ANTICIPATING AND TACKLING NEW
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
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
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
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
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.
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
I wish all Singaporeans a happy and fulfilling 2008.