Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at The Majulah Assembly 2021, on 19 August 2021, at The Arts House (Old Parliament House)19 Aug 2021
Members of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony,
A good evening to all of you.
2. I am delighted to be here with you at the second edition of The Majulah Assembly.
3. Since its inaugural edition last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Majulah Assembly has been held with safe management measures. I am really glad we can meet in person today to celebrate social harmony as part of this National Day community observance ceremony.
4. The theme for this year’s interfaith youth dialogue is ‘Faith and Disaster Management’. This is timely as the current COVID-19 situation presents many challenges and learning opportunities on emerging stronger together.
Singapore’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
5. For the past one and a half years, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and economies across the globe. It has caused uncertainties and anxieties, and heightened awareness of vulnerabilities across societies and communities.
a. More than 4 million people have died.
b. Re-opening economies has been a start and stop process with new and recurring waves of infection.
c. Businesses and workers have had to transform and adapt at an unprecedented pace.
a. We harnessed our collective efforts and strengths to tackle COVID-19 together with resolve and resilience.
b. We took swift actions to manage the spread of the virus through safe management measures, and built up our testing and contact tracing capabilities.
c. We have made steady progress in our vaccinations and reached our target of having two-thirds of our population fully vaccinated before National Day. As of 17 August 2021, 77% of our population has been fully vaccinated. This is one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
d. Singaporeans have stepped up, stayed vigilant and adapted to the new normal. We have also seen how many Singaporeans rallied together and supported one another, including rallying behind our hawkers.
7. I am deeply grateful to our leaders and friends from faith communities who have made many adjustments to keep religious practices safe amidst the COVID-19 situation. Beyond serving and supporting their own religious communities, religious organisations are also supporting other communities, especially the less fortunate among us. Let me highlight a few examples.
a. We are deeply grateful to our religious leaders who have played a critical role by innovating and issuing guidance to their communities on the measures we had to take. For example, religious leaders have used technology to conduct daily prayers and worship services. This has helped to limit the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time keeping people connected to their faith.
b. Critically, by encouraging vaccination they have helped to reduce the risk of severe illness and death.
c. Religious organisations also mobilised volunteers to reach out and provide social support to the elderly and at-risk communities, and stepped forward to reach out to migrant workers and the needy, even providing shelter in places of worship for displaced individuals and families as part of MSF’s Safe Sound Sleep Places (3SPs).
d. The Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs) stepped forward to support vulnerable groups and encouraged frontline workers in their fight against the pandemic. For instance, the IRCCs collaborated with the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry to deliver more than 18,000 Hari Raya cookies baked by confectioneries and home-based bakers to migrant workers in 16 community isolation facilities, and also distributed care packages to frontline workers at Changi Airport, polyclinics and hospitals to encourage them in our fight against the pandemic.
Emerging Stronger and Staying United through COVID-19 and other Crises
9. While the pandemic has provided great opportunity for common humanity and unity, it has also in some places, triggered hate, extremism, and xenophobia around the world.
a. For example, there have been physical and verbal attacks directed at nationals of countries where the virus or variants were discovered.
b. Closer to home, we have seen some people – though thankfully a small minority - act in xenophobic ways, at odds with our values as a people. For example in May this year, a man in his late 20s shouted a racial slur at a 55-year old Singaporean Indian woman for not wearing a mask even though she was brisk walking, and when she tried to explain, he ran at her and kicked in her chest. In a separate incident a few days earlier, a man was caught on camera shouting derogatory terms at a family of Indian expatriates, saying they were “spreading the virus here” and asking them to “go back”.
11. This pandemic will not be the last crisis we face. There will be other trying times ahead. This includes natural disasters and social conflicts.
a. Southeast Asia is one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world. Super typhoons and widespread floods have not only damaged lives and livelihoods, but also destroyed rice fields, farmlands and agricultural plantations. Our hearts go out to the communities affected by these disasters.
b. As you saw just now, climate change is the biggest challenge of our age, with a UN scientific report sounding the alarm on a “Code Red for humanity”. Singapore faces the dangers of rising sea levels, which may not only alter coastlines but also cause floods and damage freshwater aquaculture and agriculture. Rising temperatures of seawaters have caused the death of millions of sea creatures.
c. Natural disasters taking place in the region could also impact Singapore’s food supply chain.
13. Singapore, like many other societies, is not immune to the fraying of the social compact. Given this, we must address any risk of polarisation early and carefully to preserve our social fabric and safeguard our racial and religious harmony.
14. Since our independence, we have worked together to build a caring and inclusive society. Through the efforts of groups like yours, we have also made significant progress as a society in managing our differences and strengthening trust across the many racial and religious communities in Singapore.
15. Our racial and religious harmony is always a work in progress— which we zealously safeguard and maintain. We must continue to have mature and open dialogues to foster mutual understanding and hear different points of view. While we can now speak about topics which we may not have been able to raise twenty years ago, we should continue to engage these topics respectfully and sensitively.
16. We will continue to make every effort to strengthen our social fabric. I am confident that when we look back and reflect on history one day, we will be affirmed in our collective response: that we have risen above crisis as one united people. The COVID-19 situation, despite its stresses, has brought out the best in us— revealing the character of our people— that we stay united, resilient, and caring for one another. This is how we will overcome the COVID-19 situation, and future crises— and emerge stronger together.
17. As we face the future, let us not be daunted but united. So long as we act in unity, we will be able to overcome our challenges, whatever they may be.
18. I would like to thank Humanity Matters and their institutional supporters for organising today’s event. The Majulah Assembly is a timely reminder and celebration of our solidarity and humanity which has been the bedrock of our multi-racial and religious society. It is our sense of hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity that will continue to weather us through crises— past, present, and future.
19. Thank you very much, and have a fruitful dialogue ahead.