Monday, 10 August 2020

Singapore National Day 2020

NDP 2020: Singapore will emerge more united from shared ordeal, says PM Lee Hsien Loong
Facing the COVID-19 crisis together could define this generation, he says
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

Singapore will get through the current COVID-19 crisis - just as it has weathered storms before - and emerge more united from the shared ordeal, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Sending out a message of unity and resilience to mark Singapore's 55th National Day celebrations, PM Lee pointed out that facing this challenge together could define this generation of Singaporeans for the future.

"The shared ordeal will toughen a whole population, and bond us together as one united people just like how the Pioneer and Merdeka generations were tempered by Separation and Independence, and economic crises in our early years as a nation," he said in a televised broadcast.

While this year's celebrations, in the midst of the pandemic, were relatively subdued, PM Lee said they offered an opportunity to pay tribute to those on the front lines fighting COVID-19.

He recounted how many Singaporeans, such as doctors and nurses who volunteered their services and others who distributed meals to those in need, had gone beyond the call of duty in tackling the pandemic. Their acts had made all the difference to the nation's response to COVID-19.

This unity and resilience will be needed more than ever as Singapore braces itself for a severe economic downturn, he said.

"In good years, our parades rejoice in our progress, and look forward to a better future together," he said. "In difficult years, we still hold National Day Parades, to renew our resolve to weather the storm and take Singapore through to better days."

There were no mass celebrations yesterday. A scaled-down parade in the morning at the Padang featured only about 200 participants, while the indoor evening show had 87 performers.

The parade had just four masked contingents occupying less than one-third of the Padang, with 150 spectators - a far cry from last year's 27,000-strong audience.

Reviewed by President Halimah Yacob, it featured a special salute by the Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Police Force to front-line workers, as well as a flag-raising ceremony.

The "Anthem Moment" was synchronised with that at seven other locations around Singapore representing key national sectors - from Changi Airport, which has brought in essential supplies during the pandemic, to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, which is "ground zero" in Singapore's COVID-19 battle.

Hospitality manager Maslindah Fadzilah, 40, was among the invited guests at one of the ceremonies. She has helped to manage a COVID-19 quarantine facility since April.

"Even though this year's celebration is on a smaller scale, it was a very memorable National Day," she said.

The theme of expressing gratitude to those on the front lines was also seen in how traditional components of the parade were brought to the heartland, such as the Red Lions parachutists and F-15SG "Roar of Unity" aerial display.

The mobile column rolled into heartland areas for a second consecutive year as the parade organisers sought to bring the show closer to Singaporeans.

Workers' Party chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said that while the parade was much more muted, the simplicity was significant and meaningful in its own way.

"No matter what crisis hits us, Singapore will always be our home. We must always seek strength and comfort from our fellow Singaporeans. Our unity and commitment to each other is ultimately not rooted in the things money can buy," he said on Facebook yesterday.

At the Star Vista theatre in the evening, performers gave their interpretations of old National Day songs as well as new offerings, designed specially for viewing on TV.

Singer Nathan Hartono gave a stirring rendition of this year's theme song, Everything I Am. Later, the performers were joined virtually by several thousand Singaporeans who had sent in videos of themselves singing the evergreen We Are Singapore.

The accompanying film told the story of how a wide spectrum of Singaporeans - healthcare workers, delivery riders, security officers, community volunteers and other essential workers - have been keeping Singapore going in the past few months.

Among those featured was Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff, 49, founder of Free Food For All, whose charity has been delivering meals to nearly 1,000 households each month throughout the COVID-19 period.

Fireworks lit up the sky at 10 locations around the island to cap a National Day Parade that will be remembered not just for its format but also for its theme of solidarity in the face of challenges.

When NDP went to the heartland: How Singaporeans marked nation's 55th birthday
Singaporeans across the island came out to wave to the tanks and watch flag fly-past, fireworks
By Olivia Ho, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

Scattered across the island, Singaporeans gathered in pockets of joy despite the COVID-19 pandemic to celebrate their 55th National Day, their first socially distanced one.

The reduced festivities meant the spectacles of yesteryear were out of the question. Yesterday morning, a small audience that included many front-line workers bore witness to a sober ceremony with just four marching contingents. Smoke from a 21-gun presidential salute filled the otherwise empty Padang.

But the thought of the virus did not stop Singaporeans from taking to the streets en masse - but masked - to wave at the tanks, police vehicles and ambulances rumbling past.

They set up camp as early as 8am on the Marina Barrage to catch the first maritime sail-past in 20 years. They peered out of windows and caught their breath as F-15 fighter jets roared past, flying in a tight arrowhead formation.

Wearing matching "I Heart SG" shirts, Ms Fatema Begum, 36, and her family watched a Chinook helicopter fly the State flag over the Barrage.

"Everyone is wearing a mask but we still came here to celebrate," said the chef coordinator who works at a hotel. "At least it's still something we can do to mark National Day."

Hundreds thronged the edges of fields outside Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong East and Sengkang General Hospital to catch the popular Red Lion parachutists, who landed outside these hospitals in a tribute to front-line healthcare workers.

Onlookers packed pedestrian bridges and even lined the many storeys of IMM mall's carpark.

As the drifting red specks in the clear sky became parachutists gliding in for graceful landings, the cheering reached a fever pitch.

It was another two hours before the mobile column of military vehicles and assets appeared. The day grew sweltering.

Five-year-old Lykan Ang fidgeted impatiently with a toy monster truck as his grandparents tried to entertain him. They prevailed upon him to recite the National Pledge, which he obligingly mumbled his way through, hand on chest.

Then the tanks turned the corner and he clambered excitedly onto his father's shoulders for a better view.

"I hope that Singapore will prosper and get over this COVID-19 crisis soon," said Lykan's grandfather Victor Ang, 69, who works in the freight-forwarding industry. "We have to stay united, help each other and fight through the crisis."

It was the second year in a row that the mobile column was making its way into the heartland, but this time, its five routes would cover a record distance of 200km.

At a traffic island in Upper Serangoon, a small crowd waited in the shade of a flyover for the mobile column to arrive.

The road cleared. The tanks began rolling by as Gabrael, aged three, and Hannah, 4½, stared wide-eyed. "Did you wave at the policeman?" their mother Agnes Woo, 41, who works in marketing, asked them. "Did you say hello?"

"It goes to your heart," remarked their father Ong Chek Kai, 44, who works in finance, of the sight. "It reminds us we need to stand together as one against adversity, that it is critical for us to stand up, move forward and get through this.

"When we wave at them and they wave back to us, I like to think that it connects us somehow."

In under four minutes, all the military hardware had gone by. The bustle of noon traffic resumed, food delivery riders zipping past, hot on the column's tail.

Some of the watchers pelted down the road, hoping to catch the column again as it looped back. Others wandered off to get started on another Singaporean pastime: queueing for lunch at nearby kopitiams.

"It's quite special," said accountant Elcie Lin, 49, who waited for half an hour to see the column. "I do miss the stadium, I miss the large screens, but it's good that all Singaporeans have a chance to look at the parade up close."

As night fell, people put red filter stickers over their phone torchlights, preparing to cast a crimson glow from windows and balconies.

At The Star Performing Arts Centre, the lights went up on singer-songwriter Charlie Lim sitting alone in an expanse of empty seats, as he gave a stripped-down rendition of his song Room At The Table.

Performers put on a scaled-down show for a live audience of 150, who were not allowed to sing along - though the millions watching from the safety of their homes could.

As 8.20pm drew near, people flocked to rooftops, corridors and the streets to catch the fireworks being set off at 10 locations.

For the second time that day, a siren sounded islandwide, this time to signal Singaporeans to recite the Pledge together.

Then the fireworks went off, to cries of wonder and the crackle of camera flashes from blocks of flats and condominiums. Motorists stopped along the Benjamin Sheares Bridge to gawk at the display, to the chagrin of Traffic Police.

From Jurong Lake Gardens to Tampines, from Bishan to Marina Bay, the night sky bloomed in red, green and gold. Showers of light cascaded into the dark.

For a moment, the country sighed as one. Applause rang out.

Then the people went back into their homes as the festivities wound down for the night.

Additional reporting by Prisca Ang and Rei Kurohi

National Day 2020: Apart, but in one voice for Anthem Moment
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

For 1½ minutes yesterday morning, Singaporeans at different locations across the island came together to sing Majulah Singapura in unison.

Apart yet one, the nation was led in the solemn Anthem Moment by President Halimah Yacob from the Padang, in a collective voice echoed at seven other places, shortly after 10.30am.

Ministers at these locations, each representing a key sector, spoke of how the pandemic had changed the tenor of this year's National Day.

But they said the sacrifices and resilience shown in the fight against COVID-19 have made the nation's 55th birthday more meaningful.

Also at the Padang were Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and a number of MPs, including Workers' Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh.

Other ministers and MPs were split up between the Padang and the seven locations.

At Kampung Admiralty, a venue representing housing and the community, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said the Anthem Moment itself reflects a "new normal".

"Despite the restrictions that we have had to put in place for everyone's health and safety, which keep us physically apart, we will continue to find ways to come together as one united people," he said.

Also present was Culture, Community and Youth Minister Edwin Tong, who said National Day this year was no less meaningful for being held in a decentralised manner.

Mr Tong said: "It represents a community, how we live together, how we play together, and the vision that we have for the future, the community we want to build, and how we want to age together as well."

Leaders at other locations echoed their sentiments. At North Vista Secondary School, Education Minister Lawrence Wong thanked all educators at a ceremony also attended by Sengkang GRC MPs Jamus Lim and Louis Chua, both from the WP.

Mr Wong, who also co-chairs the multi-ministry COVID-19 task force, said while "Singapore Together" is a common refrain, the pandemic has made it more meaningful.

He said: "We have been tested in the crucible but we have not failed. We have prevailed, and we have emerged stronger as a nation."

At the NTUC FairPrice Hub in Joo Koon, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said this year's National Day is a very special one for all Singaporeans. He paid tribute to essential service workers who have "worked quietly behind the scenes to allow us to live life as normally as possible".

"Together with other logistic and supply chain players, they have helped to keep our supply chains going, providing us with food and essential services and items."

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who visited Changi Airport's air control tower and spoke to staff, said "air traffic may be low, but spirits are high".

"We spent more than 40 years building up Singapore as an air hub, and COVID-19 decimated aviation... We hope that in the months, weeks ahead, we will start the process of regaining and reviving our air hub status," he told reporters.

At the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, a critical facility in Singapore's COVID-19 fight, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong thanked healthcare workers.

"The road to recovery will be long and tough. But I am confident the COVID-19 virus will not break our Singapore spirit of grit, resilience, determination and unity," he said.

At the Enabling Village, Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli said the venue for persons with disabilities represented "the ethos of our social services sector" where beneficiaries are always placed at the centre.

He added that he was heartened by how people have stepped forward to help the vulnerable and support front-line and migrant workers.

"Crisis often brings out the best in us. Even as this pandemic has caused major disruptions to our lives, I am glad that the community has stepped up to support our fellow Singaporeans."

At the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar, leaders from business, the labour movement and the Government represented Singapore's unique tripartite relationship supporting its workforce.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said there was still much to be grateful for, including Singapore's low COVID-19 fatalities and the resilience of Singapore's people, businesses and civil service.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Mrs Teo said Singapore's diverse workforce will continue to face challenges, but she is confident of its ability to weather the crisis.

She noted that younger workers are willing to adapt to the labour market and are creative in contributing to the workforce digitally.

For middle-aged workers, the focus is on helping avoid permanent damage to careers based on current temporary setbacks, she said.

Reflecting on the past few months, including recent inroads in the COVID-19 situation at the migrant workers' dormitories, Mrs Teo said "every small win" is celebrated during such a difficult journey, while staying vigilant against unexpected challenges.

"Our ability to quickly assess the situation and organise ourselves in order to mount as best a response as we can - that must remain part of the Singapore DNA," she said.

Additional reporting by Lim Min Zhang, Dominic Low and Clara Chong

NDP 2020: Celebrating front-line fighters
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

Front-line workers who have been toiling day in and day out since the coronavirus outbreak began here in January were honoured by a grateful nation yesterday.

The tributes for those tackling the pandemic ranged far and wide during the National Day celebrations and even reached for the sky when the Red Lions parachuted and landed gracefully on fields near Ng Teng Fong General and Sengkang General hospitals.

The 12 parachutists - six at each location - were met with loud cheers and clapping while shutterbugs snapped away furiously.

The Red Lions later saluted healthcare workers at the two hospitals.

Ms Siti Aisyah Samsudin, 31, specialist outpatient clinics service team leader at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, said watching the Red Lions in the heartland was a "whole new, exciting experience".

"I feel incredibly grateful that Singaporeans appreciate the efforts of those of us in healthcare. It has been challenging yet fulfilling," she added. "Let's continue to stay safe and care for one another in these trying times."

That was not the only tribute from the wide blue yonder: Six F-15 fighter jets also looped past eight hospitals in a spectacular display.

A column of military vehicles and assets also made its way into the heartland, rolling past key locations like Ng Teng Fong General, Sengkang General and Khoo Teck Puat General hospitals and the community care facility at Singapore Expo.

Dr Annitha Annathurai, 46, head of the emergency medicine department at Sengkang General Hospital, said the display was humbling, adding: "We are just doing what we have been trained for and this special recognition will motivate us further to continue to provide the best care, always.

"This tribute gives us the strength to persist and continue on."

The evening show at The Star Vista also showcased stories of Singaporeans stepping up during the outbreak, and culminated in a Light Up Moment, when people across the island lifted up their phones for a nationwide display of appreciation for those who have been making a difference amid the pandemic.


NDP 2020: Standing masked but not muted
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

The country struck a tone of defiance in the face of the coronavirus outbreak as it turned 55 yesterday.

The Padang, long the site of memorable National Day Parade (NDP) celebrations, played a distinctly different role this year. When Third Sergeant Lim Yu Jie raised the flag on the historic field at 10.33am, it kick-started celebrations across the island that lasted into the night.

The ceremonial parade - often seen as the heart of NDP celebrations - took place in the morning this year and was scaled down due to Covid-19, with just 150 people watching and four marching contingents instead of 38.

But, a greater emphasis on celebrations in the heartland and a more socially distanced parade did not mean a lack of gravitas.

New spectacles gave an extra oomph to this year's celebrations and struck the "simple but dignified" chord that the NDP organising committee had hoped for.

While retaining the usual state flag fly-past in conjunction with the singing of the National Anthem, as well as the guard-of-honour inspection by President Halimah Yacob, the parade added new features to showcase the country's resilience amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

For the first time in Singapore's history, the 21-gun presidential salute was fired on the Padang for NDP

Because of the greatly reduced marching contingents - just 200 members from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force - those marching occupied less than a third of the field, leaving a wide space free.

This allowed the four howitzer guns - which eject significant debris when fired - to be rolled onto the field, bolstering the proceedings with their sound and fury.

More importantly, the contingents paid a special tribute to front-line and essential workers who have kept Singapore afloat amid the outbreak, putting the parade in its necessary context.

At 10.44am, at the direction of the parade commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Ong, parade participants performed a special salute, holding out their weapons in silent acknowledgement of what these workers have risked.

For some participants, like Military Expert 2 Muhammad Khairunnizam Amran, whose wife is a nurse at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, it was a personal moment.

For others, like LTC Ong, it made the masked rehearsals worth it. The 38-year-old said that it was his favourite parade command, as it gave him a chance to "show respect to the unsung heroes".

For the rest of the participants - and the nation - it was a parade to remember, a very different iteration of what they have become used to seeing every year.

President Halimah's decision to wear a brooch and scarf designed by two artists with visual impairment was also symbolic of a more inclusive Singapore, in line with the causes she has championed.

As the participants stood proud, sweating in the sun, the rest of Singapore watched them on their television screens, in what will be remembered as the time when the nation stood masked but not muted.

NDP 2020: A show of unity and strength
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

Nine-month-old Chloe Swah turned towards the skies, her attention drawn by the roar of six F-15 fighter jets tearing past above her home in Kovan.

Her father, 26-year-old Lieutenant Shidan Swah Yepeng, is one of the pilots, the youngest in the formation for this year's National Day Parade (NDP) fighter jet fly-past, titled the Roar Of Unity.

Baby Chloe, like many other Singaporeans, watched from home yesterday as the celebrations were taken to the heartland amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The F-15s looped across the country in a 30-minute-long segment that began at 10.45am and flew past eight local hospitals in a tribute to healthcare workers.

These include Lt Swah's parents - Dr Swah Teck Sin, 58, a senior consultant at a polyclinic, and Madam Kwek Puay Ee, 58, both stalwarts of the healthcare sector for more than 30 years.

Madam Kwek, who is seconded from the National Healthcare Group to the Singapore Nursing Board as an executive secretary, said: "Every National Day, our family will watch the NDP together. I always thought maybe one day my son can participate - now this year I can watch my son fly past, it's a dream come true."

The Swahs - including family patriarch Swah Joo Hock, 99; Lt Swah's wife Pearlene Quek, 27; his sister Shirin Swah, 28; and her husband Sean Quek, 30; and the family's helper Myrna Lameyra, 50 - watched with pride from the roof of their terrace house.

Many of those watching from home also witnessed the state flag fly-past and the Red Lions parachuting near Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital - a crowd favourite as always.

Singaporeans lined the streets to catch an up-close glimpse of the equipment featured in the mobile column, which covered 200km over five routes.

Doctor Lee Ying Shan, 39, who was in Changi with her husband and their son, eight, and daughter, five, managed to catch a glimpse of the mobile column, F-15 jets and the helicopters with the state flag from her viewpoint. Her son's favourite tank is the Leopard 2SG main battle tank, a highlight of the display, she said.

While the family usually celebrates National Day by watching the parade on television and revisiting old National Day songs, this year's version of the celebrations has its merits too. "It's less crowded and everyone can enjoy a bit of the displays," said Dr Lee.

Over in Marina Bay, some Singaporeans gathered to watch the maritime sail-past, which returned to this year's NDP after a 20-year hiatus. Thirteen vessels glided in formation and sounded their ship horns for 15 seconds towards the end of the sail-past.

In the afternoon, the celebrations continued as those at home joined in the National Day GetActive! Singapore workout or tried whipping up some local delights from a special NDP e-recipe booklet.

NDP 2020: Sharing the Singapore story
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

The National Day Parade (NDP) evening show was a uniquely intimate, stripped down one, focused on the stories of ordinary Singaporeans - from nurses to volunteers to cabin crew - banding together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

And while the familiar medium of song and dance brought out the message of a stronger Singapore together, many firsts in last night's event set it apart from past parades.

For the first time in 55 years, the usual mass displays and grander themes of nation-building and multiracialism took a back seat in a show woven around the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In line with the crisis, the large live audiences of the past were also absent. Aside from 150 spectators at The Star Performing Arts Centre, most people caught the show live from their homes.

The performances also took place with strict Covid-19 control measures. Dance routines incorporated 1m spacing between performers, who had to take two coronavirus swab tests before curtains went up.

Audience members were seated a safe distance apart and were not allowed to sing along to the songs.

But such measures could not dampen the mood, with spirits soaring, inspired by the passion of the performers and evident in the rousing applause that followed each of the 11 items.

Those watching from home were not left out either. At 8.20pm, the nation rose for the Pledge Moment, when Singaporeans stood and recited the National Pledge.

The show culminated in the Light Up Moment, when the live audience was joined by those at home in shining lights using their phones and raising them high for a nationwide display of appreciation for those on the front line fighting the pandemic.

Videos of Singaporeans who stepped up during the pandemic, such as the executive director of a non-profit organisation which donated laptops to those in need, and a group of mothers who came together to sew masks, interspersed the song and dance numbers.

Performances included a personal song by singer-songwriter Shazuan Shiraj, also known as Abangsapau, whose father died suddenly during the circuit breaker.

A special virtual choir made up of thousands of Singaporeans singing We Are Singapore was also a heartfelt reminder that the nation remains united despite being separated by physical distance.

Safe distancing ambassador Serene Claire Tay, 38, who was part of the physical audience, said she cried during the virtual choir performance, adding: "It's very heartwarming to see that Singaporeans have the resilience to go through everything."

Ms Nur Haidah Mohamed Yusoff, a senior patient service associate at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, watched the performance with her father at home and took part in the light-up event.

Ms Haidah, 37, said: "This year's NDP celebration truly shows how we try to carry on with our lives despite the adversity presented by this pandemic, in a new normal."

National Day Message 2020: Let's show the world Singaporeans will stay united, says PM Lee Hsien Loong
The nation will need unity and resilience more than ever as the crisis is far from over, he says
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

The determination of Singaporeans to stand firm together in the face of adversity since the nation's birth is why he is confident the Republic will get through the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has previous crises, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Every year since the first National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966, Singaporeans have come together without fail to celebrate the making of this nation, and to renew their commitment to it, PM Lee said in his televised National Day message.

Despite the coronavirus, Singaporeans have been determined to still hold the NDP as a symbol of their unity as a nation - a unity more important than ever, given the severe economic challenges ahead, he said.

"In good years, our parades rejoice in our progress, and look forward to a better future together. In difficult years, we still hold National Day Parades, to renew our resolve to weather the storm and take Singapore through to better days."

This year's NDP was also an opportunity to salute those on the front line fighting Covid-19, and the many who have stepped up to help others in need, PM Lee said in his address, which came ahead of the scaled-down parade at the Padang yesterday morning.

He hailed the many who have gone beyond the call of duty and shown great generosity, such as retired doctors and nurses who volunteered to serve at hospitals and migrant worker dormitories, donning personal protective equipment to do so.

Thousands of public-spirited Singaporeans also volunteered to be trained in swab operations and served in hot zones like dorms and community care facilities, where they were joined by migrant workers playing their part to support these operations, said PM Lee.

"Their help was deeply appreciated by our SAF, Home Team and public officers," he said. "These selfless acts have made all the difference to our response to Covid-19."

Singapore will need this unity and resilience more than ever as the crisis is far from over, he added. Many countries brought infections under control and eased restrictions only to see cases surge again, something that can happen here too, despite various precautions.

"It will most likely take a year or two before a vaccine is widely available and the threat of the virus is blunted," he said. "Until then, we have to maintain our vigilance and resolve, to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbours all safe."

The economic climate will also be tough in the near term, with business closures, retrenchments and unemployment all likely to go up in the coming months. Singaporeans are thus understandably anxious and worried, said PM Lee.

But Singapore has weathered multiple economic crises in the last quarter-century alone, including the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the aftermath of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, and the global financial crisis in 2008.

"Each time the outlook was ominous, and we feared the worst, but each time we worked hard to secure our position, gritted our teeth, and came through together," he said. "I am confident we will get through this current crisis too, though it may take longer. All of us must do our part, but none of us will be alone."

PM Lee outlined how the Government is actively helping people find new jobs and acquire new skills, with the Jobs Support Scheme and Self-employed Person Income Relief Scheme to ease the burden on employers and individuals.

The labour movement is also working with employers to create job training programmes and career pathways. "It will ensure that every worker is treated fairly and with dignity, especially when job losses cannot be avoided," he said.

"Employers too must make every effort to keep their workers, and not drop them at the first sign of trouble. This will build loyalty, and encourage the employees to help their employers rebuild when conditions improve," he added.

PM Lee, who has attended almost every NDP since the first in 1966, also recalled being on the Padang as it rained during the 1968 parade.

"The rain poured down, but the contingents stood steady, and marched past proudly, drenched, yet undaunted," he said.

Then a student at Catholic High School, PM Lee played the clarinet in the combined schools brass band. Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had decided the show would go on that year, despite the torrential downpour.

"We showed ourselves and the world that Singaporeans were rugged people, and had the steel in us to stand firm in adversity," said PM Lee yesterday.

Grim and hard as the nation's fight against Covid-19 has been, the experience has brought Singaporeans closer together and will deepen their bonds as one united people, the same way separation from Malaysia and independence had tempered the Pioneer and Merdeka generations, he said.

"Let us brace ourselves for the trials ahead, so that many years from now, when our grandchildren celebrate National Day, they will look back on these times and say yes, this generation stood together, sacrificed for one another, and built Singapore for us."

PM Lee added: "Let us show the world that whatever the challenges, Singaporeans will stay united, and prevail once more."

Upcoming NS Square at Marina Bay will be 'central focus' of new downtown, says PM Lee
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2020

A permanent space for large-scale events that will also pay tribute to Singapore's national servicemen will take the place of the popular Marina Bay floating platform and will be the central focus of the new downtown area, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day message yesterday.

The upcoming NS Square, due to be completed by end-2025, will continue to host future National Day Parades, said PM Lee in his televised National Day message before this year's parade at the Padang, a smaller-scale event held in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

PM Lee yesterday unveiled the NS Square's design for the first time. Its grandstand seating can hold up to 30,000 people, compared with the current capacity of 27,000 at The Float @ Marina Bay.

There will be a gallery, with a mix of open and enclosed spaces, to honour the contributions of national servicemen past and present.

It will also feature community sports facilities, such as a swimming pool and water sports centre, as well as a new waterfront promenade that will improve pedestrian connectivity in the area, forming a loop around Marina Bay.

NS Square will also be a community space for everyone, young and old, to enjoy, he said.

"The platform will become a red dot, shining bright in our city. NS Square will be the central focus of our new downtown," said PM Lee.

"And of course, we will continue to hold our National Day Parades there," he added.

Last month, the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) jointly announced that the NS Square project had been awarded to a consultant team led by Woha Architects.

The Singapore-based firm was selected to act as the principal consultant following a design consultancy tender held from May last year to July this year.

Yesterday, the two ministries said that a tiered, curved seating area will wrap around the stage "to provide an uninterrupted line-of-sight to the stage from all angles as well as bring spectators closer to the 'action' ".

Other than NDP, the space could also be configured for events of different scales and types, such as concerts, performances, sporting activities and competitions, they said.

A lower promenade area will be open all year round, with supporting food and beverage outlets and retail outlets being considered for the new development.

Redevelopment work is scheduled to start in March 2022, although the project scope and timeline may be adjusted due to the impact of Covid-19.

Initially built as a temporary National Day Parade venue while the new National Stadium was under construction, The Float @ Marina Bay has hosted the event nine times since 2007, and was due to do so this year, before the coronavirus outbreak made it unfeasible.

In 2017 - the 50th year of national service in Singapore - PM Lee announced that the floating platform would be redeveloped into a permanent space.

He noted that national service recruits currently hold their passing out parade at the floating platform, and this helps them to understand what they are defending, and why generations of national servicemen have been willing to serve and sacrifice.

PM Lee said: "Every National Day, we remind ourselves that Singapore is a nation whose story is worth celebrating, whose history is worth cherishing, and whose future is worth building."

When the NDP is held at the Padang, or at the floating platform, the audience can see the Marina Bay skyline in the background, he said.

Marina Bay used to be open sea, but the land around it was reclaimed, and it was turned into a reservoir.

"Looking out across the Bay, you can immediately see how far Singapore has come, and imagine the possibility and promise that Singapore holds," he added.

MND and MINDEF said the development will take advantage of the site's waterfront location, and will allow activities such as dragon boating, canoeing and kayaking, in addition to having a swimming pool and water play areas open to the public.

"(The water sports) facility, part of a larger network of water sports facilities around Marina Reservoir, will provide the community with greater access to water-based recreational options in central Singapore," added the ministries.

President Halimah: Let's mount united front to overcome challenges
President says individual and collective efforts are needed to surmount the difficulties ahead for firms, workers, families
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2020

The pandemic is far from over and staying united can help Singapore overcome the crisis, President Halimah Yacob said in a video message ahead of National Day.

"There will be difficulties ahead for companies, workers and families. We all need to look for ways to overcome the challenges individually and collectively," she said.

"It will not be easy, hence the reason why we need to stay together and mount a united front. I am confident that together, we can emerge as a stronger Singapore."

President Halimah added that Singapore's 55th birthday would have been a milestone and a cause for great celebration if not for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

"Although this year's National Day festivities have to be very different from the years before, I hope our spirits will not be dampened," she said.

Singapore's progress as a nation over the years has been a strong buffer against the upheaval Covid-19 has caused, she noted, adding that it has still taken "all our strength and resources to mount an emergency response to this global challenge".

Madam Halimah also thanked front-line workers for their relentless efforts in helping to stabilise the situation in Singapore, and said she was heartened by Singaporeans coming together and mobilising resources to help one another during this difficult period.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen led about 3,000 Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces personnel to recite the Pledge and sing the National Anthem yesterday morning during MINDEF's National Day observance ceremony. It was held virtually via video conferencing.

In his National Day message to students delivered yesterday, Education Minister Lawrence Wong noted that students have responded with resilience and courage to the pandemic.

"This crisis, and every crisis before, has shown us that being Singaporean means uniting and supporting each other. We have overcome difficult times before," he said.

"I am confident that you will rise to this challenge to build a better home in Singapore. Together, and only together, can we be a stronger Singapore."

At a virtual National Day observance ceremony held for public officers based in The Treasury, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat thanked the officers for their work.

He highlighted the efforts of those at The Treasury, which included preparing four Budgets within 100 days, working tirelessly to mitigate the pandemic's impact on businesses and jobs, and creating jobs and traineeships for Singaporeans.

At the Ministry of National Development's virtual observance ceremony, Minister Desmond Lee cautioned that the worst of the pandemic may be yet to come.

"We will have to steel ourselves, reinvigorate and re-energise ourselves, and be ready to do battle on multiple fronts," he said.

While acknowledging that the fight against Covid-19 has been tiring and draining, he said "the way we respond to this incredible crisis may well determine the course of our lives, and the future of our children and our grandchildren".

National Day Awards 2020: Nation's top civilian honour for S. Jayakumar
Citation mentions former minister's sustained and invaluable contributions to the nation
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2020

Former Cabinet minister S. Jayakumar stepped down from politics in 2011, but carries on doing public service. He is still a regular face at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) where he is a senior legal adviser to Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Whenever Singapore is involved in complex legal or diplomatic issues, Professor Jayakumar is called upon to help, given his institutional knowledge and experience.

For his "sustained and invaluable contributions to the nation", he has been conferred the Order of Temasek (With High Distinction), topping the list of this year's National Day Award recipients. He is the 10th Singaporean to receive the nation's highest civilian honour.

The 80-year-old, who served as diplomat and minister, said he was grateful and surprised by the gesture: "All these matters I have been involved with concern important national interests of Singapore. If Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan feel that it will be beneficial for me to share my experience and knowledge, how can I say no?"

This sense of duty to Singapore has been his motivating force in a public service career spanning close to 50 years.

As a young law professor, he was called on to be Singapore's permanent representative to the United Nations from 1971 to 1974. He returned to academia and was dean of the National University of Singapore (NUS) law faculty till he joined politics in 1980.

As a law academic, he was also roped in on challenging issues like Pedra Branca and the water agreements with Malaysia. So it was no surprise that he would be the go-to person when Singapore got involved in complex legal issues.

But what Prof Jayakumar brought to the table was not just legal expertise, but also diplomatic nous, say those who have worked with him.

As foreign minister from 1994 to 2004, he oversaw a range of complex bilateral issues, including an agreement under which the Malayan Railway would vacate the land at Tanjong Pagar, the Pedra Branca disputes with Malaysia, as well as transboundary haze problems involving Indonesia.

Even as he fought fiercely to protect Singapore's legal interests, he never forgot the importance of maintaining good relations with neighbouring and other countries.

Singapore's successful election to a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council from 2001 to 2002 was "a reflection of his strong leadership and influence in fostering extensive ties and Singapore's esteemed global reputation" said an MFA spokesman.

In 2007, Prof Jayakumar led the team that successfully pleaded Singapore's case on Pedra Branca at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. In 2017, he was once again called upon to help when Malaysia filed applications to revise and interpret the judgment that awarded sovereignty over the outcrop to Singapore. Malaysia dropped its applications in 2018.

On why he continues to help, Prof Jayakumar, who had also held the Law and Home Affairs portfolios, said he hoped to contribute his institutional knowledge, and through doing so develop new generations of office-holders, diplomats and international lawyers. He had served as deputy prime minister, coordinating minister for national security and senior minister before stepping down from politics in 2011.

Working with the younger generation of public servants has been a great experience, he said: "They are very bright and hard-working. I also have learnt from them.

"Singapore now has an excellent new generation of diplomats and international lawyers. They can hold their own with any of their counterparts from other countries."

The MFA spokesman said his rich experience and strategic perspectives in managing sensitive bilateral and multilateral issues have benefited many of the younger generation of foreign and legal service officers working with him.

Said Ms Daphne Hong, director-general of the International Affairs Division at the Attorney-General's Chambers, who worked on the Pedra Branca issue in 2017: "It became apparent that he puts his entire mind, his entire soul, into what is in Singapore's interest. I get the sense that he thinks about how we can advance Singapore's cause all the time. It's constant and consistent."

This year, two Distinguished Service Order awards were conferred on Mr Koh Choon Hui, 79, chairman of the Singapore Children's Society (SCS), and Professor Wang Gungwu, 89, founding chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, and the former chairman of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and East Asian Institute (EAI).

Mr Koh, a stalwart of the social service sector for over four decades, had not only expanded the SCS' reach but also nurtured many social service agencies.

One of his enduring contributions was to align the pay scales of social service sector workers with those of the civil service when he was acting honorary general secretary and vice-president of the National Council of Social Service from 1992 to 2000, laying the groundwork for the sector to recruit and retain staff. Said the Ministry of Social and Family Development: "His contributions have nationwide and long-term impact on the lives of many Singaporeans."

Mr Koh said of the award: "It is also a recognition of the many wonderful volunteers I have worked with over the decades who have given selflessly to help others. They have made my journey a very memorable and meaningful one."

Prof Wang, a historian who played a key role in building up and growing the three institutes, is recognised for strengthening Singapore's position as an independent base for leading research on China and East Asia among other things, said the Ministry of Education.

He said on Friday: "I have enjoyed all the work I have been able to do and learnt a great deal while doing it. This is an honour I share with my wife Margaret whose deep feelings for Singapore have made my work here all the more satisfying."

His wife, who died yesterday, had been a big factor in his decision to leave Hong Kong and return to Singapore in 1996 to lead the then Institute of East Asian Political Economy, which became the EAI.

A full list of this year's National Day Award recipients is available at the PMO website.

* Former senior minister S. Jayakumar gets nation’s highest civilian honour
Over 500 get top National Day honours in ceremony postponed from 2020
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2021

Former senior minister S. Jayakumar, who served in the Cabinets of all three of Singapore's prime ministers, headed the list of National Day Award recipients yesterday.

He was conferred the Order of Temasek (With High Distinction), the highest civilian honour, for his "wide-ranging, invaluable and unique contributions to the well-being and security of Singapore".

The investiture ceremony, postponed from last year, was held at the Institute of Technical Education College Central for more than 500 recipients of the higher honours. In all, a total of 5,472 individuals in 24 award categories received National Day honours.

President Halimah Yacob gave out the awards to the recipients, who were reminded not to shake hands, a standard precaution amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Guests in the audience, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as well as former prime minister Goh Chok Tong and former president Tony Tan, also had to abide by safe management measures. They had to undergo Covid-19 antigen rapid tests and were seated a distance apart.

PM Lee said in a Facebook post after the event: "We postponed the ceremony last year due to the pandemic, so I was glad we could now present the awards in-person, split over two sessions for everyone's safety."

Professor Jayakumar, 81, was commended for having "given his entire life to the service of Singapore".

He has served as a diplomat and minister in a public service career spanning more than 30 years, and was a key negotiator and legal adviser on important issues such as the Defence Cooperation Agreement and Extradition Treaty with Indonesia and the Pedra Branca dispute with Malaysia.

He had helmed a wide array of ministries, from home affairs to law to foreign affairs. He also served as deputy prime minister, coordinating minister for national security and senior minister.

Said the citation for his award: "Uniquely among public servants, Prof Jayakumar brought an exceptionally keen legal mind to bear on a considerable range of issues, from national security and foreign policy to political and constitutional developments."

Long after his retirement from politics in 2011, he continues to provide advice as senior legal adviser to the Foreign Minister.

On the ceremony, Prof Jayakumar said: "It was an unusual personal experience because in my 30 years as a minister, I attended this ceremony to witness others getting awards.

"I was immensely satisfied to be in the company of so many others from all walks of life who have contributed in their own ways, touched the lives of others and helped our country."

Others who received top honours were social service stalwart, Mr Koh Choon Hui, 79, as well as one of the world's foremost historians, Professor Wang Gungwu, 90.

Both were conferred the Distinguished Service Order.

Mr Koh, chairman of the Singapore Children's Society since 1978, has nurtured several social service agencies in his four decades in the social service sector.

"His work has benefited many Singaporeans," said the citation.

Prof Wang, founding chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and the former chairman of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and East Asian Institute, was recognised for his instrumental role in "developing world-class research institutions in Singapore".

In a Facebook post, President Halimah said: "Our public service officers deserve this recognition and honour for their selfless contributions to Singapore's development and growth in various sectors. I hope they will continue with their service to Singapore as we work towards the next phase of nation building."

Thanking recipients for their dedication and service to the nation, PM Lee said on Facebook: "May you continue to do our country proud, and be an inspiration to others!"

NDP 2020: Together, A Stronger Singapore

NDP 2020 Theme Song: Everything I Am

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