NDP Rally 2015: We overcame challenges by govt working with pioneers

Together, Singapore's old guard leaders and pioneers worked tirelessly to not only survive, but thrive.

And so it was an appreciative Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who began his English National Day Rally speech with tributes to Singapore's pioneers.

He spoke of how, because the people and Government worked together, Singapore was able to overcome challenges and build a special nation.

"We are strong even though we are small," he said, "because we are strong together."

From a country which had hardly any skilled workers, the Government, unions and workers worked together to create the best workforce in the world.

"With that workforce, we made PSA and Changi Airport the best in the world," he said.

Cramped, squalid slums made way for HDB flats and our rivers were cleaned up and turned into reservoirs.

"We built Marine Barrage and turned Marina Bay into Marina Reservoir. Our whole island became a catchment area, we invented NEWater and on National Day in 2002, we toasted our success.

"Huat ah!"

Singapore has also been able to work with its neighbours and maintain good relations.

"We have to be alive to our external environment. That's a fundamental reality for a 'little red dot'.

"We will always be a small country in South-east Asia. This is an exciting place to be, but also a rather dangerous place to live," he said, adding that when our neighbours have done well, we have prospered with them.

"But it may not always be like this. Even in the next 10 years, we can't be sure. Certainly, in the next 50 years, nobody can rule out instability, tension, or even war in Asia."

We created a special multi-racial culture

Together, Singaporeans were as one - regardless of race.

That multiracial unity has been key to Singapore's success story.

"We believed that before race, language and religion, we should first and foremost, be Singaporean," said the PM.

"That was the fundamental reason for our foundation as a country so we came down hard on chauvinists and racial extremists."

From the start, HDB estates were planned so that people of all races mixed together, said PM Lee, so there were no segregated ghettos.

English was made the working language and group representative constituencies were created so all races would be represented in Parliament.

"We encouraged all the communities to come together, and yet gave each community space to maintain their own cultures and their own ways of life."

Delicate issues like the Jemaah Islamiah group planning to set off bombs in Singapore were dealt with as one people, without a separation into Muslims and non-Muslims.

The different races also started self-help groups - Mendaki, the Singapore Indian Development Association, the Chinese Development Assistance Council, the Association of Muslim Professionals, and the Eurasian Association - with support from the Government.


Different religions had their SG50 celebrations, and PM Lee attended many of them, including one where he sat with representatives of all the world's major religions, including the Rabbi of Singapore, the Mufti of Singapore, and a Sikh leader who chaired the Inter-Religious Organisation.

"Each had different dietary rules, each was served food that met his religious requirements, but nothing stopped them from having a meal together and being friends together.

"Some people may think that racial and religious harmony is not a problem anymore and that I'm making too much about this, but they would be wrong."

Mr Lee pointed out that race and religion are always sensitive issues, especially in recent years because people in some countries like the US, Britain and Australia, are taking their religions more seriously.

Using the terrorist beliefs of ISIS as an example of extremist ideology, Mr Lee said people everywhere are more vulnerable to such dangers.

"We are a multiracial and multi-religious society and we are always at risk of deep fault lines opening up and we must never take our present happy state of affairs for granted," he said.

We are stronger when we build trust

Together, a toughened people and a trusted Government, we are stronger, helping each other along the way.

Everyone must pull their own weight because Singapore cannot afford free riders.

It is for this reason that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had constantly urged Singaporeans to become a "rugged society".

"If you work hard, you should do well, that's good for you and we should cheer you and celebrate it," PM Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"But at the same time, if you do well, we expect you to help others."

By encouraging our children to play sports, they get to experience losing and winning together, the same reason they are sent for adventure learning and character education.

Touching on the recent earthquake in Sabah which claimed the lives of seven students, two teachers and an adventure guide, he said that the programme at Tanjong Katong Primary School had been a successful one.

"It will take us a long time to get over this tragedy. But life goes on and it's important that we move on," Mr Lee said, adding that Singapore must go on with adventure training because of the way it moulds students' characters.

"We will take the necessary safety precautions, but we must keep on pushing our limits to bring up a generation who will grow up tough and able to work closely together."

Singaporeans and the Government have built a level of trust through integrity and keeping to their word, which has also allowed the Government to act decisively in making difficult decisions.


Raising the example of the Sars outbreak in 2003, it was the people's trust that allowed the Government to push through a law that made for mandatory quarantine.

"From time to time, new tough issues will come up and we will need your support to deal with them," he said, referring to the issue on immigration and how the Government faces a conundrum on having to balance running the economy with ensuring ample opportunities for Singaporeans.

"Whichever option we choose, it will involve some pain. But I believe that I am doing what Singapore needs and what best safeguards your interest.

"If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be doing it... I think I owe it to you. You've elected me. This is my duty. I can't shirk it," he said.

We face a turning point with GE 2015

Together, Singapore needs to start on its next 50 years of nationhood.

And the upcoming general election will be "critical", because Singaporeans will be deciding on the team leading the country, not just for the next five years, but also deciding on the nation's future for the next 15 to 20 years, said PM Lee.

"You will be determining the future for Singapore. What will this future be? Will Singapore become an ordinary country, with intractable problems?

"Slow, even negative growth, overspending, heavy burdens for our children, gridlocked government, unable to act?

"Or will Singapore always stay special for our children... A people who live up to our song One People, One Nation, One Singapore," he asked, calling on Singaporeans to support his team at the polls.

Mr Lee pointed out that Singapore's leadership had always managed to groom and nurture the next generation of leaders so they are ready in the wings.

For the past 10 years, Mr Lee's team has built on what has come before, he said, citing the Marina Bay development, which he had promised to transform in his 2005 National Day Rally, and which he has succeeded in doing.


With his current core team already in their 50s and 60s, Mr Lee added that the nucleus of the next team is already in the Cabinet, having taken charge of important programmes like Our Singapore Conversation, SG50 and different ministries, including difficult ones.

The next election will "round out the team" which can take Singapore into the future.

He said: "Singapore is at a turning point. We have just completed 50 successful years. Now we are starting out on our next 50 years of nationhood."

This article was first published on Aug 24, 2015.
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