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President Halimah was a 'president for the people', championed important causes, say advocates

Heads of non-profit organisations thanked Madam Halimah Yacob for her advocacy and for her steadfastness throughout the pandemic. 

03:51 Min
President Halimah Yacob was a people's President who was a strong advocate for social issues long before she was elected, advocates said following her announcement on Monday (May 29) that she will not be standing for re-election. Jeraldine Yap with more.

SINGAPORE: President Halimah Yacob was a people's President who was a strong advocate for social issues long before she was elected, advocates said following her announcement on Monday (May 29) that she will not be standing for re-election. 

Madam Halimah said on Facebook that she would not be running for a second term in the upcoming election this year, ending her six-year tenure as the eighth President of Singapore. 

She was sworn in on Sep 14, 2017 as Singapore's first Malay president since Yusof Ishak 47 years ago. She was the only candidate to be issued a Certificate of Eligibility. 

Her term ends on Sep 13 this year. 

Heads of social welfare groups and non-governmental organisations said they will remember her as a champion of causes, ranging from mental health issues to help for disadvantaged groups.  

Dr Radiah Salim, the founder and president of Club HEAL, a social service agency focused on mental health and wellbeing, described Madam Halimah as a President who was "very caring, very compassionate and very deeply concerned about Singapore and the people in Singapore". 

"Even before she was a President, she was at the forefront of advocating for mental health," said Dr Radiah. She added that Madam Halimah has been a long-standing patron of Club HEAL, helping the organisation gain awareness and funding for various programmes through the President's Challenge. 

At the President's Challenge 2018 launch, Madam Halimah announced a fund to support vulnerable groups through skills upgrading, capacity-building and employment. The Empowering for Life Fund saw donations receiving dollar-to-dollar matching from the government. 

"She has always been a wonderful advocate for mental health even as a President, she supports a lot of charities and initiatives to help people with mental health challenges. She's the kind of President, she doesn't just talk, she really walks the talk," said Dr Radiah. 

As patron of PPIS, Singapore Muslim Women's Association, Madam Halimah's support helped to drive the non-profit's mission to inspire women and strengthen families, the organisation's president Hazlina Abd Halim said. 

"The President was unwavering in her commitment to lend her voice and gave space to the disadvantaged and less fortunate. She also always saves a special spot for women – advocating for mindset and cultural change for the support and progress of womenkind," Madam Hazlina told CNA. 

Echoing the views of others, Mr Abdul Rahman Mohd Hanipah from the Muslimin Trust Fund Association (MTFA), a Muslim charity, said Madam Halimah was not one to shy away from committing herself to ground-up initiatives. 

"She's always there responding whenever community-driven efforts reach out for her support. Even from the time she was not yet President, she was always happy to be patron for many different organisations and events that I've been to," the vice president of the MTFA Council of Management said. 

He recalled the numerous events he had met Madam Halimah at and described her personable character.

"Although at the beginning you may be intimidated by the fact that she is Madam President, she has a way about communicating that is very calming, is very pleasant, she speaks to you just like any other normal Singaporean."

Mr Clifton Tan, the former chairman of Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home, recalled the President's visit to the shelter in 2018, where the children clamoured to take pictures with her. 

Mr Tan said he later learned the visit was outside of her official hours, and that she had paid for lunch for around 140 people at the home out of her own pocket. 

"(She) goes the extra mile for the less fortunate," said Mr Tan. 

President of the Singapore Taoist Federation Tan Thiam Lye said that Madam Halimah was committed to safeguarding interfaith harmony in Singapore and showed care for the development of the religion in Singapore. 

Speaking to CNA in Mandarin, Mr Tan said: "She treated every religion equally, no matter how big or small scale the activity was, she would support and attend the event."


NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng expressed his gratitude to Madam Halimah in a Facebook post. 

Mr Ng said that Madam Halimah had been a "staunch supporter" of workers in her 33 years of service with the labour movement and as President. 

"If there is one individual who holds a special place in her heart for workers, it is undoubtedly Madam President Halimah Yacob," he said. 

"During her time at NTUC Singapore, Madam President displayed remarkable compassion for all workers, particularly those who were vulnerable."

He added that Madam Halimah regularly engaged union leaders and showed deep care for workers, encouraging younger unionists to remain dedicated to their cause despite the challenges and demanding nature of their work. 

"Both union leaders and workers alike have shared countless stories of Madam's genuine concern for people, always making herself available to those in need," Mr Ng said. 

"In her various roles within NTUC, she personally championed programmes and initiatives that made a tangible difference in the lives of workers, particularly women and those earning lower wages. At the time, such policies needed tripartite consensus and she always persevered and pushed for their implementation."


Beyond championing social causes, Madam Halimah leaves a legacy as the President to have steered Singapore through a global pandemic, giving her assent to the government to draw on past reserves for COVID-19 public health expenditure. 

This was noted by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who paid tribute to Madam Halimah in a Facebook post on Monday. 

Mr Wong said the President's assent had been "crucial in protecting lives and livelihoods", helping the country to emerge stronger. 

"As President, she ensures that Singapore's reserves are used judiciously. Every year, the (Ministry of Finance) seeks the President's assent for the national Budget. I have had many discussions with her and the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) on the reserves, and we have greatly benefited from the exchange of views." 

The CPA advises the President in exercising custodial and discretionary powers in safeguarding the government’s past reserves and the integrity of the public service. It also advises the President on the appointments of key personnel in public service.

Chairman of the CPA Eddie Teo said Madam Halimah was "easy to work with" as "she was clear and forthright in stating her opinions and views". 

Mr Teo said: "There was no need to second-guess her position on any issue. CPA members could see how well she understood the subjects she was briefed on by government ministries. 

"Very often, she was the one who asked the most difficult questions." 

Mr Teo also described Madam Halimah as an authentic and genuine champion of causes close to her heart. 

"These included the plight of the poor and disabled. Even before she became President, she spoke up often for these groups; as President, she could, and did, do more for them."
This was a sentiment echoed by Dr Radiah, who recalled her interactions with Madam Halimah since meeting her in 2011. 

"She's really a President for the people. So she's stepping down, I'm a bit sad that she's stepping down but I think that she will continue to advocate and help people with mental health conditions." 

Thanking Madam Halimah for her gumption, Mr Abdul Rahman said: "I think she had a good run. We benefited a lot from her steadfastness, from the different social movements that she has supported. We have benefited from her ability to handle the situation during COVID. I think she deserves a good rest." 

Source: CNA/wt(gr)


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