Trust is the 'decisive difference' in S'pore's response to Covid-19, says PM Lee at PAP convention

SINGAPORE – Trust between Singaporeans and the People’s Action Party (PAP) government, as well as among the population, forms the decisive difference in Singapore’s response to the pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 28).

Covid-19 has been a searching test of public trust for societies all around the world, he said in a speech at the annual PAP convention.

Singapore cannot claim to have better doctors and scientists or better healthcare than the United States or Europe.

But “the decisive difference in our response is this: We trust one another. Therefore we work with one another, and not against one another”, he said.

Singapore is and must always be a “high-trust” society, PM Lee – who is PAP secretary-general – told party members and activists at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“We have kept faith with one another; we must always do so. That is the way to weather not just Covid-19, but also future storms that will come our way,” he said.

But a cohesive society takes decades to build and has to be built up long before any crisis, and having the public’s trust is something the PAP government is grateful for, he added.

This is why even as political leaders strive to do the right thing, they must continue nurturing people’s trust – by dealing with problems competently, being open and transparent, and communicating clearly, as well as leading by example, said PM Lee.

In his speech, PM Lee said one big reason why Singapore’s measures against Covid-19 are working is that Singaporeans trust the PAP government.

This includes how people will receive proper medical treatment if they are infected and how affected workers and businesses will be taken care of should the need to lock down arise.

People also trust that supermarkets will be stocked, and essential services not disrupted.

“Singaporeans have this confidence because for 60 years now, we have had consistent, functioning, good PAP government. They know the PAP will never give up in a crisis; we won’t buckle, we will always have your back,” he said.

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As a result, Singaporeans patiently complied with burdensome safe management measures and repeated rounds of tightening and easing, said PM Lee.

When vaccines became available, people also came forward to receive their shots without hesitation, he said, and the country’s vaccination programme has been very successful.

Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 87 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, he noted.

This was not just because the vaccination campaign was well-organised, or that vaccinations were free, but also because people trusted the government and the healthcare system, and accepted the advice to get jabbed to protect themselves and their loved ones, he said.

The situation elsewhere is often quite different, said PM Lee, with some countries having great difficulty vaccinating their whole population.

Europe is now facing a fourth wave of infections, and a significant minority of people refuse to get vaccinated despite vaccines being readily available.

“Many of them are anti-vaxxers not just because they are misguided or ignorant, but also because of deep distrust – distrust of authority in general and of their governments in particular,” he said.

There is also a problem in the United States, with attitudes towards vaccination split sharply along partisan political lines – Democrats and Republicans.

“These political divisions and social distrust have made it harder for the US and many European countries to bring Covid-19 under control,” he said.

Singapore is fortunate not to have such divisions in its society, but it did not become a cohesive and trusting society overnight, he said.

“When a crisis strikes, if the trust is not already there, then it is already too late.

“I am very grateful that the PAP government enjoys the public’s trust, built up over years of working closely with Singaporeans. We’ve been delivering faithfully on promises, consistently producing results for people – housing, healthcare, education, well-paying jobs, better lives.

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“We have shown year in, year out, in good times and bad, in crisis after crisis, that the PAP will always be there, for you, for Singapore,” said PM Lee.

During this crisis, the Government has needed to draw on this reservoir of trust. “We faced many urgent and difficult decisions that impact lives and livelihoods,” he said.

These include whether to impose a circuit breaker, and whether to close schools, to let patients with mild symptoms recover at home, to allow dining at food outlets and to open up borders.

“In an ideal world, we would have all the relevant information, we can decide and then what we decide will work, and things will unfold as we expected, and everyone can be kept happy.”

But in the real world, uncertainties, surprises and trade-offs are unavoidable, he said. “Whatever we decide, however hard we try to get it right and to cushion the impact, more often than not, some group will be affected or disappointed.”

Yet the Government must still exercise its judgment to the best of its ability and carry Singaporeans along.

“As I told the ministers: In a crisis, as leaders, we cannot afford to waver. It is not the time to worry about being popular, or looking good. You have been elected for one purpose, and you have to focus on your duty – to make the right decision, keep Singapore safe, and see Singapore and Singaporeans through this crisis.

“Concentrate on that, get the job done. That’s why Singaporeans elected us, and that is our sacred trust.”

Other than dealing competently with the problems, nurturing people’s trust also means communicating well, he said.

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National broadcasts are held to speak to people directly, so they can feel whether the government knows what it is doing, he said. This is also for them to be psychologically prepared for what is to come.

“We have to be open and transparent to share what we know, and admit what we do not know. We have to announce bad news as well as good news. Report what has gone right, but also… acknowledge what has gone wrong and will be put right,” he said.

Nurturing trust also means to lead by example, said PM Lee. The same rules apply to everybody – safe distancing, mask wearing, testing and isolation requirements, and minister or MP, community leader or safe distancing ambassador must all follow them.

Things have gone wrong elsewhere when leaders abuse their positions, as it undermines public trust, demolishes the credibility and standing of the government, with the harm done going way beyond Covid-19, he said.

“Never, never take advantage and misuse your position of authority and leadership,” he urged.

Singaporeans must also trust one another as citizens. Rules and penalties are necessary, but not enough, he said.

Everyone should exercise personal and social responsibility, he said, such as maintaining good personal hygiene in public places, exercising discretion and care when participating in higher-risk activities, and complying with safe management measures.

Singaporeans have to trust one another to abide by the spirit of the rules even when no one is checking, he said.

This includes truthfully declaring test results before leaving home if one is under an isolation protocol, so that there is no need for the government to seal every last loophole.

“We must trust our collective spirit as one people, looking out for one another, supporting those in greater need, and staying united in a crisis.”


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