Singapore will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis a stronger society, with a renewed sense of identity and values, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has vowed to leave no Singaporean behind.
Mr Heng was delivering the sixth and final speech in a series of national ministerial broadcasts on Singapore’s post-COVID-19 future.
“Our economy will emerge stronger, creating better jobs and business opportunities for all Singaporeans. And our society will emerge stronger, leaving no one to walk this journey alone,” he said. “We will emerge stronger as one people, our sense of identity and values renewed.”
Jobs are the Government’s “most urgent task”, said the minister, pointing out that jobs are the “most direct way for every Singaporean to improve our lives and support our loved ones”.
“We are doing our best to keep viable businesses afloat, helping them hold on to their workers for as long as possible, so that you can preserve your livelihoods,” he said.
Mr Heng acknowledged that the pandemic has hit some harder than the rest, adding that the Government is providing more support to this group to cushion the impact.
For instance, the COVID-19 Support Grant helps those who have lost their jobs with their immediate needs, while self-employed workers will for the first time get direct cash support on a large scale, he said.
“We are paying special attention to our lower-wage workers,” he added, highlighting that they will get additional income relief. “Beyond that, we will work with employers and unions to enhance their career prospects.”
Despite that, many could still lose their jobs, Mr Heng said. Therefore, the Government is making a “big push” to create as many new jobs as possible.
“We will work with companies and invest in our people. We are determined not to lose a generation of workers and youths,” he said.
“We will need a stronger economy – dynamic and inclusive, resilient and innovative, connected to new global nodes in Asia and the world – so that we can create more jobs offering better prospects for workers, and our workers can climb higher up the skills ladder.”
Mr Heng said Singapore is going beyond providing short-term support to invest in ensuring people bounce back stronger, by mastering major trends reshaping the global economy and speeding up the structural transformation of its economy.
As resilience and reliability becomes more valued amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Mr Heng said Asia is likely to remain a bright spot.
“The shift to digital will accelerate. The way we live and work will be transformed,” he added. “We must support our businesses and workers to ride on these trends, and reimagine our economy for a post-COVID future.”
Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, laid out three ways Singapore can achieve this: Find new links in the world for the free flow of goods and services, continue investing in its infrastructure and focus on research and innovation to increase competitiveness.
The Emerging Stronger Taskforce will in the coming months develop new ideas to capitalise on post-COVID-19 opportunities, he said, in areas like robotics, e-commerce, environmental sustainability, digitalisation of supply chains and the built environment.
“This effort to grow our economy is not just to create jobs, but to create better jobs for Singaporeans,” he added.
Beyond building a stronger economy, Mr Heng said there is also a need to create a stronger society with a culture of solidarity that leaves no one behind.
Mr Heng said the “circuit breaker” period has revealed vulnerabilities in society, including seniors who find it hard to use digital tools and services, and people who have difficulty coping with new stresses.
The Seniors Go Digital programme will help the elderly bridge the digital divide, he said, while the National Care Hotline will provide emotional and psychological help for the latter.
Mr Heng said people can share how COVID-19 has impacted them through a series of Emerging Stronger Conversations. These will lead to action on taking Singapore forward and new partnerships around issues that they care about.
“Be assured that, in Singapore, no one will be left to walk alone,” he added. “You will be cared for if you fall on hard times. You will be part of our society’s progress, no matter your starting point or circumstances.”
Mr Heng urged Singaporeans to build on stories of kindness and courage amid the pandemic, pointing to how people from all walks of life are showing their trust and care for one another.
He cited school children sending heartfelt messages to healthcare and frontline workers, social agencies, charities and youths supporting the vulnerable, and religious groups helping those in need.
“Let us collect the stories of kindness and courage, the stories of everyday heroes, and tell and retell them,” Mr Heng said. “Let our children reflect and deepen our values in action, so that they grow up united and resilient, and go forward in solidarity and with fortitude.”
Mr Heng said Singapore last year celebrated its bicentennial, or 200 years of “sweeping change” where “we grew from Singapore to Singaporeans”.
“Today, less than 200 days into what will be a long-drawn fight, we are again showing the world who we are,” he stated. “We care for one another, we are generous and resilient, and we will not hesitate to make sacrifices for the greater good.”