Call to help shape future of Singapore

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has challenged younger Singaporeans to build the future of Singapore and shape it into something they can continue to be proud of.

"If anyone tells you we're done building, reject that. We're not done building Singapore.There's so much we can do," he said. "In SG75, SG100, will the Singapore you live in be special to you, to the world? I challenge each of you to make it so."

He was speaking to 160 students at a forum at the National University of Singapore at Kent Ridge last night.

Over the course of an hour, he charted Singapore's progress over a century, citing historically significant events at the Padang and used pictures to show how far Singapore had come over the last 100 years.

In the early days, Singapore developed but did not have the opportunity to decide its future. The British built City Hall in 1929 and laid the foundation for Singapore's administration system.

Then in 1942, the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese - a sombre reminder that it is better for Singaporeans to determine their own future, said Dr Ng. By 1945, the Japanese forces lost and surrendered Singapore to the British in a ceremony at City Hall.

Japanese prisoners-of-war were marched past City Hall, and forced to work on repairing the Padang.

Eventually, the country gained independence, but not before having limited self-determination under the British, self-governance, and a short-lived union with Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.

The Padang witnessed it all, in front of City Hall, where the declarations of self-government in 1959 and union with Malaysia in 1963 took place.

At this point, Singapore's path was not set, he said, noting it would have been intuitively easier to pander to chauvinist instincts of the dominant Chinese community.

But founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew insisted on a multiracial, multi-religious country. And under him, Singapore took shape as a meritocratic country, said Dr Ng, who recounted how he personally grew up in a rental flat but went on to work at a top cancer centre.

The view of the skyline from the Padang is also testament to Singapore's spirit of triumph over adversity. The Suntec City project began after the 1984 recession and property glut. But the Suntec group's $1.2 billion purchase of the site in 1988 turned out to be a good investment after the economy bounced back.

More recently, at the week of mourning for the late Mr Lee in March, some 450,000 people paid their respects at Parliament House, queueing for hours on the Padang.

Turning to the future, he said the students would likely see Singapore celebrate its 75th and 100th year of independence: "The next 50 years will be shaped by your visions, your dreams. You are a historically privileged group. All of you will very likely experience SG50 and SG100."

Dr Ng later fielded questions on a range of topics, including the upcoming general election, apathetic voters and Singapore's defence, and the impact of slower economic growth.

This article was first published on August 21, 2015.
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