Why did PM Lee deliver such a seemingly boring NDR speech?

PM Lee delivered his National Day Rally (NDR) speech a few days ago. One would have expected PM Lee to use the speech to say some visionary things, setting out the direction for Singapore’s future, galvanising Singapore, and inspiring Singaporeans to achieve greater things.

However, that didn’t seem to be the case.¬†Instead, PM’s speech sounded quite boring. He spoke about very specific issues. He spoke about improving pre-schools, fighting diabetes and Smart Nation initiatives.

Some would say that the things he said were quite trivial. Nothing radical. Nothing that “strategic”. Nothing exactly inspirational. Why would PM Lee waste such an important opportunity like that? Why did PM Lee want to say what he said during his NDR speech?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally 2019 Source: Prime Minister’s Office

Aren’t there more urgent things to talk about?

It’s true. There are many other important and pressing issues that PM could have spoken about. For instance, recent rail disruptions one again highlight the urgency to improve our transport system. Then there is still the economy to worry about. People are still concerned about their jobs. New graduates who are just about to the workforce aren’t exactly having an easy time finding jobs. And there is still a segment of Singaporeans who are poor, even though they work really hard.

But PM Lee has already spoken about many of these issues in last year’s NDR speech. In that speech, PM spoke extensively about the economy. He announced various plans to grow the economy in a sustainable manner. Those plans will take time to bear fruit. It’s too early to revisit that issue.

PM Lee has also addressed the issue of jobs, jobs, jobs during this year’s May Day Rally. Again, it will take time for the ministries, agencies and unions to steer, for businesses to rethink and regroup, and for the workers ourselves to pivot.

Even if that were the case, does PM not have any other important things to say? Why does he think those three topics are that important for him to talk about at length during NDR?

Because they are things that we need to start doing now in order to reap benefits years, or even decades later.

Planning for the future is also very important

Take the point about developing preschools. It could take years before we can attract and train better quality preschool teachers. That means that it could take years before we can dramatically raise the standards of preschools. And it’ll be years after that before the children who would benefit from the higher quality teachers and higher standards of preschools start contributing to Singapore.

In other words, it will take a long time before we see any rewards from the investments in developing preschools. But, as PM Lee said, it’s vital that we do this. It is the key to fostering social mobility, and sustaining a fair and just society.

Like what Iseas-Yusof Ishak research fellow Mustafa Izzuddin said, “These are not the traditional type of concerns, and don’t get quite as much attention as hard issues. But they are just as important.”

So that future generations can outdo us

Actually that is the key message in this year’s NDR speech. In whatever we do, we need to build for the future, so that every generation can outdo their parents.

It’s easy for us to be caught up in the immediate challenges we face and lose sight of leaving a better Singapore for our children, our children’s children. So we have to be mindful and guard against short term gains at the expense of long term benefits.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with (from left) nine-year-old Adam Zafran Aziz, Mr Ahmad Azali, 79, and Mr Aziz Ahmad, 42. Mr Lee said: “This is the Singapore of the last half century: Ahmad, a gardener; Aziz, a pharmaceutical engineer; and Adam, (with) a bright future ahead of him.” Source: Ministry of Communications and Information

Here’s to #SG100!

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