Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took centrestage at ITE College Central this evening to deliver his annual National Day Rally speech.
This year, he touched on three main issues: having more children and setting children up for success at an early age; the war on diabetes; and transforming Singapore into more of a smart nation with an emphasis on e-transactions and greater CCTV surveillance nationwide.
1. “Please have more babies”
PM Lee announced that spending on pre-school education has doubled from 360 million in 2012 to 840 million this year and is set to further increase to 1.7 billion in 2022. This expenditure is intended to enhance the social mobility of young children, the PM said, which in turn will sustain a fair and just society.
The government plans to create an additional 40,000 new preschool places for children four years of age and below, bringing the total number of preschool places up to 200,000 nationwide. It will also improve the quality of pre-school education for children between the ages of 5 and 6 since there are already enough places for them.
The Ministry of Education’s current 15 kindergartens are also expected to scale up to 50 centres in the next five years.
A new centralised National Institute of Early Childhood Development will be set up to attract talent into the preschool job sector and improve the development and prospects of pre-school professionals, as well. The institute will bring current pre-school education programmes at polytechnics, ITE and SEED Institute together.
However, all these plans will be for naught if Singaporeans don’t have babies. The PM urged Singaporeans to have more children and indicated that these measures are being instated to make it easier for couples to start and grow a family.
2. “When it comes to diabetes, Singapore is almost the world champion – just behind the US”
While Singaporeans have the highest life expectancy in the world at 82 years, the PM cautioned Singaporeans of diseases like diabetes, which puts almost a third of Singaporeans at risk presently.
The PM waxed lyrical about the importance of healthy eating and leading an active lifestyle and warned Singaporeans of the dangers of diabetes which poses a threat to seniors and the young alike.
He outlined that Singaporeans should see a doctor, exercise, be more conscious of their diet, and cut out sugar to avoid contracting the disease which may lead to severe consequences like blindness, impotence, or death due to organ failure.
On diabetes, he said: “It is precisely because you are not worried, that I am worried.”
As a proactive measure against diseases like diabetes, the Ministry of Health is set to offer $5 health check ups to individuals aged 40 and above. The typical cost of these check ups is said to be over $100.
PM Lee also said although the government considered a ‘sugar tax’ like ones that European nations, Brunei and Mexico have implemented, it is unsure if such a measure might work. In the meanwhile, officials have gotten soft drink companies to reduce sugar in drinks.
He, however, ultimately conceded that it is the individual’s choice on what they want to consume.
3. “Next time I’m at a hawker centre, I look forward to buying my meal with PayNow!”
Citing that Singapore lags behind countries like China in the area of cashless, electronic payments, PM Lee said that the nation will advance itself by employing a single card terminal that can read different cards as opposed to multiple systems that are unintegrated.
IT Security is also set to improve with increased CCTV cameras and sensor networks that will allow the Government to respond to emergency situations more effectively and quickly.
The PM cited the Little India Riot as an event where, he indicated, the authorities were caught unprepared due to too few CCTV cameras in the area.
As such, authorities are installing more CCTV cameras in public locations, making “every lamp-post a smart lamp-post.” Artificial Intelligence is also being employed to flag unusual activity.
Technology will also be used to aid Singaporeans in their daily life, with one such application set to be launched soon. A new app, Parking.sg, will soon be available for users to make parking payments electronically.
The app will alert users when their parking session is about to end, and they can then extend the session remotely instead of rushing back to add parking coupons.
The Prime Minister ended his speech saying that “It is my Government’s duty to build for our future.”
“This is the Singapore of the last half century…Every generation striving and building for the next; keeping our eyes on tomorrow and investing in our children; undaunted by challenges and disruptions, instead working together to overcome every obstacle, seize every opportunity and realise a bright future for all of us.”