SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says Singapore has worked hard to build an inclusive society that takes care of the elderly and needy.
He cited the major shift in this year’s Budget, which has strengthened social safety nets.
Mr Lee noted that already, the state has to rely on reserves — by spending part of the returns from investing them — to pay for part of the programmes. Some $8 billion was used last year.
That’s more than what was collected in personal income taxes and four times more than what was collected in certificates of entitlement.
"As our social spending increases significantly, sooner or later our taxes must go up — not immediately, but if you’re talking 20 years, certainly within that 20 years, whoever is that government, will at some point have to raise taxes."
Aside from social welfare, Mr Lee said a big—hearted Singapore also means knowing how to treat one another right.
He pointed out to some troubling signs recently — be it among neighbours or anti—foreigner sentiments. And such incidents speak poorly of the Singapore people.
Mr Lee called for more mutual respect and understanding.
Mr Lee cited the video of two women arguing over a bus seat that went viral on the internet.
It drew swift criticism from netizens — with many slamming the younger woman who appeared to be a non—Singaporean.
Mr Lee expressed concern over the many "nasty posts" by Singaporeans about foreigners.
He noted that such responses not only damage Singapore’s international reputation, but also speak poorly of its people.
"There will be social frictions from time to time. We should deal with these incidents maturely. It’s alright to express disapproval of what happened, it’s necessary even. It’s not alright to be a one—eyed dragon, or to condemn all non—Singaporeans or Singaporeans based on the actions of a few bad apples. Also it’s wrong to slam the shortcomings of others, but ignore our own transgressions," said Mr Lee.
He also stressed that building better relations is a two—way process.
Mr Lee said: "Singaporeans must show a generosity of spirit to one another, including new arrivals. New arrivals must also embrace our values, commit themselves to Singapore and integrate into our community. We will welcome you into our midst, into our family, but you must make the effort too."
But it hasn’t been all bad.
Mr Lee said there have been many success stories in integration.
He cited Ms Le Ha Thanh Mai, a Vietnamese who came to Singapore on a scholarship at 15. She initially had trouble adjusting due to language and cultural barriers.
But she eventually adapted to local ways, and became so localised that no one could tell she was a foreigner, said Mr Lee.
In concluding his message on a big—hearted Singapore, Mr Lee said Singapore may be a small island, but it cannot be small—minded.
Aside from being a prosperous and successful country, he said its people must also be gracious and warm towards each other, and towards others.
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