As Singapore celebrates her 48th birthday on 9th August 2013, the debate continues to ensue about what it means to be a Singaporean.
We Built Our Own Destiny
For a quick background, before Sir Stamford Raffles arrived here, there were only around 1,000 people living in Singapore made up of mostly the native Malays and a few dozen Chinese. Besides immigrants from Malaya, many Chinese and Indian immigrants came to the island to work in the rubber plantations, tin mines etc.
Our forefathers decided to brave the treacherous sea voyage to Singapore to eke out a living as Singapore was reputed to be a land of opportunity then. It was a brand new era for people who have nothing to their name except the promise of rewards by working hard and hopefully raising their lives, and those of their loved ones back in their home country, to a higher level of quality.
Ira Joseph came to Singapore from India with her husband a few decades ago to seek such a better life. Everything about her life was pretty rosy till her husband suffered a severe stroke when she was expecting her second son. She had to take care of her husband, juggle 3 jobs and bring up her 3 kids.
Initially, she really struggled to bring food to the table. There were times when she would boil water to cook 2 spoons of rice for her kids and simply feed herself with the starchy residue in the water. Yet she was able to set up a successful quilt shop Quilts 'N Calicoes and bring up her 3 kids.
Ira represents the physical and mental strength that many of the older generations of Singaporeans have, but has this resilience continued in the generations of Singapore citizens born thereafter?
How has Singapore done so far?
Looking back at the past 48 years, Singapore government has brought the nation from a sleepy fishing village to a cosmopolitan city in South East Asia. There is so much about Little Red Dot that Singaporeans can be grateful for.
We reside in a harmonious multi-racial and cultural society, enjoy clean and green environment with low crime rates, our children are eligible for compulsory high quality education, wonderful schemes are easily available to help the underprivileged and as a whole, Singaporeans generally enjoy a stable and high standard of living.
On the economic front, Singapore is ranked 5th in global competitiveness and maintain a low unemployment rate despite recent years of economic uncertainties.
Of course, this does not mean that we are perfect and can rest on our laurels. In its effort to maintain relevancy in the changing global economy, Singapore is dynamically changing at a pace which have gotten some Singaporeans jumpy.
So how do we strike a balance between economic advancement and happy citizens?
What are 8 Dreams That Singaporeans Want For Our Future?
Many Singaporeans have come forward to share their visions for tomorrow at various dialogues such as Young NTUC’s ‘Our Singapore Conversation’:
1. We want to be a truly meritocratic society, based on justice and equality.
2. We want a flying Singapore that does well, not just as a country but for every Singaporean too.
3. We must continue to be a well-educated and skilled workforce, and continue to have a government that is capable, clean, consultative and caring.
4. We want a country where success is more than just economic growth and wealth, but happiness as well.
5. We want a country where social mobility continues to be high, where everyone, regardless of education or background, can do well if he is prepared to work for it.
6. We have the courage and vision to be different.
7. Our children and our children’s children must continue to feel the pride of raising the Singapore flag.
8. We will respect everyone, regardless of what he does for a living.
Singaporeans Need To Play Their Part Too.
It is so easy to say that we want the above visions and expect it to be done at the snap of our fingers. But as what Ira’s father used to tell her when she was just a little girl, ‘What you want from others, be that yourself first.’
Stop Whining & Speak Up
Singaporeans need to get this clear. This is our country, we have to take pride in its progress and take control of its future. If we as Singaporeans do not take an active stake in the country (and simply regard our country as someone else’s responsibility), then who will?
Whenever new government policies are announced, Singaporeans tend to complain and nitpick. Government policies are not flawless and in recent years our government has demonstrated their openness to consult the public and discuss prior implementation (with the exception of Media Development Authority’s Licensing Framework for News Websites).
If you really feel strongly about a policy or decision, take action to express your concerns in a responsible manner and offer suggestions and alternatives on how the government can better navigate the issue on hand. How can rampant anonymous complaining on the internet with unconstructive remarks help Singapore to move forward?
Become Hungry & Get Competitive
Singaporeans today have been getting choosey when it comes to job hunting. They feel that as Singaporeans, they should rightfully get to choose their jobs and companies should automatically employ them over foreign talents. There is a trend among employer feedback that our younger Singaporean workforce is not hungry for success, lack strong work ethics and look for shortcuts in work and life as a whole.
With this sort of track record, should companies take the blame for hiring the cheaper, more efficient and hungrier foreign talents over Singaporeans then? What assets do Singaporeans bring to the job? Or even worse, with our neighboring countries becoming cheaper, better and faster, do companies still want to come invest and set up their operations here?
To my fellow Singaporeans, if you want the job, the remuneration and the lifestyle, you better become hungry and get competitive. Go big on innovation and think of how you can make operations easier, smarter and safer, and value-add to your company. Bring more businesses to Singapore, or take Singapore’s local businesses to the world. Prove your worth before expecting a comfortable life because the world doesn’t owe you anything so wake up and move on.
Respect Every Worker
Although we aim to be a first class country, do we have first class values? Do we respect and value every worker, regardless of background, qualification, race, gender and what he or she does for a living?
We should. Pay structure and advancement opportunities should be made available for all and based on job performance instead of the level of education one starts with.
Never Stop Marching Onwards, But Don’t Forget The Less Fortunate
According to Ministry of Manpower, there is a significant group of Singaporeans who have been lagging behind the majority of citizens in our nation’s progress. Singapore is never going to stop marching forward and this is a fact of life.
With strong competition from our surrounding nations, we cannot afford to slow down our progress for our low income workers. From Hong Kong’s example, we have also come to realize that minimal wage is not a sustainable avenue in lieu of economic pressures that companies face.
Hence our government and private organizations have to work hand in hand to innovate, increase productivity and raise the wages of these lower income citizens through progressive wage model.
What does it mean to be a Singaporean today?
Our ancestors have travelled from afar to call Singapore home once upon a time and build it up to what it is today. We must preserve what is unique to us, our culture, languages, values and aspirations. Singaporeans must form the core of our society, and new citizens must adapt to this core and not change our fundamentals.
Our children and our children’s children must continue to feel the pride of raising the Singapore flag. We are now at the crossroads of our lives, and we choose our future together no longer as a young nation, but one almost 50 years old.
Where we were once poor, we are now relatively comfortable. Where we were once mudflats, we are now a metropolis with thriving heartlands. We have proved how people can outdo expectations and physical deprivations, and we can do so, again and again.
Let us reignite the Singapore passion and rally together as one people. For this is our country, where our hopes, hearts and homes will be. This is OUR Singapore.
Here’s wishing our beloved Singapore a Happy 48th Birthday and all Singaporeans a wonderful National Day 2013!