Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the JTC 50th Anniversary Dinner, delivered at Shangri-La Hotel on 25 May 2018.
Dr Loo Choon Yong, JTC Chairman, Mr Ng Lang, JTC CEO, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening to all of you and I am very happy to be here with all of you today to celebrate JTC’s 50th anniversary.
I was also here for your 20th and 40th anniversaries and I am glad to see many familiar faces from those occasions; former Chairmen Mr Lim Neo Chian and Mr Soo Kok Leng, former CEOs Mr Ko Kheng Hwa, Mr Chong Lit Cheong, Mrs Ow Foong Pheng, Mr Manohar Khiatani and Mr Png Cheong Boon.
Supporting Singapore’s Economic Transformation from Third World to First
Your 50th anniversary is an important milestone for JTC. Not just for you but also for Singapore, because JTC has played an important role in Singapore’s progress from Third World to First.
JTC was established in 1968 in circumstances of great urgency. We had separated from Malaysia three years earlier, and we were still finding our feet as a country, and as an economy. Just a few months before JTC was created, the British had announced that they would withdraw their troops from Singapore by 1971, ahead of the previous timetable. The British economy had crashed, the pound had just been devalued in November 1967 and they had no money, they had to pull back, East of Suez was too far away. It was a crisis for Singapore, and could have been a major blow not only to our economy, but also our security and our survival.
We needed to maintain investors’ confidence and show the world that Singapore was a safe and attractive place to invest in and to do business. So Dr Goh Keng Swee, then the Finance Minister, set up three new public institutions: The Development Bank of Singapore to provide financing for industries, The International Trading Company to find new export markets for Singapore – later we called it Intraco – and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), to specifically focus on developing industrial estates, all these roles which had previously been carried out by EDB.
As its name suggested, JTC’s primary task was to develop Jurong, the industrial township. At that time, it was the industrial township and later the first of a series. I remember visiting Jurong in its very early days of its development. This was in 1964, even before JTC had been set up. Jurong was still mostly a swamp and undeveloped. The site office was at the junction of Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim and Corporation Road, and still had fruit trees in its compound left over from the old orchard which used to occupy the side. Every time I drive along Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim, I cross the road junction, I think back, not to the site office but to the fruit trees. There were some low-cost flats built by HDB to house workers but actually we had to work very hard to persuade workers to go and live there because Jurong was a very ulu place in those days. There were other residents in Jurong, they lived in kampungs and fishing villages, including one village at Tuas end which had a popular seafood restaurant, which anybody who had been in SAFTI in that era would remember because we used to go there for supper. It was a very ambitious project. You had a bit of the story just now in the video, not without its growing pains and adjustments, and you heard in the story how people had to move, be resettled, compensated, shift out, so that the land could be cleared, reclaimed, factories could be built. Each one is a human story. It is very difficult.
We read in China of the same thing happening when they clear land and people refuse to move. They call it 钉子户, because everywhere around the land has been cleared and one house remains, standing up like a nail, refusing to disappear. You can coerce him, you can try and buy him out, you can pressure him, the police can come, but he wants to fight.
We had difficulties resettling people too. I remember there was one site, and there is no record of it, but there was one site in Jurong where we cleared all the land and there was one house which refused to move. So if you drive past, along Jurong Road, you will see the land is completely cleared except for one little patch in the middle where the hill remained. And on top of the hill there was a house, and somebody was still living there and continued living there for several years until eventually I suppose he got persuaded that it was the right thing to do, to move. There were sacrifices, there were adjustments. Eventually after a lot of sweat and tears, there was the Jurong Industrial Estate.
There were many sceptics who did not believe the Jurong project would ever succeed. 1,800 acres had been set aside for industrial development, but only two companies up till then had production plants there; NatSteel and Pelican Textiles. Dr Goh himself was aware of the challenge. As your Chairman told you just now, he acknowledged that, “if the millions of dollars spent on development resulted in vast tracts of empty waste land, then Jurong will be known to Singapore’s posterity as ‘Goh’s Folly’”.
But behind Dr Goh’s statement was the absolute determination to make sure that Singapore succeeded in industrialising our economy and creating jobs for our people. Dr Goh, together with his EDB and JTC teams, pressed on. They offered tax incentives to attract businesses to invest here. They appointed union leaders to the JTC Board to improve industrial relations. They organised a major publicity blitz, as you heard just now, holding a new factory opening ceremony every day for three months to drive home the message that Jurong was “open for business”. And to develop confidence in the population at the time when they were under threat, under siege, and not at all certain of success.
Their hard work paid off. By 1968, almost 300 factories had been built and they were providing jobs for 21,000 people.
To support the Jurong Industrial Estate, JTC had to develop Jurong holistically, to encourage Singaporeans to move in, work and raise their families there. Jurong became a vast canvas for JTC to experiment upon and to implement urban development plans. These plans were visionary then and they remain relevant today. For example, they built a large Town Centre, complete with shops and facilities, and even a drive-in cinema. Our first childcare centre and first hawker centre were both set up in Jurong. As part of our Garden City campaign, JTC planned Jurong Park, with a Chinese and Japanese Garden that was larger than the Botanic Gardens. And that, today, we are upgrading, and will be a centrepiece of Jurong Lake District.
When Dr Goh decided to build a bird park in Singapore, because birds eat cheaper things than lions and tigers, Jurong was of course the natural location, because no longer was Jurong, where as they say in Chinese, 鸟不生蛋的地方 – a land where even birds refused to lay eggs.
In fact, the Jurong Town model was so successful that it became the inspiration for the Suzhou Industrial Park, our first Government-to-Government project in China.
Beyond Jurong Town
As our industrialisation plans took off, JTC’s portfolio expanded. JTC built and managed industrial estates and flatted factories not only in Jurong, but all over Singapore, in Toa Payoh, Sembawang, Changi, Kranji and many other places. With this expanded territory, I think some people in Jurong might have thought, with this expanded empire, the name Jurong Town Corporation had become a misnomer. So you renamed yourself as JTC Corporation and that fits much better in Toa Payoh, Sembawang, Changi and Kranji. It kept the branding and heritage, but reflected your new role and responsibilities. You also built a handsome headquarters building on a hill, looking like a ship with a clock tower, standing visible, surveying your domains but actually doing a lot of work making sure Jurong Town was working and functioning, and servicing your clients and customers.
And the architect was Mr Lim Chong Keat from Penang and he is back here tonight with us to celebrate this very happy occasion. Thank you for building a building which is now not just JTC’s but ours because now we have made it a conserved building. JTC HQ is not there anymore but it is still doing good work, hosting the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the SME centre for many SMEs and associations.
JTC’s mission changed when our economy diversified beyond manufacturing.
We wanted, for example, to turn Singapore into a petrochemical hub, not just making but trading, being part of a global network of petrochemical business. So JTC reclaimed and consolidated a collection of islands and reefs off our south-western coast to form Jurong Island. Mr Philip Yeo was then in EDB, he is also here tonight. He pushed the project, JTC stepped up, did the reclamation, and built the island. That was the easy part. The difficult job was to convince a whole population of petrochemical companies to come to Singapore concurrently to set up plants in Jurong Island, even before the reclamation was complete, and when the land we were selling, was still under water. Remarkably, JTC worked with EDB, and they had confidence in Singapore, and they succeeded.
Today, we are the third largest oil refining centre in the world, and petrochemical centre, with all the major oil companies having significant investments here. It is a huge achievement considering that we have no energy supplies of our own, not much land area, nor any other natural advantages except that we had the idea, we could execute and implement, and we made it happen.
Today, JTC continues its fine tradition of innovating and taking on new challenges. Some of your projects are truly ground-breaking, really truly breaking the ground, like Jurong Rock Caverns, which is Southeast Asia’s first commercial underground storage facility for liquid hydrocarbons. I went in to it three years ago before it was filled up. It is enormous, it is bigger than this ballroom, and it frees up a corresponding large area of land above ground, which otherwise would be filled with storage tanks. 60ha of land – enough for six petrochemical plants! The Rock Caverns are an engineering and construction marvel. You had to overcome challenging geological and ground conditions, and water seepages into the caverns during construction.
You innovated above ground too. When we transitioned to a more knowledge-based and technology-intensive economy, JTC was again at the forefront. You developed the Science Park, one-north and CleanTech Park to support hi-tech R&D sectors. You built LaunchPad at Blk 71 Ayer Rajah, repurposing an old industrial estate to incubate new startups.
But you did not stop at providing physical space and infrastructure. You tried out new concepts, such as the newly revamped retail space at Fusionopolis One to encourage tenants to test out innovative products with the residents and workers in the district. Even hair salons there have gone high tech – they use augmented reality so customers can try out different hairstyles before going through the actual thing. I have not changed my hairstyle in a very long time but maybe this will inspire me to think about it.
As our economy develops and upgrades, JTC continues to update its portfolio and provide new infrastructure for our industries. You continue to focus your resources on areas which the private sector is not able to do.
You applied this principle when planning the Jurong Innovation District (JID) and Punggol Digital District (PDD). You brought the stakeholders together to design an ecosystem of academic institutions, research institutions, start-ups, SMEs and MNCs, all in Punggol. This will make it easier for them to develop, test-bed and create innovative products and practical applications for the market. At the JID, JTC collaborated with partners including SMRT, LTA and NTU, to support autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. The first AV test centre will test how these vehicles perform in simulated road conditions – rain, bus stops, and signalled intersections – even the S course! Autonomous mini-buses will also be introduced at NTU from next year. You are also working with URA, IMDA and SIT to develop PDD. It is the first one that will bring together a business park, university and community facilities. By applying flexible planning parameters at the district level, we can re-allocate land use in a more fine-grained and agile manner.
JTC has come a long way, growing in step with Singapore’s progress. You have often been the frontrunner and pathfinder, constantly pushing boundaries, breaking new ground, building new partnerships. I hope you will continue to build on this tradition of high standards and bold ambitions. Because every JTC success is a benefit for Singaporeans. You help to bring in the investments, to create jobs, and to enhance Singapore’s international reputation for quality and excellence. And as you push our physical boundaries and renew our urban landscape, you remind Singaporeans that we are limited only by our imagination. If we can think out of the box, if we are bold in tackling our challenges and tenacious in execution, then the sky is the limit.
My wish for your 50th birthday is that upon your 100th birthday, Singapore’s leaders will then be able to say similar things of JTC – that you played a key role in our economic development and the livelihoods of our people. That you have put Singapore prominently on the world map. And you have continued to dream big, and inspire Singaporeans to do likewise. Happy 50th birthday!
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