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     Prime Minister's New Year Message 2008

Continued from FrontPage of Article


ANTICIPATING AND TACKLING NEW CHALLENGES
 

While we tackle immediate cost issues, we must continue to focus on longer-term strategies.  Over the years, we have made many difficult but necessary adjustments, which have contributed to the prosperity that we are enjoying.  In 2007 alone, there were three major policy packages. 


In the Budget, we raised the CPF contribution rates, introduced the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme for older, low-income workers, and restructured taxes to make our economy more competitive. 


In April, we revised public sector salaries to narrow the gap with the private sector, and are now following through with the second instalment.  This is absolutely necessary to maintain the quality of our public service, and a good, clean and competent government for Singapore.


In August, we embarked on further CPF reforms to ensure financial adequacy for CPF members in old age.  Professor Lim Pin’s committee is now studying the best way to provide affordable and flexible longevity protection for all CPF members, and should complete its work by early next year.


These major changes will strengthen our economic vibrancy, our public service and our social cohesion.  We must continue to rethink our problems and respond creatively to them, to maintain high growth and continue transforming Singapore.  In 2008, we face several significant policy decisions. 


The first is healthcare, a major concern of Singaporeans.  To meet the growing needs and rising expectations of our ageing population, MOH will expand public sector healthcare capacity.  We will set up new hospitals and specialty centres, and improve staff to patient ratios with more doctors, nurses and allied health workers.  Patients will enjoy higher quality care, less crowding and shorter waiting times.


The Government will spend more on healthcare to expand and upgrade services, and keep healthcare affordable for all.  We need to deploy our resources wisely, and target subsidies at those who most need help.  Higher-income patients should co-pay a larger share than poorer patients.  This calls for means-testing.  We already have means-testing in nursing homes, and should now implement it for hospitals too.  MOH will discuss and finalise the scheme with patients, unionists and the public over the next few months. 


Another issue is land transport.  MOT is doing a Land Transport Review to make sure that our road and rail network can meet our growing needs.  A key focus is to improve our public transport, so that more Singaporeans will take buses and trains instead of driving cars.  We can do more to make public transport a choice mode of travel.  Some measures are long-term, like building more rail lines.  But changes like improving bus services, making transfers more seamless and convenient, as well as running more trains at peak hours can and should be made more quickly.


In parallel, we need to update our policies on car ownership and usage.  Our roads are getting more crowded and traffic jams are worsening.  We have to lower the vehicle growth rate and step up measures to manage the demand for road space.  We need to enhance the ERP and extend its coverage so that driving costs significantly more, but we will balance that with lower vehicle ownership taxes.  Free flowing traffic is an important factor in the quality of urban life in Singapore.


The third issue is education.  We are investing heavily in our young and opening up new paths for them to make the most of their talents.  Every student should receive a post-secondary education and more should receive a subsidised university education.  Hence we are increasing publicly-funded university places to take in 30% of every cohort by 2015.


Minister of State Lui Tuck Yew’s committee is studying how to expand the university sector.  It has looked at the experiences of other countries, and consulted widely with employers, working adults and students from junior colleges and polytechnics.  While the form is still being studied, the case for a fourth publicly-funded university is already clear.  The new institution must maintain high and rigorous standards, emphasise innovation and produce graduates who are eager to create and seize new opportunities.   


CONCLUSION

We will be tackling these three issues in 2008.  But we must see the challenges ahead in perspective.  Singapore is in a strong position.  If a US slowdown affects Asia, I am confident that we will weather it well, and our people and companies will continue to find opportunities amidst the challenges.

We have good reasons to rejoice:


a. Our students have excelled at all kinds of international events and competitions, from Olympiads in Mathematics and the Sciences, to choir festivals and debates.  Our education system is admired by others and recognised internationally; that is why our mathematics textbooks have been approved for use in California. 


b. Our creative talents are making their mark internationally.  Singapore Idol Hady Mirza was voted the first Asian Idol.  Movies like “Singapore Dreaming” and “881” have been well received at film festivals.  At the Singapore Season in China, our team of artistic talents showcased Singapore’s cultural diversity and distinctiveness, and won the hearts of a wider audience.


c. Our athletes are well-motivated and show keen fighting spirit. This year we sent our youngest-ever team to the Southeast Asian Games.  They gave their best.  Team Singapore returned from Korat with 43 gold, 43 silver and 41 bronze medals, a record for a SEA Games held outside Singapore.


As long as we continue to work together and support each other, we can all look forward to a brighter future for our nation and for ourselves.


I wish all Singaporeans a happy and fulfilling 2008. 

Source: www.gov.sg Media Release 31 Dec 2007