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     FrontPage Edition: Sat 17 February 2007

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Prime Minister's Chinese New Year Message 2007



The Year of the Dog was good for Singapore. Our economy grew strongly, creating a record number of 173,000 new jobs. Workers enjoyed higher wage increases and larger bonuses.
Over the past few weekends, Chinatown has been packed with shoppers and people soaking up the festive spirit. Singaporeans can feel the strong economic growth, and are more willing to spend than in previous years.
I am confident that the Year of the Pig will be just as propitious. The global outlook is positive.
The major economies ¨C US, Japan and Europe ¨C are doing well. Growth momentum in China and India remains strong. Singapore enjoys strong ties with these two major economies, as well as the Gulf states, Russia, and emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
These will complement our ties with our ASEAN partners, and put us in a strong position to take full advantage of the many opportunities all around us.
In the Chinese zodiac, the Pig represents abundance and prosperity. Let us work together to deliver another year of bountiful harvest.
Chinese New Year is a time of reunion and bonding for the family. In China, tens of millions of guest workers live and work in Beijing and the coastal provinces all year.
But before the New Year, they all make the trip back to their home towns and villages, in a massive annual migration, to be with their families for the reunion dinner.
Singaporeans want to spend more time with their families too. A recent survey found that half of the Singaporeans who made New Year resolutions for 2007 listed this as one of their goals. Let us all renew our commitments to our families, not just during this festive period, but throughout the year.
Beyond our immediate families, we should keep up with relatives in our extended families too ¨C aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins.
For centuries, these family networks have provided people in China and other Asian societies with mutual care and support through wars, famines, and family crises.
They remain useful and relevant today, even though more people now live in nuclear families, with just parents and children, and perhaps grandparents, in one household.
This has been my own experience. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1992, my whole extended family came forward to help.
My parents provided emotional support and advice. One aunt sent me steamed birds¡¯ nest regularly. Another took my young children for outings. It was what Asian families have been doing through the ages. I am sure many Singaporeans have similar stories to tell.
This year, Chinese New Year stretches over a four-day long weekend. Flights are all full, because many families are going away for short holidays.
They will miss the traditional reunion dinner on New Year¡¯s Eve, and the chance to visit relatives and friends over the New Year. I hope that after they get back, they will make the effort to meet up with them, some time during the New Year season.
To build strong, resilient families, we need to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Otherwise, the demands of work will eat into our family time, and weaken our family bonds.
Singaporeans who achieve good work-life balance tend to have better relationships with their family and friends, and are likely to have more children. Work-life balance is also associated with better job performance, lower attrition, and improved morale and job satisfaction.
Many organisations, including the civil service, recognise the importance of work-life balance in attracting and retaining talent. I encourage all employers to adopt work-life friendly practices. It is a win-win approach for both the organisation and the individual.
In many Western countries, generous state welfare benefits for the unemployed and elderly have weakened the family unit.
When somebody loses his job, he falls back on state unemployment insurance. When he grows old, he relies on state pensions and medical care. As a result, family members often feel little responsibility to care for one another.
Singapore must avoid these pitfalls. The Government is doing more to help the needy. We are instituting Workfare to help lower-income workers.
The GST Offset Package includes a generous Senior Citizens¡¯ Bonus. But let us never undermine the traditional responsibilities of the family, especially in looking after the elderly.
Nowadays, more elderly Singaporeans are living by themselves, sometimes an old couple together, sometimes just one person alone after the spouse has passed away.
Their children have moved out to set up their own homes. But sometimes it is the old folks who want to move out.
At Meet-the-People sessions, old residents often come to ask for a rental flat. They are living with adult children, but want to move out because they cannot get along with their children, or their sons- or daughters-in-law. I have seen many such cases myself. I find them very sad. As their MP, I try to help them, but it would really be much better if the family stayed together.
We are strengthening our community networks to reach out to these elderly couples, particularly the poorer ones.
But young families must also stay in touch with ageing parents and visit them regularly, or better still stay with them and help to take care of them. No institution or old folks¡¯ home can replace the love and warmth of family members, nor can the Government.
The family is the natural grouping where all of us find love, support and fulfilment. When we face difficulties, this is the nest we return to for comfort and succour.
The family is the basic building block of our society. We must keep it strong and healthy, so that we will have a stable and happy nation. Government policies will therefore continue to foster stronger family ties.
On this festive occasion, let us strengthen our kinship ties and our loyalty and commitment to our families. Let us keep our traditions alive, as we gather together for reunion dinners, pay respect to our elders, and celebrate with relatives and friends.
I wish all Singaporeans a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year.

Source: News Release 16 Feb 2007

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Public Holidays CHINESE NEW YEAR is the next public holiday. It falls on 18 & 19 February 2007.