In his speech at the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about how Singapore has dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak, how social safety nets can be improved amidst the challenges of COVID-19 and beyond, and how we can achieve a better balance in politics and build political consensus.

He noted that Singapore had experienced several major crises since independence, and with each incident, Singapore came back stronger.

Do not doubt. Do not fear. Jewel will shine again. Changi will thrive again. SIA will be a great way to fly once more. Our economy will prosper anew. And our children and our grandchildren will continue ascending to the sunlit uplands of a fairer, ever more just and equal society
PM Lee Hsien Loong

Here’s a summary of his speech:

1. Singapore’s response to COVID-19

We flattened the curve through:

a. Contact tracing and testing capabilities

b. Expansion of healthcare system

c. Mobilising SAF and Home Team to assist in testing and ensuring well-being of migrant workers

d. Implementing circuit breaker in April 2020

Singapore has done well in terms of health outcomes – low fatality rate, declining new infection rate, fewer than 100 patients in hospital.

Singapore’s COVID-19 response was not without shortcomings, as the virus has severely tested every government in the world. Some things the government might have done differently:

a. Discovering people with COVID-19 were infectious when asymptomatic

b. Quarantine of all returning overseas Singaporeans, instead of only those returning from certain countries

c. Testing all of them before releasing from quarantine, even when they don’t show symptoms

d. Requiring the wearing of face masks sooner

Overall, Singapore has been able to deal with COVID-19 only because the public service, the political leadership, our businesses, and the Singapore public have worked closely together, each doing their part. We must never let our guard down even as the current situation stabilises


2. Social Safety Nets

- To protect the vulnerable in our society and ensure that everyone has full access to opportunities to improve their lives

- Extensive social safety nets were not needed in early decades of nationhood as Singapore was rapidly growing and the social infrastructure then was adequate for the pace of living

- As our economy matures, we have progressively strengthened our social safety nets through introducing many schemes in these 15 years eg. ComCare, Workfare, Silver Support

- These peacetime measures were insufficient during the COVID-19 outbreak – new emergency measures eg. Jobs Support Scheme, COVID-19 Support Grant were implemented

- Identify pragmatic solutions to make best use of Singapore’s resources to meet the needs of different groups eg. older workers, low-wage workers, in a targeted manner

- Ensure that government programmes should be kept fiscally sustainable


3. Foreign workers

- Issue of competition between Singaporeans and foreigners for jobs has become sharper in this period of economic downturn

- Many Singaporeans are feeling anxious and pressured about their jobs

- With a small population, Singapore has to bring in foreign workers to grow the economy

- Foreign worker policies are in place to grow the workforce in Singapore, rather than substituting the Singaporean worker

- Employment Pass and S Pass numbers have come down since COVID-19 started

- To ensure fair treatment in the workforce, there are different frameworks and organisations in place to do so eg. Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), Fair Consideration Framework

- Singapore still remains one of the few trusted countries that stand out – many companies have expressed interest in coming to Singapore to develop their business, which will create good new jobs for Singaporeans


4. Politics

- As our society evolves, there will be many difficult issues that we need to deal with

- The government will lead this discussion with Singaporeans, build a political consensus around the right solutions, and move us forward

- Attitudes and aspirations of Singaporeans change – desire more diversity, alternative voices, checks and balances

- In the last General Election, many people voted for the opposition, while fully expecting that the PAP would remain in power as the government

- Each new generation of PAP leaders has developed their own leadership styles and their own policy priorities

- Tone of Parliament’s debate to shift with stronger opposition presence

- At the most fundamental level, to make our politics work, both the government and opposition must share an overriding objective – to work for Singapore, not just for our party or our supporters