Singapore—In his third National Day Rally speech, delivered in English, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong underlined that the country must now concentrate on its path forward, outlining the three-fold plan in carrying it out. He also drew attention to recent racially-tinged incidents and said that these must not upset the country’s hard-won multiracial harmony.
PM Lee also made the announcement that Muslim nurses working in the public health sector will have the option of wearing the tudung if they so desire.
The Prime Minister first congratulated Singapore on surviving the worst economic crisis since achieving independence but said that at this point, it is no longer about drawing from reserves.
“We must now refocus on the future,” he said, pointing out that the economies of the United States, China and Europe are picking up.
And for Singapore to achieve longer term growth, these three are needed:
- preserve our status as a business hub
- remain attractive to investors
- grow Singapore companies & entrepreneurs
The Prime Minister made mention of the need for lower wage workers to receive significant support from the government, not just emergency assistance, but longer term support. Unlike in other countries, the lives of lower wage workers have improved in Singapore, he said.
He called attention to one type of lower wage earners, delivery workers, whom he said are like other employees, but do not enjoy the benefits that regular employees have.
PM Lee went on to talk about “the growing restlessness over foreigners, particularly work pass holders,” due to the pressure middle-income Singaporeans have felt over job security.
He acknowledged that Singaporean workers have valid questions about work pass holders that the government needs to address.
The Prime Minister also acknowledged that there are companies that do not “play fair” hiring foreigners over Singaporeans, and said that the government deals with these transgressions firmly.
As in his speeches in Malay and Mandarin, the Prime Minister touched on on differences in race and cultures, saying that social fractions that arise from being different from one another, must be eased.
He said non-Singaporeans must endeavor to fit in with the ethos and norms of society, but Singaporeans must also be open to living with and accepting others who are not exactly like them.
“We must not give the impression that Singapore is turning inwards, and becoming xenophobic and hostile to foreigners. Instead, we must make it clear to the world that Singapore is determined to stay open, to earn a living for ourselves,” he said.
PM Lee mentioned again the recent racial incidents, specifically targeting Indians work pass holders and citizens, and asked Singaporeans not to let these incidents upset racial harmony, which he said took hard work, sacrifice and wisdom to achieve.
He also called this harmony “still a work in progress,” and called on people to take a strong stand against racist incidents. PM Lee specifically mentioned the campaign against CECA, which he said was a thinly-veiled attack against Indians.
Specific legislation concerning racial harmony will be called the Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act, he added.
As for the tudung issue, he announced the details that he had promised to explain when he made his speech in Malay earlier in the evening.
Wearing the tudung has become increasingly important to Muslim women, he said, an expression of their faith and identity.
Allowing nurses to wear the tudung, is one such issue of growing importance that was discussed by Muslim leaders with PM Lee.
For now, the status quo will be maintained for the SAF and Home Team, he said, meaning that the tudung will not be allowed in these contexts. But for nurses, this no longer holds.
PM Lee announced that starting in November, Muslim nurses in the public health sector will be allowed to wear the tudung if they wish to, to the applause of the audience present.
“I hope everyone will take this move on the tudung in the right spirit. We are making a careful adjustment to keep our racial & religious harmony in order – this approach has worked well for us for many years,” he added.
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