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Speech at Ministry of Manpower's National Day Observance Ceremony 2012

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower and Senior Minister of State for National Development, Ministry of Manpower Services Centre

Ms Diana Chia
President, National Trades Union Congress

Mr Stephen Lee
President, Singapore National Employers Federation

Fellow colleagues from the MOM family, staff and friends, 

Loving Singapore, Our Home

1.    Every year, we celebrate our National Day. But I wonder how often do we spend time to reflect on what we are actually trying to celebrate. On 1st January every year, we celebrate New Year with the rest of the world; the Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year with other Chinese in the world; the Muslims celebrate Hari Raya with fellow Muslims, then there is Vesak Day, Deepavali and Christmas and so on. On 9th August, if we don’t celebrate National Day and think about who we are, no one else in the world would. For us, as public servants, it’s especially important to ask ourselves what it really means to be a Singaporean, since we are serving our people and our nation.

2.    When I was organising National Day in 2009, I realised that it was easy to be caught up in just organising an event. There was so much preparation to get it right and that in itself can become an end in itself. Is it a transportation exercise in making sure students get home on time? Is it an exercise in administration and logistics? Is it a show? It is not. It is much more than that. When we decided to drop the ‘P’ from NDP and focus on National Day, everything changed. It was really about capturing the spirit of what it means to be Singaporean, and to provide a platform to rally our people on the day, and the days leading up to it.

3.    Let me share about this year’s theme "Loving Singapore, Our Home". "Love" and public policy speeches do not sit well together. But on deeper reflection, it struck me that it might be the right word to use. Love is a very powerful emotion. It is what makes us human. Love is also very much about relationships, it’s about how we bond with others around us. That is the difference. That is what transforms our house from just a physical infrastructure to a home. What makes us Singaporeans, what makes this place our home is our memories, our friends, our families – all these things which have an emotional resonance and cannot be easily replaced.

Service in the public sector

4.    Our sense of what it means to be Singaporean cannot be mandated by the Government. We have to decide for ourselves. It is important for us to consider why we are serving in the public sector. Did you join because you felt it is a stable option? Or you felt that you could contribute to society and go the extra mile? What does it mean for us as public sector leaders? We serve because we care for others. It cannot be functional or devoid of emotion. We must have compassion because we must care for the people around us.

5.    Let us consider - What do we do here that makes a difference to our people?

6.    We are part of a larger setup to create an environment that can provide jobs for Singapore. We have a low unemployment rate of under 3%. Technically, it is full employment but we must remember that low as it may be, there are over 50, 000 Singaporeans who are unemployed. Every one of them is an individual person who is affected along with his family. We play a role to construct a labour framework which helps create jobs. We make Singapore attractive by having an open and diverse workforce with a strong Singaporean core. Without growth, companies cannot grow. Companies are the ones that create jobs for people. We want to not just create jobs, but good jobs. Companies are here because there is a dynamic workforce that is well-educated and well-trained. So we need to establish a framework that can provide good job opportunities for Singaporeans. Facilitating job creation is one of our key roles.

7.    We have done well on several fronts. We got ourselves out of the 2008 financial crisis, enabled real income growth in the last few years along with good employment. But there was a cost that came with it. We feel the impact in terms of strain on our infrastructure that did not quite keep pace with the growth in the labour force. And we also have begun to feel the impact socially. We need to ease this by managing our labour growth. We need to do this by ensuring more emphases on productivity. We will have to restructure the economy to ease the strain but at the same time ensure enough growth and generate enough jobs for our people. We can see the tensions involved. There is no easy solution but we must always be able to connect the dots so that we understand the impact of what we do on Singaporeans.

8.    Helping our people be well-trained is also an important responsibility as it enables individuals to fulfil their own potential. How do we help keep our workers well-trained? This is where Continuing Education and Training (CET) comes in. This is where the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) plays a very big role, providing opportunities for all to upgrade. Mr Naz Muhamed from the Workplace Policy and Strategy Division joined us in 2002. He was a corporate support officer. That same year, he embarked on a four-year part-time diploma course in Business Management at Nanyang Polytechnic. He moved on to be a Management Support Officer. Wanting to improve himself further, Naz decided to pursue a degree with SIM. Armed with his degree two years later, he applied for a Management Executive role and was directly converted in 2011.
9.    Stories like this are not just typical to Naz alone. There are many "Nazs" out there and we want to provide opportunities for all. We want to provide platforms for people to be able to pursue their dreams. We are investing a lot of time and resources on the CET front because it enables individuals to remain skilled and employable, and thus providing a foundation for them to provide for their families. Job-matching will also make a difference to those who lose their jobs. There are Singaporeans who find it difficult finding jobs and we have to try our best to help them cross industries if need be.

10.    On the Workplace Safety and Health side, the efforts we are putting here are critical. It is not about statistics or just how many fatalities per 100,000 in the workforce. For every fatality, the statistic is 100% for the family affected. The work we do here may not be the most glamorous, but we continue to work hard at it because it is about life and death.

11.    We also make a difference when it comes to retirement adequacy. This is where CPF comes in. We are all going to live longer. We have to save and plan carefully. We have a good system and we must continue to strengthen it. We will work on seeing how best to go further with CPF, and that is something we are studying quite intently.

12.    At the end of the day, what I am saying is this: Why did you join MOM? Why did you step into the public service? We join for many reasons but this does not stop us from taking a pause and asking ourselves whether we are making a difference in people’s lives. I would suggest to you that you make a tremendous difference even if not always well-appreciated. So let us all take this opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a Singaporean, specifically what it means to be a Singaporean in public service.

Quality of life

13.    I will end off with this last point and it is an area that I feel quite strongly about - Quality of life. We rank quite high amongst cities in terms of the number of hours we work. I do not like this state of affairs. We have to figure out how we can address this. We also need to create work environments that are conducive for older workers so that we can all age well and gracefully. We must create a positive workplace for Singaporeans of all ages. As we try to build an enduring home, quality of life with better work-life integration is something we must try to address.

14.    A fulfilling life is not about the things you can measure. Sometimes, the most important things cannot be measured and quantified. As public servants, we help to provide the foundation pieces to enable Singaporeans to pursue their dreams and aspirations. We can all really make a difference in the lives of Singaporeans.

15.    So thank you very much and I wish all of us a Happy National Day.