Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) at Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry's (SCCCI) Mid-Autumn Festival

Published Date: 09 September 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Thomas Chua, President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Friends

Ladies and gentlemen

1. Thank you for inviting me here today.

2. Mid-autumn is part of our cultural heritage. It evolved throughout the ages in China, and as kids we hear the story of Chang Er and how military messages were passed through mooncakes during the Yuan dynasty in the fight against the Monguls. Over in Asia, we celebrate it in different ways. I just learnt that in Thailand, they have BBQs, and in Korea, they celebrate it more like Thanksgiving, where there is an exchanging of gifts. In Singapore we celebrate it in a variety of ways. As members of Parliament, we hold lantern festival and community events, and children today still come carrying lanterns. The lanterns are different from those I used to carry – those I used to carry would catch fire. Now they use light bulbs. But traditions carry on, and it is a very good thing.

3. These cultural and historical linkages are part of the ingredients of an evolving Singapore culture and identity. We will draw from the multi-faceted cultures and traditions of all communities to form the Singapore tapestry. Just take festivities alone - this week we gather here to celebrate mid-autumn festival; last week, the Indian community celebrated the birthday of Lord Ganesh; next Monday is Hari Raya Haji, and next Tuesday is the festival of Onam, which is a very major festival for the Malayalee community. This is the true spirit of Singapore.

4. In the true spirit of Singapore’s multiculturalism, it has been a tradition for SCCCI to invite friends from different backgrounds and communities to mid-autumn festival. At such gatherings, we often switch to using English, our common working language so everyone can communicate with each other. We order food that cater to the taste and religious requirements of all communities. Over time, such inclusive gestures have become natural practices in our harmonious society.

5. And at this point I cannot resist but to say that it is also within this multicultural spirit that the government is proposing to amend the constitution for the elected presidency. The President, whether elected or not, is our head of state, and a personification of Singapore. He or she is the symbol of Singapore, and represents all of us. So over time, it is important that we continue to have Presidents who are outstanding individuals of all races. I hope everyone here can support the changes.

6. In an event like this, it is apt to talk about education, as it is a common language too amongst all of us.

7. The SCCCI has long been active in the area of education. The Institute of Business – which I just visited before coming in, offers a slew of useful and practical courses. When I was there, I bumped into a group of students, who were from all races except for one Chinese girl who was from Surabaya but who now is Singaporean. There were three Malays, two Indians, and they all spoke in Mandarin to me. Their Mandarin was probably better than my Tamil, and maybe about the same standard as my Malay. They were very focused, and the first thing they asked me was whether we can increase the Skills Future Credit, as they would like to move on to the intermediate classes after the basic level. I also visited other classes who were doing other courses, like logistics, to help our workers upgrade their skills. All these will help our businesses perform better as well.

8. As for education, the Chamber has staunchly supported the cause of education over the years. In 1997, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce Foundation established a Business Scholarship for business undergraduate students from NTU and NUS. Other than Chinese students, this scholarship reaches out to Malay and Indian students through Mendaki and SINDA respectively. This is part of the Chamber’s mission to promote education in Singapore, and to provide assistance to deserving students of all races to pursue business studies. Besides the Business Scholarships, the Chamber also provides Scholarships for Chinese Studies, to promote the learning of Chinese among undergraduates. Tonight, we will be awarding the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce Foundation scholarships to 23 young men and women.

9. This year, the SCCCI is celebrating the 110th anniversary of its establishment. To commemorate the occasion, the SCCCI will be setting up a University Scholarship Endowment Fund, starting with $6 million dollars. I thank the SCCCI for this generous award to our young people.

10. Mr Thomas Chua mentioned about SMEs, and as I am in the CFE, I am quite well aware that one of the key concerns is the difficulty of doing businesses for SMEs. For Singapore, the latest forecast is that we will grow about 1.8%. When you look around the world, if you want to be in one part of the world to do business, where would you be? I think most people would choose Asia. And if you were in Asia, where would you choose to do business? I think there is a small handful of cities that are advanced and have the connections and talent to do good business, and Singapore is one of them. By ourselves, we cannot grow much. But we can tap into the region around us, with China growing at almost 7 percent, India at almost 8 percent, Malaysia at 4 percent, and Indonesia at 6 percent. If we can tap into these markets, through enterprise and preparing to venture out to tap into those markets, we will have better business. And in this aspect, I think SMEs have a very good advantage, because being small means that you can be agile, flexible and thus move faster than others. The next phase of our economic growth very much depends on how enterprising and how much sense of venture we have.

11. In closing, I would thank the Chamber for its excellent work in adding to the multi-cultural fabric of Singapore, training our workers, reaching out to different communities and in supporting education. Thank you very much and have a very wonderful mid-autumn festival.

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