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Commentary: How NDR 2023 speaks to Singaporeans' needs and concerns with an eye to the future

Assurance stood out as the overarching theme of this year’s National Day Rally (NDR).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his National Day Rally speech at ITE College Central on Aug 20, 2023.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his National Day Rally speech at ITE College Central on Aug 20, 2023.

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Assurance stood out as the overarching theme of this year’s National Day Rally (NDR).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong began his English language speech by referencing international and domestic challenges buffeting Singapore: the United States-China rivalry, the war in Europe, a fraying global economic order and elevated inflation. 

This set the stage for a rally that centred on providing assurance to Singaporeans contending with economic uncertainty and rising living costs.

Beyond the rally’s focus on financial needs and housing, PM Lee also sought to reassure the nation that Singapore’s political leadership succession is on track, and that the People’s Action Party Government would continue to uphold integrity and incorruptibility as the cornerstone of governance.

Amid a larger role for the state in social support, his speech underscored the continuing importance of personal responsibility and mutual help within the community.

Recollections of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, apposite to the centenary of Mr Lee’s birth, drew attention to areas that remain as important today as they were in the past. These include the commitment to housing affordability and clean government. 

At the same time, changing circumstances require policies, such as the public housing framework, to be updated.

Finding the right balance between state and individual responsibility, and between continuity and change, will be critical to secure Singapore’s future.  


In content and focus, this year’s rally was particularly attuned to the needs and concerns of citizens. 

Measures announced touched on each of the dimensions of social security: Retirement and healthcare adequacy, housing affordability and temporary financial support for the unemployed, in addition to continued help with living costs.

The centrepiece of NDR 2023 was a new Majulah package tailored for “young seniors” in their 50s and early 60s, comprising an “Earn and Save Bonus”, a Retirement Savings Bonus as well as a MediSave Bonus. 

The creation of this S$7 billion package recognises that this group of Singaporeans, while better off than older seniors, have generally earned less over their lifetimes compared with younger Singaporeans, and had a shorter runway to benefit from Central Provident Fund enhancements to build up their retirement savings.  

The Earn and Save Bonus incentivises seniors to continue working if they can, while the one-time Retirement Savings Bonus will benefit those with shortfalls in their retirement savings, including homemakers. 

The MediSave Bonus provides a further boost for healthcare assurance. Notably, these benefits will also cover older seniors in the Pioneer and Merdeka generations.

Social support will be further shored up via enhancements to Workfare, Silver Support and the Matched Retirement Savings scheme. 

In addition, the Government will be introducing temporary financial support for the unemployed, with details to be disclosed as part of the Forward Singapore plans. 

Singaporeans can also look forward to further cost of living support, including potential enhancements to the Assurance Package to offset the impact of the upcoming Goods and Services Tax increase.


The strengthening of social support reflects the new realities and pressures faced by households and workers, but the Government’s emphasis on individual self-responsibility and community help remains.

Personal effort is the quid pro quo of government support. 

PM Lee, in elaborating on temporary financial support for the unemployed, said that “so long as you’re willing to make the effort, the Government will go the extra mile to help you”.

Individual responsibility also extends to healthcare, with seniors expected to play their part in taking care of their health. Under Healthier SG, a national initiative promoting active living and preventive healthcare, they will receive support from family doctors and community partners.

PM Lee noted the contribution of senior volunteers who help fellow seniors by cooking or delivering meals, underscoring the importance of mutual help within the community.

Community is in fact a key prong in Singapore’s integrated approach towards successful ageing as staying engaged and socially active is critical to seniors’ mental well-being. 

Here is where the Active Ageing Centres highlighted by PM Lee can make a difference, by facilitating social interaction through activities, communal meals and volunteerism.

Social networks are the “heartware” that complement investment in infrastructure or “hardware” as Singapore gears up to enter the ranks of “super-aged” societies.


In recalling the motivation for Singapore’s public housing programme in the 1960s, PM Lee highlighted the centrality of housing to the Singapore Story and national identity.

While the Government’s commitment to affordable, accessible public housing remains, the housing framework needs updating. 

The prevailing distinction between mature and non-mature Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates has become less relevant as most non-mature estates now have well-developed infrastructure and amenities.

The new framework of “Prime”, “Plus” and “Standard” flats allows for greater differentiation in the pricing and resale conditions depending on flat location and demand, with the threefold aim of maintaining affordability, achieving a good social mix and upholding fairness.

The Government continues to position HDB flats both as homes as well as assets with the potential for appreciation.

However, the latest move places emphasis on keeping homes affordable, even in choice locations, by trading off resale flexibility for lower purchase prices.

Placing greater restrictions on resale allows the HDB to increase subsidies for new flats in choicer locations (“Plus” projects), making them more accessible to lower-income households to achieve a good social mix. 

Limiting the windfall gains for those who successfully ballot for “Plus” flats is important for fairness, with the added benefit of ameliorating excessive demand for such flats.

The new framework will also give singles more housing choices. They will be allowed to purchase two-room Flexi flats in any estate, instead of being limited to flats in non-mature, non-prime estates under the current framework. 


Political renewal, too, will be marked by change and continuity. PM Lee affirmed that Singapore’s leadership succession was back on track, with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and his fourth-generation team stepping up to helm. 

At the same time, Mr Lee signalled a steadfast commitment to Singapore’s founding values and ideals, particularly that of a clean and honest government.

The challenge for the 4G team, as it takes stock of public feedback from Forward SG, will be to decide how best to take the nation forward amid the many changes to the Singaporean polity and external environment.

Whether in public housing or other domains, long-held policy paradigms and assumptions must be revisited. 

Among the panoply of policies that have served Singapore well to date, the question is which should be retained and reinforced, and which are in need of revamping.

It will take courage and discernment to build on the past while innovating for the future. 

Strong partnerships among government, citizens and stakeholders — founded on mutual trust — will be necessary to create the “better home” and “brighter future” envisaged for all Singaporeans.


Terence Ho is an Associate Professor in Practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the author of Governing Well: Reflections on Singapore and Beyond (World Scientific, 2023).

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National Day Rally 2023 NDR2023 PM Lee

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