Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ten challenges Singapore faces

Aug 4, 2009

SM Goh Chok Tong delivered a speech to commemorate National Day at his constituency Marine Parade on Sunday. We carry edited excerpts of his remarks.

THIS National Day is also the 50th anniversary of our self-government. We have achieved a lot in 50 years. But can we sustain economic growth and prosperity for another 20, 30 years - that is, another generation?

Our success creates its own problems. I call them the perils of success. These perils are even more challenging than the ones I was faced with as Prime Minister.

# Let me start with the economy. Our economy has grown 125 times from $2 billion 50 years ago to $250 billion today. We have overtaken our former colonial master, Britain, in GDP per capita.

First challenge for the next generation: Can you maintain Singapore's high economic growth and keep on improving our standard of living?

# In 1959, thousands of Singaporeans lived in slums and squalor. I was more fortunate. I lived in a rented house but it had no electricity or modern sanitation. Today, more than 90 per cent of Singaporeans own their homes, with electricity and modern sanitation.

Second challenge: How do you convince Singaporeans that their lives will get better when they are already living in good-quality public and private housing?

# For many years, I cycled 20km daily between Raffles Institution and my home in Pasir Panjang. Today, students travel in air-conditioned comfort.

Third challenge: How do you satisfy the transport demands of the next generation?

# In 1959, infectious diseases were a major cause of death. My father died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. We have since cleaned up our streets, improved sanitation and food hygiene, and established a national vaccination programme. Today, infectious diseases make up only a small proportion of deaths. But other diseases have taken over - like cancer, heart diseases, diabetes and kidney failure - diseases associated with an affluent lifestyle. They are more expensive to treat.

Fourth challenge: Can you stamp out these diseases? Can you keep health- care costs down and affordable?

# When CPF was established in 1955, life expectancy was 60, five years more than the retirement age of 55. Our life expectancy has since risen to 80, 18 years more than our current retirement age of 62. With continuing advances in health care, we can expect to live to 90 in the near future. If we live till 90, we would probably have to work till 75 to have enough savings for a cosy retirement of 15 years.

Fifth challenge: Can you design a new training programme, Workfare and Jobs Credit scheme for grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents?

# The good news is that the average number of children of ever married women has stabilised at 2.1 for 10 years. The bad news is that it is only the ever married who are replacing themselves. As a whole population, we are not, because many of our women are not getting married. This is the main reason for our low total fertility rate of 1.28 today.

Sixth challenge: What will get our young to marry and have children?

# The combination of a longer life span and lower fertility rates leads to a fast- ageing population. Today, 9 per cent of our population is over 65 years of age. By 2030, it will be 20 per cent.

Seventh challenge: How do we support so many senior citizens?

# We are fast running out of land. We have already expanded our land area by more than 20 per cent through reclamation since 1959.

Eighth challenge: How much more land can we reclaim over the next 50 years? Will Singapore be over-crowded?

# When I graduated 45 years ago, there were very few scholarships for overseas studies. Today, there are hundreds. And hundreds more go overseas on parents' scholarships. We are already seeing a trend of more Singaporeans not returning after having studied overseas.

Ninth challenge: We have to accept that more Singaporeans will study and work overseas and that some may settle abroad. But how do we bond them to Singapore? How do we ensure that most will return home?

# We have forged a cohesive society and a national identity from a population of different races, languages, religions and cultures. But we cannot take for granted the racial and religious harmony we have had for four decades.

This is the 10th challenge: How do we ensure that Singaporeans of different faiths will continue to mix with one another and respect one another's faith?

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