DPM Heng Swee Keat at the 1st Anniversary Celebration of Wisma Geylang Serai

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 18 January 2020

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 1st Anniversary Celebration of Wisma Geylang Serai on 18 January 2020.

Dr Maliki Osman,
Mayor, South East District,

Mr Seah Kian Peng,
Grassroots Adviser for Marine Parade GRC,

Mr Saktiandi Supaat
Grassroots Adviser for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC,

Ladies and gentlemen,


I am very happy to join you today to celebrate the first anniversary of Wisma Geylang Serai, or WGS for short.

Let me begin with a few words in Malay, syabas kepada Dr Maliki dan pasukannya yang telah bekerja keras untuk membangunkan WGS sebagai ikon bagi masyarakat Melayu. Kini, WGS sudah menjadi tempat tumpuan bagi rakyat Singapura daripada pelbagai bangsa dan agama. Saya berharap WGS akan terus menjadi pemangkin perpaduan dan sikap inklusif di kalangan rakyat kita. Bak kata pepatah, muafakat membawa berkat.

It has been a very eventful year for WGS. You have welcomed more than 2.3 million visitors since your opening, of all ages, races and walks of life. Thank you Dr Maliki and the WGS team, and all the people who have worked hard. You have worked very hard to make WGS a vibrant place that celebrates Malay heritage. WGS reflects the progress of the Malay community, and welcomes all Singaporeans. Syabas1!

A celebration of Malay culture and heritage

We began work on WGS ten years ago, but Geylang Serai’s rich heritage as one of our oldest Malay settlements goes back much further, to the 1840s, almost 180 years ago. When the Orang Laut first settled on the banks of the Geylang River, this was all swampland. The area only got the name “Geylang Serai” a few years later, when the Alsagoff family filled the swamps, and started cultivating serai – or lemongrass – here. Over the years, the evolving complexion of Geylang Serai reflected the dramatic changes happening around Singapore. As trading patterns changed, the fields of serai were replaced by tall coconut trees. Later, during the war, these were in turn replaced by tapioca, or ubi. In the 1960s, as part of Singapore’s development, the Government built light industries, and also began developing Geylang Serai as a modern housing estate. The first HDB flats were completed here in 1965, and new amenities were built, such as the original Pasar Geylang Serai, which has been rebuilt, and this Pasar is still an important place to buy produce today!

The face of Geylang Serai has changed, but through it all, the area has remained vibrant, and retained its strong connection to its Malay roots. This was why we set aside this land in 1989 to build a Malay Village in Geylang Serai, and when the Malay Village was redeveloped, we did so in a way that celebrates the heritage and unique Malay character of the place.

Today, WGS stands tall in Geylang Serai, with distinctive features like the double pitched roofs that celebrate our Malay culture. It is home to a heritage centre, which captures not only the stories of kampung life, but also the evolution of our Malay identity. And of course, WGS is the hub of the Bazar Raya Geylang Serai, which continues to be a huge draw. In fact, last year’s Bazaar, held for the first time at the new WGS, was visited by a record two million visitors!

I was very happy to be one of these two million visitors. Maliki kindly showed us around. I enjoyed the delicious snacks and drinks, and admired the beautiful baju for sale, the bazaar had the right balance of traditional fare and ‘hipster’ food stalls. Keeping up with the preferences of the younger generation at the same time! What I found even more memorable was that the anticipation for Hari Raya was felt not just by the Malay community, but shared by people of all races. This social togetherness is rarely seen in other parts of the world, and is something we must continue to protect and nurture.

I am therefore very glad that even as WGS celebrates Malay heritage and culture, the team at WGS has made this place a vibrant space that is welcoming to all Singaporeans. There are amenities like childcare and senior activity centres that serve our community’s daily needs, as well as an exciting line-up of events such as: Film screenings, rock concerts, and even arts festivals, such as the Singapore Art Week, which is currently taking place here. Keep up the good work!

A “one-stop” centre for the community

The transformation of Geylang Serai over the years also mirrors the progress that our Malay community has made.

Each generation of Singapore Malays have been better educated, held better jobs, and led better lives compared to their parents and grandparents. In 2017, 1 in 3 of our Malay workforce hold PMET jobs, up from about 1 in 10 in 1980. So this is a big improvement. 9 in 10 Malay households now own their own homes. Our Malay students have also done very well in school – They have surpassed the global average in mathematics, and are on par with their counterparts in the advanced OECD countries for reading and science.

We will continue to work together to empower future generations to reach their fullest potential. This is why Mendaki, Muis and Mesra – collectively known as M3 – have set up a joint office here. Min Masagos has put in a lot of effort here. Eight other Malay/Muslim organisations, including the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas), Muhammadiyah Association, have also come together as KURNIA@WGS. M3 and KURNIA@WGS provide last mile service delivery and social welfare support to the community. In their first year of operations, they have helped more than 3,500 residents.

The work of M3 and KURNIA@WGS reflects the power of Government, community and individuals coming together. When we work together, we can: Better understand our community’s needs, pool our resources to support and empower our people in a holistic way, and through this, uplift everyone in the process.

Working together

Your cooperation to help those in need reflects the Malay community’s gotong-royong spirit and this is also the spirit of the Singapore Together movement.

It recognises that every one of us can make a difference in helping each other grow, and building our future Singapore. So a big “thank you” to the staff and volunteers who work in the community to uplift our needy families.

To those who are not yet involved in the community, I encourage you to explore many exciting opportunities coming up. For instance, you can help to develop Geylang Serai into a cultural precinct! An envisioning exercise was held late last year, where the community provided ideas on how the existing spaces can be transformed into activity nodes, and their aspirations for the wider Geylang Serai precinct. There is still a lot more work to be done to turn these aspirations into detailed plans, and then reality. I hope you will share your views, and get involved, because while the Government can set aside the physical spaces, and build structures like WGS, it is you – our people and our community – who are Geylang Serai’s true heart. So please continue to re-imagine our everyday spaces, come together to take part in activities,  and most importantly, as we do so, form memories and shared experiences that strengthen our bonds with each other.


Let me conclude with a pantun –
Geylang si paku Geylang,
Geylang si rama rama;
Senang hatiku senang,
Dapat sambut bersama-sama

Once again, to the WGS team, my heartiest congratulations – for laying a strong foundation in WGS, with the support and participation from the community. I wish everyone a wonderful night ahead.

[1] Syabas means “congratulations” in Malay