The following is a translation of PM Lee's Mandarin speech:
We are experiencing an unprecedented economic storm. In the 1st quarter our economy declined sharply. It was terrifying. Fortunately by the time the 2nd quarter came there was a strong rebound and the situation has stabilised.
The Resilience Package introduced in this year's Budget, the effects have been felt.
Companies have not retrenched to a large extent and the unemployment rate has increased only slightly. Singaporeans have been affected by the storm and those who seek help from the MPs or the community the numbers have increased.
But to many life goes on as usual, work is stable & the mood is not bad. National Day everyone celebrated enthusiastically. And in the travel fairs enormous crowds formed. I've a photo here, people everywhere. This was a travel fair which was held last weekend. The boss was very happy & told the reporter that many people have not gone overseas & they can't hold back any further. They have to go overseas.
And a more convincing way there are many people queue-ing up to buy houses. Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, can't say for sure but Singaporeans are confident about the future. In any case we have to pay close attention to the economic trend over the next few months. The global situation has stabilised.
Some companies have started to recruit employees. The 3rd quarter, which is the present one, there shouldn't be a large-scale retrenchment. But what is going to happen after the 3rd quarter is not clear. So we must be psychologically prepared. It's better to be prepared. For the long term, we must be optimistic about the future. Sunny days may not have come back but we've begun to see some hope, some green shoots.
In the storm the small and medium sized enterprises have been affected more greatly because their capital & human resources are limited. But the government has implemented many measures to help them and many of them have shown a spirit to do well in adversity. They're willing to innovate, change the business model and look for a way out.
The government will fully support the SMEs, including helping them enter overseas markets. There are many business opportunities in Asia. As long you under the market & have good networks, you don't have to worry about not having business.
Let me give an example of the local furniture industry. In our early days of industrialisation, it was a labour-intensive industry. It was not a high-tech. So at that time it was reasonable to have a furniture industry. But after 30 to 40 years, the furniture industry has found new vitality. It has not been eliminated and on the contrary, it has been transformed from a sunset industry to a sunrise industry. It's not something that many people could anticipate.
How did this come about? Because what we produce is high quality, new design and trend-setting furniture.
And the Singapore Furniture Association has been very active in our own country and overseas effectively promoting Singapore brand furniture. Because of the economic decline, they have worked doubly hard and successfully opened up many overseas markets including East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin American countries. Now in Latin America, in Brazil they are looking for business. So they have gone to the whole world and certainly they will find business.
The largest and the most famous furniture fair is the Milan Furniture Fair in Italy. In April this year, Singapore Furniture Association participated in the Milan Furniture Fair. Singapore Spring provided assistance and it succeeded in getting some space for them so they were able to display their products. At that time Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was visiting Italy and he made a special visit to the fair to provide moral support. Here's a photo for the album.
Actually, our furniture manufacturers have set up their factories in neighbouring countries because cost of production is lower but they use a Singapore brand as a selling point because in international markets, Singapore is not only a name of a country, it is also a symbol of excellence. So Singapore brand is very important. This brand is a unique weapon for Singapore businessmen. You must treasure it and must never undermine it. You must strengthen it so that we can be successful always in the markets.
Our entrepreneurs know how to change and look for new outlets. Individual Singaporeans must be self-motivated and seize every opportunity to upgrade themselves. Workers should seize the opportunity and attend Spur programmes and their skills upgrading and resilience programmes, various courses organised by them. The unemployed can seek help from e2i or CDC. These organisations have helped many to get a job. They have worked very hard and silently providing help and the effect has been considerable. The most important point is that they dare to try.
At the centre of e2i there is a very meaningful slogan on a wall. In Chinese it says: If the mountain doesn't turn, the road will turn. If the road doesn't turn, the man will turn. If the man doesn't turn, his heart will turn. It encourages everyone to have the resolution to try the best. So those who face the pressures of life, they must go to e2i to turn around and pay a visit. I'm sure they'll find a way out. Actually, to master a skill is the only way to get out of a difficulty.
In the next two years the growth of the global economy may be slower, so we must continue to go upstream and try our best. Sooner or later, the world economy will recover fully. When the time comes, we'll be ready and spread our wings and soar again. As we're busy stimulating the economy, we must not neglect our long-term problems. I'm going to talk about two of them. One is health care and medical cost and the second is racial and religious harmony.
Let me first talk about health care and medical cost. The Government has adopted a number of measures to moderate the increases in medical cost. Basically the majority of Singaporeans can afford medical costs but I know that this continues to be a problem that many Singaporeans are concerned with. I understand the thinking.
Many people need to look after their aged parents who are sick. The burden is quite heavy. And those who are just about to enter old age, perhaps they worry about their own health & medical costs. It may not be a problem now but what happens later on?
The government is very concerned about this problem and has started to upgrade medical services in order to meet the demands of an ageing population. When a person gets older, he becomes more sickly & the illness become more serious & the recovery period will take longer. Can't be helped. It's part of human nature. So we must adopt active measures to respond to this situation.
We are building more acute hospitals, including in the north, the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital & the Jurong General Hospital in the west. But we must not only build large scale acute hospitals, we must also build some community hospitals. What's the difference? Let me explain.
Older patients during recuperation, they need step-down care. They may not need to continue to stay at the acute hospital. Community hospitals can provide low-cost & appropriate step-down care. Community hospitals can complement the large hospitals & support each other. Government hospitals can provide help to raise their medical standards so that patients will receive good treatment and community hospitals can receive some patients from the government hospitals, freeing up some beds for more acute patients. In addition, community hospital has another function, because it is more closely connected with the community & they can get the support from various sectors.
Tan Tock Seng Hospital & Ren Ci Hospital, the cooperative relationship is an example. Ren Ci Hospital. is a community hospital. It is located right next to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Recently I visited Ren Ci Hospital. to understand its operating model. Ren Ci has a new management & a new operating model. Tan Tock Seng Hospital. provides medical assistance & comfort. After the patients have stabilised, they can then go on to Ren Ci until they are fully recovered. The patients at Ren Ci need not worry because if the conditions deteriorate, they can immediately return to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. So the 2 hospitals complement each other very well.
At the same time there are many volunteers at the Ren Ci Hospital. & organise recreational activities which are good for them. When I went there, I saw a group of volunteers together with the patients singing karaoke so that the patients can become more cheerful and become happier & recover earlier. I think this is a good model. Changi General Hospital. & St Andrew's Hospital. have a similar cooperative relationship. The minister for health is looking into how to extend this model to other government hospitals.
Elderly patients returning home from hospital, whether it's government hospitals or community hospitals, they cannot stay there forever. Sooner or later, they have to go home. In fact, the earlier the better. When they go home to rest, the family members will have to take up the responsibility to look after them. I know it is quite a heavy burden & some people say there's no filial son for long-term illness. I don't quite agree. But whatever happens, however heavy the burden, we should not shift our responsibility away.
We Asians pay great attention to filial piety This is a traditional virtue & we must maintain this. Although the government has a duty to look after the aged, and the government will try its best to look after the aged, but to the family members, it's not only duty, it's duty plus love. It's not something the government can provide. The love of the family members, the warmth of the family cannot be replaced by nursing homes & hospitals.
Recently I had a chat with some nursing home operators & they told me that in principle this is correct. But some Singaporeans have not preserved this virtue. Some Singaporeans have abandoned their parents in the homes or hospitals. After they sent their parents to the homes sometimes they disappeared & even changed their addresses on their ICs. When the nursing home contacted them they said: "It's not my business." and said that even if the nursing homes were to drive the parents away, they would not mind.
This is something that causes great discomfort to us - a new social phenomenon - and we must deal with it. So the government is looking into how to be more effective in implementing the Maintenance of Parents Act so that the children will fulfil their duty. Besides building more community hospitals the government will look into other measures so it will facilitate people looking after the sick relatives at home. We will do our part. Our whole healthcare system will be effective but individuals must also carry out their duties
The first thing to do, personal responsibility, is to be healthy, to have healthy good lifestyle habits. To be healthy and to reduce medical cost is to exercise, look after health, be careful with food & drinks, do not smoke. Whether you do taiji or qigong or brisk walking, all these are good for you. If you participate in group activities & do exercise together, it will increase the fun and it will increase, make more friends & increase your well-being.
Among these many factors we must pay particular attention to the tendency for Singaporeans to be obese or overweight. This is a problem that plagues all developed countries. And even some developing countries are facing this problem. In America nearly two-thirds of people, adults, are either obese or overweight. They have scientific definitions for this. So two-thirds of Americans are super heavyweight country. And every year they get heavier.
In China they are catching up quickly. They are afraid of 3 highs. What are the 3 highs? High sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure caused by overweight. Before the economic reforms it was rare to find these 3 high diseases. But these diseases of affluence particularly in the cities are becoming common. I read in Zaobao recently that there are many fat or overweight people. So this slimming business is becoming better & better. Their promotional tactics are very very sharp. They have this method where the fee payment depends on the amount of weight lost. The fee depends on how much weight you have lost: 5 katis 300 yuan; 10 katis 500 yuan, 20 katis 800 yuan.
In Singapore we have not reached this advanced stage. We have an annual healthy lifestyle campaign to help everyone lose weight free of charge. I take part in this every year and a few hundred grassroots leaders, seniors jump about. But after this our weight, we have lost some weight. But Singaporeans, the number of overweight people and the number of obese people has increased. o we must do more to reduce our weight. We have to work doubly hard to prevent obesity and these three diseases, otherwise when we get sick it'll bring about a burden to ourselves and society.
Besides this rather light-hearted problem I'd like to talk about racial and religious harmony because this issue has long-term effect on our society and our country. We have been proud of the racial and religious harmony in Singapore. The various groups have got on very well. Many people from different religions and races become good friends and good neighbours. Various religions respect one another and have jointly organised community activities. They have not asked what religion you come from, if you need help we'll help you. This is a very good sign and it's the result of our efforts over the last 40 years. But, of course, our structure, social structure is partly responsible for this development because the majority of our people are Taoists and Buddhists and they've always been tolerant and adopted a conciliatory attitude and this has defined the basic tone for our society.
Let me give an example. Some Taoist temples when they have a thanksgiving procession often pay a visit to the Hindu temple nearby and the Hindu temple reciprocate by visiting the Taoist temples when they in turn organise their own processions. In Yishun recently, there's an example, as shown on the photo. See the Hindu believers are having a procession and visit a temple, visiting a Taoist temple. This is a warm and lively atmosphere, something that's unique to Singapore. But I understand that other religions because they have different teachings may not be possible for them to have similar exchanges. In fact the most important point is the sincerity and spirit behind such exchange visits, and I believe all religions can accept that.
Over the last half a century, our religions have lived in peace together and tolerated one another. But we should not be complacent. We have reason to pay attention to this issue. First, the religions fervour of Singaporeans is gradually increasing and as our population density is high and there's frequent contacts between the different groups, we cannot completely avoid some friction.
Let me give an example, a real example to share with everybody so you can understand that it is not an abstract talk, it's a real accident, it has happened and we must pay attention to this.
An MP told me that in his constituency there was this incident last year. A Chinese old lady passed away. Her family members intended to use the void deck at the next block to conduct the funeral rites. Before they got the approval of town council, they have not got approval, they started getting reading the mourning hall for the wake service. But this place had already been booked by a Malay family for a wedding ceremony. The Malay family already obtained the approval of town council and has issued invitation cards and now the location, the venue has suddenly been taken by someone else.
Of course, the Malay family was not very happy. Town council tried to mediate and advised the Chinese family to shift the funeral rite to another void deck but the Chinese family was not willing to do so because they say that although the hearse had not arrived but the mourning place or the mourning hall has already been set up and to dismantle this would bring about ill fortune or bad luck. So the problem occurred.
Fortunately, through the mediation of the MP & grassroots leaders, the Malay family magnanimously agreed to shift their wedding ceremony to another void deck. So Town Council to show its appreciation, agreed to provide the premises free of charge & help them to display notices to inform the wedding guests that the venue has been changed. So this is something that happened last year.
Whether it is a wedding or a funeral, these are sensitive & important events of life. When the two events are intertwined, emotions run high & may not be easily reined in. The fact that we could resolve this issue is because the Malay family agreed to give way. As they say, if you take one step back, you can see how vast, how wide is the ocean & how vast the sky. So in another country, a similar situation can become an inter-racial conflict or even violence. So harmonious racial relations are something that's worthy of our celebration. We must treasure it & must never take it for granted.
When I mentioned this incident, it was not the only incident & it will not be the last one of its kind. We must be firm & quick in resolving the issue. All parties involved should learn how to be conciliatory & think of other's interests. The government's attitude is important & be firm & neutral.
Let me give another example. Land acquisition. Sometimes the government needs to acquire land to build roads, MRTs, schools & HDB flats. If the government cannot acquire land, then our developments will be stifled or stagnate. Sometimes the government need to use land belonging to religious groups & all religious groups have been affected, e.g. this temple, Christian churches, Hindu temple. All of them have been affected by land acquisition.
When government acquires land, the government make a compensation but the affected groups, although they have received compensation, but they may not necessarily agree to move. If the group affected is a religious organisation, then it's not just one or two people who are affected or not happy but there are many believers who may not be happy & they will make an appeal to the government.
So it becomes a difficult problem to the government. The government will seriously consider the appeal, those who are affected by this land acquisition. But after considering, if the government is unable to accept their appeal & must continue to acquire the land, the government will have to do so but explain fully to the organisation concerned.
What the government should consider is that a decision of the government should not give the impression to anyone that the government is biased in favour of any religious organisation. And this decision should not undermine the credibility of the government, otherwise the government will face difficulties in the future. Up to now, we have been fortunate that when the government acquires land, generally government has received the understanding or cooperation of the land owners & landlords. The government must express our gratitude to them.
So there are certain principles, broad principles that we must be following. It's not only on individual cases. Broad principles must be correct so that we have a framework to maintain racial harmony. So what are these principles.
There are basically 4 principles: to adopt a tolerant & conciliatory attitude, religion & politics must be separated to maintain a neutral & secular government & enlarge the common space that we share. These are 4 points that let me simply talk about this.
In my English speech, I will elaborate upon these 4 principles. I hope people from all sectors will actively support these basic principles. The facts, the stability of our society and the survival of our country. All our people must be together so that Singapore will become an example for all multiracial & religious societies so that racial & religious harmony will become the cornerstone, continue to be a cornerstone of our society.
My fellow citizens, this year is the 50th anniversary of the self-government of Singapore. For the last 50 years we've experienced many storms & tested repeatedly. Fortunately Singaporeans have been united and together brushed aside all difficulties and built the Singapore of today. I'm confident that we can yet again pass the test, overcome the crisis & build a more prosperous & vibrant Singapore.