Institute Of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) (Amendment) Bill Second Reading Speech

Published Date: 14 July 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1.Madam Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time”.


2.The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) (Amendment) Bill seeks primarily to effect the renaming of ISEAS as the “ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute”, as announced by the Prime Minister at the 2014 National Day Rally.

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

3.ISEAS was established by the Government in 1968, to fill a vital need for a deeper understanding of the region. At that time, decolonisation was just ending. The newly-independent countries of Southeast Asia knew that regional integration was critical for survival, and on our part, Singapore had to find a place in a region that was beginning to find its way forward, away from colonial rule.

4.Since then, ISEAS has grown to be a reputable research centre and think tank dedicated to the study of socio-political, security and economic developments in Southeast Asia and its wider geostrategic and economic environment. ISEAS continues to play an important regional role in nurturing scholarship and capacity building, providing insights on key issues and events. ISEAS’ efforts in developing a network of relationships help deepen understanding among policy makers and scholars within the region and beyond.

Encik Yusof Ishak and his Contributions to Singapore

5.We are proud to have ISEAS bear Encik Yusof Ishak’s name. Encik Yusof was one of Singapore’s pioneering leaders as the Yang di-Pertuan Negara and the first President of Singapore. His contributions, along with those of early Malay pioneers such as Mr Othman Wok, were critical to the success of our then-fledging nation-state, and continue to be a source of pride for our Malay community and our nation today. His convictions and life’s work resonate strongly with ISEAS’s foundational tenets, and it is befitting that his name will be borne by ISEAS.

6.Madam Speaker, here I would like to share a few words from Encik Yusof, in Malay. “Perpaduan kaum amat penting bagi kita. Masa depan Republik kita bergantung pada perpaduan dan kerjasama di kalangan semua kaum - dengan aspirasi dan objektif yang sama, untuk menjadikan Singapura sebuah negara yang berjaya dan makmur.”

7.These words reflect Encik Yusof’s firm belief that racial unity is a crucial tenet to Singapore’s success, and encapsulate Encik Yusof’s key message to Singaporeans during our early years of independence. Singapore did not always enjoy the peace and prosperity that we do now. Our independence came suddenly. Our early years were fraught with bouts of unrest, driven by both internal and external forces. Encik Yusof, as our first President, played a key role to help restore trust and confidence amongst Singaporeans during this time that saw events that shook the nation, such as the 1964 racial riots.

8.One of the foundational principles is that our people are our greatest strength. We must understand, respect and value each person, regardless of race or religion. Encik Yusof lived out this principle throughout his tenure as President. His tireless visits to each constituency, and his countless outreaches to various racial and religious groups to share his vision and message, are testament to this. In his obituary speech to Encik Yusof Ishak, our Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew described Encik Yusof as “a deeply religious man, but who did not allow his religion to hinder his relationship with non-Muslims, whether they were Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, or atheists”. Mr Lee described Encik Yusof as a man who stood for our multi-racial policies and believed in policies to modernise our society.

9.We are very fortunate that Encik Yusof was Singapore’s Head of State at our founding moment. That he embodied our sovereignty assured our pioneer generation of Malays that they have a place in Singapore - he assured all races that this would be home for all. This would not be a Chinese nation or a Malay nation or an Indian nation; this would be a Singaporean Singapore, as our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew had declared. President Yusof was the living personification of that promise. And he dedicated himself to fulfilling that promise, to the benefit of us all today. Because our pioneer generation of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians decided to make common cause with one another, we were able to remain a multi-racial nation.

10.Encik Yusof was a steadfast guide for Singapore throughout our early years. Our early leaders had to navigate numerous pressing issues, such as labour unrest, communal discord, and the urgent need to grow our economy and create jobs. They were keenly aware that solutions to these needed to be buttressed by knowledge of regional developments. ISEAS, established a mere three years after our independence, has helped to deepen our understanding of our politically-volatile region. It has strengthened ties amongst regional scholars, and built up a body of knowledge on developments in Southeast Asia.

11.Our success today has been built by pioneering leaders such as Encik Yusof, and institutions such as ISEAS that have helped to inform our leaders’ policy decisions. The foundation for a strong nation is true today as in the past — peace and stability based on mutual understanding, within Singapore and beyond. Today, regional and geopolitical realities are even more complex. The strategic framework in Asia is evolving, and Southeast Asian countries are accelerating and deepening their integration. Understanding Singapore’s place in the economic, cultural and political context of the region remains crucial to our continued success and existence. As we celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday, and honour the outstanding men and women who have shaped our nation and wrought our successes, it is fitting and timely to pay tribute to Encik Yusof through the renaming of ISEAS in his honour.

The ISEAS (Amendment) Bill

12.The ISEAS (Amendment) Bill provides for this renaming. It also provides for amendments to update the ISEAS Act.

13.Let me now highlight the key clauses in this Bill.

  • Clauses 2 to 5 and Clauses 12 to 14 effect the renaming of the Institute as “ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute”, by amending the ISEAS Act and other legislation to reflect the new name. These clauses will come into effect on 12 August 2015, the 105th anniversary of Encik Yusof’s birth.
  • Clauses 6 to 11 seek to update the ISEAS Act and will come into effect on 1 November 2015. Specifically,
    • Clause 6 streamlines the composition of the ISEAS Board from 22 to 15 members, and updates appointment authorities for the Board. Clause 7 accordingly reduces the quorum for the Board to 5 members, in line with the smaller size of the Board.
    • Clause 8 removes section 7 relating to the Secretary of the Board, as it is no longer relevant.
    • Clauses 9 to 11 update financial provisions.
    • Clause 11 also inserts new sections to protect relevant ISEAS personnel from harassment and personal liability in the performance of their duties.


14.In closing, I would like to share Encik Yusof’s exhortation to a young Singapore during our national celebrations 50 years ago. Madam Speaker, in Malay.

15.“Adalah menjadi hasrat kita untuk mewujudkan sebuah masyarakat yang lebih adil dan saksama. Di dalamnya, semua rakyat yang setia tanpa mengira bangsa, budaya dan agama dijamin tempatnya. Dengan mendapat peluang yang sama dalam setiap aspek kehidupan, mereka boleh membangunkan personaliti mereka dengan sepenuhnya, yang juga bermakna bahawa mereka boleh memberikan sumbangan yang terbaik kepada masyarakat. … Saya yakin, semua rakyat kita dari semua lapisan masyarakat akan mengakui dengan tegas dan mendedikasikan diri mereka kepada pembinaan sebuah masyarakat berbilang kaum yang bebas, kuat dan bersatu.”

16.Let me share this in English. “It is our intention to establish a more just and equal society. In it, all loyal citizens regardless of race, culture and religion are assured of a place. With equal opportunities in every sphere of life they can develop their personalities to the fullest, which also means that they can give of their best to society. … I am confident that all our citizens from all walks of life will on this day reaffirm and re-dedicate themselves to the building of a free, strong, united and multi-racial society.”

17.Madam Speaker, I beg to move.

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