THE government is going to spend more over the next decade and beyond to strengthen social safety nets.
Speaking at the re-opening of Parliament last night after a month-long mid-term break, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Singapore must ensure that its social spending could be sustained, and that there was enough revenue to balance the budget.
His half-hour address - delivered before Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew - outlined the government's agenda for the rest of its current term.
The global environment has changed over the years, and so too must the approach to nation-building, said Dr Tan as he promised that all Singaporeans would be involved in charting this journey together with the government.
He spoke of how the Republic must remain a "nation of opportunities for all", with an open and inclusive society that enables every citizen to move up the ladder.
Dr Tan said all Singaporeans, beyond having these equal opportunities in life, had the right to enjoy a "fair share" of the country's success. "We will strengthen our social safety nets, not only to give all Singaporeans peace of mind, but also to share the fruits of progress more widely, especially with the lower-income and vulnerable groups," he said.
Promoting home ownership here will remain a key strategy of the government, he added, as this has made an "enormous contribution" to levelling up society. "It has enabled Singaporeans, especially the lower income, to build up significant assets and have a tangible stake in Singapore's progress. No other country in the world has done this," said the President.
Apart from ensuring that housing would remain affordable, Dr Tan said healthcare would be both accessible and of good quality. The government will ensure that premiums for the MediShield Life universal health insurance schemes will be within reach for all.
"We will pay particular attention to vulnerable Singaporeans, including low-wage workers and our elderly. We will strengthen social safety nets beyond home ownership and Workfare," said Dr Tan.
As for older Singaporeans, he revealed that the government will improve the existing Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings and CPF Life annuity schemes to ensure that they have enough to last them through their golden years as life expectancy goes up
The authorities will also develop more options for Singaporeans to unlock the value of their homes in their retirement, said Dr Tan, without elaborating.
Even as the government moves to invest in social programmes, Dr Tan made it clear that such spending, on its own, did not create a wealthier, better or happier society. This, he said, should be matched by individual and community effort and initiatives.
"Active community involvement engages the human spirit, provides personal fulfilment and strengthens our collective well-being," said Dr Tan.
"This is how we will build a nation for tomorrow, a home where we feel a sense of responsibility for one another and not just a sense of entitlement to the benefits of citizenship," he added.
In the years to come, Singapore will make full use of new technologies to develop sustainable and innovative solutions which will improve the lives of the people.
Dr Tan said the government will develop Singapore into what he termed a "smart nation" - one with safe, clean and green urban living, more transport options, better care for the elderly at home, more responsive public services and more opportunities for citizen engagement. "As our city becomes increasingly complex and diverse, the demands on amenities, infrastructure and resources will rise," he said.
Dr Tan issued a word of warning: Singapore would be successful in its plans only if it could maintain "constructive politics" that puts the country and its people first.
"Politics lives off robust debate and passionate argument. But in many countries, the hurly-burly of politics has resulted in short-term populist measures, and sometimes gridlock and paralysis. This sort of politics will weaken Singapore," he said.
He said that while there would be vigorous debates on the challenges facing Singapore with many points of view, it was crucial not to allow these differences to divide the country. "All sides must take a long-term perspective for the common good. Once the debate is settled, we must come together again, to move ahead as one united people," said Dr Tan.
Believing that Singapore's best years were yet to come, he said: "We have not overcome all our challenges, but we are determined to do so, and we will. Singapore remains a home that brings out the best in us."
Over the next week, the ministries will unveil their respective plans in public statements, known as Addenda to the President's Address. Parliament will then sit for a week after that to allow MPs to review and debate the government's proposed programmes and policies.