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News Reports

The President’s Address in layman lingo

Because this is from the head of State, I will refrain from too much caricature and the use of Singlish. This is not a contemptuous attempt, by the way.

We are going to be 50 years old next year, when we will have a big party or tua seh git as the Chinese call it. We’re not old, not if you measure in terms of a country’s life-span. We’re still young. But if we want to grow old gracefully, we should all remember what we said during our school days when we recite the Pledge. Yes, even you, you 65-year old! Remember how we want to build a fair and just society, regardless of race, language or religion; to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation?

That’s what my G wants to do, from now until the next election. Here’s where I am supposed to recite all the motherhood statements and usual platitudes about better quality of life, improved conditions, fulfilling potential and more opportunities for all. You’ve heard them before. If you still want to read, go google my speech.

First things first. Education. We know all the fuss about this. We said many times that we will go beyond academic success when we measure the worth of our students. So let me say this again: We will continue to improve the system, so that no single point in our education will wholly determine our future.

That means just because your boy boy didn’t get into such and such a school, he’s going to end up sweeping the roads (even if he does, there’s the Progressive Wage model). That’s because, I repeat, “every school is a good school’’. And don’t worry about how well boy boy does in the PSLE, or whether he made it through DSA or whether he is in an IP school, did his O levels or IB or whether he is in ITE or whether his SAT score is good or what sort of GPA he has. (I am talking about education here by the way.)  That’s because boy boy will always have a chance to shift side-ways onto other ladders. We are fixing the ITE system with an Aspire committee to ensure that it’s not the end. We’re making more university places available and will ensure that the courses are “hands on’’, like the polys.

Now we are not just talking about education in school, but also for workers. We actually named an institute for workers after a predecessor of mine.

We come next to social safety nets. In case you don’t know what it means,  it means that when you fall down, through no fault of your own but because you kicked a stone or someone tripped you or the stairs too steep, someone will help you up. Serious.

We’ve already given you a roof over your heads. Even the poor own their homes. I will say this loudly: “No other country in the world has done this’’. We have Workfare for those who need more income. Absolute, not relative income.

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We’re now in the middle of looking at healthcare cost, so that you won’t get a heart attack when you have to see a doctor. We’re now looking at Medishield Life, which will cover those with pre-existing illness which you didn’t bother to tell your doctor about earlier. Don’t worry, you will be able to afford the premiums. Cross my heart and hope to … well.

I can tell you that we are going to announce something for the post 65 generation. You know those orange and blue cards that entitle you to discounts at clinics? The Community Health Assist Scheme? The elderly will get even more discounts. We will give them a new card but we haven’t decided on the colour. We left that to Gan Kim Yong to decide.

We’re also going to do something about CPF Life. You know that money that you keep with us and with which we dole out to you every month? We’re not sure what but it will be good. Then we will do something about your flats. There are plenty of ways for you to get income from your flats (no, no, not renting them entirely to foreigners! Not collateral for loansharks!) Well, we already have schemes like some sort of reverse mortgage but we’ll come up with something better. We hope.

As you can see, we’ll be increasing spending. But you know it also means we have to be careful that we don’t spend beyond our means. We need to have enough revenues to balance our budget (no, I am not saying whether we will increase taxes or raise revenues in other ways)

Enough about us. What about you? What are you going to do for this place? For our home, a good home, not just “a marketplace in the global economy”. Note that I repeated the phrases our home and good home several times, in the hope that this will leave a mark on your brain – and even your heart.

Now here comes the part where I talk about collective well-being and community effort as well as active citizenry and personal fulfilment. We need them all to build our (good) home so “we feel sense of responsibility for one another, and not just a sense of entitlement to the benefits of citizenship’’. That’s a good quote by the way, since I am not about to say anything about non-citizens in our (good) home except that we should treat them with “graciousness, kindness and fellowship, even as we expect them to respect our values and our Singaporean way of life’’.      

 I forgot that this will not just be a good home but a smart nation too that will use all sorts of technology to make for a better life too. Picture this: extensive transport networks with green corridors and waterways and the people having a great time with sports and leisure activities, pursuing arts and culture. Wait a minute. I think I have said before in the past. Anyway, worth repeating especially since these are ambitious goals which only “constructive politics’’ can achieve.

 We can debate all we want but remember in other countries, it has led to gridlock and paralysis – like a stuck MRT train. We’ve got to concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel and not “allow our differences to pull us apart’’.

In case you’ve forgotten, we have made many changes like introducing ComCare and Workfare, the Wage Credit Scheme and the Progressive Wage model. If you still don’t know what they are, go google. But like a record that’s been played to often, we have to sing this song again: we are small and vulnerable, we need a strong defence and diplomatic skills. If the record is scratchy-sounding, go look at what’s happening now in the Ukraine and the South China Sea. So don’t tune out when we say “we must never take our safety and security for granted’’.

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As is, and will be, the case for all major speeches from now, we have to talk about the Golden Jubilee and the wonderful pioneering spirit of the over-65s, who can expect the Pioneer Generation Package as a gift. Then we have to add this point about how their spirit is worth emulating. And finally we end with a lot of words that go together: progress and prosper, home and nation and a better and brighter Singapore.

President Tan (in an aside): Oh, if you still don’t know what I’m talking, please wait for the different ministries to send out their agendas. They are supposed to flesh out what I said. Go figure.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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