President: 4G leaders must inspire young and build Singapore's future

In her inaugural speech, President says their right to lead 'cannot be inherited'

Singapore is not yet done with nation building and its fourth generation of leaders must "fire up and mobilise" young Singaporeans who are eager to take up the challenge of forging a better future, said President Halimah Yacob.

In a speech billed as the younger leaders' vision of the direction in which they want to take the country, Madam Halimah said that as a new generation of Singaporeans comes of age, the 4G leaders will have to work with them to respond to the challenges of their times.

"They dream of a bright future, and pour their energies into exploring fresh horizons and building a better world. They want to see their parents age well," she said in her inaugural address to open Parliament, which reconvened yesterday after a five-week half-time recess.

"They hope for a fairer and more equal society. As proud Singaporeans, they want to see this small island nation stand tall among the community of nations."

She said the 4G leaders "must grow with the people they represent, be open to diverse views and ideas and have a clear purpose and unity of action".

They have to earn the right to lead and forge bonds with citizens, she said.

"That right cannot be inherited. The trust between the people and their leaders is not automatically passed on from one generation to the next."

The 30-minute speech, which in broad strokes sets out the Government's priorities for the second half of the term, was largely drafted by the younger members of the Cabinet - and mediocrity was not on the cards.

"We may be tempted not to go for bold changes, but instead be content to tweak things at the margins," said Madam Halimah.

"That would be the wrong approach," she said.

Looking ahead, there are five priorities, she said. They are: securing a place in the world for Singapore, building a world-class city, developing a vibrant economy, forging a caring and inclusive society and nurturing a distinct Singapore identity.

The President was addressing a packed chamber in Parliament House, where signs of transition were evident.

Following a Cabinet reshuffle this month, the front bench was filled with key 4G ministers such as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Minister in Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, while retired 3G ministers Lim Hng Kiang, Lim Swee Say and Yaacob Ibrahim moved to the second row.

On the other side of the aisle, new Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh took the front-row seat of his predecessor Low Thia Khiang.

Ending her address on a spirited note, she said she hoped Singaporeans born post-independence will understand that "becoming Singaporean - 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion' - continues to be an undertaking of conviction and choice".


Key issues from President Halimah's address to Parliament

In her inaugural address to Parliament, President Halimah Yacob set out the Government's key priorities for the rest of its term.


Inequality must be tackled "vigorously", said Madam Halimah.

"We need to provide the right additional support to those needing it - in housing, education, skills training, and employment - so that meritocracy works well."

Citing the effects of income inequality and social stratification in other countries without giving examples, she added: "If the same happens to us, our politics will turn vicious, our society will fracture and our nation will wither."

The President said the Government will continue to raise the quality of pre-schools and do more for children at risk, help older workers earn fair wages and enable people with disabilities to lead "full and active lives".


Madam Halimah said that much of Singapore's success will depend on the relationship between the US and China.

With both sides threatening to impose steep tariffs on each other's exports, Madam Halimah said that such trade frictions will affect the rest of the world, especially countries with small, open economies like Singapore .

She added that Singapore must uphold international law and the role of supra-national institutions, while championing free trade and finding new opportunities to work with others against the tide of rising protectionism.


For Singapore to remain a place where its people can pursue their dreams and careers, Madam Halimah said the Goverment is "changing the way we educate and prepare Singaporeans for life, putting less emphasis on academic grades, and more on skills and the ability to adapt to a dynamic external environment".

The SkillsFuture movement, she said, will "anchor this national culture of lifelong learning for skills mastery."


To keep Singapore "one of the best connected cities in Asia", the Government has invested in key projects like Changi Airport Terminal 5, a new Tuas Port, and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, said the President.

Paya Lebar Air Base's move to Changi and the development of the Greater Southern Waterfront will lead to a "far-reaching" transformation of Singapore's cityscape in the coming decades, she added.


Madam Halimah said that Singaporeans have "succeeded in nurturing a distinct Singapore identity" that transcends individual racial and religious identities.

She said the Singapore Bicentennial commemoration next year will be a chance to "reflect on what it means to be Singaporean, and on the common values and beliefs that bind us together".