Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the MND National Day Observance Ceremony 2019

Aug 8, 2019 14:06

I’m very happy to join all of you this morning for our observance ceremony. Let me start by wishing all of you a very happy national day.

2019, as you all know, is a special year for Singapore, because this is our bicentennial. It marks 200 years since the British came and created a turning point in our history. This is also the 60th year since we attained self-government in Singapore. So we mark also MND’s 60th anniversary, because we were amongst the first seven ministries established after the legislative assembly elections in 1959. 

Now through this long arc of history, whether you go back 60 years, 200 years, or even before 200 years to when Singapore was just a tiny island in the Malay Archipelago, we have all seen ups and downs in Singapore’s fates and fortunes. We have witnessed the rise and fall of seemingly indestructible empires. They used to say that the sun will never set on the British Empire, but that was not to be the case. And you can say the same for many other European empires, be it the Dutch, the Portuguese, or even here in Asia, we had the Japanese Empire leading up to World War II – but none of these ever lasted. 

So when you study the major events of history, you can see a certain pattern. One of our founding leaders, Mr Rajaratnam, once likened this pattern of history to what physicists would call the second law of thermodynamics. I am not a scientist, so I will not give you a technical explanation of what the law says, but the basic layman interpretation is as follows: “All things in the universe will move from order to disorder over time.”

If you look around the world, and look across history, you realise that there is no such thing as permanent peace, or permanent success. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many thought that the big ideological conflicts of the world were over, and human civilisation had found a way to live peacefully together and thrive. Now, we see that this is not the case. Geopolitical tensions have flared up with a vengeance, and we should all brace ourselves for a more fractured world, and a long stretch of global uncertainty and volatility.

Countries too are susceptible to this law of thermodynamics. If you want to use a different scientific analogy, the higher you ascend, the greater the downward pull of gravity. In fact, societies everywhere have different sayings for this. The Chinese say “wealth does not last three generations”; the Americans say “from shirt sleeve to shirt sleeve”, meaning from pauper to prince and then pauper; the Scots say that the father buys, the son builds, the grandson sells, and the grandson’s son begs. 

This is almost universal, and there are many complex reasons why great societies decline. You can always do a technical study to understand what went wrong, but you can often trace it back to some underlying human factors – the understandable striving for material comforts degenerates into wasteful spending beyond one’s means; the need for leisure becomes a life of endless leisure with no work; the obligations to State and family which should be regarded as honourable and the right thing to do are regarded as impositions on human individual freedom; the individual no longer sees himself as a member of a community who made the progress and prosperity possible but one entitled to rights without any obligations. It is no longer one for all, but it is all for one and one for himself. 

All these may be oversimplifications, but that is essentially how and why societies decline. We know that we are not immune to these forces in Singapore. We have done well for ourselves in the last 6 decades. We have transformed Singapore from mudflat to metropolis in a very short span of time. But all of these did not happen by chance. It took a lot of effort, hard work, sacrifice and certainly more than a bit of good luck. 

Many of you in the MND Family, especially our pioneers and the Merdeka Generation, would have played a big part in Singapore’s transformation over these decades. You helped to plan our urban landscape, build our infrastructure and HDB homes, and green our city. Today, I want to put on record and thank all of you for your contributions in making Singapore what it is today. Thank you very much. 

Our challenge is to see how we can keep these going for as long as we can. We have all been accustomed to a certain quality of life – good housing, good jobs, rising wages and good standard of living. But we must always remember that this is not the natural order of things. The question is, can we defy the second law of thermodynamics? Can we defeat the forces of entropy and disorder? I believe we can. Remember, the law of physics is a law that applies only to inert matters – things which have no will, and no ability to adapt and change. The ability to defy these forces of disorder – it really comes down to the human factor. Humanity is what makes the difference. This tendency towards disorder is not a given, but only if there is the human will to defy and to defeat the forces of disorder. The critical factor that determines a society’s ability to keep moving forward is all of us. All of us as individuals, as part of the MND Family and certainly, as part of Team Singapore, have a part to play to keep Singapore going. 

I am very glad that this spirit of innovation and constant improvement is strong in the MND Family. Every year, we recognise the good work of our officers through the MND Minister’s Award (Team). I am glad that we have 16 winners this year. Please join me in congratulating all of them. Well done! 

What these projects have in common is the collaboration amongst Government, the private sector, volunteer groups and even members of the public. This is indeed what the 4G team in the Government has set out to do. It is part of our Singapore Together movement to partner Singaporeans in different ways to design and implement policies and programmes together. 

In fact, this work is not new to the MND Family. I would even go as far as to say we were the leaders in this, before other Ministries started doing so. Not to blow our own trumpet, but if you look around, we were doing a lot of it. We have nearly 50,000 partners – be it board members, committee and advisory panel members as well as many volunteers in our HDB heartlands, URA, NParks, Friends of Pulau Ubin, Friends of Rail Corridor and Community in Bloom etc. 

We already do a lot to engage our stakeholders – whether it is in our urban masterplan, in HDB upgrading projects or in livening up our streets and parks. But we can certainly do more. Later this year, we will be sharing with you some new areas where we can do more to partner Singaporeans in developing solutions together and building a better Singapore. 

To conclude, nation-building is a never-ending journey. It has to be sustained with effort, with discipline and with a constant adaptation to change. Every generation of Singaporeans can and must contribute to making Singapore a better, more liveable and more sustainable city. 

As we celebrate our nation’s 54th year of independence, let us renew our pledge to engage and to work with all Singaporeans and to work hand in hand with them to build our future Singapore together. 

Thank you very much and Happy National Day.