Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally 2014 Speech (English)
“Believing in Singapore, Pioneering Our Future”
Singapore has come a long way. It is the work of generations, each standing on the shoulders of the one which came before and it started with one special generation – the Pioneer Generation (PG). And one outstanding member of the Pioneer Generation was Encik Yusof Ishak, our first President. Encik Yusof showed that in Singapore, you can rise to the top if you work hard. He stood for enduring values that underpin Singapore’s success – meritocracy, multiracialism, modernisation. He was a President for all Singaporeans. So, to mark SG50, as I said in my Malay speech, we will be honouring Encik Yusof in three ways. We are naming the new mosque in Woodlands Masjid Yusof Ishak. We are renaming the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies to ‘ISEAS -- The Yusof Ishak Institute’, and we are creating a ‘Yusof Ishak Professorship in Social Sciences’ in NUS.
Encik Yusof was not just a national leader, but he was also somebody you could get to know and get close to on a personal level. I first met him when I was seven years old. My family was on holiday up in Frasers Hill at Singapore House and Encik Yusof and his wife came up for a visit and brought toys for us children and I think I still remember that he gave me a little model aeroplane which would fly, powered by a rubber band, about 1959. I got to know the family better when he became Yang di-Pertuan Negara, when they stayed in the Istana grounds and I used to play with his son, Imran. In fact, it was Imran who taught me how to ride a bicycle on his bike. So several years later, when I won the President’s Scholarship, I was very honoured to receive it from Encik Yusof and we are very happy that Puan Noor Aishah is here and we are very happy that we have this opportunity to honour Encik Yusof for our 50th Anniversary.
Pioneer Generation Package
We are grateful to pioneers like Encik Yusof who sacrificed to build Singapore. Last year, I promised to make a meaningful gesture to thank every member of the Pioneer Generation still living. I thought carefully about how we should do this and decided to focus on healthcare. So we designed the Pioneer Generation Package or the PG Package and at Chinese New Year, we held a tribute party at the Istana and recently, a fortnight ago, we had a Pioneer Generation Card Launch Party at the People’s Association (PA) headquarters and I was very happy to see many old friends and colleagues. And I was inspired by those who came, like Dr Uma Rajan, who helped start the School Health Programme and produced the original version of the Child’s Health Booklet, which we still use today. I think nearly all of us here must have at least one of those booklets at home, some more than one generation’s worth of booklets.
Many other happy and heart-warming PG events all over Singapore. For example, these are the first Organising Secretaries in the People’s Association. They were the pioneer managers of our community centres in the 1960s and they were the frontline soldiers in the battle against communists and helped the Government to win the people’s support. And I am happy that a few of them are here today, including my old friend, Chan Seck Sung. Welcome!
The next group are the pioneer educators at Ministry of Education (MOE) Pioneer Tribute Dinner. They taught our children, they built up our education system and this young lady is Mrs Ambiavagar. She is holding up a letter of thanks from an ex-student and she is 100 years old this year. In Teck Ghee, for our National Day Dinner, we invited 50 tables of Pioneer Generation residents and this one is the Elvis Group singing “It’s Now or Never”. I am not going to sing this song, but you can see beside me my Singapore General Hospital (SGH) radiographer, Mr Ng Hon Weng, leading the charge and they are all having a great time. So tonight, besides my usual guests, I have invited 50 PG seniors to represent the 450,000 PG Singaporeans. So can I invite them as well as all the other pioneers who are here tonight, please to stand up. 建国前辈，请起立。Golongan Perintis silakan berdiri. Thank you. Thank you for all that you have done for Singapore.
Our pioneers were ordinary people who worked together to do extraordinary things. They overcame difficult and dangerous situations to build a sovereign, independent country. They transformed Singapore from Third World to First and they always looked to the future and strove to give their children better lives than themselves. And this is why we are commemorating SG50 next year, to celebrate the spirit of our pioneers and to commit ourselves to their enduring values as we make our way forward. I hope you will pen your hopes for the future in the ‘Wishing House’ at the SG50 booth later on.
Singapore is at a turning point. The world is in flux. Conflicts far away affect us. For example, in Ukraine, Russia’s annexation of Crimea showed us how important it is for countries to be able to defend themselves. And the recent MH17 tragedy shows us that even though Ukraine may be far away, its troubles can strike us uncomfortably close to home. It was sheer luck that there were no Singaporeans on that flight, but it could easily have been very different, and our condolences go to the families of all of the victims.
Nearer home, we see tensions in the South China Sea. The tensions are affecting sentiment in the region. It is affecting cooperation between countries. It is having an impact on confidence among businesses. It is even hardening attitudes among ordinary people towards other countries. And every foreign leader I meet asks me about the South China Sea. We are not a claimant, but we have upheld a clear position and that is to ask all the parties to exercise self-restraint in order to keep the region calm and avoid any mishaps.
There have been some positive political developments in Asia. There are new leaders, or there will be new leaders, in Indonesia and in India. Mr Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, has won the presidential elections in Indonesia and Mr Narendra Modi is the new Prime Minister in India. They enjoy strong public support, but their tasks are not easy. How their countries fare will affect the whole region, and I am looking forward to working with them and doing more with Indonesia and India.
Singapore is changing too. There is a new generation with new aspirations. There is the ageing population, which is creating new social needs. We have a better home, but we have the potential to do much, much more. Amidst these changes, Singaporeans ask ourselves, “How can I improve my life? What happens to me when I get old? Where will Singapore be in the future?” So as I said in my National Day Rally (NDR) last year, we are taking a new way forward, each one of us giving our best, and the Government and the community doing more to support individual efforts and, together, we create a brighter future for all of us.
We have made steady progress this last year. We have stabilised the housing market, we have cleared the HDB queue. We have settled the details of MediShield Life. We are keeping paths up open through education, including opening up the Primary One (P1) admission rules this year. We are expanding our public transport network. The Bus Service Enhancement Programme, the BSEP, has improved bus services. Members of Parliament (MPs) are asking for more buses, more services. For the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network, we have just announced the Thomson-East Coast Line a couple of days ago. So this year, I will focus on three topics – giving our people full opportunities to achieve their potential, providing Singaporeans more assurance in retirement, and making this Singapore, a home for all ages.
ACHIEVING OUR POTENTIAL
Singapore must always give our people full opportunities to achieve their potential. Our pioneers showed that we can do anything, provided we set our minds to it. And we must build on their legacy and continue to give every Singaporean the confidence to shoot for the stars. Education is an important part of this and that is why every year, I speak on different aspects of education and this year, I will focus on ITE (Institute of Technical Education) and Poly(technic) students. Our ITEs and Polys are world-class. Foreign visitors are amazed by the facilities, better than many universities. Investors are impressed by the quality of the graduates – well-trained, can-do, productive. And our students themselves are great examples of resolve, strength and character.
People, for example, like Divesh Singaraju, who was diagnosed with lymphoma when he was ten. He recovered, led a normal life. He fell in love with aeroplanes after visiting the cockpit of a SilkAir aircraft. He qualified for Junior College (JC), but decided to enrol in Singapore Polytechnic to pursue his passion for aeronautical engineering. Unfortunately, his cancer relapsed, which delayed his studies by a year, but he recovered, went back to school, this year graduated top of his class. And while he was there, he co-founded Youth Comm to help youths with cancer. He is going on to Imperial College to study aeronautical engineering on an SIA-SINDA scholarship and I wish him every success.
Or take William Tay. William lost his hearing to illness at four. He enrolled in ITE College Central here. He joined the Photography Club and the Deaf Dragons, which is a dragon boat racing team and he graduated last year with a NITEC in Info-Communications Technology with a perfect Grade Point Average (GPA) and won the Rotary-ITE Student Excellence Award. Welcome, William. Now, he is in the Poly, studying for a Diploma in Infocomm Security Management and benefiting from the Special Needs Education Fund, and working with his lecturers to come back to his alma mater to start a sign language Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) club here in ITE College Central.
So, we have done well by our students. But our students, having done well, naturally hope to climb even higher. And I give you an example of how they feel in this striking art work entitled “Aspirations” which has been put up by ITE students in their art show and if you go outside later, you will see it on the wall somewhere outside. And it shows their desire to improve themselves to reach the top and if you look carefully, you will see also it shows the right spirit because having reached the top, you reach down and help the next person to make it too. And I would say that this is a very good picture too because it shows that there are many paths up to the top which is, in fact, my theme tonight. They are right to aim high, we want to help them to create a brighter future for themselves by many routes, not just the academic route but also alternatively by getting good jobs, mastering deep skills, performing well and then getting relevant qualifications along the way, as they work, as they advance in their careers.
Keppel Corp illustrates what we are trying to achieve. I visited Keppel’s Offshore and Marine (O&M) Shipyard at Tuas recently and talked to their people, both their management as well as the staff. I was deeply impressed, both by what they have achieved but also by their can-do spirit and confidence. In fact, their dry dock is called the “Fels Can-Do Dry Dock”. So, I went back again with a video crew to interview them, myself. So, let me share with you the story of two of the Keppelites, Dorothy Han and Abu Bakar.
Dorothy graduated from ITE and joined Keppel Fels as a draftsman about 25 years ago. She left Keppel, worked elsewhere, she came back to Keppel. She rose to lead the Pipe Design Section of the Engineering Department and with an ITE certificate, she is supervising 62 people in her department. So, I asked Dorothy how she came to join Keppel and here is her interview.
Ms Han: “Around 20 of us were being selected and we joined Keppel and that was started off with a trainee draftsman. We just know how to draw, that is all and from there, we get to know all sorts of experience and we even climb a ship and that was my very first time.”
PM: “It must be quite tough. You must put on a hard hat?”
Ms Han: “Yes, yes, for a lady and everybody was saying, you are a lady and why you have chosen so sweaty kind of job to come into a shipyard where it is very dirty and all that. But well, as what the Chinese saying and also my dad was also telling me 行行出状元.”
PM: “You went for training courses, what did the company do?”
Ms Han: “Currently, right now, I am with a sponsorship for a part-time Diploma.”
PM: “Diploma, with which Poly?”
Ms Han: “Yes, with Ngee Ann Poly because it was in a module structure, so it was actually in five modules. So, it takes two-and-half years.”
PM: “Tell us the modules.”
Ms Han: “For example, Certificates in Mechanics. Next year, I will be getting my, that is in my trade, which is Certificate in Piping System.”
PM: “That should be no problem.”
Ms Han: “I hope so.”
PM: “We are trying to encourage more girls to take up engineering and to consider careers like marine because people somehow think it is a man’s job. So, what can I tell them, or what can you tell them to persuade them that they are mistaken, it is not just a man’s job?”
Ms Han: “Over here, we are equal. If you can see that, if you can prove your capability, you can prove, you can take down so-called the responsibility, in fact, we are equal with all the men, yes.”
PM: “So, you are quite confident?”
Ms Han: “Everybody have the same opportunity.”
For the benefit of those of you who did not catch the Chinese words, Dorothy said行行出状元which means “in every profession, there is a top master”.
Abu Bakar graduated from Singapore Poly and then he joined Keppel Shipyard as an Assistant Safety Officer. Now he is working in Nakilat-Keppel Offshore and Marine, which is a joint venture shipyard Keppel did with a Qatar company in Qatar, specialising in solutions for gas carriers and offshore structures. I asked Bakar how long he had been in Qatar:
PM: “How long have you been there in Qatar?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “I have been there close to four years.”
PM: “What are you doing there? You are running the shipyard there?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Chief Executive Officer (CEO).”
PM: “So you are running the operation, you are in full control or you have to discuss with the Qatari Co-CEO?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “We are. There is no Co-CEO.”
PM: “Did you expect to be running a shipyard in Qatar when you joined Keppel?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “No, never.”
PM: “So, you went on training courses along the way?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Yes, Keppel gave me a lot of training. There is a lot of management courses training that they give. Only, in fact, recently, I just went through the Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA).”
PM: “With Singapore Management University (SMU)?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Yes, SMU.”
PM: “So, you did the EMBA, you have completed it already?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Yes, I have completed last year and it was quite a good programme, good exposure because I want to have an MBA that gives an Asian perspective as the programme itself brought you to Wharton, to China, Beijing, Hyderabad and also, of course, Singapore.”
PM: “You went into the programme; some of the other people on it must have already been graduates?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Yes, in fact, most of them.”
PM: “So did you feel you were able to cope equal with them or any difficulty because you have so many years of experience?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Yes, I think quite easy because it is quite relevant to our job in the EMBA and, in fact, to me it was very timely because you have a new company to run, because is it totally a new start-up yard. You run there, you run a new business.”
PM: “So, you were applying in your work what you were learning on the EMBA?”
Mr Abu Bakar: “Yes, that is why I said quite timely because I used the course as the platform for me to discuss my problems.”
PM: “You get free consultancy.”
Mr Abu Bakar: “They have 30 over people to consult with. So, it was quite, very timely, seriously, very timely because that is where you ask the lecturer the real life difficulty that you have and I really appreciate that.”
I would like to make two points on Bakar. First, he did not have a degree, he had a Poly Diploma. The eMBA needed a degree to start. So, Keppel, Mr Choo Chiau Beng, wrote a letter to SMU vouching for Bakar’s experience and capabilities and SMU accepted that and took him in and he did well on the course. So, the employer support is very important. Secondly, Bakar is a good National Serviceman (NS) man. I first met him when he was commissioned in the old Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI) parade square 25 years ago on his commissioning parade and I was very happy to discover on the day I interviewed him, that was the day he was being promoted to full Colonel (NS), commanding an infantry brigade.
So, Keppelites like Dorothy and Abu Bakar can advance because Keppel O&M values every worker and the tone is set from the top over many years by leaders like Mr Choo Chiau Beng and sustained by the current Keppel leadership. So, well done, Keppel! Keppel illustrates that you can progress by acquiring deep skills and knowledge throughout your career and there are different ways to deepen your skills and knowledge, by learning on the job or by going for higher qualifications as you work, and progressively, or both. And you should look for the best ways to learn, learn what is relevant, apply that. Do not go on a paper chase for qualifications or degrees, especially if they are not relevant because pathways and opportunities to upgrade and to get better qualifications will remain open throughout your career. It is never the last chance. You always have the possibility to advance, to improve yourself, to take another step as long as you are working, as long as your mind remains fresh and active and you dare to go.
At the same time, employers must value your staff and develop them to take on higher responsibilities and with the right support at work, you can advance in your careers, whether or not you are a graduate. And this is the culture shift which we need and that is why I set up the ASPIRE (Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review) Committee chaired by Indranee Rajah to study how to create and widen and strengthen this work-and-study path. So, Indranee’s committee will announce its recommendations shortly, but just very broadly, we need to help students make better education and career decisions, so they know the full range of choices before they decide. We should help poly and ITE graduates get into jobs for which they were trained and have the right skills because very often, they do courses, they come up well-qualified in engineering or in building management or in design or in childcare and then, they go and do something completely which is not related.
We have to help individuals to progress and upgrade after they have graduated and started work in their careers to develop the structured career paths for them and then to implement this work and study path on a national scale. It is not easy. It involves multiple stakeholders, many government agencies -- education, manpower, trade and industry. It involves employers, companies who have to develop and value every worker and create the corporate values, the cultures, the training systems within the companies. Not easy for big companies, even harder for SMEs. We need the unions in this because you have to be fully behind the effort, championing lifelong learning like what you are doing in the Devan Nair Institute.
So, within the Government, the natural agency to take the lead in doing this is an expanded WDA, Workforce Development Agency. But the WDA will need strong support from other agencies, employers and unions. So, to bring all the pieces together, I have asked DPM Tharman to lead a tripartite committee which will involve the Government, employers and unions, to drive this and to develop an integrated system of education, training and progression for all Singaporeans and promote industry support and social recognition for individuals to advance based on their skills.
The Government, as a public service, as an employer, we will do our part. The Civil Service does offer fulfilling careers to non-graduates. For example, in the People’s Association, there is a single scheme of service, whether you are a graduate whether you are a diploma holder, you join the same scheme of service, you join at different points, but after that, your advance is based on merit and there have been many non-graduates who have progressed to senior manager positions based on their ability to do the job well.
Another area where we have many opportunities for developing these careers are in nursing. Many of our senior nurses started off without a degree, worked their way up, some of them have earned degrees along the way, but as a nurse, we assess you on your knowledge, on your ability, on your commitment and not so much on where you started. We have recently enhanced the pay and careers for the nursing profession and I hope that this will help the nurses to upgrade and progress.
The SAF, too, recognises leadership abilities, not just academic qualifications, and there are many paths upward for non-graduates and military experts and as COL (NS) Bakar’s example shows, you do not need a degree to be a good commander. So the public service can and will do more. We will put more weight on job performance and relevant skills, rather than starting qualifications. We will merge more graduate and non-graduate schemes to give everyone the same opportunities on the same career track and we will promote non-graduates more quickly to what used to be considered graduate level jobs, once they prove that they can do it.
But to succeed nationally, we need two strategic factors which will help everyone to achieve their potential. One, you must have economic growth to create opportunities for our workers to rise. Keppel can offer opportunities and create career pathways because it is a successful company. Likewise, for Singapore, our economy must be competitive too. Companies have to be able to prosper, investments must still want to come to Singapore. We must have growth in order to look after our people well. So, we have to be hard-headed in order to be good-hearted.
Secondly, and just as importantly, we need a cultural change because fundamentally, this is about our values, about how we value people, and Singapore must always be a place where everyone can feel proud of what they do, where you are respected for your contributions and your character and anyone can improve his life if he works hard and everyone can hope for a better future.
There is one more Keppelite who personifies this story and he is Roy Lim. He left school after Secondary Two. He started out working as an apprentice in Far East Levingston Shipyard which later on became Keppel FELS, and he started working 37 years ago. With support from Keppel, he completed NTC 3 and then NTC 2 and today, he is one of two shipyard managers of Keppel FELS and the two of them together manage Keppel’s two biggest shipyards in Tuas and have 12,000 people under their charge. And Roy said, “I can never imagine someone like me with no education can rise to be a shipyard manager.” Here is my interview with him.
PM: “You have been with the company all over, right, many departments and also overseas?”
Mr Lim: “Oh yes, yes.”
PM: “You were in China?”
Mr Lim: “I was in China, I was in Vietnam, I was in India, I was in Holland, I was in
Finland. Finland is the one that is terrible.”
Mr Lim: “Because I am alone.”
Mr Lim: “Alright, and I have got to deal with the Russians and the Finns. I was there as a warranty engineer for the multi-purpose vessel, so I need to engage interpreters to communicate with them and I realise that there’s one day when I was alone in the evening, actually, I wanted to go for my dinner, so I popped into a restaurant. I popped into a restaurant and the guy chased me out. You know what he said? ‘You are Vietnamese. You are not allowed to come in’. I looked at the guy, I was stunned for a while, then I gave a thought. I take out, ‘I’m a Singaporean.’ I take out my passport and they allowed me to go in.”
PM: “Oh. So, a powerful passport.”
Mr Lim: “A powerful passport, seriously.”
PM: “So, you didn’t think of giving up?”
Mr Lim: “Never gave up. Later, I think about it already, then I want to give up. I have this problem, I try to solve, I can’t solve, okay and actually, I called my wife. I said, ‘I want to give up.’ I said it’s very tough for me, it’s all on my own, there’s no support from Singapore. If you are in Singapore, you are very comfortable because if you have any problems, you just ‘beep, beep, beep’, everybody will come to attend to it.”
PM: “Yes, indeed.”
Mr Lim: “So I called my wife and said, ‘I want to give up.’ Then my wife told me, ‘Don’t give up. Finish the job. Even though you want to quit, finish the job and come back with your head high. So that at least you fulfil your obligation.’ But my wife told me one thing, ‘Don’t worry about family. Let me take care of the kids. You concentrate on your work.’ That will actually ease me a lot of things. So, I continued to finish the job.”
Thank you, Roy, for being a role model and thank you, Mrs Lim, for standing by your husband through difficult times. There are many other Roy Lims and Mrs Lims in Singapore. They may not have degrees, but they are working hard and trying to improve themselves. So long as you work hard, you can always hope for a brighter future here in Singapore.
ASSURANCE IN RETIREMENT
Besides creating hope for the future, we must also give assurance to those in need, especially our seniors. By and large, seniors in Singapore are doing well. Many have savings and investments. Some are happily working, others are getting good support from their children and we have good schemes to provide assurance in retirement and the CPF (Central Provident Fund) scheme and home ownership are the twin pillars of our retirement adequacy.
Home ownership is critical. The Government has worked hard to help Singaporeans own their homes. Therefore, Singapore is not just a place to live, but a home. But just as importantly, this home, your home, is a valuable nest egg when you retire. Singaporeans may not fully appreciate this, but many have significant savings in their flats. So, if you look at a typical retiree household living in a three-room flat, he has got $300,000 worth of savings in his flat. A four-room retiree household typically has $400,000 worth of savings in his flat. It is a valuable little pot of gold to draw on if they need to. That is home ownership.
The CPF has also served us well and there are three good things about the CPF. Firstly, it has personal responsibility because with the CPF scheme, the more you work, the longer you work, the more you save and the more you will have in retirement. Secondly, the CPF scheme is fair. Your savings are for your own retirement, not for someone else’s. Thirdly, with CPF Life, this is for life because CPF Life will pay you a stream of income as long as you live.
The CPF has been in the news recently because this year, we adjusted the minimum sum, increased it to $155,000 for those who are turning 55 this year and there were some reactions and some people say they want all of their CPF money back. Like the Chinese lady who spoke to Teo Ser Luck just now, whom I told you about just now. She wanted it back for herself, but not for her husband. But she is not the only one. Hri Kumar held a dialogue on CPF and he had one participant saying ‘Give me back my CPF. I want to spend it all.’ So Hri Kumar, who is a very mild man, says “Then who will take care of you if your money runs out?” So the participant said, “God will help me.” But another participant put his hand up and said, “What he means is that the Government will help him”.
But other people have a more balanced view. Sim Ann held a dialogue. She had a volunteer who put his hand up and pointed out how your CPF savings come about and why that was the wrong perspective and let me take you through Sim Ann’s volunteer’s argument. This is the CPF logo. You have all seen it, but if you look carefully, you will see that it has got three keys inside it and the three keys represent the three parties who have come together in order to make the CPF system and provide this social security for you.
Who are the three parties? One is yourself because when you work, you earn salary. From the salary, you pay your employee’s CPF. The second key is your employer, because the employer pays into the CPF, into your CPF, the employer’s CPF contribution over and above your wages because the Government required them by law to do it. So the third key is ‘zheng hu’ - the Government. The Government made this system, the Government set the rules. The Government also tops up directly into the CPF of many Singaporeans. How do we do that? We give you housing grants when you buy a HDB flat. Many people will get a housing grant. We give you Medisave top-ups. When you get your GST voucher, there is a Medisave top-up in there. When the finances are good and the Minister for Finance has a good Budget, you may get the Medisave top-up. You get Workfare because if you are a low-income worker, in your Workfare, a big contribution goes automatically into your CPF every month to help you save for your retirement. So together, the three of these – you, your employer, your Government – have set up the CPF for a common purpose and that common purpose is to set up a nest egg for you for your retirement.
What is this nest egg for? It is not for you to take out the whole lump sum at once. It is for you to be able to draw out a steady stream of income from the CPF in old age. It is to give you old age security.
So the question is, how much money do we need to keep in the CPF to get this income stream?’. And the answer is the Minimum Sum, the MS, and for the group which is turning 55 this year, the MS is $155,000. Seems like a big sum. It is far from excessive and let me show you, through an example, why I do not think that it is excessive.
Last year, I was your real estate agent. This year, the real estate market is no good, I have upgraded myself, I have become a financial planner. Okay, as a financial planner, I was sitting in my office. Mr and Mrs Tan came to consult me. They are reaching 55, they have to make decisions on their CPF and their retirement plans, so they came to ask me to talk through their options. Let me show you.
Here is Mr Tan. He is 54-plus years old. He is a senior technician and he earns $4,500 per month. His wife, Mrs Tan, is a housewife, about the same age. I did not ask the wife’s age, but about the same. They have two kids. The son has finished NS (National Service), going to university now. Daughter still in school. So the household income is not bad, $4,500 per month, and they are living in a four-room flat in Ang Mo Kio. You can see the flat there, I think they are on the fifth floor, fully paid-up, $450,000 worth of a flat. So this is the Tan family now.
Now, I said to Mr Tan, “Think about it. In ten years’ time, your children will have grown up, finished studying, working, perhaps married. You will still be working, you could be on the point of retiring, but your expenses will be less in retirement, so you will not need the same income as now”. So I asked Mr Tan, “How much do you think you will need in retirement every month? What will we need?” So he thought about it.
While he thinks about it, let me ask you what you think he needs. What do you think? $3,000 per month? That is about two-thirds what he is getting now. $2,000 per month? Half, less than half what he is getting now or $1,000 per month, which is less than a quarter of the current income.
Let us have a show of hands, we decide for the Tans. Who says he needs $3,000 per month? Upstairs, nobody puts hands up. Okay, who says he needs $2,000 a month, enough? Oh, this is more. Okay, who says $1,000 enough? Old people do not spend much money. Nobody. Okay, so I take it that you think he needs about $2,000 a month, right? Which was what Mr Tan said too, after thinking it over. Now, just as well.
So let me ask you this, which is what Mr Tan asked me. To get $2,000 a month from the age of 65 for the rest of his life, how much money do you think he must put into the CPF now and lock up so that 65 years old, he can start drawing $2,000 a month? So Mr Tan did not know the answer, but I had a calculator. CPF has these things and they did the sums. So I looked up the answer and the answer is he needs $250,000 now when he is 55 years old in order to get what he wants if it is all to come from the CPF, $2,000 a month, and I do not have to tell you, but this is more than the MS, which is only $155,000.
So I told Mr Tan this. He looked a bit disappointed. He says, “I don’t have $155,000.” So I said, “Well, you own a house, right?” He said yes. So I said the CPF lets you count your house in the MS, so the house can make up half the MS and then you only need to put in $77,500 of cash in the CPF. If you want, you can take the rest out and then you will have made up your full MS – half property, half cash. So he brightened up. He said, “Ah. $75,000, no problem. I can take some money out now, go on holiday with my wife.”
Then I said, “I have not finished the sum. A quarter million, you get $2,000. $77,500, if you only leave $77,500 in the CPF, you will get out of the CPF, how much do you think? All of $600 per month. So if you need $2,000, this is not going to be enough and you have to think of some other sources of income when you reach 65.” So he stopped planning his holiday. He asked me, “So what can I do?” I said, “Well, you have several options. First, you could continue working because ten years’ time, most likely, we are working with NTUC, we should have raised the re-employment age beyond 65 and if you are still healthy, I would strongly encourage you to continue working.”
“Secondly, your children will be working and they may help to support you. I hope so because we teach them that in school. Thirdly, you can draw on your personal savings. You told me you had some POSB account savings. So that is for a rainy day and for old age. Or you can get some money out of your house.”
So Mr Tan says now, “Okay, how do I do that?” So, I said, “Well, there are several ways you can take money out of your house. You could rent out one room. You post an ad on propertyguru.com. One room in Ang Mo Kio, how much do you think? $1,000. Well, I told him conservatively, you can get $700 a month. That is per month, steady income. Or if you are going to move in with your children, your children have married, you can move in with them, you can rent out the whole flat and how much do you think can get renting out the whole flat? In fact, you can check up the answer in The Straits Times because the HDB publishes the data. Ang Mo Kio four-room flat, currently at $2,500 per month. Not bad.”
“The third thing you could do is you could right-size. What does right-sizing mean? Right- sizing means you sell this flat, you buy a smaller flat. Let us say you buy a studio apartment, you move into the studio apartment and then in the process you can enjoy a Silver Housing Bonus from the Government which is $20,000 and if you do this, we can do the sums, you will get quite a lot of money. $210,000 plus $800 per month. $800 per month is additional income. It is on top of what CPF Life was going to pay you.”
So, Mr Tan says, “Wow, it sounds good.” Then he got a bit carried away, he says, “If I am going to live with my daughter, why don’t I just sell my flat outright, I will get even more money?” So, I said, “Well, I encourage you to stay with your children, but I would advise you to think very, very carefully before you sell your flat because I have seen so many sad cases – seniors cashed out unwisely, cheated of all their money, sometimes even turfed out by their children. Quarrel with their children, quarrel with the in-laws. So, it is better if you keep your property. Even if you rent out the whole flat, it does not matter, it is yours, and you can fall back on it for your old age, just in case anything happens.”
So, he paused again, then he asked me a new question. He says, “My neighbour, 3-room, he just turned 65, he is a bit older than me, he did a lease buyback with HDB, how does that work?” So, I said, “Sorry, lease buyback not for you. Lease buyback (is for) 3-room, yours 4-room, cannot.” So, he says, “Never mind, assuming can then how?” So, I said “Okay, if you really want to know let me explain to you but remember, cannot.”
“So, here is how it works. You bought this flat when you got married and it came with a 99-year lease, looks very long. So, this line is a 99-year lease on your flat. You have lived in it since then. Now quarter-century. In ten years’ time, you will be 65 years-old and you will still have this long lease left. In fact, the long lease left is about 65 years. So, I think when you are 65, you probably are not going to live in this house for another 65 years, right?” So, he said, “Okay”. So, I said, “well, let us say you live in this house for another 30 years, then you really do not need the rest of the lease beyond that. You only need these 30 years. So, this part, you can sell to HDB and HDB will buy back from you. That is why it is called the lease buyback. And if they buy it back from you, then they will shorten your lease and then they will give you some money.” So, he says, “How much?” So, we did the sums. Assuming he can get it, well, he gets $27,500 plus $900 per month and again, this is on top of what he gets from CPF. It is not quite as much cash as if he is right-sizing, but that is because he can continue to stay in the same flat and he can even rent out the room in the flat if he wants. But I said, sorry, yours is 4-room, so no lease buyback. So, Mr Tan says, “Oh, what a pity. Can I see my MP or not to appeal for a lease buyback?” So, I told him “sure, your MP, I think this is Lee Hsien Loong, Block 322 Avenue 3, and every Wednesday night at 8.00pm”. And that is how my advisory session ended and next thing I knew, I saw Mr Tan at my MPS.
So, actually, what Mr Tan wanted, which is to have the lease buyback for 4-room flats, many other Singaporeans also want. Last year, we held the Our Singapore Conversation and there many seniors who were living in larger flats asking for lease buyback because they felt that right-sizing, moving to a studio apartment, taking the Silver Housing Bonus, they are all attractive options, but they still preferred to grow old in the comfort of their own homes and I can fully understand that. The surroundings are familiar, your old friends are around you, your neighbours, you have known them for so long. You do not want to uproot yourself, move somewhere else unfamiliar, set up and then have to establish your networks and your links all over again. So HDB has studied this carefully and I am happy to tell you, as well as Mr and Mrs Tan if they are still watching that we will extend the Lease Buyback scheme to 4-room flats and this will cover more than half of all flat-owners in Singapore.
Now, Mr and Mrs Tan are not a real family, but the Tans’ profile is quite typical of many HDB households. And even if your own circumstances are not quite the same as the Tans’, the general conclusion from this is still valid and what is the general conclusion from this case? First of all, the CPF and your house go hand in hand to provide for your retirement. If you have both of them, then you should have one happy couple. Secondly, the current Minimum Sum, $155,000, is not too much. Thirdly, which I think many Singaporeans do not realise, if you own a house, you only need to set aside half of the MS and that is only $77,500. Let me have a show of hands, how many of you knew all this before I explained this to you? Wow, more and more hands, but I think honestly, not all of us know and I would say even not all the MPs are completely familiar.
So, finally, if you have a house, then you have many options to get money out of the house. You can rent, you can right-size, you can (do a) lease buyback, but whichever way you go, you probably will get the lump sum and some income. So, because these are fundamental simple points, I made a summary pamphlet with Mr and Mrs Tan inside to put this all out and you can pick up your copy later after my speech.
So, the CPF scheme is good, but it can be improved. It works well for most Singaporeans but not quite for all especially the lower income and also, it is not quite flexible enough and I think we can and should improve the scheme further. First of all, we should help the lower-income Singaporeans. With the CPF and HDB for the majority of the population you can save enough for your retirement. But for a minority, 10, 20 per cent, I think even if they are working, they may not accumulate enough CPF during their working lives. Some of them may not have bought an HDB flat, some may have no family support to fall back on and in their case these individual efforts will not be enough. So, the Government and the society must help to do more, must do more to help them in their retirement. So, for this group, we should supplement their payouts from their own CPF savings with bonus payments from the Government, just the same way as we have Workfare to supplement the wages of low-income workers. So, we should have a new scheme for low-income elderly, actually, they are just poor elderly because no more income, but they are poor, they are elderly and we should call this scheme, the Silver Support Scheme.
What should the Silver Support Scheme do? We should pay a bonus every year starting from the age of 65, something extra to help the old folks with their living expenses with the cost of living. It comes from the Government, not from their own savings. It is on top of all the other Government and community support which the old people already receive and it is part of the new way forward that I spoke about last year. We are doing this, the Government is helping this group of Singaporeans, but personal responsibility remains important even while the community and the Government plays a larger role. I am not going into details today. We will announce the details at the Budget next year.
The second thing we should do with the CPF scheme is to increase flexibility, to make it more flexible. There are two views of the purpose of the CPF funds. One view is, I want to be assured of a steady stream of income in old age, but the other view is, I want a lump sum now because I need money urgently. Now, my view is that the core purpose of the CPF should still be to provide a steady stream of income in old age, but I appreciate why some CPF members want to take more money out because they have been saving up over a lifetime of work, they want to use some of these savings, they want to do something they have longed wanted to do, some lifetime ambition. They may want to go on a journey, they may want go on a haj. Or maybe they have run into some family emergency and need money to deal with the emergency.
So, after considering this for a long time and discussing it with my colleagues, I have decided I would change my view, I would adjust the policy and I think we should allow people the option to take out part of their CPF savings in a lump sum if they need to but subject to some limits. The amount which you can take out cannot be excessive. For example, it can be up to 20 per cent of the total that you have and it should only be during retirement, 65 and beyond, not ‘suka suka’, any time you need money, you visit the HDB. He is not your money lender. This is for retirement. We provide this flexibility but members must understand clearly the trade-offs because if you take out the lump sum, that means you will have less left in the CPF and your monthly payments will also be less. So, that is a second thing we should do, make the CPF more flexible, and have the possibility of a controlled lump sum withdrawal in retirement.
But there is one more outstanding issue on the CPF and that is how much should the MS be over the longer term? We have been adjusting the MS over the last ten years, the Minimum Sum, because the old number was much too low and gradually, over ten years, we have been raising it to the current $155,000 and there is one final instalment in this adjustment. Next year – and people have been asking what that will be – and I will tell you that we will decide now that for next year, the number will be $161,000 for people who are turning 55 from July 1 next year. So it is $155,000 now, it will go up a little bit up to $161,000 but if you have the property pledge, you will only need half of this and that is $80,500. It is a necessary step, but it does not change the overall picture much. Next year, if I am still a financial adviser and Mr Tan’s younger brother comes to me for advice, the sums will be more or less the same as for Mr Tan. Beyond this I do not see the need for any more major increases in the MS, but we will still need to adjust the MS from time to time because incomes will go up, so basic spending needs will increase. People are living longer and we need to provide more money for a longer retirement. Therefore, we need to build more flexibility into the CPF system and give CPF members more choices.
I have sketched a couple of key points but there are a few more important issues to consider. For example, how should we adjust the Minimum Sum beyond next year, so that members can continue to get an adequate basic retirement payout? What should be the rules and the limits for taking up the lump sum? How can members have more flexibility to invest their CPF savings, to accept more risks in the hope of higher returns? And for members who prefer payouts to rise over time, because we would like to be able to cope with future rises in the cost of living, how can we offer members options to do that because there is a trade-off? There is a finite amount of money. If you want more later on in the later years, it means that you have to have less earlier on in the earlier years and some may prefer to do that, some may prefer not to. So how can we offer members a good choice to do this? Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has worked out some possibilities, but CPF changes are very complicated. So we are going to set up an advisory panel to study all this and MOM will announce details about the panel soon.
So the CPF and home ownership provide for our needs when we retire. They are good schemes, they work well for the majority of Singaporeans, but they are not one-size-fits-all policies. They offer different choices for people in different circumstances. But we are going to improve them further so that we can better support lower-income elderly who need more help and we will make it more flexible so as to meet the needs of more Singaporeans and give you greater assurance and more options in retirement.
HOME FOR ALL AGES
We want Singapore to be the best place to live, work and play. We want this to be an outstanding city, well-planned, well-run, offering a high quality of life, full of buzz and vibrancy. We want this to be our cherished home where we grow our roots, build emotional bonds and form new fond memories. We want this to be a special red dot for all Singaporeans. In the last 49 years, our physical transformation has been remarkable. Our Singaporean identity is strengthening, but keeping Singapore special is a journey without end. We will work with Singaporeans to improve on what we have.
One area where we can do better is getting all our different agencies to work more closely together, especially when their responsibilities overlap with one another or are split between different agencies and I have highlighted funny examples of inter-agency issues before. For example, it used to be if you saw a snake, then which agency to call depends on which way the snake is pointing and going. Now, there is one agency, AVA, in charge of all snakes as well as other animals.
So we have made some progress, especially after we highlight vivid examples, we have a good laugh and then we sort it out, but we have not arrived. So to prepare for this speech, I asked the MPs to give me some recent examples. So tonight, I have decided Mayor Low Yen Ling wins the lucky draw. Yen Ling’s residents had complained that the walkway to Bukit Gombak MRT Station was often dirty. One resident told her he saw a fishball stick there on the walkway. The next day, he came back, he looked, and the same fishball stick was still in the same place. Her residents have very sharp eyes. So Yen Ling called up the agencies to find out why the area was not being cleared regularly and she had to make multiple calls to several agencies, held several meetings, finally, she managed to establish what happened and here is what she found.
Listen very carefully. On the left of the walkway is a slope. The slope belongs to NEA, okay? In the middle, this is a park connector, park connector, 顾名思义 - you think of the name, belongs to NParks. On the right-hand side is a pavement. Pavement is next to the road, road comes under LTA. So the fishball stick was on the road side and the road side was only cleared every two days because each of the organisations had their own cleaner, own schedules and they did it separately. So I do not think it makes a lot of sense and everybody has agreed and we have resolved this case. From now on, NEA ‘bao ga liao’ (is in charge of all three sectors).
So Yen Ling did her job as a Mayor, but she found it a frustrating and difficult experience, even though she is a Mayor. So can you imagine if you are an ordinary citizen trying to solve such a problem and running around the different agencies? So it is not the way we should be operating and we have to do better to bridge these inter-agency boundaries and to serve the public in an integrated way.
Many cities encounter these problems. Some of them have gone into ops centres to report and monitor municipal issues, like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. They have a very modern ops centre, looks like a NASA command post and all the emergency services, all the key public agencies report to it. They have cameras all-round the city, you see the screens, they can monitor what is happening. It is manned by 50 officers and they can give commands and make things happen if there is a disaster. If there is an accident, they can divert traffic. If it rains heavily, there is a risk of landslides, because a lot of their slums live on steep hill slopes, they can sound the sirens, warn people and during the World Cup, they found this ops centre very useful.
So we need to get there also and we will set up a Municipal Services Office (MSO) – one authority to coordinate all of the agencies: LTA, PUB, NParks, the whole lot, and single-mindedly focus on service delivery. I am going to put it in MND, but I will appoint Minister Grace Fu to oversee this Municipal Services Office, working with Minister Khaw Boon Wan. So more details will be announced later, please be patient. We are going in the right direction. We are determined to do better and I think Grace will do a good job.
While the Government will try to do a better job with the MSO, please do not make their job too difficult. Citizens also have a role to play to make this our better home. For a start, please do not drop fishball sticks and then we will not have to spend so much effort cleaning up after you. But you can also be a part of the solution, being our eyes and ears all over Singapore, and we can use technology to crowd-source, to involve Singaporeans so that you can give feedback, you can report incidents, problems on the ground and already, we have some apps to do that. For example, Ang Mo Kio Town Council, my own, has iConnect to report estate maintenance issues and residents take a picture, they send the picture in, town council deals with it and then you get a message back soon saying ‘Done’ or ‘Being fixed’ or ‘On the way’. LTA has a MyTransport app, so you can provide information on bus arrivals, parking lots, traffic jams.
NEA has a new app, myENV. I was going to demonstrate it to you, but to save time, I will just tell you about it. You should go and see, it is a very good app. It is newly-updated and it gives you information on the PSI, if there is a haze, on dengue. You can see it gives you information, PSI 51, dengue-something, water level, in case there is a flash flood somewhere and the tides and it also lets you report issues on the ground. For example, litter. Here is a report which somebody has sent in about litter and there is a photograph, you can have an address there and the status, it has been submitted. Then if you submit it, NEA will work with the agencies, resolve it and let you know once it is done.
All these apps are free. So please download them, use them, but one request, please do not send your selfies to them. This is to help us to do more with technology, with IT. In fact, I wanted to show you a lot more about technology and IT tonight. Our tech people have been doing a lot of work. There are many applications, many gadgets in our plans to make Singapore a Smart Nation - not just to run the place better, but so that it can make a difference to people’s lives, to patients, to commuters, to students, to households and there are many ways we can do this. There is an exhibition outside in the auditorium. You can take a look at it later, but there is so much to cover. I have decided to put this aside so that I can do justice to the subject properly and I am going to find an opportunity later on to talk about our Smart Nation plans
But, tonight, I want to go on and talk about making this our best home and that goes beyond running our city better or using technology more because it is about making every corner of Singapore an outstanding living environment.
Last year, I talked about our plans to develop Changi, Paya Lebar, Tanjong Pagar, move the port to Tuas and these are going to happen over the next 20, 30 years. They are long-term plans, but they are acts of faith in our future. Meanwhile, we are already making our island a beautiful home. From time to time, I take a staycation in Singapore. Instead of going anywhere, I stay at home. I visit parts of Singapore which I do not get a chance to visit at work on duty and take a walk with my wife. Pretty places, interesting places, always find something interesting and once in a while, I snap a picture and share it on Facebook and let me show you some of the things:
Marina Bay - dressed up for a New Year countdown. MacRitchie - not many of you have been here. This is a treetop walk, the suspension bridge. Quite exciting. Vigorous walk, but well worth the effort. Lower Seletar Reservoir at sunset - very peaceful, good for lovers as well as other residents. Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park - very popular. You can see people on the bridge. This is the Bishan side, the Ang Mo Kio side is just as good, but I thought tonight I should show Bishan. Jurong Lake - at sunset.
Jurong Lake District
Jurong used to be swamps. We filled up the swamps, built factories, transformed Jurong into an industrial town. We created jobs for Singaporeans, but we also built Jurong Lake and the Chinese Gardens and the Japanese Gardens and we have been upgrading Jurong over the years, recently as Jurong Lake District in 2008.
Jurong Lake District comes in two pieces. One piece is at Jurong Gateway, here, and one piece is the Lakeside. This one (Gateway) is commercial business, this one (Lakeside) is more residential and also greenery. The Gateway has already been transformed. I sent a drone up to take this picture - a UAV, and just to orientate you, we are looking westwards, you can see the MRT line going. This one - you can just see this is the Chinese Garden MRT station, this one is the Jurong East MRT Station. This is the Big Box. This one is the IMM for shopping. This is Westgate. This is the Devan Nair Institute, open on May Day. This one, not quite completed, is Ng Teng Fong Hospital General Hospital. It was supposed to be completed by December, but unfortunately, there are construction delays, so the opening is pushed back by about six months, but we are getting there.
So you can see that Jurong Gateway is already transformed, but there should be more to Jurong than shopping malls and industries. Jurong also includes the Lakeside, the Chinese Garden here, and the Japanese Garden here. So I visited them in June on leave. And they are very beautiful. Japanese Gardens - serene, peaceful. I think there is a marble bridge - traditional design, links you across to the Chinese side. And this is the Chinese side with pretty pavilions and pagodas. So it is very nice and yet, I felt the last time I was here was nearly 30 years ago and it looks about the same. It is also under-utilised, quite unlike Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, where there are thousands of people every day. This one - very few visitors and I felt we could do so much more with the gardens. So I asked the planners to consider bringing it all together to do a more ambitious transformation of the whole area and the planners came back to me and said, “Yes, we have been thinking along the same lines. Here are some interesting ideas, ideas for the garden, ideas for the living environment, ideas for the surrounding towns.”
You know where the Japanese Garden is? You know where the Chinese Garden is? On the west side of the lake, there is Jurong Lake Gardens or Jurong Lake Park and they are really three different pieces. But if we bring them all together, we can redesign the whole area. You can change the islands, you might merge them. You can change the shape of the lake, which is right now a little bit awkward. You can create one beautiful set of gardens in our heartlands and that can be Jurong Lake Gardens and can be something really special. For example, it can be the focal point for the Community in Bloom movement. There are many Community in Bloom groups all over Singapore. Passionate, enthusiastic, they take great pride in their gardens. They beautify their neighbourhoods, they spruce up their environment, they have spice gardens downstairs, fruit gardens, flower beds and they submit outstanding entries to the Singapore Garden Festival. This one for example is a little Smurf garden, you can just see the Smurfs and there is a little Smurfette down there learning to walk. This is from previous years. But this year I have a picture - this is a winning entry from this year’s Garden Festival which is currently on. This entry is called “Scent-alising” - scent meaning the perfume, the aroma. And it has been put up by community groups and schools from Southeast District and it won the NParks Community in Bloom Gardens Cup Education Award this year. So, you can see the kids are thoroughly enjoying the scent garden. I am going to visit (the Singapore Garden Festival) this week after completing this NDR and I think you should go and visit the place too. But this is the sort of thing which you can do in Jurong Lake Gardens. Bring community gardeners from all over Singapore to create and look after show gardens in the Jurong Lake Gardens, make it the People’s Garden - bigger than Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park even perhaps better than Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Next year, NParks will invite design ideas, so please give us your ideas. These are your gardens; we want to hear from you.
But Jurong Lake Gardens is not just a thing in itself. It is like Paya Lebar Airport which I told you about last year. You move Paya Lebar Airport, you not only free up Paya Lebar, you also enable development all around the eastern part of the island. So similarly with Jurong Lake Gardens if we do a good job of that and integrate it with the neighbourhood, we can transform a big part of the western part of Singapore. What are the things you can do? Well, you can connect Jurong, this by the way is Jurong East MRT Station which I showed you just now - just so you can orientate yourself. But what can you do? You can connect up the gardens to our park connector network island-wide. So that you can walk there from many places. You can connect it up to our ABC Waters Programme, up and down the Jurong River. You can have housing around the gardens. There is already housing around it, you can see the dark orange pieces - we are going to build more further north like here. Further south there are these purple bits, which are currently industrial plots. Further down near Pandan Reservoir here and the leases on the industrial plots will run out over the next 20, 30 years and as they run out we can build housing there and integrate it into the Lake District. I know those of you who are familiar with the area are thinking, ‘all these sounds good but right now there are too many traffic jams’. But we are working on it, we are increasing, improving the capacity of our North-South and East-West Lines and we should see improvements in the North-South and East-West Lines over the next two years. Later on we are building the Jurong Region Line and the Cross-Island Line. So, you can see this is the Jurong Region Line which covers Jurong and the Cross-Island Line which will come all the way across here. It will take some time but it will come.
For the longer term there are even bolder possibilities. The AYE (Ayer Rajah Expressway) is now along here. It is really too close to the gardens. It constricts the gardens. If we can move the AYE down south, then you free up space next to the lake, you can build more lakeside housing. It will be like living in Bishan or Ang Mo Kio along Avenue 1 or living in Punggol along the waterway.
One day the High Speed Rail may come to Jurong. I have agreed with Prime Minister Najib to build a High Speed Rail between Singapore and KL (Kuala Lumpur). And I have told PM Najib that in Singapore why don’t we site the terminus in the Jurong Lake District. So we are discussing with the Malaysians, we have not settled this yet but if we get a High Speed Rail terminus in the Jurong Lake District than that will make Jurong truly an exciting gateway to Singapore.
So, we can transform the whole area and the Lake Gardens will be the crown of Jurong Lake District and we will place one jewel in the crown - and that is a new Science Centre. We have got the old Science Centre somewhere down here on the east of the lake and it has entertained and educated generations of Singaporeans almost 40 years, including many adults who are kids at heart. It is still popular but just like the gardens, it is great, but I think we need to do better. So, we will build a new Science Centre and we found the right spot down here - beautiful place on the north shore near the Chinese Garden MRT Station and we flew a drone over to show you the site. This is the Chinese Garden MRT Station, this is the Chinese Garden and this piece of land, this plot is the site. So, we have got the land, we have got a blank canvas to create something unique and we can do a completely new concept for the Science Centre to take full advantage of the site and the context. We can extend out the Centre into the gardens, integrate with the living environment, build something which is fun, educational and spectacular and celebrate the ethos of our society, reflect our curiosity about the world, our spirit of scientific inquiry, our quest, restlessness to innovate and to improve and I think we will inspire and educate our young people in fun and exciting ways. It will be the ‘Jewel’ in Jurong. By 2020 or thereabouts, we will have it done.
BELIEVING IN SINGAPORE
We can do this and so much more to keep Singapore special, but what matters most is not what we build but the power of our human spirit, showing determination and resolve like our pioneers, aiming high and pushing ahead, as our young should, contributing in big ways and small to Singapore, no matter what our station in life.
In my Chinese speech I talked about the 新谣song, 小人物的心声 - Voices from the Heart. I chanced across one vivid and moving example recently of an ordinary Singaporean who made a difference. Just before National Day, I received a email from Mr Mohamed Zulkifli, who I found out later is a senior journalist at Berita Harian and he told me that his father Mr Rahmat Yusak, had worked with Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In the early 1960s, Mr Lee had visited constituencies all over the island to rally the ground in the battle against the communists. We talked about it just now when we talked about the pioneer generation of the organising secretaries and Mr Lee went in an open top Land Rover and Mr Rahmat drove that Land Rover. You can see him here. So, Mr Zulkifli said that his father, aged 95, was very ill. In fact, Mr Rahmat passed away shortly afterwards and Mr Zulkifli wrote to me. He said, “My father was only a driver but I hope people like him will not be forgotten when Singapore honours its Pioneer Generation”.
Well, I remember Mr Rahmat because I used to follow my father on the visits and if you look carefully at this Land Rover, you will see there is a little finger down here and the face is hidden, but I think that is me. Mr Lee also remembered Mr Rahmat. He paid a tribute to Mr Rahmat on the 20th anniversary of the People’s Association and I quote what Mr Lee wrote then – ‘I cannot adequately express my abiding gratitude to all those officers who sacrificed so many weekends to accompany me on all the tours, including the cheerful driver, Rahmat Yusak. He drove that exposed Land Rover with full confidence, bringing me to all 51 constituencies. They were dedicated men. They slogged with me to help the Government win over the ground. Had the PAP lost in September 1963, the history of Singapore would have been different.’ For his services, Mr Rahmat received the Public Service Medal (Bronze) from President Yusof Ishak.
So, I say to Mr Zulkifli, we will never forget your father, Mr Rahmat Yusak nor the many pioneers who build Singapore, including Encik Yusof Ishak, our first President, who championed enduring values that helped us to succeed. Or Madam Wong Ah Woon, who toiled for 44 years to put up so many buildings all over the island. Or Dr Uma Rajan, who kept our schoolchildren healthy. They boldly wrote the opening chapters of the Singapore Story and paved the way for their children to do better and write the rest. Because of them, we have path-breakers like Liang Wern Fook (梁文福) and Yan Choong Lian (严众莲) – enriching our lives with song and dance. Skilled professionals like Roy Lim, Abu Bakar and Dorothy Han – seizing opportunities, pursuing passions and realising their potential.
Now, it is our turn to give the next generation full opportunities to chase their dreams, young adults like Divesh Singaraju and William Tay – never giving in to adversity. Ang Kian Hua (洪健华) and Iswandie Wanhar – upgrading themselves and becoming masters of their trade. Fauziah Ally and Afzal Ali – launching their careers and I am sure, in time, making a difference to the lives of others.
We have all contributed to the Singapore Story. At the heart of the Singapore Story is our belief in Singapore, belief that we can turn vulnerability and despair into confidence and hope; belief that out of the trauma of separation, we could build a modern metropolis and a beautiful home; belief that whatever the challenges of this uncertain world we can thrive and prosper as one united people. Let this belief and spirit burn bright in each one of us and guide us forward for the next 50 years and more. Together, let us be the pioneers of our generation. Together, let us create a brighter future for all Singaporeans.
Thank you and good night.