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Fellow Singaporeans, good evening.
1. Our economy has shaken off the recession and it is now booming. In the first half, our GDP grew by 18 per cent year on year, one-eight. Lots of jobs have been created, unemployment has gone down, Singaporeans can look forward to higher wages and good bonuses. Last year, Singaporeans were very worried about the future, but we have come through the crisis much better and much faster than we expected. Everyone contributed, the unions, the workers, employers and the Government as well did a little bit. So, thank you all for a job well done. While we have come through, we should not forget what has happened. We better learn some lessons from how we managed the downturn because despite all our preparations and precautions, sometime, somewhere, something will happen again and there will be future crises and we should be ready for them.
2. The NTUC attends the International Labour Organisation meeting in Geneva every year in June, ILO -- many unionists have been -- and this year, the ILO invited NTUC to share with the other delegates how Singapore coped with the downturn and rebounded so quickly and their presentation, talking about Jobs Credit, on the training programmes, on the resilience package and so on, generated a lot of interest. The delegates wanted to know, first, how did we pay for it without having to borrow money and secondly, how did we build the trust and confidence amongst all the key parties, the unions, the employers, the Government. In fact, these two questions point to the root of our advantage and competitiveness.
3. First of all, we built up reserves for a rainy day. So, when the rain came, we could fund our programmes, SPUR and so on, drawing on these reserves with the President’s permission, but without needing to borrow, unlike the Europeans, unlike the Americans, unlike the Japanese, all of which have run up huge deficits, continue to run big deficits and now face very serious problems. Secondly, we built up our trust over a long period through many shared trials and each time there was a crisis, we worked together and we became more confident in each other. Therefore in this crisis, the workers could accept the sacrifices which were necessary because they were confident that the employers would play their part and both sides were confident and trusted the Government to do the right thing and to take measures which would work. Together, the tripartite partners pulled Singapore through.
4. The NTUC is often asked to explain why and how Singapore works - the Singapore way - to other countries because other people can see how our system works. They want to understand it, they may be able to understand it, but then they want to be able to do it and that’s not so easy. NTUC once invited a delegation to Singapore from one of our neigbouring countries. We had some Singapore Inc projects there and we wanted to bring their unions onboard. We explained to them how we did it and at the end of the visit, the unionists told NTUC, “the day my government behaves like the Singapore Government, that is the day my union will behave like the NTUC”. So I think that will take some time.
5. For this year, our growth forecast is 13 to 15 per cent. It is very, very good, but we cannot expect to grow like this for the long term. And also, if you see this growth in perspective over a longer timeframe, it is not quite so spectacular as all that. Let us just take three years, 2008, 2009, 2010. 2008, we were +1 per cent, 2009 we were
-1 per cent, 2010, if we are lucky, +15 per cent. +1, -1, +15 is +15. Divided by three to average it out, that means on average we have made over the last three years five per cent growth. It is not bad, but it is not spectacular as what we thought and it is a realistic target of what we can sustain. So for the next ten years, if we can make three to five per cent growth on average every year, I think we are doing well. Therefore, please be careful with wage expectations and have wage flexibility and bonuses, but remember tomorrow it may rain again.
6. We have to keep growing to generate resources to upgrade our city and improve our lives and to enable each Singaporean to have a secure job, afford a good standard of living and get a good future for his children. Therefore, we need to raise productivity. That is not just a matter for workers working harder. In fact, it is not a matter of working harder, it is working smarter. But workers have to make the effort, employers have to make the effort and the Government also must be productive.
7. Let me give you some examples of what I mean by productivity. First at the worker level, it means upgrading knowledge, skills, doing wider range of jobs, becoming more valuable to your firms. I give you one concrete example -- Mr Tong Shiang Wee, who is working for a company called Cameron, which makes equipment for the oil and gas industry. He is now in his late 40s. He joined the firm when he was 21 years old with no school qualifications, started at the bottom as a trainee fitter, because it is an oil and gas company, so you are working with oil field equipment. But his attitude was “must try, no harm trying”. Over the years, he kept learning on the job, attended courses to upgrade himself and today, his job title is Manufacturing Specialist and he oversees 70 technicians and four production supervisors. And that is what job upgrading and job enlargement means, from doing your own work to being able to watch over many other people’s work and making sure that many other people are productive, too.
8. Secondly, employers also play a key role because for the worker to be productive. The employer must create the right business environment, must find the right business opportunities and then they can develop expertise in this business, create value and grow a competitive and profitable business which can hire productive workers. I give you one example, our shipyards, Keppel and SembCorp Marine. They have developed deep specialist knowledge and skills in their business, which is to make jack-up oil drilling platforms. Two of them are the market leaders in the world and together, they produce 70 per cent of all the jack-up oil rigs in the world. These are oil rigs which go and drill for oil in very deep waters.
9. Recently, you might have read of a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Deepwater Horizon, owned by BP, exploded, sank, caused a major disaster in the sea and all along the Gulf Coast. Millions of barrels of oil were spilled. I was in Houston recently, which is near where the spill happened, and I met a Keppel executive there. He was overseeing their plant in Texas at Brownsville. So I asked him -- Did we build that oil rig which exploded? He said, “No, but we built the rig from which they are mounting their rescue operations”. That is a very interesting story and let me try and explain to you. (This is not a class, but just trying to make myself clear.) Deepwater Horizon used to be here, drilling for oil here, 18,000 feet below the surface of the sea. It exploded, it was a mishap, sank, oil poured out. The platform from which they were mounting rescue operations, sending in submersibles, trying to close it off and doing all the complicated things, Q4000, was made by Keppel. But there are two other platforms in this picture. They are drilling two relief wells from here and from here to try and join up with the bore hole deep under the sea so as to do a “bottom kill” to seal it off with concrete. You imagine you have got to go all the way down and drill through 18,000 feet and find this right spot and join up just there.
10. Why am I explaining this to you? Because this one is built by Keppel and this one is built by SembCorp. Let me show you, Q4000, this is the rescue platform and in the background, you can see DDIII, which is also the Keppel one, it is called Development Driller III, and on the other side, you can see the DDII, the white one. Not bad for a country which has no oil. But we are there and therefore the two companies pay good bonuses in good years. I hear a rumour that last year, they got nine months and we get something too because several hundred million dollars of taxes to the Government. That is productivity.
11. My third example of productivity you may not expect, though many of you will be familiar with it. It is from the public sector because the Government also must do the right thing and make sure that it spends money wisely, it spends time wisely, it uses its resources well and gets results. It is harder to measure government outcomes because it is not always in dollars and cents, but it is still important for us to seek out efficiency gains and to do the best we can. I give you an example which all the men here should know about - IPPT for NSmen. It used to be a very manual process - PTIs, stopwatches, clipboards, pieces of paper, queuing up, waiting, hurry up and wait. But now it is a highly automated process. If you go to one of these IPPT centres and you do your chin-ups or sit-ups, they have got sensors to count the number of chin-ups and sit-ups you complete. So you do not have to argue with the PTI. Then when you run 2.4 km, you carry an RFID in your number tag. It is like what you do when you run a marathon and automatically your time is logged. When you cross the finish line, they know. You get good service too because with this RFID, the NSmen can go and check their scores and their status at the computer. There you are, he has got his number, the ID is inside here and he can see his results any time. Result - save manpower. Result - NSmen’s time saved and result - also a sense of purpose and efficiency because then the NSmen can feel that I am going there, I am achieving something, I have done it, I am off, no slacking around, no standing around and waiting. That is what all government departments must learn to do.
12. Productivity has to be the responsibility of all of us, to keep learning and upgrading, to increase our value and contribution and that is the way Singapore can stay ahead of the competition. Our firms can do well and all of us can improve our lives.
13. This year, with the booming economy, we will definitely need more foreign workers so that we can create more jobs in Singapore. A few months ago, I mentioned to the press that we could need more than 100,000 foreign workers more this year. There was a big ooh which you could almost hear. Well, since then, we have recalculated. Maybe, we will get by with a few less, perhaps 80,000 workers. But I said this to highlight the trade-off which we face and which we cannot avoid. You want higher growth which will benefit our workers, that also means accepting more foreign workers to come and work in Singapore. You choke off the foreign workers, the economy is stifled, growth is not there, our workers will suffer.
14. This is a very hot topic in Singapore, foreign workers and also immigration and we have held many dialogue sessions with the grassroots, with the residents and I think that Singaporeans understand logically, if you argue it out with them - why we need foreign workers, why we need this immigration. But they are still concerned about competition for jobs, about crowding, competing for houses or for transport on MRT and deeper things, like the character of our society. And, of course, there is the psychological aspect too, the sense that they want to be valued, make sure that Singaporeans are more valued than foreigners. These concerns come through many other channels as well. We talk to the union leaders, they will reflect some of them. You read in the newspapers’ columns, the letters which are written, sometimes this shows up. When we build workers’ dormitories, we have to be very careful. We remember the sensitivities which can be aroused. Serangoon Gardens two years ago got very upset because things were not explained well enough. I understand these sentiments because these are legitimate concerns which we take seriously. We do not brush them aside, but we have to weigh them against the plus side of having the foreign workers and immigrants -- why it is necessary for us to let in a controlled inflow so that we can derive benefits from it. Tonight I cannot solve the whole problem, I cannot explain all aspects of this problem, but I will try and explain why staying open is going to benefit us -- meaning all Singaporeans -- and when there are problems, what we can do to address these problems.
15. We are not the only country grappling with this issue where citizens are queasy about foreign workers and immigration. There are many countries which host significant foreign or immigrant populations. People are coming into contact, mingling, who did not use to mingle. There are frictions, insecurity and political pressures which build up. So the issue has become hot in many countries, even in Japan which has very few foreigners, in Australia, in Britain, in France, in Germany, Netherlands, even Switzerland, even the US.
16. The US is one of the most open societies in the world. They build themselves on immigrants, but Americans have also grown uncomfortable with the influx and especially of illegal immigrants, people who are there informally, working, no papers, but if they all leave, America is in trouble.
17. In Houston, in Texas where I was, the greater metropolitan area has five million population, about the size of Singapore, and many immigrants which contribute to a vibrant city. They have about a quarter-million Chinese immigrants, maybe the same number of Indian immigrants, and Latins. It is a lively city and at the leading edge for medicine and research. The Texas Medical Centre is one of the largest centres which is doing research and advanced treatment in the world, cancer, R&D, all sorts of things, 49 hospitals, universities, research centres, all clustered around Houston, full of foreign researchers. In every lab, one of the researchers told me, somewhere you will find somebody from the PRC and I am sure there will be somebody from India and others too. But they are there, they are making it happen.
18. I met business and city leaders in Houston and they said that the Texas political leaders had shown courage, keeping the state open to immigrants and whenever neighbouring states like California or Arizona clamped down and tightened up, pushed out the immigrants, Texas would collect some of the good ones and would benefit. It does not mean that Texas does not face problems because of this, but overall, because they have stayed open, it has been a plus for them and they hope that Texas would continue to stay open.
19. I also met Bill Gates of Microsoft on the trip. Microsoft is an IT company, you will know about it, the kind of business which we want to be as Singapore, knowledge- intensive, innovation-intensive, depending on talent and looking to the future. I asked Bill Gates, where do you do your research? And he told me, I will show you the map. I will just show you the dots and if you study the map, you will find very interesting where they have gone to do research. They have research centres in America because Microsoft is an American company. They have research centres elsewhere in the world because you have to tap talent everywhere. Where are they in America? Redmond, Washington state, up in the northwest. Why? Because the Microsoft headquarters is there and it is a good place to live. Where else are they? Down in Silicon Valley where the brainpower is, lots of IT talent, lots of Indians and Chinese and others, they have gone tracing them. They are in Cambridge in New England. That is where Harvard and MIT and other universities are, like Princeton.
20. Overseas, where are they? Cambridge, England, because of the University of Cambridge. Bangalore, India, because of the IT companies and the Indian IT talent. And we are there too, JTC has built a techpark for the IT business here in Bangalore. And in Beijing, because they have got Tsinghua, they have got Beijing Daxue and they have all the talent from China in Beijing. So they go where the talent is, but there is one more interesting point about this slide. If you zoom in carefully on Redmond, you will find that it is two spots. One, on the American side of the border in Redmond, the other one on the Canadian side of the border in Vancouver. Why are they in Vancouver? Because the Americans restrict visas for professionals. So, when Microsoft wants to bring in IT talent to Redmond, they cannot get enough H1B Visas, which is what professionals need to work in America. So, instead, they go to Canada because Canada welcomes these skilled workers with open arms, and if the person has a C$100,000 job offer, which is about US$100,000, then practically stapled to that job offer is an offer of a Canadian Green Card. So because of the difference in policies, America has lost out, Canada has gained.
21. Bill Gates told me that globally, one-third of the researchers are Chinese in Microsoft, one-third of the researchers are Indian. Recently, he attended a presentation of awards to 12 top Microsoft employees, those who had the top confidential report staff assessment rankings. Out of the 12 names, he could only pronounce one -- Chris Jones -- without help. All the others were foreign-born and many of them were Asian. So, what is the lesson for us? That immigration and foreign talent are difficult issues everywhere. They pose very real political problems and social problems, but if we can manage these political and social challenges, then the benefits to us are substantial.
22. Let me sketch you briefly why it is important for us to stay open. First, because we need talent, we need to gain talent. It makes a tremendous difference to us doing critical work in our economy, helping Singapore to become an outstanding city. We have very good people, but never enough and, therefore, we need to draw from all over the world to supplement our local pool. You take professionals, for example, architects. There are lots of talented young architects in Singapore. Recently, URA held an exhibition, “20 Under 45”, and they published a little book showcasing the outstanding works by 20 young architects below 45-years-old. The majority of the architects are native Singaporeans although quite a few are foreign-born and the foreign-born ones include the two architects who built the Pinnacle, a husband and wife team. The husband, Mr Khoo Peng Beng, is from Ipoh, now a PR. The wife, Belinda Huang, is from Selangor, now a Singapore citizen. They won a design competition to build on the Duxton Plains site and the result is one of the most- sought-after HDB projects in Singapore. In fact, we do not have enough Pinnacles and so many voters and residents want us to build some more. For the local architect, you might consider this foreign competition, too fierce, unfair, but for Singaporeans and especially for the residents of the Pinnacle, we benefit, we get a better living environment, we get a more beautiful city. And I think even our own architects benefit because from the competition, from that stimulus, we will do better and we will produce better works too.
23. Take sports talent as another example. We are grooming our own. Our young sportsmen have done very well in the YOG, the young Olympians, and in some sports we are near the top in the world rankings like sailing or bowling. This is Jasmine who is the women’s champion two years ago and last year was our Sportswoman of the Year. But in other sports, we still need to draw on new citizens, like table tennis. We are very proud of Isabelle who won a Silver medal in the YOG. But we have too few Isabelles and so we have topped up and our women’s team has done very well. They won the Silver at the Beijing Olympics. Here, you see them receiving their medals. In Moscow, at the World Team Table Tennis Championships, they beat China to win the Gold medal and here you see Feng Tianwei celebrating. Our team players may not have been born here. I do not think they speak good Singlish, but they have chosen this place to be their home. They are playing for Singapore, flying the flag for Singapore and when they win the band plays Majulah Singapura. So, we should cheer for them, just as we cheer for all of our national sportsmen. So that is the first reason for talking about, for needing this, talent is critical to us.
24. The second reason is we need reinforcements to grow our economy and create better jobs for Singaporeans. The foreign workers supplement our ranks and enable us to build successful companies. You take Keppel and SembCorp again. They are world-beaters. Together, they employ 20,000 people in Singapore of whom 5,000 are Singaporeans. The other 15,000 are foreign workers, professionals. Without the foreign workers, the Singaporean jobs would not exist. Of course, the converse is true too. Without the Singaporean brains working the system and bringing the foreign workers together and organizing them, the foreign worker jobs would not exist either. So they are complementary to each other. The shipyards employ foreign workers and professionals from many countries all over the world. You just take a look at some of the flags where the countries are. Asia, you would not be surprised, Europe you would not be surprised, but also Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Chile. Because they come from all over the world, they bring a wide range of skills and experiences, knowledge about different countries, different markets and, therefore Keppel and SembCorp have become world-beaters and it is good for us.
25. The final reason we need immigrants is to make up for our shortfall in babies. Our efforts to produce more Singaporean babies have not yielded results, not yet. Two years ago, I made a long speech in the NDR about new measures. Last year, we produced fewer babies than in 2008. For this type of productivity, please work harder.
26. But I think we should make an important distinction between foreign workers and immigrants, immigrants meaning PRs and citizens. Foreign workers are transient. We need them to work in the factories, in the banks, hospitals, shipyards, construction projects. When the job is done, they will leave. When there are no jobs here, they will go. So temporarily, the economy is hot, I think we can accept higher numbers. For the longer term, we are pushing to raise productivity so that we can rely less on foreign workers. But meanwhile, we want to build flats, MRT lines, IRs. So, please bear with the larger numbers for the time being.
27. That’s foreign workers. Immigrants, the PRs and the citizens are far fewer. We are very careful whom we accept. Not only must they contribute to our economy but they have also got to integrate with our society and strike roots here. We have moved quite fast over the last five years. We have accepted a larger inflow of foreign workers and we have taken in more new citizens and PRs. Conditions were good, we caught the wind, we moved forward. But now I think we should consolidate, slow down the pace. We cannot continue going like this and increasing our population 100,000, 150,000 a year indefinitely and we should give Singaporeans time to adjust and our society time to settle and integrate better the newer arrivals. But we must not close ourselves up. The basic principle for us is always citizens come first and that is how our policies are designed – citizens before PRs, PRs before other foreigners and non-residents. Last year, we reviewed the policies, we changed the subsidies to make this distinction sharper. So, education fees, healthcare subsidies, housing subsidies, all adjusted so that it is quite clear that the Singaporeans get the best deal. But not everything is reduced to subsidies and dollars. There are other less tangible issues too which I will also talk about, not to dismiss them, but then explain how we can manage the problems and enjoy the benefits of the inflow by limiting the downside.
28. First of all, competition from foreigners. I think many Singaporeans accept the economic logic that the economy needs these foreigners, but they fear the impact on them. What if the foreigner takes my job? What if my own wages get pushed down? I understand this, I empathise, and in fact, we take measures to help to protect Singaporeans. For example, as I explained in Chinese just now, we do not allow the foreigners to come in uncontrolled because otherwise we will be swamped. We restrict the foreign workers through dependency ratios, through the foreign worker levies so that when you hire a foreigner, the employer pays an extra foreign worker levy to discourage him from hiring a foreigner and look for a Singaporean instead. The levies are going up, they are going to go up further and I think they have to go up further beyond that in the longer term or maybe in the not-so-long term. I think some employers may feel the pinch, but it is necessary because we need to manage the inflow and not have an indefinite number.
29. On the other side, we have Workfare which helps low-income Singaporeans so that when they work, they get a top-up to their wage from the Government and that makes it more worth their while to work and improves what they receive and overall they end up better off compared to the foreigner who gets no Workfare. This year we are going to spend $400 million on Workfare, giving it to 400,000 Singaporeans. That is a lot of money and I think it is a lot of help to our lower-income group. But the protection can only go so far. If you lack the skills or you are not competitive, then it does not matter how high the foreign worker levy is, or how generous the Workfare is, the jobs are still going to go elsewhere. Just like Vancouver could take jobs from Redmond, so too many countries can take jobs from Singapore and we have to understand that.
30. I have discussed this question with the union leaders regularly and they understand the logic. They were more worried a few years ago when the flows were growing and they were not sure of the impact on Singapore workers. But now, their members are quite convinced that their companies benefit from being able to hire foreign workers and the union leaders say, yes, it is not an issue with my workers because they understand that the foreigners and the Singaporeans complement each other. And at the firm level, within each of the companies, the foreigners and the Singaporean workers work well together. They gave me this rather nice example of workers in one hotel at the housekeeping department, with employees, both locals and foreign workers. The locals are the “aunties”, the more experienced ones and the foreign workers are the younger ones. And the “aunties” treat the foreign workers like their own daughters or nieces. When they arrive in Singapore, they help to orientate them, even help them to cook or unpack or pack their food for them and the heavier, physical tasks, like turning over mattresses, younger foreign workers will be able to do and between the two, they have worked out a good working relationship and become firm friends, so much so that when one of the foreign workers applied for PR, the supervisor and the union rep both asked the management to assist in the PR application. I am not sure whether she succeeded, but it shows that the unions and the employers and the workers are getting on well, which I think is very important.
31. The second worry of Singaporeans is whether the new arrivals will integrate into our society. Will they identify with Singapore? Will they grow roots here? After all, they speak and dress differently, their social norms are different and they may speak no English or very little English. So it is harder to fit in and communicate, particularly with the non-Chinese. We encourage the immigrants to learn English. Our community centres will offer basic English courses and I think if they will come and pick up a few words, this proficiency will help them to integrate and therefore become more ready for permanent residence or citizenship later on should they apply for it. But more important, beyond language or social graces, the immigrants have to get along with the different communities here, different races here and adopt our egalitarian norms. This is a multiracial society. Our Chinese are used to getting along with Malays and Indians. Our Indians are used to getting along with Malays and with Chinese. The immigrant Chinese who come, the immigrant Indians who come may not be used to this and it takes some time for them to adjust, but they should make the effort.
32. Some of them have gotten along fine. We have foreign workers now working as bus drivers in SBS. I asked the CEO, how does it get along? And he said, well, it is not bad. Sometimes, they get flak, but sometimes it works out very well. He gave me an example of Ms Zhao Xiaodong who comes from Dalian and she is the bus captain of Service 109 from Serangoon Interchange to Changi Village, going through Pasir Ris and she is well-liked by her passengers, especially the Pasir Ris residents. At one point, she had to go away for a week. Several of the commuters wrote to SBS: they said, what has happened to our bus driver? She is polite, she is caring, she is considerate to pregnant women and the elderly. Have you transferred her to another route or maybe she has left SBS? Whatever it is, please bring her back to Service 109, which I think is where she still is. So I think at the personal level, if you can get on and the relationships can be established, that is a tremendous help.
33. Singaporeans, too, should do their part to understand and integrate in the new arrivals. We do many of these activities. Some of them are more serious activities, like bringing the immigrants here. They are at the Army Museum. This is the People’s Association doing National Education, preparing the new generation of NSmen and anxious parents behind. But some of these activities are more lighthearted, for example, this one. This is “Singapore Shiok”. It is a handbook produced by SMU, done by the students, in order to guide international students coming to Singapore and this young man is an international student studying hard in Singapore and the handbook tells them how to get along, what are all the acronyms we use, all the Singlish we use and where the favourite eating places can be so that they can settle in and become Singaporean. But individuals should also help new arrivals to ease into the community because the key to this is not just your arguments and the principles and the logic but the personal ties and the friendships.
34. On the immigrant side, I think it is very helpful if the new citizens and the PRS can also make the effort to engage Singaporeans and to give back to Singapore society and some of them are doing this. For example, in SINDA, there is Project Read which is a programme where volunteers “adopt” kids from disadvantaged homes and spend time with the kids, reading to them, mentoring them, helping them to make progress and it has benefited over 4,000 kids. The volunteers, half of them almost, are PRs and new citizens, including this one, who is Mrs Mazumdar from India who is now a Singapore citizen. So I think both sides have to make the effort. Growing roots takes time. You cannot plant an instant tree and tomorrow expect it to have taken root. It takes time, but gradually, the new arrivals will connect, identify with Singapore and finally we hope some will make the decision to commit themselves and become Singapore citizens. Now, for one new citizen family, the defining moment was when their daughters started to think of India as a place to go for holidays and Singapore as home and then loyalties shifted.
35. The third issue which Singaporeans worry about, and legitimately, is NS, tied up with loyalty and commitment. National Service is a heavy demand on male residents and I should say on their spouses and families, too. Two years full-time, then more years as ORNS men while all the time trying to build a career and raise a family. Unfortunately, it is not practical for us to make all the foreigners come to do NS. Firstly, you will not get the foreigners; secondly, it will be Dad’s Army and I would not like to be their platoon commander. But their children will serve and many PRs who came here as children, many first-generation citizens, have done NS. But even then, there is still the sense amongst Singaporeans that citizens are carrying a heavy burden. So, therefore, we do all that we can to recognize the contributions and the sacrifices of our NSmen. We have had Record committees, one after another. Each time, we have got new ideas, we have implemented them, SAFRA clubhouses. We have got allowances from the Government, we have got tax reliefs, we have got top-ups when we have growth-pegged bonuses and packages and so on.
36. Tonight, I would like to propose a new initiative, the National Service Recognition Award. What will it do? Two things. First, help with the cost of the subsequent education of NSmen and secondly, also to help them to buy a house. What is this going to be? A meaningful sum, in total, S$9,000 for soldiers, a little bit more for commanders, and we will pay this in tranches at major milestones of the NSman’s service. It will go into his Post-Secondary Education Account, it will go into his CPF account and it is a significant tangible recognition of the sacrifices and the efforts and the contributions of our National Servicemen. It is for citizens only. The PRs who do National Service, when they take citizenship later, they can get it too. I think this will be a significant token of appreciation and I do not want to go into all the details tonight. MINDEF will announce the details very soon. I hope it will be well-received.
37. Finally, there is an issue of crowding and congestion, too many people in Singapore, there is not enough space, solitude. Will we have enough facilities for Singaporeans and foreigners? Where these are practical concerns, we can also do something about them. School places, I talked about in the Chinese speech just now, we will ensure enough school and university places and we will upgrade our system so that everybody gets a good education, which I will talk about later on.
38. Transport is another area where people worry about congestion, especially on the trains. We know there is an issue here. LTA and the transport operators have been working on this problem. We have been discussing it with them and let me try and explain what the problem is, where the problem is and what we can do about it.
39. Here is a map of our MRT System. Most of the time it is working fine, the peak hours are when the crowding takes place. Peak hours morning and evening, but morning more than evening, particularly between 7.45 and 8.45 am. And the yellow, orange and red parts show you where the crowding is the most severe. The green parts are generally okay. So where is it? It is on this North-South Line coming down from Bukit Gombak to Dover and particularly here, around Jurong East, which is very, very crowded. It is along the North-East Line from Serangoon Gardens down to Dhoby Ghaut, which is crowded coming in-bound and it is along the North-South Line, coming down from Nee Soon, but particularly, this little segment between Toa Payoh and Novena. Those are where the most serious difficulties are and those are where we are doing things about it.
40. First for this segment, from Bukit Gombak to Dover, we are modifying the Jurong East Station, the work will be done by May next year. We are getting new trains. With the new trains and the new station, we will be able to run more services during peak period. I think that will help a great deal. Along the North-East Line, from next year, we will run an extra train during the peak period in the morning and that means shorter intervals, less waiting for passengers. We are also buying new trains for the North-East Line, they will take five or six years to come, but the process has started and when they come, we can increase the capacity for the North-East Line and we will be able to carry 50 per cent more passengers, which is plenty.
41. The North-South Line - the congestion is not as severe, but we expect the traffic to grow because the population in the north will grow and we must anticipate that. With the Circle Line partially complete, we have already taken some of the load off the North-South Line and next year, the Circle Line will be completed and I think that will help some more. Beyond that, we are changing the signalling system on the North-South Line and also the East-West Line so that we can run trains at shorter intervals. Instead of 120 seconds, which is two minutes, you run it at 100 seconds and that means we can run 20 per cent more trains. It will take some years to do because the trains are running all the time and we only have three or four hours every night to do this. So, please be patient, but the work is under way.
42. We are investing enormously in our rail network. In fact, over the next decade, we are going to spend S$60 billion and we are going to double the rail network, from what we have now to another three major lines coming along. First, the Downtown Line, which comes down from Bukit Timah and also from the East Coast. Secondly, the Thomson Line, which comes down from Sembawang and will ease the pressure on the North-South Line and thirdly, the Eastern Region Line which will go through Marine Parade and come down to town and ease the pressure on the East-West Line. The plans are there, we are going to build it. We have not settled all of the train stations yet, so do not buy your houses yet. But we are doing everything possible to improve matters. I hope Singaporeans will understand. Be patient. LTA has a very difficult job. SBS Transit and SMRT also have a very difficult job. The trains will always be packed during peak hours. It happens everywhere. In other cities, in fact, the crowding is even more severe, but we are trying not to get to as bad as the other cities. Please be patient. We cannot guarantee that every passenger can get onto the first train every time or even that he can get onto the second train every time. But there will be trains every couple of minutes and if you miss one, the next one will be just a few minutes away.
43. Another area where people worry about the impact of foreigners is housing. Especially this year with house prices going up sharply, people are very concerned and some Singaporeans blame it on foreigners. I have no doubt that when immigrants come and work-permit holders come, it contributes to housing demand because they must live somewhere and houses have to be built for them which we will do. But there are also other broader economic forces at work because if you look back over the last two years the number of people in Singapore have been more or less the same throughout, but two years ago, property prices were falling and they were falling last year until the middle of the year when suddenly, the mood changed and the property prices started shooting up again. And it is happening not just in Singapore; it is also happening in Hong Kong and in other cities around the region, in China and, therefore, there are other broader factors at work. But whatever it is, it is something which we are focusing our minds on.
44. We will manage immigration to make sure Singapore does not become too crowded and we can commit to you, I promise you, we will always keep HDB flats within reach of Singaporeans. That is what HDB’s mission is, that is why it exists. The flats will be affordable, the supply will be adequate. You cannot get it straightaway tomorrow, but the wait will not be too long. HDB will build more flats. This year, we built 16,000 new flats. Next year, HDB will build up to 22,000 new flats. So if you miss one BTO, do not worry, the next one is coming. Within a month, there will be another BTO and you will be able to get one before too long. There are 22,000 new flats coming along and we do not have 22,000 new couples getting married in Singapore every year.
45. Secondly, HDB will try their best to speed up the completion of these BTO flats. It takes about three years, sometimes three-and-a-half years, from the time when you book to the time when you collect your keys. HDB thinks they can bring it down a little bit. Mah Bow Tan says, do not promise, but we will try our best and I think everybody expects them to deliver their best. Thirdly, we will emphasise home ownership. We have loosened up on rules for private property owners to buy HDB resale flats over the years. I think there are quite a number of private property owners who buy HDB resale flats and then they resell them within quite a short period of time because they are allowed to within one year or two years. We have raised the period a little bit, but I think we should tighten up on rules further so that it is quite clear that HDB flats are meant primarily for owner occupation.
46. That takes care of the vast majority of the population, 80 per cent, all those who earn less than S$8,000 family income and are eligible for HDB flats. But there is a sandwiched group, those who are earning a bit more than S$8,000 but who cannot quite afford private property. We have the Executive Condos and those between S$8,000 and S$10,000 family income can presently buy Executive Condos which they will get a housing grant - S$30,000, and they arrange their own financing. But I think this group is quite anxious about falling in-between, since they are not eligible for HDB and they cannot afford private property. They are anxious and I think their parents are also very anxious because the parents say I will have to help to fork out for my kids. And because people are marrying a little bit later, so their incomes tend to be a little bit higher. So they worry that they will get promoted before they get settled. We will do more to help them own their homes. We will widen the choice which is open to this group between S$8,000 and S$10,000, beyond executive condos to allow them to buy HDB DBSS flats, Design, Build and Sell Scheme, which are quite many because every year, we have a few thousand DBSS flats, as many as we have Executive Condo flats on sale. They can buy DBSS, same terms like the Executive Condos, S$30,000 grant, arrange your own loan. And we will release more lands, so that we will build more ECs, more DBSS and there will be enough supply for this group of Singaporeans as well.
47. The third part of the property market is the private property market. We have twice acted to cool the market, once last year and once in February this year, but the prices are still rising. The cash-over-valuations are still high. I think we need to do more. I do not want to go into the details tonight. Otherwise, you will remember nothing else about my speech. Tomorrow morning, before the market opens, MND will put out a press statement and Mah Bow Tan will hold a press conference tomorrow. But our purpose is to make sure that in the long term, Singaporeans can own their homes and afford it and it will be a gradually appreciating asset which will grow as Singapore grows so that Singaporeans can benefit.
48. There are many pieces to this story of immigration and foreign workers and talent and competition and so on and we need to draw all these threads together to manage them holistically and make sure that Singaporeans benefit and the impact of these policies is well-managed. We do not have a ministry to do this, but we will set up a Population and Talent Division in the Prime Minister’s Office. It is like Public Service Division, PSD, which is also in the Prime Minister’s Office with a Permanent Secretary at the ministry level. PMO will cover it, but I will delegate this and the minister in charge of the Population and Talent Division will be Mr Wong Kan Seng and he will coordinate the work of Home Affairs, of MOM, of MTI, of MCYS and make sure that all our policies stick together and the implementation works out well and everything runs okay.
49. But finally, the success does not just depend on the government policies. It is also the personal links and relationships and how individuals fit into our society and how we accommodate and we welcome them. I give you one real example, Ms Dahlia Ho, who is currently a medical technologist at Changi General Hospital. She helps with the pathologist examining specimens. She came to Singapore from Hong Kong at the age of 14 in the mid-1990s. At first, she was a bit scared of Singapore because she had heard that in Singapore, not allowed to drink Coke, not allowed to chew gum. It’s actually untrue, but that is a rumour and when she went to her new school, she was one of only a few foreigners and she was quite worried about fitting in. But then, the local students found out that she was from Hong Kong and knew about the Hong Kong film-stars and song-stars and so bonded with her because she could share information about these stars with them. When she started working in Changi General Hospital, her supervisor, who is a local Singaporean, guided her, mentored her and made a very big impact on her life because her supervisor was understanding and supportive. When her mother fell ill and eventually passed away, she had to take time-off and the supervisor accommodated her and made adjustments. Because of the kindness shown to her by the Singaporeans whom she came across over the years, she decided to take up Singapore citizenship recently. Now, she is married to a local-born Singaporean whom she met in JC and I hope they have many babies soon.
50. Immigration is going to be a continuing issue for us. How do we keep the door open while protecting the interests of Singaporeans? How do we welcome citizens while holding on to our values? There are no ideal or permanent solutions to this issue. The measures which I announced tonight will address some of these problems. We will have to manage, monitor, adjust as we go along. But remember, we ourselves are all descendants of immigrants. Our ancestors came poor, but their descendents worked hard and prospered. Had our ancestors not come here, today, Singapore would not exist. So we have to continue to be open today so that we bring in the right people, manage the difficulties whatever they may be so that a generation from now, Singapore will still be thriving and prospering.
51. For all Singaporeans, whether you are local-born or whether you are a new arrival, education is one of our most important priorities. We all want to give our children the best start in life. We already have a very good system of education which gives our kids a strong foundation, especially in Maths and Science, and makes them effectively bilingual and when they leave school or poly or university, they are competent and employable. But we can do better.
52. Every child is different, every child has his own interests, his own academic inclinations and aptitudes and our aim should be to provide him with a good education that suits him, one which enables him to achieve his potential and build on his strengths and talents. Talent means talent in many dimensions, not just academic talent but in arts, in music, in sports, in creative activities, in physical activities. It is a system which must work not just for a few top students but catering to all our students. Stretch the brilliant ones but also help those less academically inclined and all those in between. Give each one a tailored and holistic upbringing, so you get academic education, moral education, physical education, art and a sense of belonging and identity. We aim to build a mountain range with many tall peaks but with a high base, not just a single pinnacle where everybody is trying to scramble up one single peak. And we are realizing this vision. All our schools are well-equipped with modern facilities, well-staffed with good teachers, each one with his own specialties, whether it is art or the band or uniformed groups or sports, so that in any neighbourhood school, a student can find enrichment programmes and CCAs which will excite him, opportunities to travel, go overseas on exchange trips or study visits and a learning environment that will enable him to grow and do his best.
53. Let me show you a few examples of the interesting things which our schools are doing. I have taken them from schools all over Singapore. There are art activities, there are music activities, there are dance activities, there are adventure activities, science, a whole of range of things done in many schools all over Singapore. The first group is art -- these girls are not doing graffiti. They are drawing a wall mural which they have designed which is quite beautiful. Kids also get a chance to practise batik painting -- this boy is obviously very pleased with his creation. And they also do art in other unusual forms, for example, floral displays. This -- Naval Base Secondary School had a Floral Club and they participated in the Singapore Garden Festival which was held recently. They put in an entry, here you see their girls putting it together and they won Third Prize.
54. In music, we have unusual activities too. This one is a fusion orchestra, or called the Nusantara Orchestra at Siglap Secondary School. The teacher responsible travels around Indonesia to find the right instruments to fit into their orchestra and they have got the angklung here, they have got the gamelan instruments here which are called bonang and kulintang and then you have the bells and some Western instruments as well, and all these in Siglap Secondary School.
55. Primary schools start early. This primary school is performing Mulan, adapted from the Disney musical. They can almost go to Broadway. In dance, you see hip-hop, which I am told in this school doubles as a PE lesson. Or cross-cultural dance -- this group was good so they went to Hong Kong Disneyland and performed there. Or traditional Balinese dance -- in Bali, Bukit Panjang Government High, this is for students on the EMAS programme, the immersion programme for Malay language and they went to Bali and they are learning Balinese dance.
56. The NCC does exciting things. It is not just carrying a rifle around, marching and square-bashing. This is not the Singapore Zoo. It is the Rajasthan Desert in India and they are going camel-trekking. Every year, we have an expedition because we have an exchange programme with the Indian cadets. In Science, our students do lab work. These girls are doing DNA profiling as part of life sciences. They make robots. This is primary school children. If you look at the pieces, you will not know what they are trying to do, but it is meant to be a robot which can pick up a ping-pong ball, follow a black line, climb obstacles and then deposit the ping-pong ball somewhere and win some kind of robotic championship. You can see the robot going through its paces.
57. These are mostly neighbourhood schools which I have picked from all over Singapore doing good work, but not just doing extra-curricular or co-curricular work. They are paying attention to their academic studies too. One of their principals said to me when I asked him what can I tell Singaporeans about you and your school. He says, “Give us a chance to show what we can do for your children” because not everybody knows that the schools are doing this kind of work, that in every school, you have caring teachers, you have a nurturing environment and you have the chance to do well and be your best. But being Singaporean, we are never satisfied and we must still do better.
58. What can we do? In the primary schools, I think we should do more to nurture the whole child, develop their physical robustness, enhance their creativity, shape their personal and cultural and social identity, so that they are fit, they are confident, they are imaginative and they know who they are -- I am a Singaporean. We will maintain our strength in Maths and Science, but we need to strengthen soft skills like oral expression, like presentation skills, so that we can raise their language proficiency and confidence, speak up so that they can speak up, whether it is English or Mother Tongue, but give a good account of themselves. We need to pay more attention to PE, to arts and music and get teachers who are qualified to teach PE and Art and Music. We will continue to improve the teacher-student ratios, train more, recruit more, train more specialists and make sure that they get a good foundation in primary school.
59. At the end of primary school, there is a big examination called the PSLE. Everybody knows about it. In many cases, the parents take the exam together with the kids. I think it is right that the students take exams seriously and the PSLE seriously because it is the basis for how you are admitted into secondary schools and it is a fair and meritocratic system. But I think we should also see exams in perspective, whether it is the PSLE, whether it is the ‘O’ levels, whether it is ‘A’ levels. An exam is not meant to be a do-or-die test. It will not determine the whole future of your child. If you do well, that is good. If you did not do quite as well as you expected, there will be opportunities later to do better and to prove yourself again. And in the PSLE, you may or may not get into the particular school which you choose or hanker for but if you cannot get into that one, there will other good choices for you and many good choices. So if you do less well in PSLE than you expect, than you hope, there will be opportunities later to catch up, to prove yourself and to enter competitive programmes later on.
60. That is how we design our system, that is what we are going to make happen and already does exist to some extent. It is not easy to convince parents. I have met parents who come to see me and they particularly want to go to one school. So I said, in Ang Mo Kio, we have quite a number. I named them a few which I commend to them and they look at me and say, “Please write for me”. So I will try but I cannot write for all of my residents and if I could write for all my residents, MOE could not say “yes” to all my requests. I think we have to see it in perspective and we should not put so much pressure on our kids, which can be counter-productive. But we can do things to lighten this pressure and to give people more good choices at secondary schools. So we will widen the range of options. The most popular programmes, we can replicate and bring to more schools, so that you do not have to go to School A if you wanted to take Programme A. You can have Programme A in many different places.
61. Like the Integrated Programme, the IP. We are going to expand the IP. What is the IP? It is the “through-train”, so students who go into the IP, from Sec One, they go through to JC and then they take ‘A’ levels, but they skip the ‘O’ levels. If they are confident of making it to university, that is a good choice and we have been doing this for three years now. The results are good. We have got eleven schools doing this and we are going to expand the IP programme to seven more schools in Singapore. I hope that will allow more good students to choose this option and get into an IP programme. The way we are going to do it, these new seven schools are going to have dual track. So if you get into the school, but you did not get into the IP programme, you have a chance later on. Later on, if you do well in Sec One or Sec Two, you can get into the IP programme and then proceed from there. So the PSLE does not matter quite so much. I think that will give more choices to many Singaporeans.
62. We will also enhance the secondary education for the academically-less inclined students. Normal (Tech) students often prefer an ITE approach, the way they are taught in the ITE. So we have tried out to enhance the N(T) programme in several schools. It has worked well and we will learn the lessons from this and we will apply them across the board in N(T) courses across Singapore, so that when you go to the N(T), that is also a good option for you because we will prepare you well to go to ITE. It will be more practice-oriented with industrial attachments and so on.
63. We started two special schools for the kids who failed PSLE who could not get into N(T). Northlight and Assumption Pathway cater to a small number of students and they have a special mission and a very practical approach. Northlight has a guiding principle. I visited them. These are students who failed PSLE. The schools find it very hard to accommodate them. They have lost confidence in themselves, but Northlight’s principle is every student is a star who can shine as brightly as any others and so the facilities and the curriculum are geared to help the students do well, like this programme where they are being taught culinary skills in the kitchen. And the students gain confidence, they enjoy going to school, they respond. One of them said and, I quote, “I am not Superman, but I would be more than a bird or even a plane.” It is not bad and the key success factor getting him to that point is to have the teachers with the passion and the training who will build their self-esteem, their resilience and their social skills, emotional skills and get them to want to improve themselves. Learning from Northlight and Assumption Pathway, we will set up two more specialized schools for Normal (Tech) students. So that we have a broad range of options for a broad range of kids.
64. Beyond secondary, post-secondary school, there are many routes -- ITE, Poly, university -- and we must make sure that all the students graduate whichever way they go, gain relevant skills and finding good jobs. The polys are a very important institution. They are doing well, getting more students than before and high- quality students and they are doing courses which lead to exciting careers, like courses in pharmaceuticals, like these students from Nanyang Poly. We will enhance this, expand the existing five polys, upgrade the older ones and spend S$700 million improving poly education.
65. We will introduce the “through-train” for the polys as well. Just as you have “through-train” to go to ‘A’ levels, so too for the polys. The good students in the Normal (Academic) stream, instead of going Normal (Academic), ‘O’ Levels and then Poly, should go Normal (Academic), go to poly, the poly will give the an extra foundation year direct admission and then carry on with the poly course instead of ‘O’ levels. It is a better use of their time and I think it is something which a Normal (Academic) student should strive for, do well, get into a good poly, do a good course at the poly and after that you can go even further. After the poly, we have the Singapore Institute of Technology, started this year, offering 500 places, offering opportunities for the poly students to get degrees from good overseas universities, getting credit for their work in the poly. So instead of a full three or four-year programme, it takes two years or two-and-a-half years and you get a degree and a good degree and we are building that up too.
66. Similar to the polys are two other institutions in our system called NAFA and LaSalle. They are doing a good job educating students in arts, design, media, where there is strong demand for these skills, not just to do National Day Parade or YOG, but also in the IRs, in the entertainment industry, digital media industry, in creative advertising, corp comms. Many demands and I think many of our kids have talent to do this. We will support young Singaporeans with such talents to advance through NAFA and LaSalle and go on to get a degree from good overseas institutions, some universities, some equivalent, but the Government will support this undergraduate programme for LaSalle and NAFA students. NAFA is the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
67. Then the universities. They are very good, but they have a very difficult job because they take students from such a broad range. 25 to 30 per cent of our students go to university, whereas if you look at Harvard or Beijing University or Stanford, you are talking about a high level at the top, half-a-per cent and we have to look after good students across this broad range. Hence, the university has to be varied in order to look after all these different students and different aptitudes. And we should offer for our top students opportunities within our system in Singapore to do well so that more of our top students will study here and then perhaps do their postgraduate overseas. NUS and NTU and SMU have been doing this and they have new plans. For example, we have a University Town in NUS which is being built now which is meant to be a residential programme, something like Oxford and Cambridge but maybe adapted, so students will be able to spend two years residential and then be able to have content which will fit them and enable them to learn and think and interact better. It is coming up across the road from where we are now. If we show the next slide, you will see this is what it looks like now, but soon, it will look like this. This is Clementi Road, AYE is here and we are here. So, this complex is behind us somewhere in that direction, coming up.
68. NTU also has plans. We need to train more doctors. We do not have enough, we put a lot of programmes in, we need to train still more. So we are going to start a new medical school in NTU which will be done together with Imperial College in London. We need them. Our population is ageing. We have a bigger population, we need more doctors and this new medical school will enable us to train more doctors, get more Singaporeans to become doctors and also allow us to train more foreign students here to become good doctors, living and working in Singapore.
69. All this is going to cost a lot of money. The Government will pay more, but the people who attend the courses also will have to pay somewhat more. But we will make sure that we keep it affordable because we will have scholarships, we will have bursaries, we will have loan schemes and we make sure that anybody who can benefit from the education will get that education regardless of his family’s circumstances. One source of funding for the universities which we should build up is donations and endowments, so that if the universities have their own money and can raise their own money, then they can launch new initiatives which will benefit students and not depend all the time directly on government support.
70. The existing universities have built up these endowments and the Government has helped them to do this and we will do more of this. Over the next 20 years, the government will commit S$4 billion, S$4,000 million to the universities to help them build up these endowments, and create a Singapore Universities Trust. We will put some money in the trust. When people donate to the university, we will match three-to-one for the new ones so please donate generously. For the existing programmes, we will also match 1.5-to-one. So please also donate generously. And we will also encourage donations to the polys and the ITEs because actually, it is not just about the dollars. It is about getting the alumni to be engaged, to pay attention to their alma mater, to want to contribute and help and to build up a good institution. That applies to universities, it applies to the polys, it applies to the ITEs. The universities are already doing this. Graduating classes are donating. Poly students, many of them have done very well in life. ITE, I expect some will too and I hope that they also will do the same. This matching scheme of government grants will also apply to people donating to the polys and the ITEs. Please make the effort because for your alma mater to prosper, the alumni group is what makes the difference.
The Singapore Spirit
71. These are all efforts which will ensure that our students get a good education wherever they go and do well in their lives. It is the most lasting gift which we can give to the next generation. But education has to imbue the next generation not just with knowledge but also with the Singapore Spirit.
72. What is this Singapore Spirit? It is a very relevant question in a globalised world as Singapore becomes more cosmopolitan and receives more guests and visitors every year. We are proud of our Asian cultures and heritage, the Chinese, the Indians, the Malays and the others and we want to keep this heritage alive and keep this Asian identity. But this Singapore Spirit is not based on a common race or language or religion. It is based on deeper things which we share, shared values like multiracialism or meritocracy or respect for every talent; shared loyalty and commitment to Singapore; shared responsibility for each other and pride in what we have done together; shared memories as well as dreams and aspirations. It is the determination that makes us press on when things are tough, like in the recession last year, the trust that keeps us together when forces try to pull us apart, like when we encountered extremist terrorism after 9/11. It is the competence and the quiet pride and discipline that make sure that things go right, like when we hosted the YOG. It is a confidence that we will prevail come what may. It is this spirit in each of us which makes Singapore work the way it does and which makes Singaporeans special.
73. Mr Rajaratnam long ago drafted the National Pledge and he wrote, “Being a Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry. It is conviction and choice.” We have got to maintain a Singaporean core in our society which is stiffened by the Singapore Spirit and around this core we can gather talent and resources and used them to build a better Singapore. As the IT people say, we want to keep an open architecture. The kernel must be protected. Make sure no viruses come in and make it malfunction. But the applications, the peripheral software, can be adapted, extended as circumstances change, as new needs arise, so that we are always current and up-to- date and always with the latest version. And we have to pass this spirit on to the next generation so that they have the same conviction and make the right choices for themselves through the schools but also many other activities -- through community involvement, for example, pursuing passionate causes, tacking daunting challenges and trying out many new things, to learn about themselves, to discover their own abilities and to gain confidence and maturity.
74. We do our best to give our youths such exposure, we encourage them to care for the less fortunate and develop a social conscience, like these students are doing. These are Young NTUC visiting a seniors’ home, obviously making a connection with the senior citizens; or protecting the environment -- these kids are at Tanjong Chek Jawa, doing some work, rescuing some horseshoe crabs. You see a few horseshoe crabs down here, in good health. They saw us looking at them. And support youths to pursue diverse passions, sports and social activities, like the PAYM Cheerleaders’ Group and if this is not exciting enough for you, you can do extreme sports at the Xtreme SkatePark @ East Coast Park.
75. I am very happy that many of our youths are also venturing abroad and they are volunteering in countries all around us. They go with community groups, religious groups, with Mercy Relief, the Youth Expedition Project and the Singapore International Foundation. They do all kinds of things, disaster relief, medical care and giving tuition. Here is one young man who is doing something interesting, Mr Alvan Yap. He is hearing impaired. He graduated from NUS, he works in the publishing industry, but he is active as a volunteer. This year, he went on SIF’s Singapore Volunteers Overseas Programme. He went to Dili, which is in Timor Leste and he is there for a year, teaching deaf children and some adults proper sign language because the kids did not grow up with proper sign language and he needs to teach them the signs and the vocabulary and the grammar and the proper way to communicate. He is also a role model and an inspiration to the kids as well as some adults. Here is Alvan with his class, that is him there and they are saying hello to us. (Video clip: Happy Birthday, Singapore!). Alvan is here with us tonight. He is on a short break in Singapore. I think he is up there and he will soon be back to Timor Leste again. Welcome, Alvan. I hope more young people will venture forth like Alvan, pursue your dreams and make a difference to others.
76. One thing we cannot do for the youths, unfortunately, is purposely to create hard times to toughen you up. In fact, we have tried our best to do the opposite, to create a stable and favourable cocoon for Singaporeans to grow up in and young people to grow up in. Last year’s financial crisis might have been a major test, but we emerged more quickly than expected. But the world is still a dangerous place. Nobody can say for the next 50 years, it will be as stable, as peaceful, as prosperous as the last 50 years. Nobody can tell what it will bring.
77. Dr Goh Keng Swee worried about this problem. Before he retired in 1984, he made a speech where he talked about many things, but amongst them, he addressed this issue and I looked up the archives and I found the tape and let us hear him in his own voice:
78. Dr Goh: “A new generation is emerging. This generation has never experienced hardship. Some of my colleagues, by making this statement, seem to imply the new generation has thereby committed some gross misdemeanour. Of course, this is not true.”
79. Only Dr Goh will say ‘gross misdemeanour’. But the new generation that Dr Goh was talking about is not today’s young people, it is 1984’s young people. That means us when we were young. But in the quarter-century since Dr Goh’s spoke, I think Singapore has not done too badly and now, my generation is similarly concerned about today’s young people. It is no fault for anyone not to have experienced hard times. It is not any misdemeanour at all. There will be challenges and crises enough in your lifetimes and we will prepare you the best you can and hope that the first time you encounter a real crisis, you will survive the baptism of fire, emerge toughened and so will Singapore.
80. When Dr Goh passed away in May, Singaporeans were reminded of his enormous contributions to Singapore, in the economy, in defence, in education, and many people lamented that the younger generation knew too little about what he did or how much we owe to Dr Goh and they suggested naming something after him so that Singaporeans would always be reminded of what he had done. I agree. Dr Goh was instrumental in building up the SAF. Here he is, in a colonel’s uniform, inspecting officer cadets passing out. He built not just hardware, tanks and fighter jets or battalions and squadrons, but a thinking SAF, with capable commanders and staff and soldiers who can outwit and out-manoeuvre the enemy. Today, much of the hardware that Dr Goh acquired has already been superseded by newer and more sophisticated equipment. This is a Hunter jet. You do not see this on National Day Parades any more, but we would not have F-15s on the National Day Parades if we had not started off with Hunter jets with Dr Goh.
81. But Dr Goh’s emphasis on developing talent and on a thinking SAF endures. The Singapore Command and Staff College is the highest institution for training senior officers in the SAF. It has a handsome home in SAFTI MI and all officers headed for senior positions in the SAF sooner or later will attend advance courses here. We will rename SCSC as the “Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College” in Dr Goh’s honour.
82. From MINDEF, Dr Goh went to education and when he became Education Minister, he totally revamped the system. He made teaching systematic, he introduced streaming, he fostered a high-quality professional teaching service and he began the process of continuous improvement that has created a first-class education system admired around the world. And without Dr Goh’s beginning, it would not have been possible for me to sketch out all those plans which I did just now or what we are going to do next with our education system.
83. The Ministry of Education has a headquarters at North Buona Vista Road. This is the building. It is expanding its HQ, building a second building next to it, not just for the headquarters, but also to house an Academy of Singapore Teachers and specialist academies for specialist teachers, for English language, PE, Sports and Arts. It is like the Academy of Law or the Academy of Medicine. It is meant to upgrade the professionalism of our teachers, and this complex will be the nerve centre for Singapore education and a symbol of the importance of education to our young and to our future and we will name it the “Goh Keng Swee Centre for Education”.
84. Dr Goh did not make his contributions alone. He was part of a team of founding fathers who built our nation. Besides MM Lee and Dr Goh, they included Mr Rajaratnam, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Lim Kim San, Mr Hon Sui Sen, Mr E W Barker, Dr Toh Chin Chye and others. They were a multiracial team with a vision to build a multiracial Singapore and here, you see them attending the first sitting of Parliament after we became independent. This would have been in December 1965. They have experienced and fought racial politics and racial policies while in Malaysia and they were determined that Singapore would be different and in this they succeeded, although the work of building a multiracial and multi-religious society and nation will not be complete for a very long time.
85. In fact, the founding fathers played a key role in creating the Singapore spirit because before their time, before their generation, the peoples living in Singapore had different loyalties to different countries – to China, to India, to Indonesia -- and many of them saw Singapore not as a nation or as a permanent home but as a place to make a living and they dreamed of returning to their birthplaces to retire and to die one day. It was the founding fathers and their generation who conceived of and championed the Malayan identity and later on a Singaporean identity and through the fight for independence, the battles against the communists and the communalists and then the decades of nation-building, led by the founding fathers, the Singapore Spirit gradually took shape.
86. It is important that the nation remembers the founding fathers properly. It is not just a matter of gratitude, but it is to stay true to the ideals that they fought for and to remind ourselves to continue striving to become “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”. It is not yet time to decide how to do so, but it is something that we should think about for the future and which I felt I needed to talk about today.
87. While we remember the past, we also must look forward to the future. In the same speech where Dr Goh talked about worrying the new generation not being exposed, he also called on a new generation of leaders to come forth and take Singapore forward and here is what he had to say about their responsibility:
88. Dr Goh: “You will then regard the present condition of the Republic not as a pinnacle of achievement but as a base from which to scale new heights.”
89. Not as a pinnacle of achievement but as a base from which to scale new heights and, indeed, we have scaled many new heights since Dr Goh retired. We have got high quality townships, we have got schools, hospitals, Changi Airport, MRT, green and blue spaces, trees and water all over the island and in Marina Bay, a new city is taking shape. We have connected up all the walkways around the bay recently and already, it has become a favourite destination for Singaporeans as well as visitors. Lots of them, day-time, night-time, all around the bay and the bay is getting recognised all over the world as the icon of Singapore.
90. This is the YOG, either opening or closing. Both ceremonies were held at Marina Bay. Both were spectacular shows against a spectacular backdrop. Here you see one of the items at the opening ceremony. I think we should congratulate the organizers and the performers and the creative minds behind this show. Singaporeans took part enthusiastically in the games and supporting the games and you can clearly see this in the journey of the Youth Olympic Flame. Started in Greece, in Olympia, went through five cities, five continents, including Berlin and then it went on to Auckland, New Zealand, went to Seoul and then it arrived in Singapore where 2,200 runners took it around all our constituencies and towns and lots of people were involved: young and old, in the rain – that is Ng Eng Hen, by the way -- and in the sun, on a wheelchair or by dragon boat or flying fox. The women’s Everest team ran, so did NSmen from Jurong Camp and students -- this is from Pathlight School -- and one extra spunky young man, Low Wei Jie. And it rode the elephants as well as the phoenix and then, Darren Choy took it across the water and lit the flame. (Video clip of YOG Flame being lit).
91. So, I think the Organizing Committee staff, the volunteers, the teachers and students all did a magnificent job, 30,000 of them, all fired up, mostly Singaporeans but quite a few international volunteers too, at their posts, rain or shine, always cheerful, courteous, energetic, putting on the best for the world. The Games Village itself was vibrant and full of life. Our schools participated because each school was twinned with one of the 204 National Olympic Committees. So the schools put up world culture booths to welcome our guests warmly, like this one. I visited on last Sunday and I saw the girls and boys dressed up in the various costumes. So I said to one girl in a costume, I said, “Where are you from?” She said, “I am from Singapore”. Which is quite right, that is a Singapore identity.
92. Our young Olympians put in their best. All our swimmers achieved personal best times. This is Rainer Ng who got a Silver medal and broke the national record and many of our other athletes also got personal best times. Altogether, we won two Silvers and five Bronze medals. Bravo, Team Singapore! I watched the first Singapore versus Montenegro football game. I saw the players coming onto the field. Ours looked so tiny. Zainudin, who is President of FAS, sat next to me. I asked Zainudin, I said, “What is happening?” He said, “It is under-15”. But the other team’s under-15s were six inches taller and bigger. But the Singapore Cubs had good skills, close team work and fighting spirit. So we won 3-2 and we went on to win the Bronze medal. They did good.
93. The athletes, the visitors, the International Olympic Committee, all were impressed. I think there was a letter in The Straits Times a few days ago which put it nicely. It was by a German volunteer, Mr Uwe Kaufmann and he said, “If like me, you were at ground zero, you would not have missed the deafening din of positive reactions from representatives of the rest of the world about Singapore. Why? Because Singapore has fleshed out an idea into reality and belief. So, whenever I am asked about my origin, I answer unfailingly and with pleasure: ‘I am a Singapore volunteer’. And by the way, I love the catered food.”
94. But another visitor whom I met at the Games Village, a Canadian lady, looked like an official, put it much more succinctly. She congratulated me, she said, “Singapore has cleared the bar”. So we congratulate the Organizing Committee and all Singaporeans for a job very well done.
95. The YOG journey shows what Singapore is about -- Aim high, prepare well, work together and deliver results. Ours is a young nation. Other countries have longer histories and can claim greater past glories. But Singapore distinguishes itself by its people. We are forward-looking and idealistic. We dare to transform ourselves and our city again and again. Our future is bright. I cannot promise you an effortless cruise, nobody can. We will face storms and challenges and from time to time, have to make difficult choices. But the next decade promises to be a golden one for Asia and, therefore, for Singapore. We may be small, but we are in a very strong position because we have educated our people, we have reinforced our talent, we have worked closely together, delivered results, won respect for Singapore. With good leadership and a close-knit team, imbued with the Singapore Spirit, we will seize the opportunities around us and take our nation to the next level.
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