Happy New Year
We have been grappling with COVID-19 for two years now. It has been a long and hard fight. We undertook drastic measures to protect lives and livelihoods. We closed our borders for the first time in our history. We drew heavily on our past reserves to support workers and businesses. We innovated and adapted quickly to new ways of living, working and learning.
As a result, we kept our healthcare system resilient and prevented significant loss of lives. Government Budgets saved jobs and nursed the economy back to health. At every step of the way, Singaporeans mustered strength and resolve to support one another. Many went above and beyond the call of duty. Our frontline and healthcare workers especially, have worked tirelessly round the clock. Businesses and everyday heroes, often in less visible places, have displayed courage and public spirit, and kept Singapore going and everyone safe.
In sports, we celebrated Yip Pin Xiu’s two swimming golds in Tokyo, and cheered all our Paralympians and Olympians for flying the Singapore flag high. Aloysius Yapp in pool-billiards, and Shayna Ng in bowling, reached the top in global competitions. And the year ended on a high note – the Lions showed grit and determination in their Suzuki Cup run, and Loh Kean Yew became our first ever world badminton champion. In these challenging times, Team Singapore has inspired us with their tremendous spirit, and done us proud.
Entering the new year, the fight against COVID-19 is not over. The Omicron variant has brought new uncertainties. Thankfully, our position is now greatly strengthened compared to two years ago. We have rolled out booster jabs and started vaccinating children below 12. We have also learnt to better manage the public health challenges while minimising the hit on our economy. As we brace ourselves for the impact of Omicron, we can be quietly confident that we will cope with whatever lies ahead.
Our immediate tasks go beyond managing COVID-19. We must continue to generate new growth, new jobs, and prosperity in a post-pandemic economy. Much will depend on a stable global and regional environment, central to which is relations between the US and China. The differences between the two powers remain many and deep, but their recent high-level engagements and practical cooperation on climate change are encouraging.
For our part, Singapore will continue engaging partners near and far. We will continue to pursue trade liberalisation and regional integration for the benefit of our people, including through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which comes into force on the first day of 2022.
The year ahead will be a time of transition. Our economy is recovering steadily. Barring fresh disruptions, it should grow in step with global economic recovery. We expect our GDP to grow by three to five percent in 2022. We will progressively phase out emergency support measures as businesses revive, though a few sectors will take longer. We will safely expand cross-border travel and re-connect with the rest of the world, Omicron permitting. We will also press on to bring in much needed migrant workers, and ensure international talents feel welcome and are able to complement Singaporeans.
Beyond the immediate outlook, we are planning ahead to achieve longer term goals. We will press on with our industry transformation efforts to enhance existing strengths, and help companies restructure and workers upgrade their skills. Together with businesses and the labour movement, we will keep investing in our workers to keep them productive and employable throughout their careers. We will seek out new growth areas, including in the digital and green economies, building on our Smart Nation efforts and the Singapore Green Plan 2030.
The pandemic has been a crucible of fire for this generation of Singaporeans. It has shown us the crucial importance of standing united as one. This will not be the last crisis to try us; we will face more tests and trials in our nation building journey. We must strenuously resist powerful external tidal pulls that will strain fault lines in our society, and not allow them to divide us. As successive cohorts come of age with new perspectives and expectations, our societal norms will evolve. We should do this cautiously, maintaining the core values that make us Singaporean.
This requires us to keep up efforts to strengthen our social consensus and shared identity. We must continue forging trust and mutual understanding – both between the Government and the people, and among Singaporeans of all backgrounds. Even amidst the pandemic, we did not neglect this crucial task. We have permitted Muslim nurses in public hospitals to wear tudung with their uniforms. We are actively strengthening fairness at the workplace and support for women, as well as improving protection and retirement adequacy for self-employed persons. Going forward, we will strive to solidify our social compact – mending rifts deepened by the pandemic, uplifting those falling behind, enhancing safety nets for those in need, caring for the mental health of people, and meeting the needs of an aging society. That is the path to a fairer, more inclusive and more united Singapore.
We need a vibrant economy to generate the resources to realise these cherished goals. And the government must have reliable and adequate revenues to carry out its social programmes. It needs to raise additional revenues to fund the expansion of our healthcare system and support schemes for older Singaporeans. Those who are better off should contribute a larger share, but everyone needs to shoulder at least a small part of the burden.
This is the rationale for raising a broad-based tax like the GST, coupled with a comprehensive scheme of offsets to cushion the impact on lower income households. The GST forms one important component of our system of taxes and transfers that also includes income and wealth taxes. Overall, our system will remain progressive and fair.
We have seen this need coming for some years. Now that our economy is emerging from COVID-19, we have to start moving on this. Budget 2022 will therefore lay the basis for sound and sustainable government finances for the next stage of Singapore’s development.
Throughout this pandemic, we have stood together, supported difficult decisions, made many sacrifices, and come through safely. We can confidently say that we have measured up as one people. In a crisis, everyone saw the need to make tough choices, and accepted hard policies for the common good. Looking ahead, confronted with longer term challenges, we must maintain the same unity of purpose, fortitude of spirit, and willingness to accept difficult measures, in order to overcome them decisively and keep on progressing together. This is how we will build a Singapore where everyone has a place and no one is left behind.
Let us stay united as one people and one Singapore – always looking ahead, securing our place in the world, and building an inclusive society that we can proudly call home.
I wish all Singaporeans a Happy New Year!