‘Impressive figures but still much work ahead’ – PM Lee

Overall, we have averaged 6.7 per cent growth per year since 2003, faster than we had expected.

But Singaporeans are also feeling the side effects in daily stresses and strains 

  • more crowding in public places,
  •  housing and public transport falling behind the needs of a larger population,
  •  frictions between locals and new arrivals.

I understand your frustrations and am committed to resolving them. We are building more HDB flats and improving bus and train services. We are helping workers improve their skills, and cope with the changing job market. We are slowing the inflow of foreign workers and immigrants, and discussing our population policies with all Singaporeans.

It will take some time, but we are making progress. We are determined to overcome these problems, and improve Singaporeans’ lives.

But even as we tackle these pressing issues, we need to look beyond them and ask some basic questions about our future.

  • Where do we stand today, compared with other advanced countries?
  • What will the world be like 20 years from now? Where does Singapore want to be in that world?

In quantitative terms, our economy has performed well. Our per capita GDP (gross domestic product) was slightly above US$50,000 (S$64,000) in 2011, which (according to the International Monetary Fund) placed us 11th worldwide, ahead of the US.

Adjusted for purchasing power parity, our per capita GDP (almost US$60,000) ranked even higher: third overall, behind only Qatar (US$102,900) and Luxembourg (US$80,100).

But despite the impressive numbers, we have far from arrived.

First, comparisons with other countries flatter us. Singapore is completely urbanised, whereas bigger countries have rural areas, even advanced countries like the US. Their leading cities are usually much wealthier than their national averages. Compared with global cities, Singapore is still some way behind. According to the Brookings Institution, our per capita GDP lags behind cities like Oslo, Paris and New York. In fact, we are not even among the top 20 cities worldwide.

Second, our wages are generally lower than in developed countries. We can take credit that our real median wages have risen in the last decade, while those in the developed countries have fallen or stagnated. But we remain significantly behind them in terms of productivity and wages.

Third, we are a small city-state, without the strategic ballast of bigger, more mature economies. We will always be vulnerable to the vagaries of external events, as the global financial crisis reminded us. We must always fend for ourselves. No one will bail us out if we falter. In a rapidly changing world, this is one fact that will not change for Singapore.

Thus we still have much work to do to assure ourselves of a brighter tomorrow.

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Published on Jun 10, 2012, The Straits Times

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