Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Indian Activity Executive Committees’ 45th Anniversary Celebrations Dinner on 7 January 2023.
My Parliamentary Colleagues S. Iswaran and Janil Puthucheary
Chairman of Narpani Pearavai, Mr K. Ramamoorthy
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Vanakkam, good evening. As this is still the first week of the new year, let me also wish everyone Iniya Puthandu.
I am very happy to be here tonight to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the Indian Activity Executive Committees or IAEC. As you heard just now from the Chairman, the IAEC in Singapore have certainly come a long way over the decades. The first IAEC was formed in 1977 at the Kallang Community Centre. Back then it was called the Indian Cultural Group as its focus was to promote Indian cultural heritage. Over the decades, more groups were set up. And their work expanded. It went beyond cultural heritage to include social, educational and sports activities, just to name a few.
To reflect their expanded work, the groups were renamed IAECs, which is what we call them today. And now, we have 99 IAECs spread out across the island; all of you are represented here tonight, one division, one table.
The role of the IAECs is bring together Singaporeans from all walks of life, whether Indians or non-Indians, to build strong and cohesive communities and that is what all of you have been doing this years. You have strengthened the sense of community and unity amongst the diverse Indian ethnic groups in Singapore. You have helped integrate new Indian immigrants to Singapore and I know this not an easy process. Many of the new immigrants coming to Singapore will bring with them a long history of customs and traditions from their home countries, and these are customs and histories that goes back centuries, if not thousands of years. But we should also be proud that, in Singapore, despite our short history, we have a distinctive Singaporean Indian culture. It is not just Indian, but is Singaporean Indian. So you play an important part in enabling the immigrants to understand what our Singaporean Indian culture is about and adapt to our norms and our way of life in Singapore. You have also helped other races understand and appreciate Indian cultural practices and beliefs, and in so doing, helped forge a better multicultural Singaporean identity which is something all of us believe in.
Apart from this, the IAECs have also been a community mobiliser, rallying residents to support the needs of the Indian community and Singaporeans at large. You have partnered other Indian organisations such as SINDA, the Hindu Endowment Board, Tamil Language Council, Vasantham and many others. You have helped bring their programmes to the heartlands and, through your own network of volunteers and fundraising efforts, mobilised community resources for these organisations too.
Importantly the last three years when all of us have been dealing with COVID-19, IAECs also stepped up and played an important role to rally the Indian community in our fight against COVID-19. From distribution of masks, sanitisers and care packs to providing assistance to families in need. Some of you also organised innovative ways for residents to remain engaged with community life online, to help them keep mentally healthy, and fight social isolation.
All in all, the IAECs, all our grassroot leaders, have contributed substantially to our community and to nation building. Credit must go to all our volunteers, past and present, who have sacrificed much of your time to serve the Indian community and to serve Singapore. Some of you are long serving volunteers who have been serving for decades, and I am glad to see so many of you here tonight. Thank you all for your contributions and dedicated service!
The IAEC Council or Narpani Pearavai, has also played an important leadership role to guide and support the IAECs activities. Narpani Pearavai I understand means “a council which delivers good service to the community”; that is the literal translation in English and I think the council has certainly lived up to its name. So I would also like to put on record my thanks to all the council members, past and present, let us give them a big round of applause to appreciate their efforts.
Your hard work to nurture close community bonds between Singaporeans, together with that of other grassroots organisations, is one of the key reasons that has enabled Singapore to be a high trust society. It is this deep reservoir of trust that got us through the worst of the pandemic. This is why we are today in stronger position, we are more united than before, and our bonds are stronger than before. This is in stark contrast to many other countries in the world, where the pandemic has further divided and fractured their societies.
We must continue to work together to maintain our strong sense of solidarity and unity as we tackle the challenges ahead of us. It’s the start of the year, and at the start of the year we always extend good wishes for everyone for a comfortable life, for the year to be smooth sailing, for everything to go well. I certainly wish that will be so. But we all know that reality can turn out quite differently, and we must be prepared for difficulties ahead of us. Because there continue to be many uncertainties. Pandemic is not over even though our infection situation now is very stable, and that is why we are able to resume activities like this. War in Ukraine continue and there is no end in sight, which means there will continue to be potential energy and food disruptions along the way during the year. All these will add to cost of living and inflation which are already elevated.
The Government would do our part to help Singaporeans tackle these problems. So as the Chairman (of Narpani Pearavai) said just now, you will never walk alone because we are all in this together. If I may give a little publicity, last month, we gave up to 700 dollars to adult Singaporeans. A few days ago, we gave out the CDC vouchers – 300 dollars to every household. If you have not claimed the vouchers, please do so. Half of it can be used at heartland shops and hawkers. The other half can be used at participating supermarkets. Meanwhile, the budget is coming very soon on 14th February and we are now discussing and thinking through how we can provide more help for Singaporeans to address cost of living concerns.
The bottom line is we should never allow our challenges or problems to divide us – that’s not how we do things in Singapore. Our problems should never cause us to splinter or fracture. Instead, our approach, whenever we face an issue or a problem or a difficulties, our approach is to rally and to confront the issue head on as one people; and each time we do so, we learn from the experiences, and we become stronger and we become more united. That is how Singapore has developed in grown all these decades.
That’s why our networks on the ground are so important because these social networks help to bring Singaporeans together. They ensure we are not just leading isolated and purely private lives, but we are always connected closely together as part of a larger community; and they ensure that we can continue to watch out for one another, to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, and we can reach out to individuals and families who are going through difficult times.
So I encourage the IAECs to continue to do your part to build stronger and more cohesive communities in Singapore. You have built up close relationships with residents, and you are well placed to strengthen our networks on the ground.
In particular, continue to deepen your partnerships with other Indian community organisations which you are already doing. I am happy to see quite a number of them here tonight, including the Gujarati Society, the Malayalee Association, and I understand that tonight’s performances are also by all the different associations and groups. So I am glad that you are embarking on this path of strengthening your partnership with all the different Indian groups and I am sure that this collaboration between the IAECs and all the different community organisations will only serve to amplify and strengthen the impact of your collective work.
I would also encourage you to continue to attract and grow your volunteer base. In particular, make an extra effort to bring on board more youth volunteers. I am glad that some IAECs’ have been actively trying to do this, you have established youth groups, which have championed meaningful programmes in the areas of sports, mental health, and entrepreneurship. I hope the other IAECs will follow their lead. I am confident that if we give our young people the space to experiment, pursue their interests, and initiate projects close to their heart, many more will step forward.
Of course, apart from existing grassroots structures, you can also explore less structured and more flexible volunteering opportunities. This may be useful in drawing in Singaporeans who are not ready to commit to serving in the grassroots but are still interested in volunteering on an ad hoc basis, or for causes they care about. And by doing this, you can reach out to more volunteers, while helping to develop in them the habit of getting involved and contributing in the community.
Above all, you will need to nurture next generation of community leaders. This means taking proactive steps to identify more promising youth leaders, mentor them, give them opportunities for larger leadership responsibilities, and when they are ready, hand over the baton to them. This is how we can ensure that all the good work that the IEAC has done these decades is sustained and will be built upon, and we can continue to keep our community and our country strong and united for many more generations to come.
Finally, let me thank again all our IAEC and grassroots leaders here tonight for your excellent work. There is a lot going for us in Singapore and there is a lot that we can be confident and hopeful about so long as we continue to work together. As we enter the new year, let’s keep faith with each other, and work together for a brighter future and a better Singapore. Thank you very much and a Happy 45th Anniversary.
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