Published: 19 August 2022
Mr Noor Marican, Deputy Chairman of Humanity Matters
Mr James Chan, Senior Director, Temasek Foundation
Participants of the SG CORE pilot programme
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very warm welcome to all of you.
1. Firstly, thank you very much for joining us this evening. I am glad to see so many faces, multi-racial, multi-religious and to know that many of you have participated in the programme that had been carefully curated, accentuating our commonalities, but at the same time, understanding each other and our different backgrounds in the process.
2. Thank you to Humanity Matters for inviting me to the completion and presentation ceremony of the SG CORE pilot programme.
3. The programme was launched by Minister Shanmugam in September last year.
4. It aims to strengthen the Singaporean spirit through activities that emphasise our multiculturalism, common spaces, and commonalities.
Continued Importance of Racial and Religious Harmony in Singapore
5. The Singaporean spirit is what defines us as Singaporean. And we all know that as a Singaporean, what that means is that each and every one of us is a part of a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious society.
6. We see this all around us. Apart from the fact that we speak English, many of us speak a mother tongue, we eat different foods, we see children from different backgrounds playing happily with each other at the playgrounds – so many examples around us. We all eat foods that are so common, so Singaporean. These are the common things that bind us.
Increasing Complexity and Intensity of Social and Security Issues
7. We celebrated Singapore’s 57th National Day last week. Recently, we had the Pew survey, which showed that Singapore scored well when compared with other countries, that we had actually grown to become more united after COVID-19.
8. But we all know that the unity and racial and religious harmony that we enjoy in Singapore today is not the “natural order” of things. It is a state that we have worked hard to achieve and carefully nurtured over the many years since the communal riots which are a distant memory for many of us.
9. The harmony we enjoy today will always be work-in-progress. And as human beings, it is always easy for us to go back to our tribal tendencies. This is the natural state that each and every one of us feel, perhaps because lifestyle habits are similar, you speak the same language which bonds you together, but we have to search beyond those tribal tendencies, and find what it is that binds us as Singaporeans.
10. Once in a while, race and religious issues will come up. We all know that there were several unfortunate incidents that happened even during COVID-19, where racist remarks were said to an interracial couple. There was an aggravated attack made against a Singaporean Indian woman. When those incidents happened, obviously it sparked outrage over social media. What it showed was that many Singaporeans did not condone such behaviour, which is a good thing. It means that we recognise that people should not behave this way towards others of a different race.
11. Although not all racist incidents make it to the headlines, we know that these acts can happen among us, in our neighbourhoods, our schools, and our workplaces.
12. A recent survey on race relations conducted by Channel News Asia (CNA) and Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) showed that a growing number of people believed that racism is an important problem today. This figure rose from 46% in 2016, to 56% in 2021. So, all of us actually have even more work to do.
Whole-Of-Society Approach for Building Up a Cohesive and Resilient Singapore
13. The Government takes a strong stance against threats to Singapore’s race and religious harmony. We have laws in place to protect against any form of hate speeches or attempts to sow discord among the different races and religions in Singapore.
14. But beyond legislation, we have to collectively reach out to fellow Singaporeans to foster stronger mutual understanding and trust among the communities, and reiterate that we must not counter racism with more racism, or extremism with more extremism.
15. This is why the building of resilience and strengthening of bonds among our various communities has been a key pillar of the SGSecure movement to combat terrorism and radicalisation.
SG CORE Programme
16. At the community level, an example of such collective efforts is the SG CORE programme. This is a multi-sectoral partnership formed by Humanity Matters, Temasek Foundation, SGSecure Programme Office, the Harmony in Diversity Gallery and the Home Team Volunteer Network (HTVN). The HTVN is a very important network. We have 15,000 volunteers, and we need to think how we can continuously motivate them and share with them what they can do to help us with law-and-order or to promote greater unity and cohesion in our society. I urge all our various programme partners here today to see how we can make good connections with our HTVN, who can join us in our efforts here at SG CORE.
17. SG CORE is a ground-up community initiative engaging both youths and adults on the appreciation of Singapore’s multiculturalism.
18. The participants learn about the commonalities that bind our society together.
19. They also learn about the threats that can tear us apart and reflect on how our responses to everyday situations can contribute towards bringing one another closer together.
20. Today, I am pleased to announce that 400 participants have successfully completed the pilot series of the SG CORE programme.
Serving in the Local Community
21. I would like to talk about two such individuals, Mr Edwin Ignatious and Mr Geng Yu Dong.
22. They had attended the adult and youth run of the SG CORE programme respectively. Subsequently, they participated in the Common Senses for Common Spaces Interfaith Dialogue to deepen their understanding of other religious or cultural practices.
23. These programmes bring together people from different races and religions to have open and constructive conversations about their religious or cultural practices. In doing so, participants learn and appreciate why certain practices are conducted in a certain manner.
24. In April this year, Edwin and Yu Dong also volunteered for Project Hallow, a ground-up inter-ethnic and inter-faith collaboration that provides assistance to the financially disadvantaged and socially challenged.
25. Under this project, volunteers from 10 different faiths came together to pack rations and distributed them to 300 needy families of different ethnicities and faiths.
26. Edwin and Yu Dong had also invited their family members and friends to join them in the volunteering activities.
27. Their efforts, and that of many others from the SG CORE network, are commendable in advocating Singapore’s multiculturalism in their own circles of family and friends.
28. Ultimately, it comes down to each and every one of us. How do we respond after gaining a better understanding of Singapore’s multiculturalism? How do we continue to build unity in our communities and social groups? Our responses matter, and can contribute towards building either bridges that connect us to one another, or walls that separate us.
29. In closing, I extend my heartiest congratulations to the 400 participants for successfully completing the SG CORE programme, and my appreciation to Humanity Matters and partners of this programme.
30. Prime Minister Lee said on Racial Harmony Day 2021, that “We mark Racial Harmony Day each year not to proclaim that Singapore has ‘solved’ this problem, but to remind ourselves that this is something we need to continue working hard on”.
31. I am thus heartened that there are plans to expand the SG CORE programme such that it will be made available to uniformed groups such as the Boys’ Brigade, Girl Guides, Scouts and St John’s.
32. Let us continue to find more ways to continue building up mutual understanding and fellowship with different races and religions, strengthening our social cohesion and resilience as a nation.
33. I am confident that our collective efforts will help us weather any crisis together, stay united, and become stronger together.
38. Thank you very much.