On 21 April 2023, after a 5 day debate that involved about 67 hon Members and political appointment holders, I had the honour of delivering the closing speech on the motion of thanks. In my speech, I made 3 points. First, I highlighted the main insights and concerns expressed by hon Members in their speeches. The sheer breadth and depth of the topics they spoke on were indeed impressive! Second, I highlighted several suggestions that hon Members made in the House which I thought should be considered by the Government with a view to being incorporated in the Government’s future plans. Third and finally, I congratulated the Government for securing broad agreement to the ambitious plans it has outlined for Singapore’s future. I exhorted all Members of the House to double down to work together to bring happiness, prosperity and progress for our people. My full speech may be accessed below.
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Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok): Mr Speaker, Sir, we have just reached the end of the five-day debate on the Motion of thanks to the President. From my rough count, we heard 67 speeches in this debate. I am happy to note that all hon Members of this House who spoke are united in their support for the Motion.
Just a short while ago, before the break, I left this Chamber to visit the loo. There, I bumped into an hon Member, who said to me, that he was really looking forward to seeing me deliver my wrap-up speech. Pleased with his exuberance, I asked whether he was interested to get a sneak preview of what I intended to cover later. He, however, demured. He clarified that what he meant was that once I stand up to speak, it will be a cue for his family who is seeing these proceedings “live”, that the debate would shortly end. [Laughter.]
So, just like the hon Minister Edwin Tong who spoke before me, I get the drift. Hon Members will be happy to note that I will only make three short points in my speech.
First, I wish to thank the hon Members who spoke for sharing their valuable insights about the Government’s plans outlined by the President. This debate is significant because of the sheer breadth and depth of topics highlighted by hon Members for the Government’s consideration. I am not able to exhaustively set out all the topics, but will mention a few of them.
The topics covered included: ensuring that economic growth benefits Singaporeans from all backgrounds, strengthening the tripartite trust, developing our skilled tradesmen, the need to reskill middle-aged workers for them to remain employable and decisively tackle workplace discriminations. All these points persuasively put across by our hon Members from the Labour Movement, such as Minister of State Desmond Tan, Mr Desmond Choo, Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman and Mr Patrick Tay.
Concerns about our social compact, the need to strengthen help for have nots in our society — a point that several hon Members, including Mr Seah Kian Peng, Assoc Prof Jamus Lim, Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim and Mr Leong Mun Wai, made.
Ensuring better educational outcomes and prospects for children and youths from less privileged backgrounds — this was raised by, amongst others, hon Members Mr Vikram Nair, Dr Wan Rizal, Dr Shahira Abdullah and Mr Henry Kwek.
Keeping a keen eye on and addressing the impact of cost of living and inflation on our people — a topic that, again, a number of hon Members spoke on, including Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Louis Chua.
Highlighting the potential threat of Artificial Intelligence on our social trust and togetherness, and at the same time, the need to capture opportunities from this technological advancement — points that were eloquently put across by hon Members Dr Tan Wu Meng and Ms Mariam Jafaar.
Ensuring that trust is a two-way relationship between our people and our Government, the need to promote active citizenry and retention of our core values as a society — points raised by hon Members Ms Tin Pei Ling, Ms He Ting Ru, Mr Leon Perera and Mr Shawn Huang.
Moving away from credentialism and valuing skills and competencies instead — something that several hon Members spoke on, including Ms Janet Ang.
Looking out for the needs of the differently abled — a topic that hon Members Mr Don Wee and Miss Rachel Ong touched on.
Ensuring that our families remain the building blocks of our society, promoting marriages and parenthood, and at the same time, supporting these families as they become smaller and caregiving responsibilities increase — something that hon Members including Ms Jessica Tan and Mr Gan Thiam Poh spoke on.
Providing our rapidly ageing society with a befter support structure, tackling ageism and at the same time, empowering them to contribute to our community — points raised by hon Members Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Sakfiandi Supaat, Ms Hany Soh and Mr Edward Chia.
Protecting our aged and vulnerable citizens from scams as we continue to digitalise our economy — a topic raised by amongst others, hon Members Mr Christopher de Souza and Mr Melvin Yong.
Providing more support to people with mental health issues — an important topic that was covered by hon Members Ms Ng Ling Ling and Ms Nadia Samdin.
Opening up a whole range of pathways to ensure that our meritocratic society is more inclusive — a good number of hon MPs spoke about this, including Mr Xie Yao Quan.
Concerns about the environmental issues that our country faces were expressed by several Members including Mr Sharael Taha and Mr Dennis Tan.
Concerns about the impact of unbridled asset acquisition in Singapore by increasing numbers of wealthy individuals from overseas who set up family offices — a point made by the hon Leader of Opposition.
And finally, upholding public confidence in this House and ensuring good politics, strong leadership and good governance at all levels — areas that hon Members Mr Derek Goh, Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Faisal Manap touched on.
Notwithstanding the diversity of the topics covered in this debate, I noted unanimity amongst hon Members on the importance of retaining our core values that have been ingrained in our nation by our founding generation of leaders and stood us in good stead for several generations. This is the point that Mr Sitoh Yih Pin emphatically made. He said that our values are and must continue to be hard-coded in our psyche as a people.
I agree. This is our secret sauce. This is what will allow us as a nation and society to continue to forge forward to secure a fair share of opportunities for our people to lead fulfilling and dignified lives.
Moving on to my second point, I wish to highlight that hon Members had provided a surfeit of suggestions in this debate. These suggestions deserve examination with a view to see if the future plans of this Government that have already been laid out, can be further strengthened by their incorporafion. They include:
Linking unemployment support for citizens with their agreement to undertake skills upgrading and active job searching — a suggestion raised jointly by hon Member Mr Desmond Choo.
Attaintment of transformative competencies by our children in school — a suggestion of hon Member Mr Darryl David.
Financial literacy programmes for our children — a suggestion raised by hon Member Mr Gerald Giam.
Protection of whistle-blowers who report on discrimination and unfair employment practices — a suggestion by hon Member Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim.
Equipping community volunteers with mental health first aid skills — a suggestion by hon Member Ms Ng Ling Ling.
Redesigning of the Progressive Wage Models to provide for more wage rungs to enable workers to climb up more easily up — a suggestion by Mr Raj Joshua Thomas.
To evolve our charity policies so as to support emerging forms of giving by potential grant-makers — a suggestion by Ms Foo Mee Har.
Tapping on our seniors to get them to volunteer and share their skills and experience with others — an idea raised by hon Member Mr Yip Hon Weng.
Legislating the right to work from home — an idea of hon Member Mr Louis Ng.
Providing for caregiving leave to take care of elderly parents — an idea of hon Member Ms Poh Li San; and
Encouraging our non-SMEs to embracing inclusive hiring and employ more persons with disabilities — an idea floated and passionately argued by the hon Member Miss Rachel Ong
Several hon Members from across the aisle lamented that their suggestions have not been taken up by the Government. I appreciate that they feel strongly about their ideas and are convinced it is for the larger good of our country. I wish to point out that there are also numerous cases of suggestions made passionately by PAP backbenchers which also have not been taken up by the Government. So, they are in good company!
I think we can all appreciate that, in assessing the viability of implementing ideas from hon Members, the Executive arm of our Government bears the heavy responsibility of governing. They have to strike a balance between a wide range of factors including policy intent, competing viewpoints and resourcing priorities.
In addition, for some of the ideas to be implemented, there is a need for progress to be made over time — a point that was eloquently put across by hon Member Ms Denise Phua who advocated the integrated 10-year education programme from Primary 1 to Secondary 4, almost 10 years ago.
Hence, I would not read too much into the Government’s decision not to adopt all the suggestions made by hon Members. In fact, if anything, it would be surprising if all the ideas have been accepted without exception.
The Government has unequivocally stated on many occasions that it is agnostic as to who and where good ideas come from. As the hon Leader of the Opposition stated in his speech just now, over the years, the Government did implement several policies that have been brought up by the WP. But of course, the Government, being accountable to this House, has a duty to set its position clearly on suggestions made in this House and articulate its reasons should it not take up the suggestions.
This is Parliamentary democracy at work. This is what our people expect.
In the same vein, for the purposes of establishing common ground which the President has identified in her address to be an important aspect of our work in this House, it would be good for hon Members from Opposition parties to also entrench the policy of acknowledging, where appropriate, where they feel to be good ideas emanating from the Government. This approach entrenches the shared goal of advancing the larger public interest even as we acknowledge that the political process naturally involves a level of contestation.
A great example of this happened just a few hours ago, when hon Member Mr Dennis Tan congratulated MOT and MPA for launching an electronic harbour launch recently, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Sir, I now turn my third and final point. From the debate, it is noteworthy that there is broad agreement to the Government’s plans as articulated by the President to secure our nation’s future. In my opening speech, I drew attention to the ambitious nature of these plans. They involve high levels of creativity. I spent some time highlighting the broad spectrum of plans affecting everything, from defence to the economy to the environment, as well as the fact that a long-term view has to be taken to implement these plans.
I therefore congratulate the Government for presenting these plans that have secured this broad agreement in this House.
This, however, is merely the start. To an extent, this may be the easier part of the process. Collectively, we need to secure the all-important buy-in of fellow Singaporeans to make the plans work for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans. Whilst this is not an easy task, there is every reason to be confident, in my personal view.
This is where what the President stated in her address about moving forward with confidence becomes relevant. She said: “We are now in a much stronger position — better poised to overcome our vulnerabilities and armed with crucial resources to push forward with confidence, however stormy the weather. Our collective experiences have strengthened the mutual trust between Singaporeans and their confidence in our system of Government. This virtuous circle relies on us partnering one another and working together to make the impossible, possible.”
I therefore call on all Members of this House, on both sides of the aisle, backbenchers and frontbenchers, to double down and work together to build happiness, prosperity and progress for our people. [Applause.]