Forging the Singapore brand of meritocracy and building an exceptional Malay/Muslim community
Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources & Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs at the 2018 President Address Debate
14 May 2018
- Deputy Speaker, sir, thank you for the opportunity to participate in the debate. I support the motion.
- We are living in exciting times, in a region full of challenges. I am confident that Singapore will be able to handle these challenges, harness the rich opportunities, and thrive. Or, as the President has put it, Singapore will remain exceptional — in the same way we became exceptional at dealing with our water challenges, through perseverance and innovation, even creating new jobs and exporting solutions abroad.
Meritocracy – opportunities for all
- As we forge ahead, we must hold on to the sound principles that have guided us in our journey thus far. One of these is meritocracy – which I believe is important for us to revisit once in a while. In fact, it would not be wrong to say this was one of the values upon which independent Singapore was founded – a powerful ideal which Mr Lee Kuan Yew and our Pioneer leaders believed in.
- What is meritocracy? At its core, meritocracy is a principle of allocation — allocation of resources; allocation of opportunities; and allocation of rewards. A society founded on meritocracy makes these allocations based on capability and effort — not on race, not on gender, not on your family connections. When working properly, it’s the fairest allocation system imaginable.
- But meritocracy is not a perfect system and does not always work properly, especially when it’s a narrow and brittle one — one which only focuses on outcome or engenders ruthless competition at the expense of co-operation; or one where those who have more at the starting line monopolises success over generations.
- Over time, this will increase inequality and polarise society into the “haves” and “have-nots” — distinct groups living different lives in different worlds. Over time, the marginalised will lose trust in institutions and with others in the community. At the root of it is this: it just gets harder for them to succeed, and eventually, it becomes impossible. Slowly and quietly, society will break up from within. When that happens, we will not be able to overcome together, to face challenges that call for national unity.
- Indeed, we have seen worrying consequences of rising social inequality overseas. “Drain the swamp” was a key slogan in the last US election, as Americans found social mobility hindered. The American Dream – to be middle-income, to own a home and to raise a family – was no longer within grasp for some. It consequently saw the US retreat from free trade in a bid to revive the American Dream – an economic nuclear option which does not address the domestic causes of the problem. Some in Europe are turning towards extreme right-wing parties amidst anxieties over immigration – at a time when the struggling masses feel the squeeze for resources and space, and their lack of progress. Asian countries have not been spared either. The same could easily happen in Singapore.
- That is why we must grow a Singapore brand of meritocracy. We must balance our economic and social policies. We cannot drive our economic policies on fierce pursuit of economic gains; but neither can we design our social policies with bleeding hearts. Singapore’s brand of meritocracy is characterised by three ingredients:
a. First, the successful giving back to society;
b. Second, common spaces and experiences for all Singaporeans; and
c. Third, support from the Government.
The Singapore brand of meritocracy
The successful giving back to society
- Mr Deputy Speaker, meritocracy can only be moral when those who take the most from the system also put back the most.
- I quote from an address entitled ‘The Ten Suggestions’ at Princeton University in 2013 by then-US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, I quote: “A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement and probably income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate – these are the folks who reap the largest rewards.”
- It is tempting for those who have succeeded to attribute their success solely to their own capabilities and efforts. There is even a term in psychology for this – “Attribution Bias”. However, if we are successful, we should realise how lucky we are. And not forget that support society has given us – a good education, a safe and secure environment, and the mental and emotional support. Remember to give back.
- In our meritocratic society, we must ensure that the spirit of giving back is most apparent in the successful. This starts at home. I read in a Dads-for-Life article where Mr. Gerard Ee related how his father, the late Dr. Ee Peng Liang and Singapore’s father of charity, ‘transmitted good values through word and action’. The Ee family lived in a lower-income neighbourhood at Geylang Lor 13, and Senior Ee organised annual toy-giveaways at his home for children in the neighbourhood. Junior Ee and his brothers were in charge of packing the toys. And while this happened 50 years ago, Gerard still remembers how the children so looked forward to receiving the toys. Gerard continues his father’s spirit of giving back. He served as Chairman of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) from 2005 to 2012, having responded to a call to help NKF get back to its feet. This was even after he had retired from active volunteering to take a deserved break. This spirit also lives on in Mr Mohamed Abdul Jaleel, who recently launched the S.M. Jaleel Foundation. And in the philanthropic families of the late Dr Lee Kong Chian and Syed Omar Aljunied.
- We too are successful in our own ways. Share our time, talents and treasures with those in need. As employers, uplift wages of our employees. As colleagues, support those with caregiving responsibilities. Everybody can join the SGCares movement to play a part and give back. Be kind to our fellow Singaporeans in our daily lives.
- The question is: will the new generation in Singapore, some of whom will become very wealthy in record time in new areas such as tech, have the same spirit of giving as our pioneers? And will the children of our new well-heeled, who have access to the best education in the world, still give time to help uplift the rest of us?
- What is clear though, is that only when the successful give back, will society accept, rather than envy, their success. And that is because success that benefits others is success which we all can be grateful for.
- This is how meritocracy can be moral, and not just a method of allocating resources: when the successful demonstrate a sense of duty to society; when the successful share the fruits of success with others, instead of hoarding the gains for themselves.
- This is indeed why our Public Service model succeeds. Our most capable are awarded with prestigious scholarships – no small sums from public coffers – to pursue education at the best universities all over the world. Because they dedicate their best to public service, everyone in society benefits. We are fortunate to have good people who decided on a public service career, rather than more lucrative fields, because the public service offers them greater meaning. And society has been the better for it. Because the best of our civil servants know, as President Bush Senior put it (and I quote), “that there is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people”.
- Whether the outcome of our meritocracy is the accumulation of wealth or authority, it will only function morally when those who are rewarded find ways to benefit others and help others succeed too. This is how we can narrow our social distance, even as we improve the GINI coefficient. It is as Bernanke puts it: “The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.”
Essential common spaces and experiences for all
- Mr Deputy Speaker, let me now talk about common spaces and experiences as one feature of Singapore’s brand of meritocracy. No other country or city shares common spaces like Singapore. We live together in shared neighbourhoods, eat at the same hawker centres, exercise in the same parks and waterways, and bring our children to the same libraries to read. This is special. We must preserve this to ensure that every Singaporean has a stake in and a shared ownership of Singapore.
- We do this so that there are places and spaces where our community can come together regardless of race, language or religion, to enable daily interactions in as many ways as possible. But these common spaces are even more meaningful because they guarantee common access to quality public facilities and infrastructure for all; to everyone.
- Our most basic rental housing must therefore continue to provide tenants with a decent home. That is also why as the Government shapes our future urban landscape, it must distribute rental housing across the island, and mix public and private housing more deliberately. This will ensure that the most needy among us, who have not done well yet in our meritocracy, are not deprived of access to good quality public facilities. The successful and yet-to-be successful will live equally far or near to new nodes of economic activity in Jurong and Punggol, to hawker centres, eldercare facilities and schools. Every Singaporean must play our role. Resist the Not In My Back Yard tendency to shove critical but undesirable facilities like funeral parlours behind rental blocks.
- Another quality common space is schools. We must continue to provide the best teachers and educational resources to our heartland schools and maintain our motto of “Every School a Good School”. Members may smirk at the mention of this motto. But it is a serious matter to remind ourselves to be thankful that we do not have a bifurcation where the elites send their children to expensive private schools and the rest to poorly resourced ones. In fact, many of our best students in national examinations come from our heartland schools.
- Our education policies must enable every Singaporean to pursue their aspirations and realize their potential, regardless of their family background — including those with special needs. Since independence, our policies have attempted to equalise the opportunities for each generation — even as we know we can never equalise outcomes. Indeed, we are one of the few cities in the world where parents have no qualms putting their children through preschools and primary and secondary schools, where they live. That is part of our brand of meritocracy. Investing in quality education is our way of ensuring a fair and good start to our childrens’ journey, whatever their background. While some have the means to go overseas for studies, every Singaporean has the chance to receive a quality education at home. Everyone knows that their degrees and diplomas from our local institutions carry with them a world class reputation.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, my work at Singtel and in public service has taken me across the world. In every city, there are areas where the rich and successful live, with schools where only the wealthy and connected can afford to send their children to. And then there are the areas which visitors are advised to avoid – typically where the low-income or new immigrants gather. Even when rich and poor neighbourhoods can exist side by side, their inhabitants never cross paths. I am not talking of developing nations but of rich and wealthy ones. That’s a failure of meritocracy that we have avoided and must never allow to take shape in our future.
Government policies as enablers
- Let me move on to the third ingredient. The Singapore brand of meritocracy must ensure that nobody is left behind. How can Government policies achieve this? First, Government policies have to act as enablers, as ladders and bridges, to provide a fair chance for everyone to move up in society — not only across families of jobs, but also over time. The Government must therefore not allow meritocracy to reward narrowly, and instead broaden and make alternative routes available. As DPM Tharman once put it – ‘multiple peaks of excellence’. And if I may add, ‘many chances of success’.
- Second, our policies must enable self-reliance by supporting and encouraging work. We must provide all Singaporeans with the opportunity to work, and do well for themselves and their families — regardless of where they are within our system of meritocracy at that point of time. This empowers individuals and families, and strengthens dignity and purpose.
- But the Government cannot stop there. It has already recognised that the workforce must be ready for future opportunities, as their current skills could become redundant. We are investing in SkillsFuture to support the lifelong development of skills and knowledge, and Industry Transformation Maps to enable our workforce to seize opportunities in the future economy — a future that, as former Minister Lim Swee Say quipped, will see workers transit “from one job in one career” to “many jobs in many careers”. This will also ensure that our meritocracy does not become a static snapshot, but a dynamic one where everyone has the opportunity to reap success throughout his life journey. This recognises that potential is not just realised in school, and provides the opportunity for late bloomers to realise new dreams at different stages of their lives. Ultimately, it is trust between citizens and institutions that will strengthen the Singapore brand of meritocracy. To kindle this virtuous cycle, the Government must deliver on our policies, and continue to actively and openly engage except in matters that are sensitive involving issues of security or commerce.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, allow me to continue in Malay.
Kemajuan masyarakat Melayu/Islam sejauh ini
- Tuan Deputy Speaker, izinkan saya merakamkan setinggi terima kasih kepada Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, atas jasa cemerlangnya sebagai Menteri Bertanggungjawab bagi Ehwal Masyarakat Islam selama 16 tahun. Banyak sekali manfaat dari kepimpinan beliau selama beliau bertugas. Tuan Deputy Speaker, meritokrasi banyak memahat identiti masyarakat Melayu/Islam di Singapura. Walaupun masyarakat kita telah dapat mengekalkan pegangan agama dan mempertahankan nilai adab kesopanan orang Melayu, meritokrasilah yang memberikan ciri-ciri khas kepada kita.
- Kesan utama asakkan meritokrasi ialah kita telah beralih dari masyarakat feudal yang menitik beratkan pangkat, gelaran dan harta yang boleh diwariskan – kepada masyarakat yang menilai seseorang dari pencapaian pendidikan dan kerjayanya. Kita menjadi masyarakat yang membina impian dan harapan pada masa hadapan kerana ia memungkinkan kehidupan yang lebih baik. Kita tidak lagi pasrah kepada nasib semata-mata.
- Setelah 50 tahun merdeka, sistem meritokrasi ala Singapura telah menghasilkan pencapaian masyarakat kita yang membanggakan. Buktinya: pada 1980, hanya 2.3 peratus penduduk Melayu mencapai pendidikan pos menengah ke atas. Namun jumlah tersebut telah meningkat secara mantap hingga mencapai hampir 40 peratus penduduk Melayu pada 2015. Ini dari jumlah keseluruhan merangkumi mereka yang tua dan muda.
- Kalau dilihat kohort hari ini pula, hanya 1 peratus anak Melayu yang tidak habis bersekolah 10 tahun dan 94 peratus dari mereka meraih pendidikan pos menengah. Di peringkat universiti, kita lihat lebih ramai anak Melayu yang meraih kepujian kelas pertama setiap tahun. Ini sangat membanggakan. Mereka aset masyarakat kita yang terkini dan akan menjadi batu loncatan masa depan kita yang terus cerah.
- Dalam pasaran pekerjaan pula, kita lihat lebih ramai orang Melayu memegang jawatan pentadbiran, pengurusan, profesional dan teknikal (PMET). Ini merupakan peningkatan daripada lebih 7 peratus jumlah penduduk pada 1980 kepada lebih 32 peratus pada 2015. Pendapatan bulanan isi rumah masyarakat Melayu juga meningkat sebanyak enam kali ganda dalam tempoh 35 tahun – dari 1980 hingga 2015.
- Mungkin masih ada yang sering mencemuh akan pencapaian tersebut kerana dilihat masih terbelakang dibandingkan dengan kaum yang lain. Tetapi saya pula merasa bangga, kerana pencapaian kita hari ini adalah bukti bahawa kita boleh berjaya dengan berusaha dan tidak bergantung pada nasib atau bercandu kepada pertolongan. Apalagi kalau kita lihat pada potensi kohort terkini. Kita adalah hasil asakkan sistem meritokrasi yang tidak pilih kasih kerana bangsa atau kedudukan. Justeru bagi mereka yang berjaya dan mendapat keyakinan semua, kejayaan kita tulen. Malah kepakaran orang Melayu diiktiraf di mana sahaja kita bekerja – kerana pasport kita dipandang sama merah, sama nilainya.
- Tuan Speaker, kita tidak mampu hanya berbangga dengan pencapaian hari ini dan berhenti di sini. Ini kerana ada tiga gejala luaran yang perlu kita tangani. Jika tidak, ia akan menghambat kemajuan kaum kita pada masa mendatang.
Cabaran elemen luar jejas kehidupan beragama di sini
- Yang pertama, elemen luar yang cuba merubah dan mempengaruhi cara sesetengah daripada kita menjalani kehidupan beragama di sini. Ia juga sedikit sebanyak berjaya menghakis ciri dan nilai kebudayaan kita sebagai orang Melayu/Islam di Nusantara ini dan juga warisan Melayu yang sepatutnya harus kita banggakan. Ia juga boleh memecah-belahkan antara anggota masyarakat kita malah antara ahli keluarga kita.
- Di sini peranan yang dimainkan oleh Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) sebagai penyokong kehidupan sosio-agama masyarakat Islam setempat dan dalam berinteraksi dengan masyarakat berbilang agama, adalah sangat penting. Kami akan berusaha memastikan guru-guru agama setempat kita setaraf dan sebaik dengan pendidik agama asing yang lain yang mungkin lebih glamor. Ini kerana mesej agama harus berkesan dan relevan untuk kehidupan di Singapura dan bukan hanya setakat menarik. Oleh itu, kita harus memastikan Skim Pengiktirafan Asatizah atau ARS terus berkembang dengan dorongan Pejabat Mufti dan sokongan para asatizah, untuk mentauliahkan para asatizah agar menyebarkan ajaran yang sejajar dengan kehidupan dan konteks Singapura tanpa mengkompromikan nilai-nilai asas Islam.
Gegaran ekonomi di rantau Asia
- Cabaran kedua adalah gegaran ekonomi yang sangat ketara. Dunia sedang menghadapi pelbagai ketidaktentuan dari segi sosial, ekonomi dan politik. Ia berlaku dekat dan jauh. Cabaran timbul dengan berkembangnya ekonomi Asia dan rantau kita. Kedudukan mapan kita dan negara-negara serantau berubah dan kita dicabar hingga menjadi pesaing sangat sengit. Gangguan teknologi baru akan lebih pesat dan menggegar – samada dari kecerdasan buatan atau Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotik dan ekonomi digital. Penduduk kita juga semakin menua. Pekerjaaan cepat pupus dan kemahiran semalam tidak diperlukan hari esok.
- Di sini pula, Yayasan Mendaki boleh memainkan peranan penting dengan membuat penyesuaian pada program-programnya. Pada golongan pelajar, Mendaki akan terus memastikan mereka memiliki pendidikan asas dan memperkasakan yang berpotensi, seawal di bangku prasekolah. Justeru, Mendaki perlu bekerjasama dengan agensi-agensi pemerintah dan badan-badan Melayu/Islam yang lain untuk memberi perhatian kepada faktor-faktor yang menyebabkan pendidikan anak-anak kita tergendala terutama apabila kehidupan berkeluarga mereka terganggu. Ini kerana bukan sahaja keluarga pincang menyebabkan potensi anak-anak kita tidak tercapai, malah mereka juga berisiko tinggi terjerumus ke dalam kancah jenayah dan penyalah gunaan dadah.
- Oleh kerana gangguan ekonomi akan membuat segulung ijazah tidak bernilai atau kemahiran tidak dihargai dengan sekelip mata, Mendaki sudah juga bergiat memikirkan bagaimana masyarakat kita dapat segera membudayakan pendidikan sepanjang hayat dan siap berubah dalam meningkatkan kemahiran untuk ekonomi baru, serta meraih peluang yang bakal wujud.
Kesan pengaruh ekstremisme luar
- Masalah ketiga ialah kesan ekstremisme dari pengaruh agama yang asing. Ia tidak terbatas kepada pengganasan semata-mata kerana sikap ekstrim mula ada kaitan dengan sikap eksklusif yang boleh menyebabkan masyarakat Islam memencilkan diri dari masyarakat umum. Sedikit sebanyak ia sudah pun menghambat deras integrasi dengan kaum lain.
- Dalam menghadapi semua cabaran-cabaran tersebut, MESRA pula memainkan peranan penting supaya masyarakat kita di arus nasional. MESRA akan memainkan peranan proaktif supaya masyarakat kita banyak peluang berinteraksi dengan semua kaum dalam kehidupan seharian kita, dan tidak terbatas di waktu sekolah atau di kerja. Inilah caranya Singapura membangun masyarakat mesra dan harmoni kerana banyak berinteraksi antara satu sama lain meskipun berbeza agama dan budaya. Pada masa yang sama kita peka hak dan tanggungjawab kewargaan tidak berbeza. Inilah menjadikan kita masyarakat yang bersatu.
- Oleh itu, MESRA perlu meluaskan jangkauannya supaya tidak hanya menumpukan kepada segmen masyarakat bahasa dan budaya sahaja. Saya ingin MESRA diperkasakan lagi untuk mencapai dua matlamat besar.
- Pertama, agar akar umbi sukarelawan Melayu berusaha menjalin hubungan masyarakat Melayu lebih meluas dan mendalam. Tidak lama lagi, MESRA bakal mempunyai pusat masyarakat di Wisma Geylang Serai (WGS) di bawah pimpinan SMS Dr Maliki untuk dilestarikan demi maslahat masyarakat. Para penasihat MESRA yang lain pula – SPS Dr Faishal, SPS Amrin dan Cik Rahayu telah pun memulakan pelbagai program percubaan yang inovatif melibatkan karyawan di bidang-bidang baru seperti kesihatan, guaman dan pendidikan. Ia jelas terbukti menarik kepada segmen-segmen baru masyarakat kita. Kita akan memperbanyakkan lagi program tersebut dan menyelaraskannya di lebih banyak kawasan perumahan serta di Pusat MESRA di WGS.
- Kedua, kita perlu menguatkan lapisan kepimpinan yang berkaliber di MESRA. Saya bersyukur kerana beberapa karyawan yang cemerlang dalam bidang-bidang masing-masing, telah menyahut seruan kami untuk sama-sama membantu masyarakat kita untuk terus bangkit. Dengan ini, saya gembira mengumumkan penubuhan Majlis Penasihat Persatuan Rakyat MESRA yang melibatkan tujuh anggota penasihat, Exco tertinggi MESRA dan anggota-anggota karyawan tersebut. Kami akan bekerjasama untuk melibatkan lebih ramai lagi karyawan demi memberi layanan dan sumbangan terbaik kepada masyarakat dalam kegiatan MESRA. Inilah hasil meritokrasi yang terbaik di masyarakat Melayu/Islam Singapura, iaitu karyawan ulung kita yang telah berjaya, kembali berjasa kepada masyarakat.
MENDAKI – MUIS – MESRA: kuasa 3M
- Tuan Deputy Speaker, memandang ke hadapan, tiga teras utama akan dititikberatkan dalam usaha terus memperkasakan masyarakat kita. Pertama, kita akan terus memperkuatkan MUIS, MENDAKI dan MESRA – atau kuasa 3M – dengan kakitangan dan kepiawaian terbaik. Ketiga-tiga institusi ini adalah aset masyarakat yang sangat bernilai dan adalah tunjang masyarakat Melayu/Islam Singapura. Meskipun 3M adalah institusi berbeza – MUIS sebagai badan berkanun, Mendaki berbentuk badan bantu diri dan MESRA sebagai sebahagian daripada Persatuan Rakyat. Sistem meritokrasi membolehkan kita menguatkan 3M dengan pegawai yang terbaik. Sistem meritokrasi juga memastikan pembaharuan jika ada yang tidak menyerlah.
- Tambahan, karyawan di 3M harus mampu dan tahu bekerja bersinergi dan bersepadu, dengan satu sama lain. 3M harus memacu sehaluan dan seiring ke arah kemajuan masyarakat Melayu/Islam.
- Kedua, kerana tugas menggerakkan 3M ini dalam mengatasi cabaran masyarakat adalah berat, kami AP-AP yang menjawat jawatan – saya, SMS Dr Maliki, MOS Zaqy, SPS Dr Faishal dan SPS Amrin, akan bekerjasama sebagai satu pasukan bersepadu. Saya akan menugaskan mereka menerajui pelbagai inisiatif dan menggembleng tenaga rakan-rakan lain. Sebagai langkah pertama, saya akan melantik MOS Zaqy sebagai Naib Pengerusi di Mendaki. Kami akan berusaha sehaluan. Seperti pepatah Afrika, kami sedar jika ingin lari pantas, larilah sendirian. Tetapi jika ingin berlari jauh, marilah lari bersama.
- Ketiga, 3M akan menguatkan lagi jaringan ikatan masing-masing. Banyak sekali program inovatif yang diusahakan badan-badan 3M. Namun satu kekurangan yang harus diatasi adalah masalah penyampaian program tersebut atau yang disebut ‘last mile service delivery’. Kisah berikut ini adalah satu contoh yang ketara.
- Cik S adalah seorang penduduk di kawasan undi saya. Keluarganya menghadapi kesusahan apabila suaminya ditahan kerana dadah. Mereka baru sahaja menjual rumah. Maka secara peraturan mereka tidak dapat atau dibenarkan menyewa rumah atau membeli flat baru kerana CPF di dalam simpanan suaminya. Oleh kerana anggota akar umbi mengetahui keadaan beliau, kami bergegas mendapatkan bantuan untuknya. Jelas banyak sekali program yang tersedia. Yang utama ialah mendapatkan perhatian dari Pejabat Khidmat Sosial (SSO) dan HDB. Pusat Khidmat Keluarga Singapore Buddhist Lodge Vision pula memberi kaunseling kerana beliau mula murung. Mereka merujuk beliau kepada peluang menjalani latihan dan dengan sokongan tersebut beliau mula bekerja, walaupun tidak pernah bekerja sebelum ini. Cik S dan anak-anaknya juga dibantu Persatuan Derma Amanah Muslimin (MTFA), Dana Pendidikan Harun Ghani dan Skim Tuisyen Hujung Minggu Mendaki. Azam beliau kuat untuk berdikari, ada kalanya beliau sanggup membuat beberapa pekerjaan.
- Perjalanan beliau jelas penuh ranjau tetapi keluarganya tetap utuh. Sekarang suaminya telah dibebaskan dan kembali bersama keluarga. Suaminya kini seorang pemandu dan mereka telah berpindah ke rumah flat 3-bilik. Apa yang sangat menggembirakan ialah ketiga-tiga anak beliau sedang menuntut di politeknik. Kerana sukarelawan akar umbi telah menghubungi Cik S seawal-awalnya dan masyarakat cepat menghulurkan sokongan serta bersamanya dalam perjalanan beliau yang sukar, keluarganya dapat bangkit semula.
- Tuan Deputy Speaker, begitulah pentingnya ‘last-mile service delivery’ kerana itu ia perlu dibina dan diperkasakan. Saya rasa tidak kurang program-program yang dihasilkan di institusi-institusi 3M dan badan-badan kerabat mereka untuk membantu dan memajukan masyarakat, termasuk program-program dari pemerintah. Oleh itu, kami ingin 3M membina dan menguatkan jaringan masing-masing menjadi ‘last-mile’ yang efektif – MUIS dengan masjid-masjid, madrasah dan ulama kita, MENDAKI dengan badan-badan kerabat Melayu/Islam, dan MESRA dengan para karyawan serta masyarakat umum.
- Setelah itu pula, kesemua institusi dan jaringan mereka harus wujud sebagai satu ekologi: iaitu ketiga-tiga institusi bukan sahaja berinovatif melakar program untuk masyarakat, tetapi saling bantu-membantu menyampaikan program institusi lain dan juga program pemerintah melalui jaringan mereka di mana ia bermanfaat. Jika kita dapat mengatasi sikap ‘Not Invented Here’ atau tidak menyokong inisiatif orang lain dan ‘Guarding Turf’ atau khuatir pengaruh kita tergugat – masyarakat kita akan membuat peningkatan yang ketara.
- Kita perlu menggerakkan semua potensi masyarakat kita. Kita sudahdikagumi pelawat-pelawat Singapura sebagai masyarakat minoriti contoh yang berjaya kerana diperkasakan oleh sistem meritokrasi Singapura. Tapi sayang sekiranya kita hanya menghasilkan masyarakat yang lebih berada dari kemewahannya. Mari kita dengar sedikit lirik lagu Papa Rock Ramli Sarip, berjudul ‘Ku Cari Damai Abadi’ dalam albumnya, Sadaqa. Saya tak akan menyanyikannya. Nyanyian beliau:
Aku cari bukan harta bertimbun-timbun
Untuk hidup kaya
Aku cari bukan wang berjuta-juta
Untuk hidup bergaya
Aku cari bukan kawan-kawan
Untuk hidup berfoya-foya
- Kemewahan kita juga harus menjadikan kita masyarakat bersyukur hingga terpanggil jiwa rahmah. Jiwa rahmahlah pula mendorong tanggungjawab kita membangun masyarakat dengan semangat bergotong-royong bersama. Itu juga pesanan saya kepada para pelajar pengajian tinggi baru-baru ini di Berita Harian supaya setelah berjaya nanti, menyumbang kembali dan mendampingi masyarakat. Sekurang-kurangnya menjadi inspirasi kepada yang lain untuk berjaya. Ini sejajar dengan apa saya kata tadi, jika meritokrasi setakat menjadikan kita berjaya, ia adalah sistem yang pincang kerana tidak menanam azam untuk kembali berjasa kepada masyarakat. Sesuai dengan Ramadan yang akan menjelang, mari kita memperbaharui azam mencurahkan rahmah kepada semua. Dengan itu akan tercapai tujuan hidup sesuai seruan lagu Bang Ramli tadi, “supaya hidup damai abadi”.
- Tuan Deputy Speaker, seruan Presiden supaya kita melahirkan negara luarbiasa. Gandingan kita bersama akan meningkatkan martabat masyarakat Melayu/Islam Singapura daripada masyarakat minoriti contoh, kepada masyarakat minoriti yang luarbiasa. Sebagaimana kaum Gurkha – mereka masyhur dengan keberanian di medan perang dan merupakan masyarakat minoriti Nepal yang luarbiasa. Ayuh kita bina tukikan masyarakat Melayu/Islam Singapura yang luarbiasa di Nusatenggara.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, let me conclude: we are at a key juncture in our nation’s journey. In this journey, we will preserve our place in the world; Singapore must remain exceptional.
- And we must do so with the Singapore brand of meritocracy — one that is not merely a way to allocate resources but to also do so fairly and effectively. The Singapore brand of meritocracy must remain the means to build a good society, not just one to build a richer society. With the aim to ensure that Singapore remains a home for all — not just for the rich and successful. A Singapore where nobody is left behind, and a Singapore which continues to provide opportunities for everyone to realise his dreams.
- Thank you.
Translation of Malay text
The progress of the Malay/Muslim community thus far
- Mr Deputy Speaker, allow me to put on record my highest thanks to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, for his excellent contributions as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs for 16 years. In the span of his service, there have been many benefits from his leadership. Mr Deputy Speaker, meritocracy has, to a large extent, helped form the identity of the Malay/Muslims in Singapore. Although the community is able to maintain its religious beliefs and uphold Malay values, it is meritocracy that has given us some unique characteristics.
- The main impact of meritocracy is that we have transformed from a feudal society that gives importance to rank, titles and wealth that can be inherited – to a community that measures an individual based on his educational and career achievements. We have become a community that builds dreams and hopes for the future because this will help build a better life. We no longer resign ourselves to fate.
- After 50 years of independence, Singapore’s meritocratic system has helped the Malays to achieve progress that we can be proud of. For example: In 1980 only 2.3 percent of the Malay population attained post-secondary education and above. This percentage has increased steadily to almost 40 percent in 2015. This includes the young and old in the Malay community.
- Today, only 1 percent of Malays do not complete 10 years of education, and 94 percent of them now have a post-secondary education. Every year, we see more Malays who graduate from university with first class honours. This is extremely heartening. They are now our community assets who will serve as stepping stones for us to achieve greater success and a brighter future.
- More Malays are now holding management, professional, executive and technical (PMET) positions in the workforce. In 1980, Malays made up only slightly more than 7 percent of PMETs but in 2015, the percentage has increased to more than 32 percent. The monthly household income of Malays has also increased sixfold in a span of 35 years – from 1980 to 2015.
- There are some who may still think lowly of this achievement because they feel that Malays are still lagging as compared to the other communities. But I feel proud because our achievement today proves that we can succeed with hard work and not submit to fate or be overly dependent on assistance, what more when we see the potential of the latest cohorts. We are products of the meritocratic system that does not give favours to anyone based on race or status. Thus, the achievement of those who have succeeded and gained the confidence of others is genuine. In fact, the expertise of the Malays are recognised in all fields that they are in. In fact, their expertise is equally valued like that of other Singaporeans.
- Mr Speaker, Sir, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. This is because there are three external elements that we must tackle. Failing to do so will hinder our community’s progress in the future.
The challenge of external elements that affect our religious life in Singapore
- First, external elements have tried to change and influence the way some of us lead our religious life in Singapore. It has also, to some extent, succeeded in eroding our cultural values as Malay/Muslims in the region, and also our Malay heritage that we should uphold. It can also divide our community, even among our family members.
- The role of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) in supporting local Muslims in their socio-religious life and their interaction with Singapore’s multireligious community is very important. We will continue to strive to ensure that local religious teachers are on par and as good as foreign religious educators who may be seen as more glamorous. This is because the religious messages must not only be attractive, but more importantly effective and relevant to life in Singapore. Therefore, we must ensure that the Asatizah Recognition Scheme or ARS continues to be improved with guidance from the Office of the Mufti and support from religious teachers. The scheme will authorise the religious teachers to spread Islamic teachings in line with the way of life and context in Singapore, without compromising the basic tenets of Islam.
Economic shift in Asia
- The second challenge is the distinct shift in the economy. The world is facing social, economic and political uncertainties. It is happening in countries near and far. This challenge has emerged as the economies in Asia and our region grow. Our strong position is being challenged and countries in the region have become our fierce competitors. New technologies will come faster and be more disruptive – be it Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics or the digital economy. Our population is also ageing. Jobs are becoming obsolete and yesterday’s skills are no longer needed tomorrow.
- Mendaki can play an important role by making adjustments to its programmes. Mendaki will continue to ensure that students possess basic education and empower those who have the potential, as early as preschool. Hence, Mendaki must also working with government agencies and other Malay/Muslim organisations to focus on addressing factors that may hinder our children’s education, particularly when there are troubled families. This is because children from troubled families are not only unable to realise their full potential, but also face the risk of falling into the pitfalls of crimes and drug abuse.
- Since economic disruptions will make a degree obsolete or skills redundant overnight, Mendaki has also thought of how our community can quickly embrace the culture of lifelong learning and be ready to upskill for the new economy, as well as grabbing opportunities that will be become available.
Effects of foreign extremist influence
- The third problem is the effect of the influence of foreign religious extremism. This is not limited to terrorism, because extremist attitudes encourage one to be exclusive, which can cause the Muslim community to isolate itself from other communities. To some extent, it has already hindered the integration with different communities.
- In facing these challenges, People’s Association (PA) Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (MESRA) also plays an important role so that our community is in the national mainstream. MESRA will play a proactive role so that our community will have more opportunities to interact with all other communities in our daily lives, not only in schools or at work. This is how Singapore develops a friendly and harmonious society because there is great interaction between one another regardless of race, religion and culture. At the same time, we are sensitive to our equal rights and responsibilities as citizens. This is what makes our society united.
- Therefore, MESRA needs to expand its reach so that it does not only focus its attention to the language and cultural segments of the community. MESRA should be further empowered to achieve two big objectives.
- First, Malay grassroots volunteers should work towards building wider and deeper relationships within the Malay community. Soon, MESRA will have a centre at Wisma Geylang Serai (WGS), under the leadership of Dr Maliki, to be utilised for the benefit of the community. Other MESRA advisors – SPS Dr Faishal, SPS Amrin and Rahayu have already started various innovative programmes involving professionals in new sectors such as health, law and education. They were proven to be a hit in the new segments in our community. We will widen these programmes and coordinate it in more estates as well as at the MESRA Centre at WGS.
- Second, we must strengthen a calibre leadership in MESRA. I am grateful because several professionals who have excelled in their respective fields, have accepted our invitation to work with us in assisting the community to progress further. With this, I am pleased to announce the setting up of PA’s MESRA Advisory Council, which comprises seven advisors, MESRA’s top Exco members and the professionals. We will work together to involve more professionals so as to provide the best service and contribution to the community in MESRA’s activities. This is the greatest product of meritocracy in Singapore’s Malay/Muslim community, in which our outstanding professionals who have achieved success, return to serve the community.
The collective strength of the 3M: MENDAKI – MUIS – MESRA
- Moving forward, three main thrusts will be prioritised in the ongoing efforts to empower our community. First, we will continue to strenghten MUIS, MENDAKI and MESRA – or the 3M – by ensuring they are equipped with the most qualified staff and meet the highest standards. These three institutions are community assets that are highly valued and are the pivot of the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore. This, despite the fact that 3M comprises three different institutions – MUIS is a statutory board, Mendaki is a self-help group while MESRA is part of the PA. The meritocratic system has enabled us to strengthen 3M with the most qualified officers. The system also ensures that a renewal process will take place should any of them underperform.
- In addition, professionals in 3M must be able and know how to work in synergy and unity with one another. 3M must work in tandem to help the Malay/Muslim community to achieve progress.
- Second, because setting 3M in motion to tackle the challenges facing the community is a heavy task, us political office holders – SMS Dr Maliki, MOS Zaqy, SPS Dr Faishal, SPS Amrin and I – will work together as a team. I will task them to helm various initiatives and mobilise other partners. As a first step, I will appoint MOS Zaqy as Deputy Chairman of Mendaki. We will work in tandem. As the African proverb goes, “if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
- Third, the 3M will strengthen their respective networks. The 3M institutions have developed many innovative programmes. However, one weakness that they must overcome are issues in ‘last-mile service delivery’. The following story is one clear example.
- Ms S is a resident in my constituency. Her family faced difficulties when her husband was arrested for drug abuse. They had just sold their house. Thus under the regulations, they were not allowed to rent out their house or buy a new flat because the CPF monies were tied up in her husband’s savings account. Thus when the grassroots members got to know of her situation, we promptly helped her get the assistance she needed. Clearly, there are many programmes out there. The most important was to get the attention of the Social Service Office (SSO) and HDB. Meanwhile, the Singapore Buddhist Lodge Vision Family Service Centre provided counselling as she began to suffer from depression. They referred her to training opportunities, and with that support, she started working, even though she had never worked before this. Ms S and her children also received assistance from the Muslim Trust Fund Association (MFTA), the Harun Ghani Education fund, and the Mendaki Tuition Scheme. Due to her strong determination to stand on her own feet, at times, she was even willing to hold several jobs.
- Her journey was full of challenges but her family remained intact. Her husband has been released from prison and is back with the family. He is currently working as a driver and they have moved to a 3-room flat. What is most heartening is that all three of her children are now studying in polytechnic. With the help of the grassroots volunteers who managed to get in touch with Ms S early, and the community which swiftly provided support and stood by her throughout her difficult journey, her family managed to pull through and pick themselves up.
- Mr Speaker, Sir, this shows how crucial ‘last-mile service delivery’ is, and hence, it has to be built up and strengthened. I think we are not lacking in programmes developed by the 3M institutions and their partner organisations to help the community to progress, and this includes programmes from the Government. Thus, we want 3M to continue building up and strengthening their respective networks to provide ‘last-mile service delivery’ effectively – MUIS with the mosques, our madrasahs and our Islamic scholars, MENDAKI with Malay/Muslim partner organisations, and MESRA with professionals and the community at large.
- All institutions and their networks must then exist as a single ecology: that is, all three institutions must not only be innovative in developing community programmes, but they must also help deliver programmes by other institutions and the Government through their networks, wherever it is beneficial. If we can overcome the ‘Not Invented Here’ culture of not supporting others’ initiatives and the ‘Guarding Turf’ culture of ensuring one’s influence is not threatened, our community will make significant progress.
- We must fully mobilise our community’s potentials. Empowered by Singapore’s meritocratic system, we have progressed as a minority group that is a good example to others. However, it would be unfortunate if we build a community that is merely rich in material wealth. Let us listen to some of the lyrics of Papa Rock Ramli Sarip’s song, titled ‘Ku Cari Damai Abadi’ or ‘I Seek Eternal Peace’, from his album, ‘Sadaqa’. I will not sing it. He says:
Aku cari bukan harta bertimbun-timbun
Untuk hidup kaya
Aku cari bukan wang berjuta-juta
Untuk hidup bergaya
Aku cari bukan kawan-kawan
Untuk hidup berfoya-foya
(I do not seek bountiful riches
To live a wealthy life
I do not seek millions of dollars
To live a glamorous life
I do not seek friendships
Merely to live a frivolous life)
- The material wealth that we possess as a community should help embody the spirit of ‘rahmah’ or mercy. This spirit will spur us on to work together to helm the responsibility of uplifting our community. Recently, at Berita Harian, I urged a group of tertiary students to give back and engage the community, especially when they have become successful. Their success can be an inspiration to others. As I said earlier, if meritocracy merely made us successful, without inspiring us to give back to society, it would be a flawed system. In time for the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, let us renew our resolution to spread blessings to all. With that, we will have fulfilled the purpose of life, just as Brother Ramli’s song called upon us to lead a meaningful life.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, the President has called on us to build an exceptional nation. Our collective efforts will raise the standing of the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore, from an exemplary minority group to an exceptional minority group. Just like the Gurkha community – they are famed for their bravery in the battlefield and are an exceptional minority group in Nepal. Let us be an extraordinary Singapore Malay/Muslim community in the larger region.
Last updated on 13 March 2019