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Rising expectations of Singaporeans



Excerpted from PM Lee's Speech

"Singapore is Opportunity"

“But, rising expectations is the most difficult to resolve. As Low Thia Khiang says, the standard of living index – not the cost of living index - went up too high. You compare with your neighbours, you see new products, you want new things, and our expectations therefore run ahead of our ability to pay.
“One solution is to tell Singaporeans to just lower your expectations, settle for the second best. It is too tough to compete, our future is not going to be that bright, just be satisfied with what you have. We are not going to do that.
"We will aim high but we will aim to bring out the best in our people, get people to compete, get them to fulfil their expectations and to the best of their abilities so that they can have a better standard of living and afford what they aspired to. That is the best way to do it.
“But notwithstanding this feeling of pressure, in real terms, the standard of living of most Singa­poreans has gone up. This is a fact which we have to remind ourselves regularly and every time Mr Low Thia Khiang or Mr Chiam See Tong raise it, they are doing me a favour because I get to update my charts.
“Taking the last five years, from 1998 to 2003 - these are difficult years including the recession and the Asian crisis - per capita income went up from $35,968 to $38,100, or 5.9%. The overall cost of living went up by only 2.5%.
“In other words, even during these difficult years, your incomes went up faster than the cost of living. And if you look at the items that make up the cost of living index, food prices went up slightly but clothing got cheaper, housing got cheaper, transport and communications got cheaper. Education and healthcare got more expensive.
"But even for healthcare cost only went up by 11% over five years. So, overall, there is no basis to say that middle-income Singaporeans are worse off and that price increases have left them with nowhere to turn to.
“If you look at what they own and what they do, you will see how our standard of living has risen. In 1998, 50% of Singapore households had somebody who travelled overseas. In 2003, after five very difficult years, 47% of Singaporeans still travelled overseas. And they go everywhere, to Australia, Korea, and China, not just along the coast but inland, to very far away and adventurous places.
“At home, Singaporeans have lots of consumer durables. We used to look at basic indices such as ownership of television sets and telephones. Then we stopped looking at these indices because we reached the saturation point. So then, we started looking at washing machines but they are also at 90-something per cent.
"So now, we have to look at ownership of personal computers and handphones, which have all risen. For air-conditioners, during these five years, the ownership percentage went up from 58% to 72%. That is part of the reason why electricity bills cost so much because air-conditioners consumes a lot of electricity.
“Singapore’s standard of living is real. Yes it is high, but it is not a pie in the sky or a castle in the sky, as Mr Low Thia Khiang claimed. Our policies have resulted in this standard of living and our plans and our approach are the best way to raise this standard of living further. ..
“Do not just promise welfare benefits but show people the price tag. Explain how you are going to fund this for the people, how are you going to pay the bill, and who is going to pay the bill.
"And if you impose such a bill on Singaporeans, which Singaporeans will stay to pay it? And which Singaporeans will say, ‘thank you very much, I’m off. There are so many other countries in the world where the taxes are cheaper’…
“Our approach is right – keep our taxes low, keep our government trim, let people keep what they earn, encouraging them to work hard and do well, and to take Singapore forward. We should persist and fine-tune this approach…”

Excerpted from Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on 19 Jan 2005 - “Singapore is Opportunity”

Full Text of Speech

Source: Singapore Government Press Release 19 Jan 2005


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29 January 2005