Speech by 2M Desmond Lee at the REDAS 60th Anniversary Dinner

Dec 3, 2019

I am delighted to join you for REDAS’ 60th anniversary dinner this evening. Coincidentally, the Ministry of National Development also celebrates our Diamond Jubilee this year, along with the Bicentennial, we mark with you 60 years of partnership with REDAS in building Singapore together. 

First, congratulations to all the award recipients. And thank-you to our pioneering leaders of the real estate industry, for your contributions to our development. 

I’d also like to specially mention Mr Phillip Ng, who is deservedly being recognised with the REDAS Lifetime Achievement Award tonight. He is a role model for his distinguished contributions to REDAS, and to community and nation building. 

Maintaining a Stable and Sustainable Property Market

The property market has a direct impact on the lives and aspirations of Singaporeans; that is why it is important that it remains stable and sustainable.

At last year’s REDAS dinner, Minister Lawrence Wong shared the Government’s approach to the property market, which is to keep the property market stable and sustainable, with prices moving broadly in line with income growth. We cannot take a “hands-off” approach to the property market, because experience both here and abroad has shown that left to itself, it tends to go through large price swings, which harms genuine homebuyers and home owners. Today, the market is broadly stable, in part due to active measures that were implemented in July last year. Compared to the first half of last year, private housing prices appear to be moving more in line with economic fundamentals. We also observe that land bids over the past year have also been more cautious. 

These are signs that the market is not overly exuberant, but growing at a more sustainable pace. But we should also be clear-eyed on the global outlook, which remains uncertain.  The global economy is projected to stabilise at a modest pace of growth next year, amid uncertainties and downside risks arising from trade and geopolitical tensions. This could certainly weigh on the property market.

Some commentators have also raised concern that global economic uncertainty might actually attract foreign capital inflows to our local property market, as Singapore properties are seen as stable assets. At this point, the share of transactions by foreigners remains stable and low, accounting for 5 to 6% of total transactions over the past three quarters. But we will continue to watch this very closely.  

Within the domestic market, we expect more supply of private housing units to come on stream. Developers should pace out the launches steadily, to match the demand from buyers. 

We want to continue to partner our real estate industry, in taking a long-term approach to housing: to build good homes for Singaporeans, and work towards a stable and sustainable property market. In the long run, this will benefit the majority of stakeholders – developers and homebuyers alike. 

Transforming Singapore’s Built Environment

Now as we take this occasion of the Diamond Jubilee to look back on past achievements and REDAS’ efforts, we should continue to look at what is to come. What might the future look like? And what opportunities could it hold? Tonight, allow me sketch out just some of the possibilities. 

First, our skyline will continue to evolve and change; we are not done building Singapore however small we may think this city is. For example, many of you are familiar with our long-term plans for the Greater Southern Waterfront and the relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase. The plans for Jurong Innovation District have also just been exhibited, and we are working on our Underground Masterplan. 

Second, the threat posed by climate change is urgent and pressing. Like all sectors of society, our building industry and our real estate industry must also rise to the occasion, and play our part. There are two key aspects to this. The first is on carbon emissions mitigation – we must make our sector more sustainable by making green buildings a priority while continuing to push for more Net Zero or Super Low energy buildings. Let’s do it together. On adaptation – we will require a range of engineering solutions to address the impact of climate change upon us. And, we need to master new skills, such as developing coastal defence technologies, which could include sea walls, pumping stations and land reclamation. These protect Singapore from rising sea levels. It is important for every one of us to be fully invested in this, as the cost of inaction will be far greater.

Third, through partnership and with the help of technology, we aspire to build and maintain our city more effectively and sustainably. And, it can energise our built environment sector, and create good jobs at the same time. In 2017, partners from across the entire building value chain from front to end came together, for the very first time, to lay out the plan and direction for the sector’s integration and transformation, and more importantly, to execute our plans together. We had developers, architects, engineers, builders, specialist trades, project managers, but also downstream players such as facilities managers, environmental services, security, landscape, and real estate. We brought together trade associations and professional bodies, government departments, unions, institutes of higher learning. We’ve been meeting every two months for the last two years, to discuss ideas, draw up plans together, report on progress, iron out problems, strengthen coordination, and build trust and relationships. Of course, the problems of the here and now also arise, but the strength of this group that met in 2017, and still meets every two months till this very day –is so that we all know what the road ahead lies for us. Just take this opportunity to imagine the possibilities – not many places in the world can claim to put everybody together.  Competitors, yes, but coming together and working together – academics, unions, government, industry, up and down the entire real estate value chain. Imagine if a digital spine can run through the entire value chain from conceptualisation, design, construction all the way to the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure throughout its life cycle. Helping various sectors to work together even more tightly because of this digital spine. Enabling design, construction and maintenance processes to be re-engineered, and technologies to be brought in to give you an edge. Imagine what is possible if after the building is complete, our facilities management industry, working with landscape, environmental services and security can come together and integrate more effectively to maintain our buildings – what that can mean for quality of life, standards of maintenance, the quality and kinds of jobs created. And, imagine if all the downstream elements of maintainability, security, landscape and greenery can be brought right upstream, and factored more meaningfully into the design and conceptualisation phase. If we work together through collaborative contracting and closer partnership, we can push the boundaries of what is possible. 

Leveraging on Research and Innovation in the Built Environment

The fourth aspect in the future of opportunities is research and innovation. We want to actively support you in the journey of innovation, recognising the potential it holds to transform our sector and transform your firms, beat the competition locally and abroad. For example, we’ve established a fund called the BuildSG Transformation Fund.  It supports research, deployment of test pilots, and helps you fast-track innovative solutions. We have also set up the Built Environment Technology Alliance (BETA), to support you in developing and adopting building technology solutions.  

Making a Vibrant City via Place-Making 

The fifth and final aspect in the future of opportunities is how we can work together to better create, activate and energise our common spaces. We can build well and maintain well, but for a good value proposition, we want developments, the building and the infrastructure to be energised. Through place-making and management, various stakeholders coming together to activate our public spaces and create more vibrant precincts. For example, through the pilot Business Improvement District (BID) programme, we have seen many good initiatives across different areas – it involves developers, businesses, community and the agencies all working together – that enliven and strengthen the activities and identity of our precincts. Kampong Glam, Tanjong Pagar and Singapore River are good examples of communities that have tapped on the BID programme to inject new life into the area. Because ultimately, developments are not brick and mortar, glass and steel, but places that people work, live and play. BID energises spaces and gives people a sense of happiness. For this to succeed, partnership is key; so let’s work together to make our city more vibrant. 


In tandem with REDAS’ special celebration this year, I am very appreciative that REDAS will be making significant contributions this evening to two charities: Arc Children’s Centre and HCA Hospice Care. Arc Children’s Centre is a centre that provides a safe haven for children with critical illnesses, while HCA Hospice Care offers compassionate care for patients who are living in their final stages of their journey in life. 

I would also like to thank REDAS for supporting KidSTART. For those of you who tuned in to the National Day Rally, Prime Minister talked about how KidSTART will be scaled-up from 1,000 children to 6,000 in the coming years. KidSTART gives children from low-income households a good start in life by supporting child development and strengthening family support. A couple of years ago we started this, we targeted low-income households with children, and instead of waiting for them to come to us, we reached out to the mothers and fathers in the hospital, when they were expectant with child. We asked them to come on the programme. We will help the parents with basic parenting skills – teach them to look after and energise their children when they are born. We visit them every week, every fortnight at home, with nutritionists, special staff, pediatrician from the hospital, to make sure parents get all the support – in healthcare, nutrition, parenting and social support. When the child reaches three, we run community programmes every week to help the parent and child bond, to enable the parent to stimulate the child, because zero to six is the most critical stage of any childhood. Once the child goes into kindergarten or childcare, our officers will be there every other day after school, to catch up with the teachers and the children, find out how the parents are doing. From zero to six, it is a proactive intervention to tackle inequality. REDAS coming on board signals an enterprise’s commitment to helping us to tackle inequality, to ensure that those who have the least in Singapore also have the opportunity to succeed, to seed the opportunity. 

Even as we transform our city, we are also hard at work at transforming and strengthening our social safety nets, because the social challenges can only get harder in the years to come. Supporting our vulnerable, enabling people with disability to live fulfilling lives, housing the homeless, giving ex-offenders a second chance, guiding at-risk young people back onto the right track.  Like the built environment and real estate sectors, an important ingredient to better integrating and weaving our social safety nets is trust and partnerships. 

Meetings are taking place all over Singapore every year, town by town where we bring together representatives from social service agencies, charities, schools, healthcare agencies, government departments, religious and secular organisations, community and the grassroots, and many more. They come together, year after year, to work out plans to better support vulnerable Singaporeans. But  in there are also representatives from companies enterprises, looking for ways to do good even better, and saying that as a company you care, and you want to give more meaningfully and impactfully, especially if you are not satisfied with how your CSR has been run all these years.  So, like what REDAS is doing, if you’d like to work with us to build a better Singapore – whether in terms of our city and infrastructure, or in terms of our social dimensions – let us know and we will partner you to build strong partnerships.

Thank you all very much. Let me wish all of you a happy 60th birthday, and many good returns. Thank you.