Keynote speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Opening Ceremony of the Refurbished SCCCI Building on 10 September 2022.
Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong,
Parliamentary colleague Dr Tan See Leng,
President of SCCCI, Mr Kho Choon Keng,
Immediate Past President, Mr Roland Ng,
Members of the Chamber,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to join you today for the Opening Ceremony of the Renovated SCCCI Building. Let me start with a few words in Mandarin before I continue in English later.
Let me congratulate the Chamber once again on the opening of your renovated building. We saw just now from the video how our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew first opened the SCCCI building on the Mid-Autumn Festival in 1964. So it is most fitting that we are able to re-open this building on another Mid-Autumn Festival 58 years later.
It has not been easy on the entire team working on this project. It has taken almost five years. Just now when (SCCCI Council Member) Mr John Lim was speaking to me, he said this was the longest project he had worked on all his life. There were many obstacles, especially with the last two and a half years of Covid. It took sheer grit and perseverance, working closely with the contractor to get this renovated building completed today. Congratulations to everyone who has been hard at work on this project!
Since its beginnings, the SCCCI building has been a distinctive feature in our civic district. Anyone who walked past this building along Hill Street would be struck by the majestic nine-dragon wall, symbolising Chinese culture and tradition. The new building has a modern curved glass façade, but I am glad that the iconic nine-dragon wall has been expertly conserved and restored. And it is now complemented by a new Chinese Business Culture Hub, to display important materials and artefacts from the Chamber’s history. This combination of classical Chinese elements with a modern façade reflects the Chamber’s commitment to stay true to its rich heritage, while keeping up with the times.
The successful reopening of your Hill Street premises marks the latest milestone in the Chamber’s long and illustrious history. Since its opening in 1906, SCCCI has played a critical role in our Singapore story. Over the years, you have supported our economic development by expanding its business networks and organising trade and investment missions to Southeast Asia. You have forged links with the Chinese Government and business community, playing a key role in helping Singapore enterprises venture into China.
Today, the Chamber continues to support our businesses in China through your Enterprise Centres in Shanghai and Chengdu. And these networks proved very important during COVID-19, when we were able to work together to source for disposable masks and protective equipment.
Besides playing a major role in our economic development, SCCCI has also played an active role in promoting Singapore’s distinctive Chinese culture and heritage. For instance, working together, we have held the River Hongbao for many years since 1987, and it has become a major highlight in our Chinese New Year celebrations every year.
The Chamber was also involved in many other iconic buildings and projects, including: The Civilian War Memorial, which it took the lead to establish after the Second World War; the establishment of schools like Hwa Chong and Raffles Institution; and even the beginnings of National Service.
All these many contributions embody the values of integrity, patriotism, innovation, and giving back – values which are important to our Singaporean Chinese community, and which are also shared by all Singaporeans, regardless of background.
These enduring values have enabled us to get through the last two and a half years of Covid. It has not been smooth or easy, and we have had our share of ups and downs. I know many of your members and SMEs were badly impacted, especially in sectors like construction, retail, tourism and F&B, amongst others. I would like to acknowledge the important role that SCCCI played during this period – engaging your members and SMEs, providing feedback, working closely with the Government to help shape our response measures.
Amongst all of you, I know there are many unsung heroes and heroines who have steadfastly and quietly been contributing to our fight against Covid. So, today, I would like to say a big heartful “Thank You” to everyone for your many contributions.
Beyond a public health crisis, the pandemic has been a major test of our social cohesion. It demanded the best of everyone in our society. From government to healthcare workers, from essential workers to ordinary citizens, everyone had to come together and do our part.
The most critical factor is trust – trust in the government; and trust in one another to do the right thing. We are very grateful that throughout the pandemic, especially in the darkest moments of the pandemic, we have continued to trust one another and we have seen the Singapore spirit shining brightly amongst us.
In the coming years, it will be even more critical to ensure that Singapore remains a high-trust society. Because while we may be in a better position where Covid is concerned, we know there are dark clouds and challenges ahead. In the near term, there will be more economic uncertainties, due to the Ukraine war.
We can already see Europe facing a major gas and energy problem, which will likely worsen as winter approaches. We are already facing a global fertiliser crisis now, which means that the food harvest next year will likely be impacted. Meanwhile, Central Banks in developed countries like the US are continuing to raise interest rates, which is necessary to curb inflation. These factors mean the global economy is likely to slow down next year.
At the same time, inflationary pressures will continue to persist, especially with continued energy and food supply disruptions. At some point, the inflation rate will stabilise. But it is unlikely to come down to the rates we were used to in the past. So we must be prepared for higher prices to be around for longer.
The Government will do everything we can to help Singaporean households and businesses cope with these higher prices. For households – we have rolled out generous relief measures. For businesses – we have introduced schemes to help you restructure and transform, including making use of new equipment and technologies to be more energy efficient and to reduce your energy costs. We recognise that the economic situation is highly fluid, so the Government will continue to monitor closely, and stand ready to do more if necessary.
One reason why things will not go back to how they were in the past, why inflation will not just be where it used to be, is that global economic conditions have fundamentally changed. After the end of the Cold War, we had 30 years of globalisation with a flourishing of trade and investments around the world, which benefited countries everywhere.
Unfortunately, this golden age of globalisation is over. Countries are now relooking supply chains to prioritise resilience and self-sufficiency. What is also worrying is the worsening relations between US and China which is already starting to impact investment, trade, and finance around the world.
We must expect more geo-political contestation in the Asia Pacific too. Countries like Singapore will be pulled in different directions by the major powers. We will continue to come under greater pressure to take sides.
This is why it is so vital for us to maintain trust in one another as Singaporeans, because in the end, we are not choosing sides with either power, but we are choosing instead to stand up always for Singapore and Singaporeans. That means being clear about what vital interests are, and standing firm on these interests in a consistent and principled manner. It means we must never allow ourselves to be taken in by mis-information. And when it comes to dealing with external challenges and issues, we must quickly close ranks amongst ourselves, and stay united as one people.
To maintain and nurture the high levels of trust in society, we must also continue to review and update the way we relate to one another – what are the expectations we have of each another, be it government, businesses, employers, or workers, and what are our respective responsibilities and obligations.
Hence one of my immediate priorities since taking on my new responsibility as DPM is to embark on the Forward Singapore exercise. It is a national conversation and a national movement to refresh and strengthen our social compact as we chart our new forward together in this new environment.
It has been two months since we started our conversations and have received many useful suggestions. For example, how we can provide more opportunities for businesses and workers to thrive in this rapidly changing world. And how can we strengthen the assurance and protection for more vulnerable groups, including lower-income households and the growing number of elderly persons for whom we would like to provide better care.
Crucially, Forward Singapore is not just about what the Government can do, but what we can all achieve together as one united people. SCCCI can play an important role in this exercise. As a leading business association, you are well-placed to champion the needs of our enterprises, including the need to continue growing and to create more opportunities and jobs for Singaporeans.
So I am very encouraged to hear from both your President and Immediate Past President that the Chamber will be supporting and participating fully in this Forward Singapore exercise. It is an opportunity for you to be at the forefront of contributing to Singapore’s next bound of development, as you have been doing these decades.
Let me conclude. Throughout its history, SCCCI has played an important role in Singapore’s economic and cultural development. At this latest milestone, the Chamber remains more important than ever. I hope you will continue to uphold the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and values that have brought us to where we are today and I look forward to working with all of you to strengthen our partnership and build a better Singapore together.
Congratulations once again to everyone in the Chamber on this important milestone, and I wish you every success in the coming years.
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