SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about a range of issues in his National Day Rally speeches on Sunday (Aug 29).
Read the provided translation of his Malay speech in full:
It has been almost two years since COVID-19 affected our lives. Despite the challenges, the strength of our collective spirit shone through.
Many activities and celebrations were affected because of COVID-19. Mosque attendance and Hari Raya visits had to be restricted. For the second year in a row, Korban rituals at the mosques and Haj could not be carried out.
I am grateful for the community’s cooperation and forbearance. I also thank the Malay/Muslim community and mosque leaders, as well as asatizah, led by the Mufti, for showing leadership, and persuading the community to be vaccinated.
Now, with more of us vaccinated, we can gradually ease restrictions. And also allow larger numbers of congregants at the mosques.
Still, we must do our utmost to vaccinate as many as possible of those not yet vaccinated. Especially the elderly, who are most vulnerable. If you are a senior citizen, please get vaccinated soon!
National and Community Efforts
I am glad to see the Malay/Muslim community rallying together, caring for one another, throughout the pandemic. This gotong royong and “can do” spirit have been key to the community’s progress over the years.
The latest Census 2020 shows the significant progress that the community has made over the past decade. More Malays, across all age-groups, are attaining higher qualifications. The proportion of Malay university graduates has doubled. The proportion of Malays working as PMETs has also increased. As a result, Malay household incomes have gone up too. Well done!
Many more Malays are doing well. Like Aarman Yazeed. He works for Thermo Fisher Scientific, one of the world’s largest medical device makers. Aarman joined Thermo Fisher after completing NS. Over the years, he worked hard and constantly upskilled himself. He performed well and was promoted to become a manufacturing manager. Good employees like Aarman are one of the reasons Thermo Fisher decided to expand its facility to make vaccines here.
Another example is Samsiah Suliman, Managing Director of Jumain Sataysfaction. Third generation running her family’s satay business, which started with her grandfather selling satay as a hawker over 110 years ago. I met her recently. Samsiah told me that when she took over the business, she saw its potential. She diversified her product range to include non-meat options, such as mushroom satay. She successfully brought Singapore-style satay to the international stage. Now, her company threads 80,000 sticks of satay a day, and exports to Hong Kong, Canada and the Middle East.
I hope success stories like Samsiah and Aarman will inspire the community.
However, Census 2020 also highlighted some worrying trends in home ownership and education.
Like other Singaporeans, most Malay families own their own homes. Malay households in rental flats has increased. This is unfortunate. There are several reasons. For instance, there are young married couples who want to live independently before they are ready to buy a flat. This is understandable. But there are some who may have suffered sudden changes in family or financial circumstances, or be facing complex challenges and have difficulties planning for their future.
Every year, with the Government’s help, some of these households are able to buy their own homes and move out of rental flats. Home ownership is not merely about having a roof over your head. It is also for Singaporeans to secure a better future. Hence we must help more households in rented flats recognise that renting is only a temporary housing solution, and to encourage them to stabilise their income so that they can move towards home ownership, and progress with the rest of society.
Community efforts are important. Initiatives like Project DIAN@M³ help more Malay/Muslim households access Government support and progress towards home ownership. The Government will give them our full support.
In Singapore, we strive to build an inclusive society. Education is key to this endeavour. That is why the Government invests heavily in preschool and education.
But we must also pay extra attention to students who are falling behind. They may be lacking self-confidence and motivation. Or sometimes, family problems hinder them from doing well.
Minister Maliki Osman is leading UPLIFT, a taskforce that brings together Government agencies and community partners. UPLIFT will provide early and sustained support for disadvantaged students of all races, to improve their educational outcomes.
The Malay/Muslim Organisations and the M3 network are complementing this effort.
I am happy to see students benefitting from national and community programmes. Take for instance, Siti (not her real name), a polytechnic graduate, and her siblings. Coming from a low-income household, they have been supported by various Government and community organisations throughout their schooling years.
For instance, ComCare subsidised their fees at Student Care Centres, where they developed daily routines and good habits. MENDAKI’s Tertiary Tuition Fee Subsidy (TTFS) supported Siti’s polytechnic education. Her younger brother received additional academic support for English and Mathematics through the Collaborative Tuition Programme (CTP) run by self-help groups.
Last year, their parents lost their jobs due to COVID-19. AMP Singapore stepped in to provide additional support for the children’s schooling needs while their parents work towards stabilising their income. AMP is also helping their parents through upskilling programmes, so that they can be self-reliant again.
With holistic support from various parties, Siti’s siblings have thrived in school. They received bursaries and awards for good academic achievements and exemplary character. The experience of Siti and her family shows that the right care environment and support can make a big difference.
By helping those who are struggling, we make meritocracy work for all of us and enable everyone to progress together as one nation.
Race and Religion
Meritocracy also depends on the strength of our diverse community.
We have enjoyed racial and religious harmony since independence. Through “give and take”, with mutual respect and accommodation from all communities. This is a delicate balance. It therefore has to be carefully maintained, like balancing a cup filled with oil (Malay proverb: seperti menatang minyak yang penuh). And at the same time, make adjustments to keep up with changing values from generation to generation and aspirations of different groups.
One such adjustment is the wearing of the tudung by Muslim nurses. This is not a new issue. I previously discussed this with Malay/Muslim religious and community leaders. They explained why wearing the tudung was important to the community and hoped that the Government would change the rules to let officers in uniform wear the tudung.
I told them, “I understand your hopes and wishes. I understand your views. I can empathise with the community’s aspirations. But I hope that you too can understand the Government’s national considerations.”
I said our main concern was to strengthen our racial harmony. The Government must make sure that any change to the rules would bring the different communities closer together, and not divide us.
For students and other uniformed services including the SAF and Police, we do not allow tudung to be worn, for some crucial reasons. For nurses, there were also valid reasons behind the Government’s policy; but the arguments for and against it are more finely balanced, and over time, a new balance could be carefully and incrementally struck.
A few months ago, I told a group of asatizah and community leaders that I hoped to make a decision by National Day Rally. The day has come. The decision has been made. As this is not just a matter for the Malay/Muslim community, but one of national interest that concerns our multi-racial and multi-religious society, I will give further details and make the announcement later in the English speech.
Ladies and gentlemen, year after year, the Malay/Muslim community has consistently made significant progress. As we progress as an inclusive society, it is important to see a maturity in understanding between communities in making adjustments for one another. We must also help one another, like what we are doing in fighting COVID-19, especially those who are falling behind.
Let us remain united, help one another, and be strong in consensus building, like the interdependence between bamboo trees and riverbanks (Malay proverb: bagai aur dengan tebing). Only then will we continue to be indomitable, prosperous, we will shine, and achieve our common aspirations together, as one people, one nation, one Singapore!