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Singapore must husband reserves carefully: Halimah

She calls for investments in the economy and people, and says she wants to build on her predecessors' work

Madam Halimah taking the oath of office, flanked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (right) during the inauguration ceremony at the Istana on Thursday.


THE income generated from Singapore's reserves are an important source of revenue for the government, and the reserves themselves must not be used unless there is a very good reason.

Making this point at her inauguration and swearing-in at the Istana on Thursday, President Halimah Yacob said the reserves have been built up through the "hard work and careful stewardship" of successive governments and generations of Singaporeans.

Apart from being a symbol of national unity, she will now hold the second key to the nation's reserves and oversee key public-sector appointments.

The 63-year-old former Speaker of Parliament became the country's eighth head of state, first woman president and also the first from the Malay community in 47 years, having emerged as the only qualified candidate in Singapore's first reserved presidential election.

"We must invest in our economy and our people. This includes infrastructure and hardware, but also education and healthcare," she said at the ceremony attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Cabinet ministers, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, new Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and other dignitaries.

Madam Halimah stressed that these programmes and investments would improve lives, boost productivity and create more opportunities for the next generation.

"But they also cost billions of dollars. Budgets will be tight. We need to grow our economy so as to generate more resources to afford these programmes and investments," she said, adding that it was thus important to husband the reserves carefully.

She also described the country's "honest and capable" public service as a precious asset that enables the country to perform well and hold its own against larger competitors around the world.

"I will do my duty to ensure that new appointments to critical posts measure up to our high standards of integrity and ability. The public service must maintain its high quality and standing, in order to continue to serve Singapore well," she said.

Earlier in her speech, she outlined some of her priorities for her six-year term. Among these is her desire to build on the work of her two most recent predecessors, Tony Tan Keng Yam and the late S R Nathan, and use the President's Challenge, an annual campaign to raise funds for charity, to uplift the less privileged in society.

On the subject of multi-racialism, she said Singapore has made great progress in building a multi-racial society over the years, a process that remains a work-in-progress.

She declared her support for the Constitutional changes to ensure that Singapore's presidents will be regularly elected from every ethnic group, but acknowledged that some quarters would prefer to achieve this without having to resort to reserved elections.

"I respect their views. Like them, I look forward to the day when we will no longer need to rely on the provision to have reserved elections, when Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as Presidents," she said.

"Today, I want to assure all Singaporeans that as your President, I will serve every one of you, regardless of race, language or religion."

Earlier in the ceremony, PM Lee said Madam Halimah's wealth of experience in public service - as a unionist, Minister of State and Speaker of Parliament - has prepared her for her new duties as President, but that the significant difference between being President and her previous posts is that she now has to be non-partisan and above the political fray.

"As the President, you have to be the unifying figure of our nation and represent all Singaporeans. I am confident that you will adapt to this new role, and perform it with distinction."

He said the President will have to make independent judgments and tap the experience and advice of the Council of Presidential Advisers, and will also have to work closely with the government in order for the two-key mechanism to function properly. "I look forward to establishing such a relationship with you, just as I did with your predecessors," he said.

Reiterating a call she made on Nomination Day on Wednesday, Madam Halimah urged Singaporeans to work together with her to unite the country and overcome the challenges ahead: "Our goal must be to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations. We must measure our success not just by how well we do for ourselves, but by whether we enable the next generation to do even better.

"Let us commit ourselves to this task, and together create a brighter future for all Singaporeans."

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