Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the 2018 Committee of Supply debate
08 March 2018
Mr Chairman, with your permission, I’d like to thank Members’ interest in MCCY’s work. I have asked the Clerk to distribute handouts, and I will display some slides.
MCCY was formed just over five years ago, at a time when we were starting to see the emergence of new fault lines and a more fractious global environment.
Today, global forces continue to pull at the fabric of societies. Globalisation is creating wider opportunity but also economic dislocation. This has fuelled discontent among those left behind and a rising mood of nativism.
The Internet is offering people a broader reach, more choice over what to pay attention to and what to filter out, resulting in online echo chambers that polarise society. We see people retreating into insular communities based on their faith, ethnicity, status or ideology.
The key challenge for us therefore is how we can strengthen our social fabric and solidarity in the face of these forces, so that we remain resilient in turbulent times. Only a united Singapore can withstand the headwinds we will face in the future.
Strengthening the Heart of the Nation
In confronting this challenge, we will be building on strong foundations. Over the last 50 years, we have grown a shared sense of national identity that anchors every Singaporean – so that we can stand fast in the face of change, and stride confidently into the future as a nation.
Since the formation of MCCY five years ago, we have been working tirelessly to build the three “Cs” that are the cornerstones of a strong society – a Caring people, a Cohesive Society and a Confident nation. As Dr Lim Wee Kiak noted, through our work in the arts, heritage, sports, volunteerism, youth and community sectors, we have made good progress over the years.
We have developed a vibrant cultural, community, sports and youth landscape.
We introduced free entry to museums and cultural institutions and kick-started ActiveSG for Singaporeans from all walks of life to have greater access to the arts, heritage and sports.
2015 was our Golden Jubilee year, and SG50 saw many highlights such as the inscription of the much loved Singapore Botanic Gardens as our first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the opening of the National Gallery and hosting of the 28th SEA Games and 8th ASEAN Para Games.
We grew audiences in the arts and heritage through broad-based festivals and programmes such as the Singapore Night Festival, and Heritage Festival, as well as high quality platforms such as the Singapore Art Week. Together with the SHINE Festival for youth, as well as GetActive! Singapore, which includes the Singapore National Games and Inclusive Sports Festival, we united our nation in celebration.
In engaging our community and youth, we created new platforms for dialogue and interaction, such as SGfuture, and BRIDGE.
We also provided support for ground-up initiatives and volunteerism, through Our Singapore Fund, Harmony Fund, Youth Corps Singapore, and Company of Good, so more Singaporeans can contribute to our community.
We made significant investment in new and refurbished facilities for culture, community, youth and sport. These include the National Gallery Singapore, Indian Heritage Centre, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, National Museum of Singapore, HeartBeat@Bedok, and OBS@Coney campus.
We set up the Cultural Matching Fund (CMF) and the One Team Singapore Fund (OTSF) to encourage shared ownership in growing our cultural and sport sectors.
Our efforts have borne fruit.
Singaporeans’ engagement in the arts, heritage and sports has grown. 78% attended at least one arts and culture activity in 2015, and 61% participated in sports regularly in 2016. Both increased from just over 40% in 2011.
Volunteerism and philanthropy have also grown. Our volunteerism rate doubled from 18% in 2014 to 35% in 2016, and donations increased by over $200 million from $2.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2015.
9 in 10 Singaporeans are satisfied with race and religion relations.
Well over 90% are proud to be a Singaporean and think of Singapore as their Home.
This is the business of MCCY. It is about building a Home we are anchored to, care for and feel proud of. It is about making Home a place where we can lead fulfilled lives and pursue our dreams. What we do goes to the heart of the nation, because home is where the heart is.
This year, MCCY will focus on partnering Singaporeans in building:
A home where we share memories, values and aspirations;
A home where we respect, understand and trust one another;
A home where we care and look out for each other.
A Home with Shared Memories, Values and Aspirations
Our nation’s diversity is growing, whether in terms of nationality, affiliation or belief. This growing diversity can be a source of creativity, vibrancy and innovation. But it can only be a strength if we are united and share a common purpose that is bigger than our differences. Binding a diverse nation means emphasising shared identities we have across colour, creed or class lines, based on our shared heritage, our values and our aspirations for the future.
A shared identity through arts and heritage
Through the arts and heritage, we celebrate our diversity by understanding where we come from, appreciating who we are, and our place in the world.
Arts and Culture
Mr Kok Heng Leun spoke about the need to take stock of what we have achieved under the ACSR and our plans going forward. We have made significant achievements under the ACSR in developing an arts and culture landscape which has brought more value to Singapore and Singaporeans. But we do not intend to rest on our laurels, and will continue to enhance our efforts through sectoral plans for the performing arts, literary and visual arts. Parliamentary Secretary will share more about these plans.
Mr Kok and Mr Alex Yam asked how we are safeguarding our heritage to strengthen our identity. I agree with Mr Kok that our history is an important part of what makes us Singaporean, and is expressed through our arts, culture and heritage.
This year, we will kick start the first five-year instalment of Our SG Heritage Plan, our first long-term comprehensive national masterplan to safeguard and promote our shared heritage for future generations. $66 million has been set aside to implement this plan.
Over the past two years, we have reached out to 34,000 Singaporeans from all walks of life for their views on our heritage plans. We were heartened by the widespread support for the Heritage Plan and its four themes of work: Our Places, Our Cultures, Our Treasures and Our Communities.
Under Our Places, we will develop strategies to better preserve our tangible heritage, to ensure we balance heritage considerations in development plans at an early stage.
We will also enhance measures to better safeguard Our Cultures, our traditions, rituals, festivals and food that make up our intangible cultural heritage. They are the thread of continuity that connects our present to the past, and that must be safeguarded and extended into the future.
As part of Our Treasures, we will showcase more museum collections and exhibitions that resonate with our people, and encourage a strong museum-going culture.
These three themes will be supported by enhanced digital touch points, more ground-up heritage projects and expanded outreach to Our Communities. Everyone in the community can play a part in keeping our shared heritage alive and vibrant.
I am pleased to announce that we have ratified the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage on 22 February 2018. As a Member State, we will work towards listing an element on the UNESCO Representative List. In the coming months, we will continue our conversations with the community to uncover the intangibles that resonate with Singaporeans. SMS Sim Ann and Parl Sec Baey will lead some of these engagements.
In addition, we will also be making changes to the relevant legislation within the next two years to better support the preservation of both our tangible and intangible heritage, and to safeguard our archaeological history more effectively.
We will share more details at the Singapore Heritage Festival next month.
A Home with Respect, Understanding and Trust
Knowing what we have in common is not enough to build a strong society. We also need to have meaningful interactions with one another, especially with those different from us. This is easier said than done. People naturally gravitate towards those who share the same background, convictions, or opinions.
Mr Faisal Manap, and earlier, Ms Jessica Tan, and Mr Amrin Amin spoke about the recent Study on Social Capital in Singapore by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and concerns of a growing class divide. Contrary to what some may assume, inequality has reduced in Singapore, more so if Government transfers are included. In his reply to a recent Parliamentary Question, the Prime Minister shared that Singapore’s Gini coefficient has fallen over a 10-year period.
IPS studied the diversity of our social networks, and whether we were mixing with people different from ourselves. It found that people tend to have networks with people of similar school background and type of housing. This is not unexpected. We connect with people whom we went to school with, and those who move in the same social circles. Importantly, the study also found that respondents were able to name people in occupations ranging from low to medium to high status and prestige. Most Singaporeans also had friends who were of a different race or religion. Many respondents and their neighbours helped one another with house matters. Singaporeans are meeting and making friends with people from different walks of life.
Mr Alex Yam and Mr Henry Kwek highlighted the importance of social mixing as our society becomes more diverse. There will be fault lines in any society. What matters is that we don’t let that divide us, and we grow the common spaces where we encounter and connect with one another. A key finding of the IPS study was that participation in sports, arts and volunteer activities, in addition to schools and workplaces, promotes social interaction and integration across groups. These are areas where MCCY has been working hard at to nurture social cohesion.
At MCCY, we will continue to expand the common space for interactions and shared experiences across different social groups, through honest dialogues, shared spaces and inclusive programmes. Let me first explain what we do in the area of racial and religious relations.
Strengthening intercultural understanding and confidence
We are a nation that prides itself of its racial and religious diversity. Singaporeans are willing to accept differences in cultural and religious beliefs, views and practices, even though they may not agree with them. Yet, many Singaporeans still feel uncomfortable discussing issues related to race and religion, for fear of causing offence. Such inhibitions can breed ignorance, which in turn can fuel prejudices and divides in our society. In a global climate of growing intolerance, it is important that we bridge this knowledge gap.
And that is why we introduced BRIDGE in March last year, to facilitate and support community-led initiatives that use dialogue to deepen understanding on sensitive issues of race and religion. Since its launch, we have reached out to over 5,000 participants ranging from religious and community leaders to youths and working professionals.
One example is ‘Ask Me Anything’, a series of conferences to deepen understanding of specific religions amongst believers of other faiths. The Ask Me Anything (Islam) series run by the Association of Muslim Professionals kicked off with success. Participants asked questions about Islam, which were addressed in small group settings and panel discussions. The conference provided a platform for healthy dialogue, where questions were civilly raised and honestly answered. It proved that we can have honest, healthy and frank discussion on matters of faith.
Our focus for the coming year is to ensure that we grow and sustain this culture – where Singaporeans engage one another on sensitive topics. To do so, we will scale up projects that have the potential to reach wider audiences, and also expand outreach through social media. For instance, riding on the success of Ask Me Anything (Islam) series, we have brought in more partners, in collaboration with religious organisations, to run the Ask Me Anything (Buddhism) Series, and the Ask Me Anything (Christianity) series. Our partners on the Ask Me Anything series will also produce online content such as articles and videos related to the conferences, so that information can be shared with those who did not attend the events.
By bridging potential tensions and social divides within Singapore, we stand a better chance in combating the threat of terrorism. In line with our national SGSecure movement against terrorism, we established the SGSecure Community Network (SGCN) last year. The network will reach out to, connect with, and build crisis management capabilities in all religious organisations. This network will go beyond the 1,500 member-strong Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs) to include those that are not members.
These efforts will strengthen cohesion, trust and resilience in peacetime, so that collectively we are able to protect our communities and bounce back in a crisis. Going forward, we will deepen our engagement and build stronger ties with these religious organisations, as well as expand our outreach to the wider religious community.
Bringing together youths
As Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Ms Sun Xueling emphasised, it is important to engage our youth on key policy issues. Our youths are our future. They will be the ones bringing Singapore forward. Our youths are also our present. They have much to give to the here and now.
Our surveys showed that our youths are proud to be Singaporean and are committed to the country. Many are willing and able to step up, take action and work with each other or with government on ideas and projects that will bring us forward.
So my Ministry will kick-start the Youth Conversations in April this year to bring them together. Through conversation and dialogue, we hope that our youths will be informed on important issues, listen to one another’s views, negotiate differences and find new solutions together and with the Government.
How will the Youth Conversations be different from previous consultations? First, we will be sharing more policy thoughts and considerations with our youth. We will listen more to understand our youth’s views, concerns and aspirations. We will provide more support for our youths in generating and implementing their ideas.
For a start, my Ministry will work with fellow government agencies to identify areas of interest to our youth. Whether it is about protecting our environment, or creating job opportunities in the future economy, we want to address important issues that are on the minds of our youth. We will also invite youths to propose topics that they would like to discuss and be engaged on.
Second, we are experimenting with different and novel modes of engagement. Participants can expect the conversations to be candid and interactive. The conversations should broaden their horizons. This will be a platform where youths meet not just like-minded peers, but also make new friends who may come from different backgrounds, and hold different beliefs and perspectives.
For example, just last month, we brought together 38 youths from different schools and Institutes of Higher Learning to participate in Project Hope and Home. In small groups, youths shared candidly about what “hope and home” meant to them, and came up with ideas on how to build a better Singapore. The intimate setting provided a safe space for these youths, some who may be more reserved, to have deeper conversations on their hopes and aspirations.
At the end of the session, through the task of putting up a short skit, 18-year old Asri Aziz and his group discovered that they share a common vision of strengthening community bonds and celebrating multiculturalism. They showed fellow participants how our hawker centres provide a common space for people from all walks of life to share food and create shared experiences. After the event, Asri said, “I realised that there are other youths just like me, who dream for a better Singapore together.”
We will continue to try different methods of engagement, such as hackathons and Citizen’s Jury. Youth can also learn ways of crowdsourcing and co-creating ideas with the community. Aside from face-to-face conversations, we are also bringing these conversations online. We will use technology to stay relevant and connected with our youths. We will be developing a digital platform that can facilitate real-time conversations across larger online communities, and enable participants to build and sustain connections with one another.
Shared experiences through sports
Dialogue is a good way to bring people together. Inclusive programmes and shared spaces are another. Just as Mr Henry Kwek shared earlier, Sport has been a powerful platform for social mixing. Eight in 10 Singaporeans agree that sport has provided an ideal platform for them to socialise with people of a different background.
With the launch of ActiveSG in 2014, we saw an expansion of everyday sporting opportunities for all Singaporeans to participate and bond through sport. We now have close to 1.4 million ActiveSG members on board. Today, our ActiveSG Sports Centres, work with the Grassroots Organisations, to co-create sporting activities for the community. I am glad to hear that Mr Kwek endorses our ActiveSG programmes and I assure him that we will be enhancing the programmes at our sporting spaces.
We hope to sustain this momentum with our ActiveSG Academies and Clubs. Mr Kwek and Mr Darryl David asked about the status and future plans of the Academies and Clubs. Since 2016, we have launched 10 ActiveSG Academies and Clubs, reaching out to about 25,000 participants. Besides offering affordable and structured programmes for our children, they also bring families, neighbours, and sports enthusiasts from all backgrounds together.
Take the ActiveSG Football Academy (AFA) Dads for example. Here they are. This group of fathers, in their 30s to 50s, meets regularly while accompanying their children for classes at the ActiveSG Football Academy at Bedok. They come from different backgrounds – real estate agents, drivers, business owners, civil servants – but their love for football connected them. They formed a team of their own representing the Bedok Sports Centre, and started playing together. They are not alone. We now have six teams – Bedok, Woodlands, Clementi, Tampines, Serangoon and Jurong East. At a recent ActiveSG Football Academy end-of-season festival, besides the children, the AFA Dads had their own tournament too!
I am pleased to share that we will roll out more Academies and Clubs in sports such as Aquatics, Canoeing, Dance Fit, Gymnastics, Martial Arts, Table Tennis, Volleyball, and Youth Sports.
Another initiative, launched in 2016, is GetActive!, a nation-wide sporting event that unites Singaporeans in celebration of our nation’s birthday. For GetActive! Singapore 2018, we will expand the footprint and bring the celebrations even closer to the community. The biennial Singapore National Games will return and will incorporate the National Para Games, which will be the largest national para sport competition. We will partner the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) to introduce more para and adaptive sport events.
Sports Facilities Master Plan
Under the Sports Facilities Master Plan, we enhance and expand sporting access to Singaporeans, through an extensive network of sporting spaces across the country. Mr Melvin Yong asked about the progress on this front.
At the Regional and Town levels, we have opened sports centres at Our Tampines Hub and HeartBeat@Bedok. In the next few years, a new integrated sports and community hub in Sembawang will be ready – details will be announced later this year. We also have new facilities lined up, including new playing fields at Yan Kit and Jurong Lake. The latter will be our first ‘sport-in-the-park’ collaboration with NParks.
Through our Sports-in-Precinct programme and Dual-Use Scheme, we continue to roll out accessible play spaces and facilities closer to our neighbourhood. Following the pilot projects in Boon Lay and Jurong Spring, we will be developing six more Sports-in-Precinct facilities in Bukit Batok, Keat Hong, Hong Kah North, Nee Soon Central, Taman Jurong and Tampines North constituencies.
Under the Dual-Use Scheme, we now have close to 260 facilities, including Indoor Sports Halls, courts and fields opened for shared use. We will progressively open up the remaining 300+ or so DUS facilities by around 2020.
Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Melvin Yong spoke about upgrading the older sports complexes. SportSG is rejuvenating our existing public sports facilities in phases under the Master Plan, to cater to increasing demand, and ensure greater accessibility to our existing sports centres. This year, we will see the rejuvenation of a few sports centres, such as those in Delta and Choa Chu Kang. I would like to assure Mr Patrick Tay that we will rejuvenate the Boon Lay Hockey Village in the near future. SportSG will also work with Boon Lay CC on sharing facilities and programmes to enhance sporting experiences for residents.
Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the Sports Hub. The Sports Hub is a place where memories as a nation are made – where Singaporeans can come together to enjoy a wide range of sports, lifestyle and entertainment event, celebrate our National Day, and cheer on Team Singapore like we did at the SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games in 2015. It is also an important training venue for many of our NSAs.
The Sports Hub has seen a steady increase in its visitor traffic since opening in 2014. Last year, it welcomed about 1.4 million visitors attending over 200 events across its venues, an increase from about 1.2 million visitors attending over 180 events in 2016. This year, it will continue to host major sporting events like the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, the International Champions Cup and the National School Games. An ASEAN e-Sports tournament will also be held at the Sports Hub for the first time, in conjunction with GetActive! Singapore and National Youth Council’s SHINE Festival. These events will take place alongside the regular community programming, such as the quarterly Sports Hub Community Play Days and free Learn-to-Play Programmes.
Like many Singaporeans and like Ms Lim, we have high expectations for the Sports Hub, and we share the view that the operator SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) can do more to enhance vibrancy of the project. SportSG is closely monitoring the operator’s performance and is in regular communication with its top management to ensure that we realise the value of the Sports Hub for Singaporeans.
A social movement towards a national culture of healthy living
In his Budget speech, Minister Heng highlighted that one of the major shifts we will see in the coming decade is ageing. To meet the challenges of an ageing society, MOH declared War on Diabetes last year, as a national effort to keep our population healthy as we age. I agree with Ms Pereira and Mr David that sport and exercise are also important for health. Therefore, in this war, my Ministry will play our part through Active Health, a national social movement to spur Singaporeans to take ownership of their health and wellness, help one another meet their goals, and to celebrate living better through sports together. Going beyond healthcare to health, Active Health will be a journey that we embark on together for health and wellness through sport.
Just as sport can bring communities together, it takes a community to nurture healthy, active and engaged individuals who will live better through sports. Staying healthy is more than having a first class national healthcare system. It is about having family, friends, colleagues and community organisations joining efforts to support each other stay healthy.
Members may have heard Mr Joseph Chen’s Active Health journey. Over three months ago, 27-year-old Joseph visited his GP because of a cold. Concerned by his blood pressure readings, the doctor referred him to the Active Health Lab. At the lab, Joseph went through a free on-boarding session comprising a series of non-invasive assessments on body composition and other health markers, for an overview of his current health status. At almost 126 kg then, our Active Health experts worked with Joseph to set his personal health and wellness goals, and advised him to start making small changes to his lifestyle. Joseph, who used to have a largely sedentary lifestyle, started walking more, watching his diet and sleeping better.
A newspaper reported his case in February and mentioned that he has lost 3 kg in 1 month. I am happy to report that Joseph is now exercising more, six days a week, Monday to Saturday - Sunday he rests - comprising running interval trainings, strength workouts and stretching exercises. Since starting his Active Health journey and after three follow-up sessions, Joseph lost about 6 kg, and has seen improvements in his blood pressure and body mass index (BMI).
Like Joseph, you may be looking to manage your weight better; you may be a senior looking to enhance your flexibility; you may be a working adult looking for ways to keep a balanced and healthy lifestyle amid a busy schedule. Active Health is for you, it’s for everyone, regardless of who you are and what your health and wellness goals are. To kick start your personal Active Health journey, all you have to do is visit an Active Health Lab.
In addition to the Active Health Labs at Our Tampines Hub and Heartbeat@Bedok, we plan to roll out four more at Bishan, Jurong East, Sengkang and Woodlands sports centres in the coming year, so that there is a lab accessible to every Singaporean. We also plan to introduce two Mobile Labs. Working with PA, we will bring these Mobile Labs to the CC and RC spaces as well as Sports-in-Precinct facilities.
Once on-boarded with your baseline health indicators assessed, you can choose from a wide range of sports and physical activity programmes offered by ActiveSG at our sports centres across Singapore, to pursue your health goals. You can also arrange for follow-up sessions with our Active Health experts, to check on your progress and obtain feedback that can help you and your doctor plan for medical follow-ups, if necessary.
We are also developing a mobile platform through which you, your doctor and the Active Health expert, will be able to track and monitor your health progress beyond the clinic and the lab. You can also connect with your family, friends, and other Active Health users for mutual support, as well as sign up for ActiveSG programmes or book sports facilities to stay active together.
With Active Health, we want to create a holistic support system where Singaporeans proactively take ownership of their health, engage in physical activity, and be the social reinforcement that we all need to stay healthy and active. We can be a nation of healthy, active and engaged citizens, where we help one another live better.
A Home with Care, Consideration and Contribution
Ultimately, shared identity and shared experiences must translate into action if they are to add up to a strong society. When we see what we have in common, when we embrace those different from ourselves, we should also grow to care and feel responsible for one another. In the face of a more complex and unpredictable future, we need every Singaporean to step up and be part of the answer that society needs. In a strong society, everyone helps.
Spurring action through the community
And Singaporeans are willing, whether it is to help the vulnerable or disadvantaged, or give to social causes. But there is a gap between desire and action. Just slightly over half of those interested in volunteering their time have actually volunteered in any activity in the past year. Many youths have also deemed helping the less fortunate and contributing to society as very important life goals, but fewer thought that active involvement in volunteer work was important.
SG Cares seeks to bridge this gap. Yesterday, Minister Desmond Lee, Minister Gan Kim Yong and I spoke about building a more caring and inclusive home for every Singaporean through SG Cares. As Minister Heng highlighted in his Budget speech, the SG Cares movement is about bringing diverse people together to achieve a greater collective impact. SG Cares provides a platform that will encourage and support individuals, corporates and organisations to work together for the common good.
In line with SG Cares, we will continue to expand volunteering opportunities provided through the sports, heritage, and arts. To cultivate a caring society, we will also ensure that we have a strong charity sector. SMS Sim Ann will elaborate on these efforts.
Mr Chair, please allow me to conclude in Mandarin .