DPM Lawrence Wong at the Official Launch Ceremony of SAFRA Choa Chu Kang

DPM Lawrence Wong | 23 November 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Official Launch Ceremony of SAFRA Choa Chu Kang on 23 November 2023.

Chairman and President of SAFRA, Dr Ng Eng Hen and Zaqy Mohamad,
Chairman of SAFRA Choa Chu Kang Development Committee LTC(NS) Andy Tan,
SAFRA CEO Edward Leong,
My Parliamentary Colleagues,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to join you this morning for the official opening of SAFRA Choa Chu Kang.

It is an exciting day for all of us, but especially for residents in Choa Chu Kang and Yew Tee, and residents across the entire North-West region. Many have been waiting for this new SAFRA facility for a very long time. But the good things in life are worth waiting for. It is a strong demand amongst residents because in the past, in order to get to a club facility like this, you had to go all the way to Jurong or to Yishun. There wasn’t anything accessible in this part of Singapore. So the idea for a SAFRA here was mooted around 10 years ago. The President of SAFRA then was Chan Chun Sing. We have had many SAFRA Presidents since then – Lui Tuck Yew, Maliki and now Zaqy. We have also had many CDFs. But we have only had one Defence Minister. So everyone is grateful to MINDEF, SAF and SAFRA leadership for supporting this project. Of course, the Local Advisors did their part too. Because MINDEF and SAFRA may be prepared to build a new clubhouse here in the West, but they also need to find space – and finding a plot of land in this part of Singapore in Choa Chu Kang is not so easy. So the local advisors Gan Kim Yong, and Zaqy Mohammed (who was at Keat Hong at the time), did their part; they worked hard on the ground and eventually Kim Yong and his team managed to find a space here in Choa Chu Kang park for this development. So we also want to recognise the hard work of the advisors.

Of course, in a development like this, many government agencies also get involved, but I want to make a special shout out to the team at NParks. Because NParks really leaned forward to support this project. Not only in enabling the new SAFRA to be built here. But also developing park connectors from here to the Rail Corridor and to the wider park connector network. And I say this because I am also a beneficiary. My constituency is just north of this new facility, but separated by a highway called the KJE. And north of here, you have Choa Chu Kang Stadium. Residents did not have connection between the stadium and this SAFRA facility because of the huge KJE dividing the two. But NParks came up with a very ingenious solution to have a park connector under the highway connected to the rail connector, connected to Pang Sua canal, connected to the entire green corridor. So it is really through NParks’ support that we can have the SAFRA here, but also have the SAFRA connected to the wider Park Connector Network.

Of course, after approval and after planning, there is still a lot of work to be done in the conceptualisation and implementation of this project. And for this, we are very grateful to the excellent team at SAFRA – management and staff, and also all our SAFRA volunteers, all of whom are NSmen. And that is what makes our SAFRA clubhouses so special – they are built for NSmen, by NSmen. And we want to acknowledge in particular the SAFRA Choa Chu Kang development committee led by LTC(NS) Andy Tan together with his team, all of whom you saw just now — they helped to oversee this project brick by brick, literally. They had to deal with construction delays brought about by Covid, but they persevered and they worked hard to make this happen, so thank you very much to the team too. In the process, I think they set new standards for SAFRA projects. If there were to be new SAFRAs down the road — I am sure at some point there may be — this will be the new benchmark: Just look at the sports facilities here, it is really a “fitness oasis”. There is a swimming pool here like all SAFRA clubhouses, but here, the swimming pool is a sheltered swimming pool, not just an ordinary swimming pool – the first in SAFRA. You have also got a sheltered futsal court, a sky-running track, and you have got the largest gym in SAFRA too. And you have here in SAFRA Choa Chu Kang one of the greenest and most sustainable clubhouses – fitted with solar panels and a rain harvesting system. So they have really put in a lot of thought and effort to set new benchmarks and standards for this SAFRA.

So as you can see, from MINDEF leadership all the way to NSmen in SAFRA, many people have been involved in this new clubhouse – after all, success has many fathers (and also mothers)! It is really a team effort. So this morning, we want to acknowledge everyone who has been involved in this SAFRA Choa Chu Kang project, we thank all of you for making this new SAFRA at Choa Chu Kang a reality. Thank you very much!

It has been just a short time since the soft launch of SAFRA Choa Chu Kang in June. Since then, more than 700,000 visitors have been here. Community and grassroots organisations have held many events here. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

With the completion of SAFRA Chua Chu Kang, we now have 7 SAFRA clubhouses across Singapore. Each of them provides quality facilities you would normally only find in exclusive private membership clubs. But we make these accessible and affordable to our NSmen and their families all over Singapore. Of course, SAFRA faces competition too, because nowadays, Singaporeans’ lifestyles have evolved. Expectations are much higher, people are travelling a lot more, even our community centres have been upgraded and have better facilities. So SAFRA has to continually innovate as it is doing now in Choa Chu Kang and make sure that SAFRA can keep pace and continue to provide attractive facilities for our NSmen. But one advantage that SAFRA has is the ties and friendships that are built during NS. All of SAFRA’s members are not just members to a club, you are first and foremost NSmen, and there is something that binds us together as NSmen — the camaderie, the bonds that we have together. And here in SAFRA, our NSmen can strengthen their bonds of friendship, and sustain that crucial sense of camaraderie with each other.

Collectively, what we do in SAFRA is a small but concrete way for us to show our gratitude for the sacrifices our NSmen make in service of our nation. It is a way for us to acknowledge the key role that all our NSmen play in Singapore’s defence. And there are many things that our NSmen do. You carry a heavy burden. You are always ready to defend our country. You protect our critical infrastructure and installations. You have to respond to all sorts of threats. Even during COVID-19, NSmen stepped forward — operating checkpoints, delivering critical supplies to the vulnerable, and supporting our hospitals which were under tremendous strain. You have to maintain your fitness as NSmen, you have to go for annual in-camp training, and you have to do all that while juggling your work and family responsibilities. We know that it is not easy for our NSmen. But because generations of NSmen take this seriously, fulfil their duties diligently, we now continue to have a strong and credible SAF. And Singapore continues to enjoy peace and security.

We cannot afford to take any of this for granted.

We know that we are living in a more dangerous and turbulent world. For a long time, Europe said that it was “post-war”, meaning they have left war behind them. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and you see a war in Europe that has been going on for nearly 2 years with no end in sight. In recent years, people were optimistic about a more stable equilibrium in the Middle East – after all, the UAE had normalised its ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia looked set to follow suit, and so the thinking was there can now be more peace and stability. Then Hamas launched its attacks, Israel responded with its military operations in Gaza, and now the violence threatens to escalate into a wider regional conflict. Here in Asia, we are fortunate to have enjoyed peace for more than 50 years since the end of the Vietnam war. But things can easily go wrong – with competition between US and China, and flashpoints in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, where accidents and miscalculations can happen. So the world has become more fragmented and more volatile – and there are more tail risk events which can create significant uncertainties for all of us, including here in Singapore.

And all this will affect our security. And that is why we must continue to ensure a strong SAF and, crucially, sustain our commitment to National Service.

The Government will continue to find ways to appreciate and recognise the contributions of our NSmen. You know that we are redeveloping our floating platform at Marina Bay into NS Square, a permanent space to commemorate National Service. Last year, we also celebrated NS55, with a year-long campaign of events and activities to show appreciation to our NSmen. And we will continue to find new ways to appreciate and recognise our NSmen.

SAFRA’s work will be a crucial part of this effort. I am glad to have been part of SAFRA when I first entered politics in 2011 — more than 10 years ago already, when I was SAFRA President then. The wonderful thing is I still see the same faces that I saw at that time, which is a remarkable thing. Andy was in the committee then in SAFRA. He was a major then, now he has added another “crab” — not because of SAFRA work, because of his commitments to NS. And he is continuing to serve and stay active in SAFRA. And I see many young faces too, importantly, so it is not the same old faces; many new blood coming in, which is wonderful. I have had the chance to see first-hand the dedication and the commitment of the SAFRA team and our many SAFRA volunteers. And I am glad to see SAFRA continuing to grow from strength to strength over these last 10 years. Your membership has expanded. You have many more visitors across your 7 clubhouses. So I encourage SAFRA to continue to do whatever it can to attract and enlarge its pool of volunteers. And I would also call on all young NSmen to step forward to contribute. Just because there are seniors still serving doesn’t mean you can leave it to them. At some point the seniors will step back, they will give way for new blood to come in, and we want to make sure that more young NSmen step forward to serve. It is a worthy cause, because by doing your part, we can ensure SAFRA plays an important role in nation-building, and in raising the pride and morale of all NSmen in Singapore. By serving in SAFRA, you are also serving your fellow NSmen.

To conclude, the rigorous demands of National Service on our citizens and our citizen soldiers can never truly be repaid. But I am confident that if we continue to work together – SAFRA, its volunteers, and our many NSmen, we can continue to find meaningful and innovative ways to show our nation’s gratitude, strengthen our collective commitment to National Service and, in so doing, keep Singapore safe, cohesive and secure for many more years to come. So congratulations once again, and it is my pleasure to declare SAFRA Choa Chu Kang officially open. Thank you very much.