In his New Year message for 2019, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has highlighted anticipated growth in the range of 1.5-3.5% this year, in the backdrop of "major uncertainties in the global economy, with growing trade conflicts, nervous financial markets and signs of slowing growth".

In comparison, the economy grew steadily at 3.3% in 2018.

The other major points covered in his speech are listed below.

Succession and leadership planning

After Parliament re-opened in May after a Cabinet reshuffle, PM Lee talked about the appointment of Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat as the first assistant secretary-general of the People's Action Party, supported by Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing to be his deputy.

On the topic of leadership development, PM Lee said: "The younger political office holders are being exposed to different responsibilities, and are working together as a team."

"The older Ministers and I will do our utmost to help the new team take over the reins from us, and to succeed in their responsibility to lead Singapore and secure its future."

He urged Singaporeans to play a vital part in this succession, by working with the younger political leaders and stay united to strengthen the social compact.

Healthcare, transport and education initiatives

PM Lee pointed to signs of stress in societies globally, such as the gilet jaunes ("yellow vests") protests in France, unhappiness over Brexit in the UK, or the loss of support for moderate political leaders in the US and in Germany. On this, he said while Singapore is exposed to similar pressures, it has coped better than many other countries.

"The economy has grown, unemployment remains low, and incomes have risen across the board. We have created good jobs, and prepared people for them through education and SkillsFuture," he cited.

He added: "We are improving healthcare and education, housing and public transport. We are keeping quality healthcare affordable and accessible, and building more polyclinics and hospitals island wide."

On the healthcare front, he spoke about Sengkang General and Community Hospitals as the most recent institution to start taking patients in August. Improvements are anticipated to the Community Health Assist Scheme and CareShield Life to support those with chronic conditions and disabilities. Further, the Merdeka Generation born in the 1950s will receive their healthcare benefits package.

As for education, PM Lee said efforts are on to reduce the focus on examinations and academic grades, and emphasising holistic development instead. "We are investing heavily in preschools, raising the quality of teachers through the new National Institute of Early Childhood Development, and building more preschool centres to give our young a good start in life," he explained.

Finally, on the public transport system, he noted that new trains for the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line have been delivered, in time for the opening of TEL Stage 1 in Woodlands in 2019. Meanwhile, work on the Tuas MegaPort and Changi Airport Terminal 5 continues apace; and the Jewel will open in 2019.

In closing, PM Lee affirmed: "Despite the uncertain external environment and economic outlook, we are entering our Bicentennial Year with renewed vigour and purpose. We are ready to tackle the challenges ahead and make further progress in building a secure, harmonious, and prosperous nation."

Photo / MCI Photo by Betty Chua on PM Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page