Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at The Tamils Representative Council's (TRC) National Day Dinner Celebrations on 27 August 202227 Aug 2022
President of TRC, Mr Pandiyan Vellasami
TRC Advisors, Mr Ravindran and Mr Murali Pillai
Ladies and Gentlemen,
2. Let me also wish all of you Teciya Tina Valtukkal. I am very happy to join you tonight for TRC’s National Day celebrations, and also your 70th anniversary dinner.
3. I understand you have not been able to have a gathering like this for more than two years because of the pandemic. So, I think this makes tonight's dinner even more special. Because it is TRC’s first major celebration since the pandemic started.
4. I thank you for your patience and forbearance these past two-and-a-half years, having to live with the various lockdowns, circuit breakers, heightened alerts and all sorts of restrictions. But because of our cooperation, because we worked together, Singapore today is in a much better position than before.
5. I am very glad that we are able to come together tonight to have dinner, to reconnect with one another and to support the TRC’s fundraising efforts. The past two-and-a-half years has been challenging for everyone in Singapore, including for the Tamil community. But members of the TRC and your Youth Wing have been working passionately and tirelessly to extend support to families in need. For example, despite not being able to hold any fundraising dinners, you have doubled the number of TRC bursary awards and collaborated with Family Service Centres to distribute much needed care packs. And it is because of efforts like these that we are able to rally together and emerge stronger and more united as a nation through this pandemic.
6. So I would like to thank all the Advisors, the Management, the staff, the youth and all the partners of the TRC. I would like to say a very big thank you to all of you.
7. Of course, the TRC’s good work goes beyond just the past two-and-a-half years, because you have been doing this now for 70 years. So, tonight is also a very fitting occasion as you not only mark Singapore's birthday, but also 70 years since your formation.
8. You had a very nice exhibition outside curated by the Youth Wing to show all the achievements of TRC these past seven decades. On this 70th anniversary, all of you can be very proud of what the community and TRC has achieved. Congratulations to everyone in the Tamil community!
9. Indeed, over the past seven decades, the TRC has played an instrumental role in Singapore's nation building. You have helped to preserve and promote the Tamil language and culture in Singapore through language and debate competitions. You have also worked hard to uplift the educational, economic and social status of the Tamil community, through various efforts including your Education Awards and Bursaries. And, over the years, you have helped to play a key role in representing the views of the Tamil community across all issues pertaining to the community and government policies. You have done all this while fostering unity amongst the Tamil community, bringing together different religions and groups including Tamil Hindus, Tamil Muslims and the Ceylon Tamils, for example.
10. So it is no wonder that the TRC has achieved what you have done today, having grown from just a handful of members in your formative years to now having over 10,000 direct and indirect members. And partly because of the efforts of the TRC and your many partner organisations, the Tamil community has done well in Singapore too, with many outstanding Tamils contributing to our nation's success. Just now, we honoured yet another fine example in Madam Sarojini Padmanathan. I was also very proud to hear that she is your first female recipient of TRC Distinguished Community Service award. I hope there will be many more to come in the years ahead.
11. In many ways, TRC story is not an unfamiliar one, because it mirrors Singapore's own history. All of us in Singapore come from different backgrounds, different races, different religions. But here in Singapore, we are all Singaporeans. So we may be Chinese, Malay, Indian, Tamil, but there is something unique about us. A Singaporean Chinese is different from a Chinese from China; a Singaporean Malay is different from a Malay from the Malay Archipelago; A Singaporean Indian is very different from someone who comes from India.
12. The reason is because, here in Singapore, we have forged our unique sense of a Singaporean identity. We have come together with our shared values, our shared experiences and memories, and we work together to forge a better future for ourselves, our children and the generation after us.
13. Each time we encounter crisis in Singapore, each time we encounter difficult times, we grow stronger, we become more united. In fact, that is very much the Singapore Story. Singapore is the quintessential underdog. From the start of the nation's founding, no one thought that Singapore would survive. Since our independence, we have gone through crisis after crisis. And that adversity and challenge has not caused us to crumble. In fact, it has motivated us to do better, to grow stronger.
14. Therefore, over the years, we have strengthened our bonds and we have become a more united country. And so it has been in the last two years tackling COVID-19. In fact, you may have seen a survey done by the Pew organisation, an international organisation. They surveyed all the different countries around the world, and they found that in Singapore, we are quite unique. We are probably the only country in the world that has emerged more united after the pandemic. In fact, 75% of people in Singapore think that Singapore today is more united than before the pandemic started.
15. That is really quite remarkable. In all other countries, it is the opposite. Most people think that their country has become more disunited, more fragmented, more divided and more polarized compared to before the pandemic. We are the opposite. But we should not take that for granted. We should continue to build on these strong foundations to see how we can do better for the future.
16. And more than ever, at this time, it is crucial that we rally together as a nation and strengthen that sense of solidarity and unity. Because we all know that we are heading into a very different world. In the near term, the Ukraine war has contributed to a very uncertain economic outlook as well as rising prices everywhere around the world, especially for energy and food. This is impacting countries globally, including Singapore.
17. The government knows this is a major concern for Singaporeans and that is why we are monitoring the situation closely. We have already put out several rounds of assistance to help Singaporeans cope with rising prices, and we stand ready to do more in the coming months.
18. More fundamentally, I think we also know that we do not just face economic uncertainty ahead. We are facing a turning point in history too. Since the end of the Cold War 30 years ago, the world has enjoyed peace and stability. It has been a very peaceful, globalised world. We can trade with one another; we can do business with one another. But I think geopolitics and the world order are changing. What happened in Europe can easily happen in Asia too. And with strained US-China relations, I think we must expect increased rivalry and tensions all over our region. So we must mentally prepare ourselves for a very different environment.
19. Of course, even in the midst of these uncertainties, we should not be become unduly pessimistic, or overwhelmed. Because at the end of the day, if we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that we can confront and overcome any challenge so long as we stay united as one people.
20. In that sense, the biggest challenge of all is not external. The biggest challenge is really amongst ourselves – how we can continue to keep faith with one another, and ensure that Singapore remains always a high trust society, where we trust one another regardless of race, language or religion. And there is a high level of trust also between the Government and the people. This is the very reason why I decided to launch the Forward Singapore exercise which was mentioned just now. It is an effort to refresh and strengthen our social compact in order to keep our society cohesive and strong.
21. We are engaging Singaporeans across all walks of life in this exercise to get your ideas and feedback on what more we can do. We aim to build a Singapore where there are ample opportunities for everyone regardless of background, language or religion; a Singapore where everyone knows that they will not be left to fend for themselves; A Singapore where every citizen can share in the nation's progress.
22. That is what we hope to achieve. How to get there? We are open to ideas. We are reviewing policies, we are seeking feedback and we are engaging all of you to see what we can do, what programs we can put in place, and what things we might do differently.
23. But crucially, this exercise is not just about what the government can do. It is also about what all of us can do together. Community organisations, like the TRC and your partners will play a key role in this effort. So I hope the Tamil community will participate actively in the Forward Singapore exercise to share your views on how we can all move forward as a united people. And more than that, I hope the TRC will continue your important efforts to uplift the Tamil community, together with your volunteers and your partners.
24. In this regard, I am very happy that the TRC has managed to raise over $100,000 for the G Kandasamy Education Trust Fund tonight. Thank you all for your generosity in contributing to this good cause. Education is certainly a cause worth supporting. It remains a very important leveller for all our children. But there are many other things we can do together in partnership between the Government and the community – such as advancing the well-being of the entire community across different groups and different segments, or strengthening our spirit of fellowship, and our sense of solidarity as one people. We look forward to all your ideas and feedback on these and more.
25. So, in conclusion, it has been 70 years since the TRC was established. But the work you do continues to be essential to Singapore's nation building and, in particular, to our next bound of development as a country. I look forward to many more decades of partnership with the TRC, with your Youth Wing, and your affiliates, as we build a better Singapore together. Thank you very much. Nandri, and enjoy your evening.