Looking back on 2023
2023 was a challenging year. The international environment remains troubled. US President Biden’s recent meeting with PRC President Xi Jinping in San Francisco has stabilised relations between the two powers, but the underlying tensions remain. In Ukraine, the fighting and human suffering continues, but the war is at a strategic stalemate with no resolution in sight.
Most recently, Hamas’ savage attack on Israel, followed by Israel’s ferocious military response in Gaza, have killed and maimed thousands of civilians, many of them women and children. The horrific and continuing human suffering has aroused revulsion and anger around the world. In Singapore, people of all races have expressed their anguish and concern, with Muslim Singaporeans understandably feeling this most acutely.
Much as we try to insulate ourselves from problems elsewhere, inevitably from time to time we in Singapore will feel for the troubles of others. It is a consequence of our shared humanity. I am glad on this occasion Singaporeans have again responded in a compassionate and practical manner – expressing our views while upholding our national interests and social cohesion, and contributing generously to humanitarian aid for those in need, particularly in Gaza.
I am especially grateful that at this fraught moment, religious and community leaders have stood beside the Government to counsel wisdom and support our social cohesion. We have painstakingly built up our racial and religious harmony over decades as a fundamental basis of Singaporean society. We must continue to approach potentially divisive issues like the Israel-Hamas conflict with tolerance and respect towards one another’s views.
This is the way to honour the ideals and vision that Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team of founding leaders stood for – a fair and just society where every Singaporean has full opportunity to succeed; a thriving economy built on meritocracy and hard work; and an endearing home where every Singaporean belongs.
In this centenary year of LKY100, we have been reflecting on these enduring values, and have recommitted ourselves to them. The Presidential Election, which President Tharman Shanmugaratnam won decisively, was one good sign that we are making progress towards becoming one nation, regardless of race, language or religion.
This year, we also learnt to live with COVID-19. In February we formally emerged from the pandemic into DORSCON Green. We owe this to the tireless efforts of our healthcare and frontline workers, as well as everybody’s collective contributions towards keeping Singapore safe. Our streets and neighbourhoods are again bustling with life, tourists are coming back, and the newly opened Bird Paradise is welcoming throngs of visitors.
We made 1.2% growth this year, avoiding a recession. But households are still feeling the pressure of higher cost of living, though inflation is gradually coming down. I hope the Government’s many assistance schemes have helped to relieve the burden on households. Next year, MTI projects our GDP to grow by 1 to 3 percent, and inflation hopefully to come down further, but much will depend on the external environment.
From 1 January, the GST rate will increase to 9 percent. The extra revenue will help the Government to pay for growing healthcare expenses as our population ages. To cushion the impact, households will continue to receive the Assurance Package next year. This way, households who need help will get it, while we can keep our public finances sound and sustainable over the longer term.
Looking ahead to 2024
For some years to come, we must expect the external environment to be less favourable to our security and prosperity. Geopolitical uncertainties will continue weighing on the global economy. In our own region, there are tensions and risks over rival claims in the South China Sea, and because of the cross-Strait situation. These can affect confidence in the region, and hence our growth.
At the same time, climate change will pose major challenges for every country. We are already feeling its effects. Singapore needs to adapt to and prepare for rising temperatures and sea levels, and to transition our economy to net-zero carbon emissions. It will be costly and demanding.
But we also have reason for hope and confidence. Rapid technological progress, especially in artificial intelligence and robotics, holds great promise for our businesses and people. The Government will work closely with businesses to upgrade and transform their operations, and with our tripartite partners to support every Singaporean to up-skill and re-skill, so that all can actively pursue their careers and keep themselves employable and competitive.
At the same time, we must always care for others in our community, and help those in greater need than ourselves. The Government will keep uplifting lower-income families and vulnerable groups, to enable them to live with purpose and dignity. We will continue to build affordable and accessible public housing for Singaporeans, a cornerstone of our social compact. To care for our ageing population, we are enhancing our physical infrastructure and social safety nets, and transforming our healthcare system with Healthier SG and Age Well SG. All these, and more, form part of the blueprint for a refreshed social compact.
At HealthierSG roadshow at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in July. Terence Tan/ MCI
The Forward Singapore agenda for Singapore is an ambitious one – especially as we will have to realise it in an era of rapid external and internal change. Many larger societies have become divided and weakened because difficult issues were not tackled directly and effectively, rival interest groups jostled against one another, and leaders put their own interests above the nation’s. As a small red dot, Singapore cannot afford to make the same mistakes and suffer the same consequences. We must work ever harder to keep our society together, and strengthen our sense of shared identity and nationhood.
Next year, DPM Lawrence Wong will take over from me as Prime Minister. This is not the first time we are having a leadership transition. But transitions are always delicate. Singapore will come under close scrutiny. People near and far are watching to see how the new leaders bond with Singaporeans, and whether our small nation can remain successful and exceptional. I urge Singaporeans to stand together, give your full support to Lawrence and his 4G team, and work with them to build a nation that is vibrant and inclusive, fair and competitive, and resilient and united. This is how we have come through successive crises and done well, and this is how we must surmount future challenges which are bound to come.
With DPM Lawrence Wong at Chingay 2023. Source: Ngau Kai Yan/ MCI
Let us face 2024 invigorated and confident, as one united people. The future may be uncertain, but our path is clear. I call on every Singaporean to come together to fulfil our aspirations, and secure a bright future for Singapore.
I wish all Singaporeans a Happy New Year!