Singapore’s best days are yet to come

AUGUST 12 — Singapore’s birthday rolled round again. On August 9, the island-nation celebrated 53 years of independence.

Not a particularly “big” birthday but this year we find ourselves confronting some big questions.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed some of these during his National Day speech — citing global trade disputes and relations with a politically transformed Malaysia as key challenges. 

However, the nation’s leader devoted special attention to another key challenge — ageing.

For though our country may be 53 years old, many of its citizens are much older. 

Over 12 per cent of the population or around one in eight Singaporean is aged over 65. The elderly population is also set to rise exponentially over the next few years as low birth rates and a cohort of ageing middle-aged workers begin to skew our population pyramid.

By 2025, around 20 per cent of citizens is expected to be aged over 65. Meanwhile, the ratio of working age people to the elderly is expected to deteriorate with just three working-age Singaporeans to every senior citizen by 2025. 

The implications of this demographic shift are enormous. Our economy will have to cope with a shrinking and ageing workforce, our health system will have to care for hundreds of thousands of elderly people while the nation’s physical infrastructure will have to change to support the transport and housing requirements of a silver generation. 

Given the scale of the demographic challenge Singapore is set to face, it was fitting that PM Lee gave his National Day address from Kampung Admiralty, a purpose-built public housing facility for the elderly. 

Both the flats and the amenities in the development have been built with senior citizens in mind. There are slip-resistant tiles and railings as well as extensive healthcare facilities. 

Access to play and learning areas encourage interaction with grandchildren, allowing seniors to play an active role in education and childcare. 

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives for the National Day parade along Marina Bay in Singapore August 9, 2018. — Reuters pic
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives for the National Day parade along Marina Bay in Singapore August 9, 2018. — Reuters pic

The whole environment is pleasant, community-focused and active — literally drawing from the kampung heritage of the past.

While it’s not a huge visible transformation like the Marina Bay Sands or Terminal 4, Kampung Admirality is the sort of small but thorough step Singapore is famous for.

Creating communities for the elderly is vital to ensuring the future of this nation. However, at this point in our development we also have to ask ourselves whether the small steps alone are enough.

The world beyond our shores is changing fast. Over the last few decades, Singapore seems to have changed less rapidly that in the past.

During my childhood, I remember seeing neighbourhoods and skylines transformed in the space of years but today the pace of change appears to be a bit slower.

Of course economic growth has been more modest over the last five years and in some ways slow change may not be a bad thing.

It gives us time to consolidate. Also of course we are now measuring change against a different base — our national living standards and wealth are now so high that radical improvements are hard to achieve.

We are among the wealthiest nations on earth but that isn’t to say we don't have problems. Our key challenges relate to how we maintain our advantages, further strengthen our national identity and translate our wealth to a higher quality of life for a larger swathe of the population.

To answer these challenges, small steps may not be enough but as our PM said, “Singapore’s best days are yet to come!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.