NUS cohort as ‘historically privileged’: Dr Ng Eng Hen

On 20 August, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen addressed an audience of NUS students as “historically privileged” for being able to witness both Singapore’s SG50 and SG100.

During the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum, the minister touched on several issues, ranging from the role of civil society in Singapore’s politics, and its position in an increasingly Internet-based and globalised political arena.

This was in line with this year’s theme, ‘The Years Ahead: National Decisions, Global Impact’.

Organised by the NUS Political Association, the annual forum seeks to promote awareness about pressing political, social and economic issues in Singapore amongst undergraduates.

“This forum is special – held during our Golden Jubilee year… your entire cohort is historically privileged. Most of you will get to witness SG50 and SG100,” he said.

The forum comes two weeks after the celebration marking Singapore’s 50th year of independence.

Our writer Drishti Baid reports for The Ridge.

Dr Ng Eng Hen
Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen tells Singapore’s story from the view of the Padang. (Credit: National University of Singapore)

The Singapore Story – a view from the Padang

“On our Jubilee year, let us be reflective about our past, [and] ponder about our future.”

After the audience had settled in, with the moderator and guest of honour on stage, Dr Ng took the students by surprise.

When prompted to give his opening remarks, he swiftly got out of his seat and began an informal, interactive session with the audience. He announced that he wanted to tell a story – the story of Singapore from 1900 to 2015.

“I will tell the story from the view of the Padang… a living witness of Singapore’s history,” he began.

But why the Padang?

The Padang (Malay word for ‘field’) refers to the open playing field located at the city center, which was formerly known as the Padang Cricket Ground. The Padang offers a scenic view of Singapore’s development as it is encircled by several important landmarks, such as the Supreme Court Building and City Hall, as well as modern marvels such as Marina Bay Sands and the Esplanade.

Showing a series of pictures from the Padang, Nr Ng traced key events of Singapore’s history, from the days of Japanese occupation to the recent SG50 celebrations.

Dr Ng on stage with the moderator. (Credit: National University of Singapore)
Dr Ng on stage with the moderator. (Credit: National University of Singapore)

Q&A: On Singapore’s challenges, the upcoming General Elections, and message to NUS students

While Singapore’s story is one of triumph, with perseverance, integrity and strong core values facilitating the nation’s development, can Singapore continue to rely on yesterday’s strategies to solve future problems?

Here are some key takeaways from the Q&A session with the minister:

What challenges await Singapore in the future?

Unlike the past, where Singapore “had much less to lose”, Singapore faces significant challenges today and tomorrow.

These include having the fastest ageing population, the need to remain competitive in trade and the global market, and increasing tensions between issues on sexuality and faith.

Dr Ng warned the students that “we are not living in a utopia,” and to constantly innovate and be resilient when it comes to tackling these problems.

What are his thoughts on the upcoming General Elections?

When asked about the ruling party’s incumbency with regards to the elections, Dr Ng said: “People think that the Singapore political system is boring. But this time, every seat will be contested and there is no certainty that there will be a PAP (People’s Action Party) government after that.”

When specifically asked about the focus of the PAP’s new election policies, he mentioned housing and medical needs, and that “all our policies have always been about the heartland.”

How does Dr Ng rank his own performance over the past term?

“Once when Lee Kuan Yew was asked how history would judge him, he replied: ‘I’ll be dead by then! How does it matter?’ Similarly, I’ll leave others to judge my performance.”

What is his advice for the future minister of defence?

A thoughtful smile appeared on Dr Ng’s face when he heard this question.

After a moment, he said: “Firstly, make friends! We are not out to pick a fight with anyone. Singapore has its front and back to the sea. Secondly, win and maintain public support.“

Dr Ng emphasised the importance of maintaining good relations in the international community for national security and economic growth.

Citing examples of successful collaborations between Singapore and international partners, such as Yale-NUS College, the minister said that Singapore’s corruption-free system is its key competitive advantage.

“It is said that when Lee Kuan Yew was first elected, he would often tell his relatives ‘not to expect favours.’ We all should extend a similar attitude and disallow corruption – a cancer to the system – to seep into our system in order to remain competitive,” he said.

Dr Ng’s concluding message to NUS students:

Throughout the forum, Dr Ng continuously encouraged NUS students to consider their role in Singapore’s future.

Calling them the “bridge between the past and the future,” he urged them to disregard the belief that “we are done building Singapore – for there is so much yet to be done.”

“I believe your future is incredibly bright. You are only limited by your dreams… so go chase the rainbow!”