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Uncle Suans’ Read-Between-the-Lines Musings on PM Lee’s 2018 New Year Message

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UNCLE SUAN: Okay ah, this is by no means an assertion of what PM Lee means, but what I believe we can expect reading a bit further into his New Year’s message for 2018. I think to summarise, we can expect higher taxes, higher influx of foreigners, and more job instability for middle-aged Singaporeans. This is why:

(1) Job Instability and Depressed Wages?

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2017 saw university grads employment upon graduation hit an all-time low. At the same time, we’re seeing more PMETs getting the sack because they’ve been made redundant. Looks like this trend is set to continue as companies restructure labour resources and look to trim wages. PM Lee’s repetition (as has been done for several years now) of the need to learn new skills and adapt is yet another warning. And we know what happens when workers enter a whole new line of work for which they have little experience lah – expect to take a pay cut.

“Last year our economy grew by 3.5%, more than double our initial forecast. Incomes have gone up across the board, especially for low and middle earners. We have benefitted from the global economic upswing. But more fundamentally, our productivity has grown. Singaporeans are upgrading and learning new skills, while businesses are innovating and adopting new technology. That is how we will stay competitive and ready for the future. We also have a full domestic agenda. We are pressing on with economic restructuring plans.”

(2) Higher Taxes?

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The surest sign that we’ve to prepare for higher taxes – when on New Year’s Day the prime minister tells you a tale of how Singaporeans of the past saved so present-day Singaporeans can enjoy, and then says we’ve to plan for future Singaporeans. It’s coming fast (the taxes lah, not the future Singaporeans – those are coming very slow looking at our birth rates).

“To prepare for an aging population, we are expanding healthcare facilities and reviewing healthcare policies. We will work to meet our environmental commitments under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint and the Paris Agreement, so that we can all live in a clean and green Singapore. For infrastructure, we are improving rail reliability and growing our MRT network. We will also be undertaking major infrastructure projects including Changi Terminal 5, the Tuas Megaport, and the High Speed Rail link to Kuala Lumpur, to enhance our status as a transport hub.

All these are essential investments in our future. They require time and resources, and will stretch way beyond this term of government. We have to plan well ahead for them. This is how we have built today’s Singapore – each generation working and saving for the future, building on what it inherited and passing on something better to the next generation. This was the creed that drove the Pioneer Generation of Singaporeans, and it must animate our generation too.”

(3) More Fractures in Society?

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PM Lee has again repeated the call for strengthen “racial harmony”. I think I’ve heard this need for “community and religious leaders” to work together statement uttered more times in the past 2 years than the whole 10 years before that. Now, the hot topic is “commitment to multiracialism”. Last time, it was Singa the Lion and stop littering and pasting gum on MRT train doors. In the absence of public figures, is there something the government is aware of regarding the sentiments of minorities in Singapore vis-à-vis the majority? Besides that of course, perhaps between New Singaporeans and born and bred Singaporeans?

“As a society, we are striving to become more resilient and cohesive. The SGSecure movement has made Singaporeans more aware of the terrorist threat. Our security forces are vigilant day and night, on guard against possible attacks. Community and religious leaders of all faiths are working together to strengthen our social cohesion and reject extremist and exclusivist ideologies. One significant step to strengthen our racial harmony, now and well into the future, was amending the Constitution to put in place reserved Presidential Elections. President Halimah Yacob, our first Malay President in almost 50 years, is a visible symbol of our national unity and our commitment to multiracialism.”

(4) More Foreigners?

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PM Lee moved beyond grandfather stories to great-great-grandfather stories. His whole tale about Raffles and our forefathers paints a noble image of the “foreigner” who came here and helped build Singapore, and how we wouldn’t have made it so far and so quickly without them. I sense that following the whole Madam President fiasco known in some parts as the “Selected Presidency”, the next big propaganda campaign is going to be centered on embracing foreigners. And if the intention isn’t to allow more of them in and convert more of them to New Singaporeans, then I don’t know why our very economical PM would waste his breath on such great-great grandfather stories.

“Indeed, Singapore’s history stretches back at least 700 years. Our island was already a maritime emporium in the 14th century, though it declined in later centuries. Sir Stamford Raffles’ landing in 1819 was a key turning point.  Raffles set Singapore on a different trajectory, which brought us to where we are today.

Had Raffles not landed, Singapore might not have become a unique spot in Southeast Asia, quite different from the islands in the archipelago around us, or the states in the Malayan Peninsula. But because of Raffles, Singapore became a British colony, a free port, and a modern city. Our progress was not a straight line upwards. We experienced many dislocations and disruptions, including war and peace, economic depression and prosperity, struggle as well as success. But ultimately we came through, and became an independent nation.

Our forefathers came from China, India, the region and beyond, leaving their families behind, to seek better lives here. They came as sojourners, with no intention to stay. But slowly this changed. They brought their families over, or formed families here. They built hospitals, schools, mosques, temples and churches for their communities. They brought their own cultures and traditions, interacted with one another, and wove these strands together into a rich and diverse tapestry.

Over time, out of their shared experience grew a Singaporean identity, a shared sense of being rooted in Singapore. As our forefathers worked to build a future for themselves and their families, they were also turning an emporium into a home, and eventually a country. Without this history, we could not have made the SG50 journey from third world to first.

2019 will be the 200th anniversary of Raffles’ landing. We should commemorate this bicentennial appropriately, just as we marked the 150th anniversary in 1969. It is an important milestone for Singapore; an occasion for us to reflect on how our nation came into being, how we have come this far since, and how we can go forward together.”

(5) Bye Bye PM Lee?

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This one, I looked into PM Lee’s speech, and the Lao Goh post where he talked about a “fourth generation cabinet”. I think it’ll be bye bye PM Lee come the 3rd quarter of 2018, as the next General Election looms and any new leader will need time to build his own rapport with Singaporeans. Possibly Heng, if he’s lucky (or unlucky) enough.

“Meanwhile in 2018 we have much to do. After the Budget sitting, Parliament will prorogue for a short mid-term break. When the new Parliamentary session opens in May, President Halimah Yacob will deliver her inaugural President’s Address. In it, the Government will lay out its agenda for the rest of the term. This will bear the imprint of the fourth-generation leadership, who are taking on greater responsibilities, and putting forth their ideas for Singapore.”

Lao Goh:

“2017 did not end with the glorious sunset I had hoped but 2018 offers a fresh start. Even though the weather is wet and gloomy, let us usher in the new year with optimism and sunshine smiles. We need to be in good spirits to tackle the pressing and longer term challenges for Singapore.

One urgent challenge I would like to see settled is our fourth generation leadership. Every succession is different, but one thing remains the same: each cohort will have to pick one amongst themselves to lead, and support him.

I hope the current cohort will do so in 6 – 9 months’ time. Then PM can formally designate their choice as his potential successor before 2018 ends.

Whoever is chosen, the team will have to work together, bring in others, and gel to form a cohesive fourth generation Cabinet. They must write a new inspiring chapter for Singapore, be courageous to make difficult decisions, stand tall with integrity, and earn the respect and trust of Singaporeans and the world at large.

 

 

 

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