Debate kicks off with focus on Singapore core and values
DPM Heng: S'pore must adapt to changes while staying useful and relevant to the world
As Covid-19 ravages lives and economies around the world, Singapore will have to adapt to change while staying true to the values that helped it progress over the years, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday at the start of a week-long debate on the President's Address in the new term of Parliament.
This includes remaining open to trade, investment and talent as a key global node with deep connections to the rest of the world.
Doing so would help draw investments and create good jobs that Singaporeans can compete fairly for. That, he argued, was the best way to serve the interests of Singaporeans.
"Our starting point is that our economic strategies must serve the interests of Singaporeans," he said. That is why manpower policies, such as on employment passes, are being adapted to ensure the interests of Singaporeans are upheld in the face of economic disruption.
But he warned against the temptation to turn inwards.
"The best way is to ensure this little red dot - with no natural resources of any kind, but with a determined, hardworking, forward-looking people - remains useful and relevant to the world," said Mr Heng.
"We do this by keeping our economy vibrant and competitive, so that Singaporeans and other people choose to be here, to invest and do business, thereby creating good jobs and opportunities for all of us."
The Government will redouble its efforts to ensure Singapore workers are armed with the skills to grab the opportunities that come their way, helping them achieve their fullest potential, he added.
Some of the key points in Mr Heng's speech - adapting to change and strengthening the Singapore core of the workforce - were also themes that dominated discussion on day one of the debate in the House.
Taking up the theme, labour MPs made it plain that discrimination against local workers will not be tolerated.
Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer), who delivered the opening address for the debate, called on the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to consider further raising the minimum qualifying salaries for Employment Pass (EP) holders for two sectors - infocomm technology (ICT) and professional services.
His call came days after the Government announced the second increase in salary thresholds of EP holders this year.
Mr Tay, who is an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, also urged the Government to consider tougher measures such as an EP quota.
Delivering his maiden speech as Singapore's first formally-designated Leader of the Opposition, Worker's Party chief Pritam Singh called on the Government to consider an anti-discrimination law that will penalise egregious employers.
Both PAP and opposition MPs also touched on President Halimah Yacob's point in her speech last week that Singapore must evolve its politics, and the need to find a way to deliver effective government while accommodating the growing diversity of views here.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah cautioned against greater diversity of views and more robust debates in Parliament leading to greater polarisation among Singaporeans.
"Experience elsewhere shows that unity in diversity is not an assured outcome," she said. "Our goal should be to harness this diversity of views in a constructive manner, so that we can as a Parliament better serve the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore."
DPM Heng put it this way: "This House must fulfil its duty, to articulate and debate policy options, to build a better life for our people, and to advance Singapore's place in the world. This is the mandate that has been entrusted to us by Singaporeans.
"I trust that all of us, whether in Government or the Opposition, will share this common sense of mission, to serve in the best interests of Singaporeans and Singapore."
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