will support these businesses to transform themselves, change their business models, or move into different and more promising fields.”
As countries emerge from lockdowns, Singapore is rebuilding its transport and trade links. It is making reciprocal green lane arrangements for safe travel to China and other countries, and resuming transit flights through Changi Airport.
It is also diversifying its sources of food – such as buying eggs from Poland and shrimp from Saudi Arabia – to make its supply chains more resilient.
THE SINGAPORE SPIRIT
Many Singaporeans have stepped up during this crisis… These acts of solidarity and human kindness exemplify the best in us. They show how we can emerge stronger from this 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.
PRIME MINSTER LEE HSIEN LOONG
The country is also working hard to retain and attract talent and investments, he said. “At a time when some countries are closing their doors, we are keeping ours open. By making the most of our head start, our workers and industries will survive the crisis better, and bounce back faster and stronger.”
Third, there are programmes and plans in place to cope with the challenges ahead.
The Government’s biggest priority now is helping Singaporeans to keep their jobs or find new ones, PM Lee said. Of particular concern are those in their 40s and 50s who have family commitments, as well as fresh graduates, and lower-income and self-employed persons.
There are schemes to help these groups, he said, citing the Jobs Support Scheme, Workfare Special Payment, Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, Covid-19 Support Grant and SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.
These schemes, which include wage subsidies to employers, cash transfers to those whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic, as well as job and traineeship opportunities for workers of all ages – have helped people keep their jobs and provided them with income support, he added.
Driving the creation of new jobs is the National Jobs Council led by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
One final ingredient is necessary for these plans to succeed – the unity and resilience of Singaporeans, said PM Lee.
The Singapore story, he said, is one of having never failed to wrest opportunity from danger in crises.
“Indeed, our nation was born in crisis. When we were granted independence, it was in the expectation that we would fail and come crawling back, after realising we could not survive alone. We proved otherwise,” he said, adding that the Pioneer and Merdeka generations have weathered many storms.
“Now, at another hinge in our history, it is our turn to face the crisis of a generation,” he said.
“The choices that we make now will define who we are as a people, and what values and ideals we pass on to future generations. Confronting adversity, do we yield to anger, fear and bitterness? Or will we be true to ourselves, stand firm, make tough choices, and continue to trust and depend on one another?”
Many Singaporeans have stepped up during this crisis, he noted, citing healthcare workers, public officers, grassroots leaders and volunteers, as well as many more working quietly behind the scenes.
Some are taking good care of migrant workers in the dormitories, while others are buying groceries for families under quarantine.
Abroad, Singaporeans have driven hundreds of kilometres to pick up fellow citizens to catch flights home, PM Lee said.
“These acts of solidarity and human kindness exemplify the best in us. They show how we can emerge stronger from this crisis, with a sharper consciousness of being Singaporean,” he added.
“This is why I believe we can continue to be exceptional – a fair and just society, where everyone can chase their dreams… We need every one of you to work with us. Together, let us take Singapore safely through this crisis, and make the Singapore spirit flourish in the world.”