Friends and fellow Singaporeans, 40 years ago, we set out into an uncertain future. We didn’t know what lay ahead but we were determined to survive and to build a better future for ourselves. Today, Singapore is totally different. In four decades, we’ve succeeded beyond anybody’s imagination. Our people live well, our children are well educated, we’re friends with our neighbours, and most important of all, we’re maturing as a nation.
One test of this was when the tsunami hit our neighbours last December. Ordinary Singaporeans responded overwhelmingly in cash, in kind, volunteering to help. Our volunteers with NGOs, our doctors and nurses, our SAF and civil defence servicemen, they carried out rescue and relief operations under very difficult conditions.
There are so many stories which could be told, but I have to choose one to represent all the things we did. In Banda Aceh, the air traffic control tower at the airport was damaged by the earthquake and the tsunami. They needed the airport operational so that relief supplies could fly in. We had a mobile air traffic control tower in Singapore. We disassembled it, packed it into aeroplanes, flew it to Banda Aceh, arrived at 11 o’clock at night, unloaded it, assembled it, made it operational 5am the next morning.
Our response to the tsunami won us respect, as well as friendship. It showed the world that our people and our organisations are outfits that are competent, effective, always ready. It showed that we care for others and would do our best to help when our friends are in need.
And so, when the operation was completed and we left, we left as friends. In Meulaboh where we were busiest, Teo Chee Hean went for the farewell ceremony when the SAF sailed away. Colonel Geerhan who was the Indonesian army commander, who was in Meulaboh and responsible for it, hugged him, three bear hugs. We left behind 16,000 school bags in Meulaboh, in Bandar Aceh, in Phuket, in Sri Lanka for the children so that they can start their lives again, gifts with tags hand-made by our school children. And in Indonesia, every bag carried a little piece, one red and white Indonesian flag, one red and white Singapore flag.
So, I think we have friends as a result of this. It’s a great tribute to the men and women who took part. Your team work and spirit made it possible and you made us all proud to be Singaporeans. Some of you are here tonight. May I ask you to rise and stand and be recognised. We salute you.
Another sign that we are maturing as a country is that I think young Singaporeans now understand what it stands for us to survive as a nation. Two weeks ago, I was here in this cultural centre watching a National Day musical review, “All 4 Love” put on by Lim Swee Say’s grassroots and the GRC, very high quality production but the casts were all volunteers. That’s a National Day production, so National Day stories. As Lim Swee Say said, at the end of the story, his tissue box was empty.
But what registered, what caught my eye was the cast. The youngest member was an 11-year-old girl, primary five, Patty Lim was her name. And they produced a programme book. So I flipped through and I found in the programme book what Patty Lim had said for her birthday wish for Singapore -- “to have a constant supply of water. I also wish for peace in Singapore”. So, I give her and her national education teacher full marks.
As a small country, we pay close attention to making friends abroad and ensuring Singapore’s security. We are on good terms with all the important countries in the region. With our immediate neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, I have established relationships with their leaders, President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, and we are working together, cooperating in many areas.
We are investing in Malaysia and you see Malaysia is investing in Singapore. They recently bought some shares in I think M1. We’re happy at that.
In ASEAN, we’re growing our linkages on a broad front, talking about an ASEAN community by 2020, hopefully sooner. Beyond that, India, Japan and Australia are good friends with us. In the Middle East, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has been very busy expanding ties, visiting, cultivating them, developing a relationship which we will need for the long term.
And our relations with China are back on track and with EU and America, our relations are good.
So, we are friends with all the key players which matter to us. They are not all friends with one another all of the time, and they have various problems amongst themselves but with Singapore, we are on good terms with them and that’s a comfortable state of affairs to be in.
One security issue which we have to worry about is terrorism. The London bombings remind us all if we needed any reminder, that this threat is real, is live and so, we have to take precautions and do our utmost to prevent anything untoward from happening in Singapore.
So, you see, even for our National Day Rally, we have to go through a long process before we can all sit in here tonight -- policemen, Ghurkhas, roadblocks, sentries, scans -- but it’s necessary. We have to take it with the utmost seriousness because the terrorists have not given up.
But we have to be psychologically prepared. If ever something happens here, we’ve got to remain unshaken, respond promptly, efficiently, calmly and press on as one united people, just like the British did when there were the bombings on the London tube in July.
Most important of all, we must not let the terrorists destroy our hard-won racial and religious harmony and social cohesion, the fabric of our society which we've built up over 40 years. And that’s why the answer to the terrorists is not just security measures and bomb scans, but also nation-building.
What will Singapore be like 40 years from now? I can’t tell you. Nobody can. But I can tell you it must be a totally different Singapore because if it is the same Singapore as it is today, we’re dead. We will be irrelevant, marginalised, the world will be different. You may want to be the same, but you can’t be the same. Therefore, we have to remake Singapore -- our economy, our education system, our mindsets, our city.
Developing the Singapore economy
I will start with the economy because that’s how we earn a living for ourselves. In fact, last year I wanted to start with the economy, but my ministers told me, everybody knows you make economic speeches, say something else. But I’m coming back to the economy this year because, in fact, that’s the root of how we will solve all our other problems.
Asia is rising, the tide is rising, and we will benefit from this flood tide. It’s far better for us to be in a region where our neighbours are growing and opening up opportunities for us than it is to be in a region where our neighbours are stagnant and we hope to make our living because we are doing a little bit better than them.
I know that many Singaporeans are concerned about competition. It’s understandable because everywhere in the world, people are worried about competition, anxious about livelihoods.
I was in America in July. The economy is doing well, their unemployment is down, hundreds of thousands of jobs are being created every month and yet, the mood is worried, uncertain, anxious and the political leaders are anxious because if people are worried when things are good, what more when things are down?
In Europe, they’re fearful of competition too, not just competition from China or India, even competition within Europe. So the French had a referendum on the European Constitution and it lost, and one of the reasons was they were worried about competition from the Eastern European countries. So the Polish plumber became the icon because it’s a new country, they’re paid less, they work harder, they’re going to cause all Frenchmen to go out of work.
Even in China, as I explained just now in my Chinese speech, people face fierce competition amongst themselves. There are 1,300 million Chinese workers. Lim Swee Say had a good explanation of why people are worried. I will explain it to you, not as good as Swee Say, but I will try. He says this is a "cheaper and better" argument. There are countries in the world which are cheaper than us, we’re better than them. There are countries in the world which are better than us, we’re cheaper than them. But now the countries which are better than us are getting cheaper and the countries which are cheaper than us are getting better. It's like the scissors are closing and we are in the middle. And if we don’t jump out and do something, we’re going to be squeezed.
But we’re not going to stay there. We didn’t get here by doing nothing. We started with nothing and we made this. We started with mosquito coils, exporting them. We went on to make semiconductors. We started with bee hoon makers, now we have the Biopolis. So, we have to continue to change and to start ahead of the game and there are two major thrusts that we are going to continue to grow and prosper.
The first is to foster innovation and enterprise and the second is R&D.
Let me talk about innovation and enterprise first.
It’s one strong lesson which I took away after visiting Las Vegas. I spent one night and one day there, didn’t win a cent, didn’t lose a cent, but what I learnt is that out of nothing, in a desert, they’ve built a city -- 40 million people visit there every year. What is it? Imagination, enterprise, drive, organisation. So, you imagine the resort, you imagine what people want. You conceive and put together all the pieces -- the restaurants, the food, the spas, the golf course, the entertainment and, of course, the gambling -- and you present it in a way which people come and enjoy and say, "This is good. I will tell my friends and I will come back". And what made it? Innovation and enterprise, the human imagination.
I’m not saying that Singapore wants to become Las Vegas. I think we don’t want to become Las Vegas, but we should learn from that spirit and take what is relevant for us. I think we have some of that. We have home-grown companies which are using their creativity, knowledge and ideas to carve out niches for themselves and new markets for themselves. You’ve heard about the big ones -- Osim, Creative, Hyflux. So, I will tell you one interesting story about small ones, SMEs in an out-of-the way place, East Timor.
Two years ago, DPM Tony Tan visited East Timor. We had SAF soldiers there serving with the UN. So he visited the troops. General Lim Chuan Poh, who was then Chief of Defence Force – he's here somewhere tonight -- accompanied Dr Tony Tan. While he was there, he got a phone call from his former SAF NS driver in the division. So, he asked the driver, "What are you doing here?" The driver says, "I’m doing business here. I heard the UN was here, the foreigners were here, they needed service. I came, selling oil, lubricants, electronic goods, opened a little café in Dili Airport".
At first he couldn’t speak a word of Bahasa. So, to communicate with his business people, he used a calculator. He'll do the sums to show, do subtractions, additions. But, over time, he learnt Bahasa, picked it up without lessons and now he’s doing okay. He told Lim Chuan Poh, his attitude was "ga ga zo", "just do it".
He wasn’t the only one. There were about 10 or 20 of them there and they went to the airport to meet Dr Tony Tan. Tony said they did not ask him for anything. But they said: "Please keep the SAF here a little bit longer because from time to time, there are riots in this place and we need somebody to protect us.”
So, we need innovation and enterprise.
Secondly, we have to exploit R&D, knowledge. We built up this economy based on efficiency, based on cost-effectiveness. We work well, we squeeze costs down, minimise waste and so, we attracted multinationals to come here. They provided the enterprise, we got the jobs.
Now, we have to go beyond efficiency. You must still be efficient, but you must now develop and exploit knowledge, R&D, compete on the basis of knowledge and innovation and talent and not just on costs. And that way we can move the economy to the next level.
I give you an example of three companies to show what I mean – Philips, Samsung and Sony. All three electronics companies. They all started off doing consumer electronics. Philips went for R&D, medical products, sold medical instruments, sophisticated software inside, high margin, high knowledge content.
Samsung is in handphones but fancy handphones, a lot of innovation and design. So, they have colour screens, they have built-in cameras. One new model every few days and they’ve built themselves a big market share and profits.
Sony is in consumer electronics, high volume, low margins. In fact, in recent years, they suffered losses. So, we have to adopt a strategy like Samsung and Philips.
So over the last year I asked Dr Tan to chair a ministerial committee on research and development. They’ve studied it in-depth, visited many countries, made their recommendations and the Government has accepted their recommendations -- two big ones. One is to set up a Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) to advise the Government on research and innovation strategies and to include people from the private sector, from academia, people from the scientific community and also the key ministers to be involved in it so that you can get the lessons first hand. And secondly, to set up a National Research Foundation (NRF) to fund long-term research in strategic areas. We’ve accepted these recommendations. This has to be a national effort, backed by the whole government and with the co-operation of the private sector. So, I’ve decided that for the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, I will chair it myself. The National Research Foundation, Dr Tony Tan has agreed to chair and he will also be the Deputy Chairman of the RIEC, the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, and he will help me to drive this effort and continue to do so after he steps down as DPM at the end of this month.
I’m very grateful to Tony because he stayed on to help me through this transition year. He's done major projects, the R&D review, co-ordinating national security, setting up the system for looking after our national security, overseeing university education and now agreeing to contribute after stepping down.
He has many more contributions to make to Singapore. Thank you, Tony.
So, innovation, enterprise and R&D, these are the ways to remake the economy. There are risks in this approach. We are a small country, we can’t bet on every number on the table, we have to back certain positions. But we have to do this and if we succeed, we will gain a competitive edge which will put us ahead for 15 or 20 years to come; not forever, but long enough for us to make a living and to work out the next step forward and, therefore, to create jobs and prosperity for Singaporeans.
When we talk about economic growth, it’s for a social purpose because with growth, we generate resources and with the resources, we can deal with our social objectives, the things we want to do, achieve goals, make progress together.
We can deal with adjusting to a society with older Singaporeans. Last year I spoke about younger Singaporeans. So this year I shall talk about older Singaporeans and their concerns.
We can help low-income Singaporeans to make sure nobody is left out and also, we can make sure that healthcare will be affordable, which I will talk about briefly at the end.
Providing for older Singaporeans
Let me start with the question of providing for the needs of older Singaporeans. We are a society which is rapidly ageing. If you are just within Singapore, you may not notice it because it happens day by day, gradually. But if you are a foreigner and coming here for the first time, the shock is palpable.
Halimah told me, she went on a walkabout one day and in the market, met an Indonesian maid, just arrived in Singapore. The maid said to her, "Ibu, saya lihat di-Singapura banyak orang tua!" In other words, "Ma’am, in Singapore, there are an awful lot of old people" and in Indonesia, it’s not like that. So, I think we have to adjust. There are many issues which are involved in adjusting to becoming an older society, a silver society, sounds better. But today, I will focus only on one of them and that is on how to get people to work longer. We can’t retire at 55 and then live on till 80 or more. It’s okay if you retire at 55 and you live on for five, 10 years, well, you enjoy your grandchildren, but to work for 30 years of your life and then to cool heels for 25 more years, I think you will go gaga. Cannot be done. You’ll have to work longer. It’s not easy, but the key to changing this is attitude – the workers’ attitude as well as the employers’ attitude.
Let me talk first about the workers’ attitude. The older workers have to learn to adjust, adapt, learn new skills, accept temporary jobs, contract work and go with the world, with what is available and what they are able to do, and I know of many older workers who have made these adjustments and who have, therefore, been able to find jobs and remain productive with the help of enlightened employers. They have a strong determination not to give up. They stay in the job market -- no matter what happens, they will do it.
NTUC Lifestyle magazine recently, a few months ago, had an article about such a worker. Her name is Shirley Lee, she’s 63 years old. She was a clerk, she got retrenched in her 50s. She found another job, she got retrenched again. She is now 63. She has savings, her husband is working, but they have a young son still in JC and they had decided that they want to save money for the son’s education, for his future. So, she said, "I’m still fit, I can work, I will work". She tried many jobs, couldn’t find an employer. So, she went and got a certificate in cleaning, became a toilet cleaner, not much pay but she did the job and I quote what she said. She told Lifestyle: “The son asked me why I had to stoop so low and be a toilet cleaner, he wanted me to stop. I told him I see no loss of dignity in being a toilet cleaner. I’m earning my living and I’m not robbing anybody. Anyway, what else will I do at home with him so busy in school studying?”
So, with that sort of attitude, Word, Excel, Spreadsheet, when NTUC Lifestyle published her story, she got 71 job offers. She chose one to work with SAGE, the Singapore Action Group of Elders, because she believed in helping others like her. So, I wish her well. I think we all wish her well.
The employers’ attitude is equally important. The companies have to give older workers a chance. If when the worker rings up they say, "What’s your age?" You say, "Forty-five", and they say, "Don’t call me, I’ll call you". Then, you can’t even start. And some of the companies put up requirements -- spas, front-desk receptionists -- says "40 or below". I don’t understand this. If you say "Spa masseuse, work hard, 40 or below", I can understand, but front-desk? Here, you want somebody who will be able to look after the customer, to have some maturity, be reliable, loyal, patient, ready to work, experienced and skilled and I think older workers have that.
I think employers should change their mindsets and give older workers a chance. Older workers, sometimes employers tell me, "Older workers are so slow, I better pay them don’t come to work". But I don’t think it’s necessarily true. They may need a bit more time to get used to the environment, but they are not slow. You go to a fast food joint, you say, "Regular Coke, takeaway" -- if it’s a teenager, he knows what you’re talking about. If it’s somebody my age, I may say, "You want an economy meal, or you want regular? You want to eat here or you want to go?" So, he says, "Regular Coke, takeaway", but "lia bo kiu" (don’t understand). But you go to a coffee shop, you say, "One kopi-si kosong, one kopi-gao, one teh-o-peng", no problem, everybody gets exactly the drink which he ordered. So, I think older workers can do it.
There are some good employers, but we need more. SGH is one good employer. They’ve got 77 people whom they have re-employed after reaching retirement age. Three of them are reaching 70. How do I know? I asked them. Why did I ask them? Because I met one of these, Mr Ng Hon Weng, he’s a radiographer. That means he sets you up to take x-ray pictures. So, whenever I go to SGH, very often, if he’s on duty, he will do me. Very efficient, puts me up, he says, "Hands up, shift a bit, hold your breath", zap, it’s done. X-ray comes out, no re-shoot. I did this once overseas in a very well-known hospital -- young man came, he put me on the table, he shifted the table, he moved me up, he moved me down, he turned me around a little bit. Then his supervisor came, says, "No good, do again". So, that’s why Mr Ng, aged 70, is still able to be working, productive, with skills which he can impart to younger people so that they also can be as good as he is and maybe even better in time and I think we need more people working like that and more people willing to employ workers like that.
We’ve got a tripartite committee working on this problem. We’ve got the Workforce Development Agency, the unions, the CDCs, they’re all working closer to help older workers, but I think this is something which is not just policies and formulas and incentives, but mindset change and that’s why it’s National Day Rally subject.
The other issue, the second issue I want to talk about on social issues is low-income Singaporeans, giving them a helping hand. The recent years have been hard for the low income group -- uncertainty, retrenchments, bonuses down, overtime down. Now, the economy is picking up and I can see that the wages are going up, recruitment is going up, things are looking up again. But we still have to pay attention to this problem because I think it has not totally gone away and we must make sure that everybody enjoys the fruits of progress. And also, we have to do this to make sure that there’s social mobility, that whether you’re rich or poor, you have a fair chance of getting your children to do well and to move up in life. We’ve done a lot to help already. We’ve got all kinds of assistance schemes, like Comcare, particularly this year, which is a big project. We’ve got job redesign and re-creation, so that people can work smarter, be more productive, therefore earn more, whether you’re cleaning tables, whether you’re sweeping the roads, even driving buses.
And we focus on education and training to raise earning power and to make sure that in the long term, we no longer have people who are low-skilled and, therefore, low-pay. I’ll talk about this some more later on.
But the basic principle which we apply in helping low-income Singaporeans, which has worked well for us and, we must keep it, is we go for "workfare", not welfare. That means, if you work, if you’re prepared to help yourself, if you’re going to strive, I will help you to succeed. But if you sit back and you say, "Please do something for me and the more you do for me, the less I need to do for myself", then I think we cannot do that, because that way is perdition, is a disaster for the individual, he’s demoralised. It’s disaster for the country. Instead of going to create wealth, you’re sitting back and expecting it to fall from heaven. Cannot be done.
I would like to highlight just two areas concerning low-income families tonight. One is the question of dysfunctional families. This is the group which has multiple problems. We see them in MPS. They come, one case, five or six letters to write because they are in difficulty with so many different agencies and actually, even in their own families -- broken up, children misbehaving and so on. All races are represented, but amongst the groups, the Malay community is over-represented, which is why I talked a little bit more about this in my Malay speech just now. But it’s a problem which we have to address, tackle and to help these people get their lives in order, most important, to get their children to be sorted out so their children start off straight in life and don’t go wrong at a young age and then perpetuate the problem in the next generation. So, that’s one of the issues we have to be concerned with.
The other issue concerning low-income families is to discuss what we can do to work to build up their assets. One of the very effective approaches which this government has implemented over many years is the HDB Home Ownership Scheme. We subsidise people to own and to save, but we don’t subsidise people to spend. So, HDB home ownership through helping you to have an HDB flat, we have helped make sure that everybody has a stake in Singapore and it’s a very, very good way to level up our society.
So, we collect all kinds of statistics in Singapore. One of the groups we look very carefully at is the bottom one-fifth of the population, 20 per cent. We’ve published some stats recently about their incomes which have not risen as much as we like. So, I have asked for more study of their wealth, what do they own, and you’ll be surprised, in the bottom one-fifth of the population, nearly all of them own houses, first of all. Secondly, if you take the value of the house, their equity in it, which means how much money, how much is that value for them, on average, they have $138,000. That means the value of the house, you subtract the mortgage not paid, but this is what is worth to him. So, it’s not bad for the bottom one-fifth to have $138,000 of wealth in an HDB house.
It will see him into his old age and his family if he is prudent. Also, they have money in the CPF. So, I asked, "What about the CPF? Let’s look at this group and see what they have there".
Well, they have something there. CPF $33,000; Medisave $16,000 average, so you add up, this group has got about $49,000, nearly $50,000 savings for the future. So, I think that we have done the right thing to help provide for this group of low-income Singaporeans to make sure that their future is assured, that they have a stake in Singapore and their old age would be, to a considerable extent, taken care of.
But I think we can do more to help them, not to spend but to build up their assets. We’ve been studying this and we’ve decided that what we’re going to do is to have a new scheme, a new CPF Housing Grant Scheme for lower income families who buy HDB flats. Let me explain to you how this works.
When you buy a HDB flat from the HDB, you get a good price. I think everybody knows that, right? Because we give it to you at below the market rate, it’s a discount, it’s meant as a hongbao. But the discount, the price is the same once you buy the flat, whether you are $8,000 household income, whether you are $1,000 household income, it’s the same price, same subsidy, same bite of the cherry. So, my question is, can’t we find a way to help the lower income groups bite from a bigger cherry? I think there’s a way to do it.
What you can do is when a family buys a HDB flat, we’ll assess your income and if your income is in the lower income group, then I think we can put a grant, paid into your CPF, which will help you to buy the HDB flat from us. This is for HDB flat from the Government and also HDB flat if you want to buy resale, you get the resale grant and I will give you this grant as well. So, in effect, if you’re lower income, you have more and I think if we do this, we would be able to narrow the gap between the lower income and the people who are doing better off. The details, we have to work out because you want to make sure that people don’t just stop working to get the grant, but we will find a way to do it. I think it’s the right way to do, it’s the right way to help lower-income Singaporeans. So, I’ve told Ng Eng Hen. He says, yes, he’s going to work hard on this.
Last, I’d like to talk about healthcare costs. This is a big subject. If I make a lecture on this, we will spend a long time. So, I will find another occasion to speak fully on this subject but tonight, I just want to say a few of the things which we are doing in healthcare. It’s a concern for many Singaporeans, especially the older Singaporeans and the lower income Singaporeans. So, there are two things which we will do. One, the MediShield age limit. Right now, it’s 80. We will raise it to 85 so that when you are old, when you need the insurance, the MediShield will be there, you will be protected.
Secondly, the Medisave, we will make it more flexible so that for those people who have enough balances and are still working, then we can be more liberal in the withdrawal rules for the Medisave. If you are going to unsubsidised wards, A or B1 wards, or private hospitals, you can have a little bit more out of the Medisave balance and if you go for the SOCs, Specialist Outpatient Clinics, for major treatments, I think we can allow controlled use from Medisave also. I think this will be a great help because even reading the wish lists of people saying what they would expect to hear from the National Day Rally, this was one of them. So, we are working on this. I think we can improve our MediShield, Medisave schemes to make it work better.
These are problems which do not have easy solutions, but I can make you this promise -- we are one people together. Growth and prosperity in Singapore is for all Singaporeans to share and provided you work hard and you help yourself, we will help you to succeed and we will progress together and we will not leave anybody behind.
Boost for polytechnics and ITEs
Next, I want to talk about education because in order to remake the economy, then Singaporeans have to be equipped with the right skills and the right attitudes. Last year, I spoke about the schools, "Teach less, learn more", to give our young more room to discover their passionate interests. I think it has caused the schools to think in a different way and considerable progress has been made in this direction. So, this year, I am going to focus on post-secondary education, especially the polys and the ITEs.
We must have an education system which offers first-class education to all and not just to an elite few at the top. We want to create opportunities for all of our people, regardless of their family background. We want to develop every talent, not just those who are academically-inclined, and we want to prevent the problem of low skills and low incomes from going on into the next generation. And that's the way we can keep ourselves an inclusive and a mobile society because if you start at the bottom with a good education and talent, we can move up.
That's why Singapore works. It's not just because we have a few stars but a strong Singapore team. That's why the tsunami operation was possible. You can have the best generals writing orders, but unless you've got the volunteers, you've got the specialists, you have got the technicians, you have got the crew men, the sailors, the men on the ground, an excellent organisation from top to bottom, you cannot deliver. Everyone has to be well-trained, know his job.
In medical care, it's the same. Why is our medical care good in Singapore? Because it's not just the doctors and the surgeons, but the nurses, the technicians, the lab specialists, the whole hospital staff, the administration. So, when you on to the hospital, you can be sure you're in good hands. After your heart bypass, if you have one, your nurse will make sure that you're okay and you wouldn't get an infection and then conk out because of the infection instead of the heart bypass. Or if you have a blood transfusion, you can be sure it's safe. You wouldn't end up with bigger problems from a blood transfusion.
Other countries in the region are going for medical care and they have doctors who are as qualified as ours, trained in the same Western institutions in America and Europe as ours. But the whole package, they are improving, but they haven't got there yet.
I was in one country in the region recently and talking to the diplomats. So, they were telling me the operation cost one-half the price in Singapore. So, I decided to ask him, “Where do the diplomats go?” They said, "Singapore, Hongkong or Bangkok". I said, "What will you do if you are sick?" So, the wife said, "I am going straight home to Singapore". So, that is the difference between a star and a team and we want the team.
So, that means we need good polys, good ITEs and not just good universities. The polys take the biggest segment of our cohort -- 40 per cent of our students go to poly. They are really already world-class, greatly-admired internationally and I went to visit one of them. I went to Nanyang Poly. I was very impressed. They are close to industry, they can respond to industry needs as the needs change and they provide practical and useful training to the students. So, as a result, the graduates are in great demand, very well-paid and skilled.
In Nanyang Poly, I saw two things. One was the Engineering side. They make robots. Not just robots which can wave their hands around and show that it's alive, but robots for a particular operational use, commissioned by the industry. They showed me one which Hewlett Packard had asked them to make. It is a robot to build plotters. A plotter is a big thing which architects and other people use to draw big pictures and you want a robot on a production line. So, you want a real project. The lecturer takes the project, the students work with him, batches of students work with him. This is a real-life project which is going to put to use.
In digital animation, they create their own cartoon. If you see "Gan Cheong King" on TV Mobile, that's done by Nanyang Poly. Very good, and I asked them to do a little job for me which you will see later on. Two of their students -- one is Viridis Liew, the other one Min Ming -- went to a World Skills Competition in Helsinki in Finland. Seven hundred students participated from 39 countries. Both of them were top in their class. Viridis was in ITPC Network Support. It's a guy's business, but this is a girl from Singapore and she won first prize. The boy, Min Ming, won in the Software Applications category and if you take the whole competition, out of the 700 people, Viridis was number one, Min Ming was number two, best of best.
The other polys are also creating their own industry niches. So, Temasek Poly has courses in hospitality, tourism management. They do it in Sentosa, preparing for the IRs before we had decided on the IRs. Luckily for them, we said, "yes". Ngee Ann Poly, early childhood education, mass communications, film, sound and video, also very good.
How can we improve the polys further? I have a few ideas. I don't think we should make them into universities because if they start awarding their own degrees instead of diplomas, the character of the institution changes and it works differently. You start pursuing paper rather than applications, use practical results, and that's a mistake which quite a number of countries have made.
But what we can do is to make easier for some of the students in poly to get a degree. How? By linking up the poly with specialised foreign universities to run degree programmes in niche areas. So, you can produce graduates in particular applied disciplines, different from what NUS or NTU or SMU is doing. So, it's not a poor cousin of NUS, NTU or SMU, but graduates in specific areas which are in demand. So, for example, if you are into interactive media, you can link with institutions in the US like the Digipen Institute. They award degrees. If you are in resort management, you can get a degree, too. In Hawaii, in Las Vegas, there are universities and if you have a degree, you are in great demand. If you are in cooking, culinary arts, childcare, nursing, then there are top colleges in the US and Europe and you can link up with them, too. So, I think that we can make the polys even better than they are already are.
We can also improve our ITEs, Institutes of Technical Education. This is a brand of education which is unique in the world. Their tagline is "Thinking Hands". You think about it. It's a very good slogan because with hands, you are doing something, but the brain behind it, it knows what to do. Smart. So, when they train, they are training people to be hands-on, minds-on and hearts-on. So, you develop a complete rounded person.
I visited them, too. I went to ITE MacPherson. I saw their facilities, the students working on their projects, all very enthusiastic. The students, the staff, very dedicated, self-confident, preparing to lead fulfilling lives. So, I asked them, "Where do you get your students?" He says, well, they come from the Normal streams, many of them, academic and technical, half come from the technical stream and three-quarters of the students complete and graduate and go on and find jobs.
Recently four young girls from the ITE participated in a women's competition. It's the IBM Women's Conference Student Contest in Singapore. Four of them, one is a student council vice-president, one is a budding entrepreneur, she wants to sell gift hampers and flower bouquets, one is a teacher in MINDS, one is a national hockey player. They competed against university and poly teams in this IBM competition and they came home with the championship.
I watched a little video which they prepared. It's very interesting. I just quote you one bit from Hemalatha Arudas, who is the hockey player. She aspires to be a hockey coach one day and she says, "Never say die, try until you succeed. When there's a will, there's a way. If you strive hard and work consistently, you will be able to excel." And I think she will excel.
So, I think we should take the ITE to the next level -- One System, Three Colleges. Simei is one of the colleges which we have built, a big one, consolidated. We are going to build another one in Chua Chu Kang. We are building one in Ang Mo Kio -- each one with a critical mass of students, 5,000 or 7,000 pupils, comprehensive facilities and activities, just like the polys and offering more choices to the students. So, you can be academic, you can be CCA, you can take a whole range and go where your spirit wants you to go.
So, what can we do to make sure that the post-secondary education works best? There is one more idea. I think it's worth considering. This arose because I asked the lecturers I met at the polys and ITE, "Do your students have financial problems" because, in fact, we subsidise them 90-95 per cent of the costs of their education. They said, "Well, it's not much, it's a few hundred dollars, but there are some students who still have problems and we raise money to help them because otherwise, they can't afford it and may drop out".
So, I think we should think of a way to make a Post-Secondary Education Account for every child. So, every student can then draw on this account, go to poly, ITE or university in Singapore. How do we do this? We have the Baby Bonus, quite a lot of money. Not everybody spends it. By the time you get to school, aged six, you are already on Edusave, so you are provided for. So, one idea is when you reach school age, we convert this baby bonus money into a Post-Secondary Education Account and we let parents continue to contribute and we match until the child reaches 18. Actually, he's a big baby by then, but parents are still responsible. When he reaches 18, we can make sure, or 16, we can make sure he gets into a good post-secondary institution in Singapore. And that way, we can help each family to invest in the best education that their children can get, which is the best investment they can make.
What else can we do? I think we can look one level down, below the polys and the ITEs to their intake. The Normal stream for the ITEs.
I asked Tharman, “Do ITE students enjoy ITE? Do they enjoy school? Is it the same?” He said not the same. And I asked the students too. The students say ITE much better -- hands on, interesting, they have the choice of different uniforms to wear but can we make the school better so that in the school we apply some of lessons from the success of the ITEs? I think it can be done.
In Normal (Academic), we have already made this curriculum more flexible, giving the students more choices, they can take some O Level courses, they can develop at their own pace. Now, we should do it to the Normal (Technical) curriculum. What can we do? I think first, they still have to learn the basics -- English and Maths -- but we can do it in a more practical way with group work, hands-on work, more use of IT so that the learning becomes more engaging.
So for example in Clementi, to teach Maths, instead of doing sums, Clementi Town Secondary School, the students work in groups to plan their dream holiday. So you have got to look at newspaper advertisements, look at Internet websites, figure out discounts, work out the sums, airfares, work out the sums, compare the best options; exchange rates; arrival and departure times; collect data, make sense of them and use them. I have not yet asked them whether the first prize they get is the real holiday or not but I think this is a realistic lesson to show how Maths is useful in daily life and the way they are going to use the skills.
So, that's one thing they can do. The other thing they can do is to have practical electives so that you can develop different interests and talents for the kids. Like digital art using software to create digital animations and graphics. Or another very interesting one. They use natural products to try to make medicines and perfume. So you understand health science, you understand a bit of chemistry, you understand a bit of biology. You are doing something which is challenging, interesting, which will keep them engaged, which is half the battle to keeping the Normal Technical students with you because if you talk to the teachers who teach NT classes, they will tell you that a lot of those time is spent counselling them, making sure they are motivated. So with this, we can do it.
We have already got 39 schools with electives. We are going to roll it out under the New Normal Technical Curriculum within the next two years. So we are focusing all the way down across the broad range of the education system to provide many avenues to suit many different students. We want many different models of success like the ITE girls I talked about, showed you, so that you are all not looking to succeed in the same mould but what is your ambition, what are you good at, we will help you to be good at that. And many paths to success and many opportunities to cross over. So you can start in school, you may go to the ITE, you can come back to the poly, you can go from that if you do well, onto university, or to work, or to a professional degree. And many second chances to do well because if you flunk out for some reason but you make good later, we want you back.
I met one lecturer at ITE. His name is Eric Chen. He was expelled from school at Sec 3 for playing truant. So then he didn't have confidence to do O levels. He went to the ITE. It turned his life around. From ITE, he went to Ngee Ann Poly. Then he went to University of Edinburgh, got an engineering degree. Then he went to Imperial College, London, got a master's degree. They offered him a PhD place. He said: “No, I'm going back.” Now he is teaching in ITE MacPherson. I think that is a good role model for many young Singaporeans. Not to flunk out but to do well.
So, we are aiming for a mountain range, not a pinnacle. We want many routes up, many ways to succeed. If you are a teh tarik man, you must be a good teh tarik man. Pour the tea and turn around. Not so easy. Then we will have Singapore the way we wanted to be, with everybody with a place in it. In Chinese, they say 'hang hang chu zhuang yuan' (行行出状元). In every profession, there are the people who are excellent, who are outstanding, who are world-class and I think we must be like that in Singapore.
Improving our service culture
Remaking Singapore includes remaking our mindsets. We have to change our thinking. There are many mindset changes which we need and which from time to time, ministers make speeches about, not being afraid to fail, being willing to try new things, giving people a second chance, adapting to a changing job market and so on and so forth. Tonight, I only want to talk about one of them and that is to improve our service culture.
It's a critical success factor, if we are going to develop a service industry and it's another thing which I picked up visiting Las Vegas. I met Steve Wynn who owns Wynn Resorts and built several of the other resorts in Las Vegas and they are at the top end. He told me, “The key to the success of a resort is not just the building, the finishes, but the people because the guests come to enjoy and they want a good experience. They want to be looked after, they want staff who will take care of them and you have to train the staff, you have to motivate the staff, you have to reward them. You give them shares, you give Creative recognition, you have human resource systems, you compete to make sure your HR system is outstanding and then you can provide the good service.” The other resort operators also told me the same.
So, we have to be able to do that. In Singapore, we don't have a natural service culture.
If you compare us with other countries, you go to Thailand, for example, whether it's a man or woman, the man will say Sawadikup or the woman will say the Sawadika. You go to Japanese restaurant, Irrashaimasse. Or you go to India, they say Nemeste or Varnakam. You go to Australia, they say Good Day mate! In Singapore, they go straight to the point. “How can I help you?” Or if you're not so lucky, “What you want?”
There are some Singapore organisations which do have excellent service standards -- at Changi Airport, the immigration people are very good, SIA good service. Hotel, retail, food and beverages, they have good service too.
But we have a long way to go to reach world class and I hear of companies that don't really care very much about service quality. This is the problem which has to be dealt with at three levels. One, the companies have to have that focus. Two, the service people have to have that focus. Three, we who are served by the people have to have that culture too.
I will give an example for each of these. Start with the company because they set the tone. There is one poly student who went to do a work attachment in a hotel. It’s her final year. So, guest ordered a cold drink, waiting for a friend, felt cold. So this poly student says, I must look after the guest, served her warm water. Got scolded: “You must not serve her warm water, you must sell her a warm drink.” So she gave up. She said: “I am fed up with this. I am off.”
If I were her, I would straight away work for the competitor company. But obviously, the hotel operator didn't have the sense. But sometimes it's a service girl or boy or old person who doesn't have it. So there are many horror stories of bad service staff. I asked for some examples. WDA gave me fat file. So I decided to make a training video. I will show you this video now. It's called “Tao Gay Not Enough”. (Playback of video)
Customer: “Auntie, two packets, less oil, no chilli, no hum”.
Hawker: “Neng bao, you jiou, mai hiam, mai hum” (in Hokkien)
Customer: “Auntie, sorry, tao gay more”.
Hawker: “Two packets, less oil, no chilli, no hum, more tao gay”.
Cook: “Tao gay 要多少? (in Mandarin)”
Hawker: “Hwey, tao gay how many?
Customer: “More, please.”
Hawker: “Zuei” (in Hokkien).
Hawker: “Hello Miss, tao gay enough or not?”
Indian customer: “Three packets, thank you.”
But sometimes, the shoe is on the other foot. So I got another video to show you. This one is called “Tao Gay Never Enough”. (Playback of video)
Customer: (on handphone) “One packet”.
Hawker: “One packet”
Indian customer: “Auntie”
Customer: “Less oil, no chilli”.
Indian customer: “Auntie.”
Customer: “More tao gay”.
Indian customer: “Two packets”.
Customer 2(jumping queue): “Can tomgpang three packets?”
Customer: “Auntie, three more packets”.
Indian customer: “Your friend should join the queue”.
Customer: “Not your business”.
(Hawker, looking apologetic, hands one packet of fried kway teow to Customer. Customer refuses to take and stomps off with Customer 2.)
If you enjoy the video, I should say it was made by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, School of Film and Media. So, all three, whether it’s the company, the service staff or the customers, all three have a role to play.
The companies have to show leadership. You have got to adopt service-friendly policies. You must have the system, the process. You must make it possible for your people to give good service. Like Raffles Hotel, the tagline is At Your Service. So whatever you ask for, at your service, it will be done.
And I think we can do that. In our hospitals, some of the hospitals, they use SMS to call patients when their queue number is up. So you can go around, wander the shops, go somewhere else, come back in time and not miss your number. I think that improves the service quality. You have got to emphasise service training for workers, not just the frontline staff, but the managers and the senior bosses as well so that everybody knows that service is important.
So you see, organisations like Housing Board who deal with hundreds of thousands of transactions every year, their senior staff, once a year on Service Quality Day, come down, go to the frontline, serve residents coming who have problems to deal with. So I have heard that. I said, that's good, that’s like MPs doing Meet-the-People sessions.
Then everybody will know service is important, then the frontline staff will get the emphasis and the backing which they need.
Next, of course, the service staff have to acquire a service mindset. You have to know that and believe that service jobs are honourable. These are not low-class jobs. You can serve with pride and professionalism and these are jobs which lead on to something. So Ritz Carlton says, "Ladies and Gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”. So you go on and you may begin as a hotel serving girl, you may go on to become a masseuse or if you are a hair dressing assistant, you might go on to run your own salon, become a hair
There is a career path up. You start by serving. You learn how to please people. You can move on and that's a valuable skill.
But, of course, you need social skills too - how to carry yourself, how to serve, how to be graceful and, therefore, make people happy.
One of the difficulties of doing this is that in Singapore, may be life is a little bit too easy. Why do I say that? I just give you one example.
A Singaporean air hostess arrived at a destination found that she had no passport. A commotion, the airport manager came, sorted the problem out, managed to get her admitted, scolded her, say “Where is your passport? How can you as an air hostess not do this?" She says, “I must go home and scold my maid because my maid packs my bag, my maid forgot to pack my passport, it's my maid's fault."
So I think it's a little bit harder to provide good service if you are used to being looked after. But if you look at the wealthy developed countries like America, you can get good service in the restaurants and good waiters. So, I think we can do it provided we put ourselves to it and pay attention and improve. And we have to reinforce this message, reminders, campaigns, all ways.
In Hongkong, they have turned things around. One of the things they did was to have a campaign. So Andy Lau appears on TV commercials to urge people to provide good service. The programme is called 'A Hospitable Hongkong'.
I think we should consider a similar campaign. Maybe we can have Taufik and Sly to do it, and we can have a GST campaign -- Greet, Smile and Thank and we will make a difference.
But the customer’s attitude has also to change because if the customer treats you like dirt, you are not going to serve with pride. And customers have to know as the actor in Tao Gay Never Enough didn't know, that just because the person is serving you, it doesn't mean he or she is a slave or a servant. She’s looking after you, it's your responsibility to be courteous, to be considerate, to thank her and to appreciate what he or she has done for you. Good customers get good service. And that I think is something which all of us have perhaps to change. It's easier to say the serving people have to change because we all laugh at the serving people. But I notice Tao Gay Not Enough got more laughter than Tao Gay Never Enough. But Tao Gay Never Enough also must be fixed.
We have put on good shows before. When there's a big event, we do well. The IOC we did very well, and there are other bigger events coming. Next year, there will be the IMF and World Bank Conference, 16,000 participants. That may be ten times the size of the International Olympic Committee Meeting earlier this year and we have to deliver the best service level so that the whole world knows Singapore is not just clean and safe but also welcoming and hospitable. So let's gear up now.
This is an effort which we have to continue for a long time. The government agencies will get together and will promote it and I have asked Raymond Lim to be in charge of this, to make sure that we get everybody together. I think he can do that. It's not just for the tourists but it's also for ourselves because it's the kind of society we are. What we are, being gracious, courteous, respectful of one another, knowing that everybody has a place, a dignified place in Singapore, everybody belongs, doing his part and excelling in his profession and serving with pride.
Creating a ‘vibrant, global’ city
To remake the economy and attract talent, we have also got to remake our city. This has to be a city which is full of life and energy and excitement, a place where people want to live, work and play, where they are stimulated to be active, to be creative and to enjoy life. MND and URA briefed me recently on their plans. I wanted to know what they were doing and they gave me a full explanation, brought the whole team. The enthusiasm and excitement was infectious. So I decided to come and share it with you and to help me do that, I have prepared some slides to show you.
Every major city in the world is inventing itself and reinventing itself. New York is the Big Apple, but World Trade Centre has collapsed, it has become Ground Zero. They are rebuilding the World Trade Centre, seven new iconic buildings, bringing the life and activity back to that part of Manhattan. And this is what it will look like with the tallest building called the Freedom Tower.
Dubai, building the tallest building in the world, 700metres tall, Burj Dubai, more or less. The top is a bit blur because they wouldn't tell you whether it's exactly 700 metres or not. They don't want somebody to build 701 metres tall. But they are going to have the biggest shopping mall in the world which we have a little part of because a Singapore firm is designing it, DP Architects which was involved in the Esplanade. And they are doing other things too. We have the Biopolis. They are going to go one better. They are going to have one called the Dubai-opolis.
And they say, “We have left Singapore behind.” Now, I am not sure they have left Singapore behind but I think we also have to move.
We shouldn't compete for the biggest, tallest, fanciest, most opulent because we don't have oil and gas. But we must capitalise on our strengths. And what are they? Our multicultural heritage, our clean and safe environment, our disciplined and energetic people, a cosmopolitan and open society, and then we can make Singapore a vibrant global city, not just for tourists but for our own people to create an outstanding living environment for all Singaporeans.
We will start with the HDB estates because this is where our people live and where we want to keep the living environment first-class and up-to-date. We’re renewing the HDB estates one by one. This one is Toa Payoh where we are starting. It’s the oldest comprehensive town but now one of the most up to date, totally transformed. Nearly all the flats have been upgraded, IUP, MUP, LUP, SERS, low rise with lifts, you name it, they have it.
We are building new flats, 40-storey flats with million dollar views which people have moved in, very happy, new population.
There’s a new town centre, bus and MRT interchange, air con, HDB Hub is there, new shops, offices, restaurants. It’s a very successful rejuvenation. Even my own grassroots, Teck Ghee Community Centre, we organise a big National Street Soccer Tournament every year. And the finals of the tournament, instead of doing it in Teck Ghee or Ang Mo Kio, we go to HDB Hub because there’s a natural crowd there. On weekends, 100,000 people visit the town centre and lots of street life activity because there’s a younger population, new flats, young couples have moved in. So property values have gone up. And other towns will also follow.
I asked Mah Bow Tan when is my turn. He says oldest first. ABC, Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Clementi. But others will come too and eventually we are going to do all the new towns in Singapore, provided they support these programmes.
In the city centre, we will rejuvenate Orchard Road. It’s one our premier shopping districts, brand name, known all over the world but it’s facing competition from shopping districts in other cities, Nanjing Lu in Shanghai is very swanky, so we’ve got to rejuvenate Orchard Road.
We’ve already done some things, we’ve opened up. You’ve now got people, food, cafes on the sidewalks. We’ve got the malls opened up, so from the street you can see what’s going on. From inside you can watch the passing crowd.
We have vibrant street life -- dances, drummers, entertainers. But we can do more. We’ll get the owners of the malls to do more and if you look at the beginning of Orchard Road right at the top of Orchard Road, there’s a vacant picnic site over the Orchard MRT Station which is very popular but I think it’s a prime site and we’d like somebody to develop it, a new focal point with space for events and an observation tower. And we’ll make Orchard Road one of the great streets in the world, a place to see and be seen, a place for all to enjoy.
From Orchard Road if you take an MRT the train will soon take you to Bras Bash and Bugis and this is another area which we can do a lot with. I went around it. It’s very interesting what’s happening. We’re transforming it, bringing life back to it, activities, making it very exciting.
The schools are there. The Singapore Management University (SMU Campus) has now gone there. Buildings, gracious, human scale, open, integrated with the trees, blended in with the old historic buildings.
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) is there, lots of students. We are going to have the SIA-LaSalle College of the Arts up next year. They’ll have a very interesting building. We’re building a new art school next to the old Cathay Building and if you put them all together, we’ll have in that area maybe 14,000 students in the city and with student housing which we are building, there’ll be all sorts of activities. Students will hang out in the pubs, cafes, shops, some of them will be in the new National Library where’s there’s a space, using the facilities there.
Not just the books, or the resources or the Internet access which is much better than before but also the Drama Centre, the activity spaces, many events to attract people.
We’ll get the street life back also. Along the streets we have got pedestrian malls now. I strolled along Albert Mall, Waterloo Mall. It’s very interesting, people selling flowers. There’s a Guanyin temple, very popular. Next to that, there’s a Hindu temple, also very popular. I’m told quite a lot of people pray at both just to be doubly sure. Why not? And when you come out, you can rub a laughing Buddha for good luck. In fact, there are two laughing Buddhas for double good luck.
So it’s something new and exciting but also something old and nostalgic about Bras Basah-Bugis area.
Those of you who are my age or thereabouts will remember the old Bras Basah-Bugis area. So many schools there until the 1970s, SJI, which is this one, CHIJ, St Nicholas, St Anthony’s was there, Raffles Girls Primary School was there, even RI was nearby. So was my school, Catholic High School. So the students used to haunt the whole area after and before classes. We used to go to the second hand book shops at Bras Basah Road, all manner of interesting old cheap books and textbooks. We used to go to the hawker stalls along Waterloo Street, teh tarik, ice kachang, the Indian rojak was the best.
Most sentimental of all for many people was the old National Library. We spent hours there studying, chatting, pak tor (courting), made friends, sometimes found partners and many Singaporeans were sad to see it go but unfortunately it couldn’t be helped. So we’ve saved 5,000 bricks and put up a wall in the new National Library to keep the memories alive.
But now we are bringing back the schools, the students and the old atmosphere. If you go by what the students are saying, I think we are succeeding.
I saw an article recently, a letter written by a student in Nafa in the Life! Section which I think is worth reading a little bit of. She’s enjoying it obviously. She says: “There are so many things to do in between breaks. We have numerous choices of food, from prata at Al-Jalani Restaurant, chin chow at Fortune Centre and duck noodles at Sunshine Plaza.” - Siti Aisha Mostafa.
I think we will make this again a lively arts, culture, learning and entertainment centre in the middle of the city. And a new generation of Singaporeans are now forming memories and sentimental links and attachments to the new landscape, just as the older generation did, and it will be one of the things which will anchor Singaporeans and Singapore.
The centrepiece of our redevelopment of the city is Marina Bay. This is a unique site as one of URA’s international advisers says: “There’s no other city in the world that has so much water front, prime real estate right in the heart of the city.”
We’ve got the old civic district which we’ve renovated. We’ve linked it to the new virgin areas, Marina South, Marina Centre, Marina East. We are going to build a new downtown on the new areas, link it up with the old city and extend the city seamlessly into the new Downtown. So there’s water in the bay, there are gardens and we will have a Garden City by the Bay. If you consider Fort Canning behind, in Chinese they say “you shan you shui (有山有水)”, very good feng shui, because there’s mountain, there’s water, and it will be our city.
We start with the water. We will build a Marina Barrage to dam up the mouth of the bay. It will be ready in three years’ time and it will convert the bay into a fresh water lake.
Then we will extend the city around the lake, business, entertainment, recreation. I’ll take you on a tour. We start at the Esplanade. It’s called the Durian but you see in this picture in fact it’s quite beautiful. And the most important thing is not just the performances inside but outside if you walk along the Esplanade you will find lots of life, shops, food, people strolling, people enjoying themselves. It’s like the old Esplanade used to be, only better.
We have the old Supreme Court and City Hall building. We are going to convert it into a new national art gallery and it will have colourful banners hung up. In case the judges get worried, those banners aren’t there yet. That’s what it will look like when it becomes a national art gallery.
We have the Fullerton Hotel, One Fullerton, the Merlion is there, very successful. If you go to the One Fullerton, lots of things going on and we are going to extend it along the waterfront to Collyer Quay and at Clifford Pier we are going to move out the bumboats and redevelop Clifford Pier and that will be another little jewel.
On Marina South, we have the business and financial centre. This is a big development. When I was in MAS, I had something to do with it because the banking community suggested: why not make one big development like this, then you have the facilities for the financial institutions. You get more banks to do more things here. You have office space you have residential space, hotels.
So we put out a big plot to one developer to make an integrated development. We persuaded URA and the other agencies. They adopted the idea. We’ve had a very successful tender recently and this BFC is going to provide us with first class infrastructure. It’s going to bring in more financial activities and it’s going to be a major landmark on the Bayfront.
Next to the Business and Financial Centre, we will have the Integrated Resort. I don’t know whether it will look like this. This is an artist’s impression but it’s another major project bigger than Suntec or the BFC and it’s going to generate tourists and jobs and also shape the new Downtown and round out the Bayfront.
Then we’re going to have the gardens, more than one garden. One will be next to the IR, colourful flowers like this. One on the other side of the bay in Marina East beside the NTUC golf course and then we will have a third one along Marina Centre, each one with a distinctive design and character and we’re going to connect them together. So you’ll have Marina South, Marina East, Marina Centre. We’ll join them up, link them up with bridges, walkways, promenades so you can walk, you can jog, you can even run a marathon around the Bay. I think that will give us a setting to bring many activities in.
Clark Quay and Boat Quay are already 24-hour zones, all hours of the day and night. But on the water itself in the bay, we can have boating, sailing, racing, dragon boat race here.
So putting all these together, we will make our city really special.
We are embarking on the journey now. It will take many years to complete but in five to 10 years’ time, you can see it taking shape. And the Bayfront will be the signature image of Singapore.
And on 9 August 2015, our 50th birthday, it will look like this. That was courtesy of Nanyang Polytechnic.
So the city must reflect the spirit of our people, be well conceived, vigorously executed, restrained but high quality, every aspect thought through, constantly being improved and remade in search of excellence. It will be a city in our image, a sparkling jewel, a home for all of us to be proud of, a home that will belong to all of us.
Keeping the Singapore spirit alive
My theme tonight has been remaking Singapore together, to tap everybody’s contributions, maximise each person’s talents, open up opportunities for all. Each contribution, big or small, is one of many threads that we will weave together, bring together and make the fabric of our nation.
There was a project like this recently. It’s called Today in History Singapore. It’s a book done by MOE but really thousands of students, pupils were involved and it tells the story of Singapore through the eyes of a new young generation.
Take one entry on August 9, this by a young girl. “August 9 is the day our nation got its independence in 1965. Our forefathers struggled to build our nation and to provide us with a bright future. I feel very happy and proud to be born as a National Day baby”. Wong Yun Ting eight years old, Yio Chu Kang Primary School.
The next volume will be Tomorrow in History and that’s for young Singaporeans to write. And young Singaporeans, I expand widely, children, youths, young adults, even adults who are young at heart. You may have grey hair or less hair but if you have that energy, you are part of this story and together we will continue to tell a special Singapore story.
We must never feel constrained by our smallness. You may be a small country but you can do exceptional things. Individually Singaporeans are excelling on the world stage.
I mentioned Viridis and Min Ming just now. I take another example. From sports, we have two of our students. One is Teo Wee Chin from VJC, one is Terence Koh who’s studying overseas in Melbourne. They went to the World Youth Sailing Championship and they became the world youth champions in their class of boats. It’s the first time we’ve ever done this in a sailing competition. In fact it’s the first time any Asian has done this. But we can do it because as Dr Yeo Ning Hong used to say to me: “Sailing is a sport where you depend on brains.”
I think we have outstanding people. I think as a country we can do things better which other peoples can’t. Never believe that anything we can do, others can do better. There are many things which we can do which other people find very hard.
I give you an example. I discussed this with a vice-mayor from Shanghai a few years ago. We were talking about salaries, public service salaries and our system to pay people market rates. He was talking about himself. He says: “I am vice-mayor, I earn the least in my family”. His wife works for a state-owned enterprise, earns more. His daughter works for a commercial bank. I think it’s a foreign bank, earns the most. He said if Shanghai were a country, we could do exactly like you. But Shanghai is part of China. If I do like you, to the north the provinces will complain, to the west the provinces will complain, to the south the provinces will complain, and worst of all, in the centre, Beijing will complain. So bei fang you wen ti, xi mian you wen ti, nan mian you wen ti, zhong yang you wen ti (北方有问题，西面有问题，南面有问题，中央有问题). So it cannot be done. He admired us. He wished he could do the same.
I had an American journalist interview me once after that. He asked me: “What can you do which China cannot do?” I thought if I explained all this to him, it would take too long. So I told him: “I tell you one thing we can do the Chinese cannot do. I can ban chewing gum in Singapore and make it stick. Can you do that in Tiananmen?”
So we must have a never-say-die attitude. Ultimately it’s our resourcefulness and our resolve which counts.
I met Sheikh Alauddin recently. He’s our silat champion, now coach. He’s here somewhere tonight. I asked him: “Who is your toughest competitor in Asia in the SEA Games?” He says Vietnam. I was shocked. I said what does Vietnam knows about silat. Taekwando, gongfu maybe, eastern tradition. But silat? He says yes. They started from zero but they decided to learn in 1993. They got two Indonesian coaches when they started. No building, no gym, no state-of-the-art equipment. They took some metal pipes, tied them together into a frame, put some covering on it, padding, contact sparring, trained hard, tough. After a few years, they were good enough, they sent the coaches home, they were on their own. Now they are champions in Southeast Asia, aiming to be champions in the world. And silat is a top sport in Vietnam.
We have to have the same spirit and I think we have the same spirit. After that, I happened to meet our silat team. I asked them: “Sheikh said this, is it true?” They said: “Yes it’s true.” I said: “What are you going to do about it?” They said: “Tomorrow we are going to Vietnam to practise with them, friendly tournament.” They’ve come back, I think they’ve done well and I think we all wish them well for the SEA Games in Manila.
You can feel this spirit in the National Day celebrations. Sometimes because we are here too long and get used to it, you become blasé but those who see us from afar, they know how unique and precious Singapore is.
I recently got an email from a German. He was in Singapore. He happened to be around the Padang on the day of our preview. One Singaporean stranger said, “Would you like this ticket, my friend couldn’t come.” He went to watch the preview and he emailed me. Good email, I will just read you a small bit of it. He said “I saw thousands of Singaporeans sitting there, mostly white and red clothes, screaming, shouting and laughing. This parade showed a self-image of a nation I never saw before. The Singaporeans are one people and they are proud to be a part of this people. I received really the impression that Singapore is a nation consisting of its citizens and not a nation with citizens. The pride of being a Singaporean was nearly touchable for me in this stadium! And this all was just in the preview”.
This is a foreign view. I also had a Singaporean view. A Singaporean who’s been away for many years and she wrote to me on National Day to wish me well. She’s Ms Ranjini Thiagarajah, a Singaporean teacher. She’s lived in Portugal for many years, set up a language school there in a small town and she’s back in Singapore visiting, so she’s also here somewhere tonight.
I quote from her letter. She says: “it’s only now that I live abroad that I find myself proudly flying the Singapore flag. Singaporeans inevitably carry Singapore with them wherever they go and they sow a bit of Singapore through which they pass on the will to be the best they can. I have lived out there for 15 years now and in all that time my Singaporeaness has faded very little and I’m very grateful that it has stood by me and stood the test of time”.
I think we have something very special here. You remember sometime back, some of us will, our first National Day Parades, the first few. There were no fancy lighting effects, no video linkups, no goodie bags, just a parade, contingents marching one after the other. Soldiers from first Battalion, 2nd Battalion, 20th Battalion, 100th Battalion plus one or two mass displays, lion and dragon dances and the school bands provided the marching music. I was one of them. I marched three times in the band, once as an officer cadet. One year it rained, 1968. After the parade had formed up in the Padang. Those of you who were there will never forget it. It was a downpour, we froze, we were drenched. Our instruments had to be turned upside down to pour the water out. We watched to see if we stood or if we ran for cover. Nobody ran for cover, we shivered but we stood there and we marched with pride. Along the route the crowds gathered to cheer us. So, this was a people determined to succeed and we did.
To start off with parades like that, the spirit is special but to enjoy a 40th National Day Parade in the circumstances which we have, that’s unique. It’s good luck, it’s good government, it’s strong people. You look at the other countries which have reached this point after independence, after the war. The problems that have beset them, the existential angst they feel.
Look at Israel at this point in their history which is probably about 1990. The problems are almost insoluble for them but for us with prosperity, peace with our neighbours, with our people looking forward to a better future and when you have the parade, the same spirit, the same togetherness, that same conviction that we will do our best for Singapore.
I think with this situation, with this climate and this mood, we have every reason to rejoice. We can do this again for another 40 years because here in Singapore, we’ve created something which is special, which is unique and precious. How have we done it? It is our people, our ideas and our actions. Most important of all we’ve created a Singapore spirit. We are courageous but compassionate, we are confident but never complacent. It’s a spirit which will hold us together as one united people, each one doing his part, each one contributing to remaking our nation and building our home and together we will make it a vibrant, global city called home. Thank you very much.
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