SINGAPORE: Singapore should celebrate this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) even amid the difficulties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, “and indeed because more challenging times are ahead”, said Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Friday (Jun 5).
Responding to parliamentary questions about NDP celebrations amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Dr Ng noted that some Singaporeans felt that these celebrations were wasteful and that the same resources should be spent elsewhere, in light of the impact the disease has had on the economy.
He said he agreed the Government should be “prudent”, but added that “we should guard against a mood of despondency overcoming us or allow(ing) individual preferences to divide us".
“If we allow despair to prevail in our national psyche, particularly during this COVID-19 pandemic, then that will be the greatest harm to the future of Singapore - much worse than the economic impact, the loss of jobs and businesses," he said.
Referencing Singapore’s first NDP in 1966, Dr Ng said that the “unity and collective confidence” for the future that it instilled among Singaporeans was “priceless”.
“By all accounts, it was an extraordinary event, especially for a nation that was barely a year old. Could Singapore afford it in 1966? Could the money spent have been put to better use?” asked the minister.
“It showed to the rest of the world that despite great difficulties, ours was a country that would not be beaten down – ours was a people that will rise and overcome," he said. "Without that unity and confidence, Singapore could not have survived, let alone thrived against the challenges that our founding generation faced.”
Dr Ng also noted that Singapore had still held parades “through every troubled period”, including the 1988 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2008 global financial crisis.
“Even through those difficult years, Singaporeans chose to celebrate (the) National Day Parade as we have always done and rallied together. Because of that hope and optimism, Singapore emerged stronger.”
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COVID-19 infections will last many more months, but the impact of disrupted lives and livelihoods will last even longer, added Dr Ng.
“If, at this early stage, Singaporeans lose their mettle, their inner strength and equanimity, lose their resolve and weaken their resilience, then we are already in trouble," he said. "This is not the Singapore that you and I know. This is not the Singapore spirit that has ensured our survival and progress through many previous hardships."
“So I say, despite the difficulties, and indeed because more challenging times are ahead, we should celebrate this year’s NDP, as we’ve done before, and just as our founding generation did during the first NDP.”
READ: NDP 2020 to have morning and evening shows; shows to be scaled down in line with COVID-19 precautions
The NDP2020 Executive Committee has adapted the NDP format to reduce the risk of infection amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr Ng.
But not being able to hold the NDP at a central location with large crowds should not prevent Singaporeans from "expressing their pride and love for Singapore”.
“We may be physically apart, but we want to join in spirit as one people, with that same confidence and optimism and unity that the founding generation fostered despite harsher and grim circumstances," said the minister.
Final cost figures are not in yet, but this year's NDP should be able to reduce the usual budget by a third "at the very least", said Dr Ng, with savings from the cost of infrastructure that would have been built if the parade had been held “in the usual way” at the Padang or the Float@Marina Bay.
This year’s NDP will be split into morning and evening shows, with participant numbers drastically reduced in line with COVID-19 guidelines, the NDP2020 Executive Committee announced earlier this month.
Fewer than 300 participants will be involved in both segments, and the committee does not plan to allow spectators into the evening show at the moment, the chairman of the executive committee Brigadier-General Frederick Choo had said.
Unlike previous years, large groups of volunteers from organisations like the People’s Association, Singapore SOKA Association and the Ministry of Education will not be involved, with performances limited to the Home Team, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Music and Drama Company and some selected performances and artistes.
Safe distancing and hygiene measures will be implemented for performers, and this includes the wearing of masks and having different holding rooms for different groups of performers.