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Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli at MSF Committee of Supply 2021

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Masagos Zulkifli

Topic(s): Committee of Supply

Building a More Resilient Society Together


1          I thank members for their cuts and also partnering MSF through the years in building a resilient and caring society together.

2          COVID-19 has plunged societies around the world into one of the most urgent social crises in modern times.

a.         For some time, fissures were already bubbling across many societies – exacerbated by new technologies, demography changes and consequent shifts in central gravities from traditional economic powers to new ones.

b.         COVID-19 made those fissures even more stark. Demonstrators occupied the streets. Many who already felt left behind, lost trust in their social systems.

i.         National solidarity was weakened at its core.

3          In Singapore, we are not immune. We must never allow such divisions to take root in our society, especially amid a crisis. It is tough times like these that will test the strength of societies, and the bonds that bind people together. Around the world, how quickly governments and their people worked together, determined whether they could get a reprieve or were overwhelmed. 


4          There was a time when Singapore faced a similar crisis as a nation. When we became independent in 1965, we had barely $1 billion in reserves and were still negotiating for it to be in our control. We had no natural resources and hinterland. Our GDP was about $3 billion, a small fraction of what it is today. Unemployment was much higher. Few expected us to survive. Let alone prosper.

5          This did not deter our spirits. We had to find practical solutions to our problems of growth and development in our own context, as Mr Lee Kuan Yew said in 1960, even before our independence. Our pioneers knew that in order for Singapore to succeed, we needed the tightest economic and social discipline.

a.         Our focus was on nation-building.

b.         With the scarce resources that we had, our priority was to develop a competitive economy, build up a sizeable defence force, and provide basic education, housing and healthcare to all Singaporeans. Social assistance at the time was very basic. Everyone was very much taking care of each other, taking care of themselves and taking care of each other in the family. That was our social compact.

c.         We relied on our strong work ethic and that drove economic growth for Singapore – creating employment for the masses. Leading to improvements in living standards for everyone.

6          This approach has largely served us well for the first fifty years of our independence.

a.         We uplifted an entire population and in one generation rocketed from third world to first.

b.         About 9 in 10 Singaporean children would have entered Primary 1 with at least three years in preschool, and 97% of the P1 Singaporean and Permanent Resident cohort would go on to post-secondary education.

c.         Around 90% of Singaporean resident households own their homes, with the bottom decile at close to 85%.

d.         We have also kept public healthcare costs affordable, especially for the lower- and middle-income groups. A quality and comprehensive healthcare has enabled our workforce to be up on their feet much of their lives and enjoy their downtime on holidays and not in hospitals.

e.         Even among the advanced economies, we are one of the few where those at the bottom and in the middle have seen large increases of incomes in the past 20 years, even after accounting for rises in the cost of living. This means that families have more resources today than before.

f.         We achieved these outcomes without having to go down the paths of other advanced countries, which had to heavily tax their populations to finance their burgeoning social systems, with one generation passing on their debts to the next. In Singapore, we keep our taxes low for a substantial majority of our population. We want workers to take home as much of what they earned, while at the same time achieving effective transfers for social equity.

g.         We want to pass down an effective, healthy and debt-free social system, which we have enjoyed and owe this to our children, grand-children and future generations.

7          Today, our social compact continues to be one:

a.         Where the Government creates conditions for economic growth. Access to affordable quality education, housing and healthcare services, regardless of our background, becomes opportunities to flourish. Everyone can live with dignity and be self-reliant to do the best for themselves and their families.

b.         Where families continue to be the core of our society and our first line of support. Strong families in turn support the building of resilient individuals. Because they play a big part in caring and supporting one another through the ups and downs of life.

c.         Where the community plays an active role in helping those with less because we believe in a caring society.

8          Together, they form the foundation of our social compact.


9          Chairman, we will face a very different social landscape over the next fifty years. New challenges, different from what our forefathers faced.

a.         Even before COVID-19, we have more than doubled our social spending in the past ten years.

b.         We needed to invest considerable resources into enabling our seniors to age with grace, as our population ages. This will be more challenging to finance, amid a shrinking labour force.

c.         While our socio-economic strategies have uplifted broad segments of our population in the past, our current and future challenge would be to ensure that those at the bottom continue to progress upwards alongside the rest of the society on a moving escalator.

d.         Today, many of these individuals and families face differing and complex needs. The tried and tested solutions of the past need revisiting.

e.         There will always be inequality in any society, in one form or another, sometimes even within a family. But we must keep opportunities alive for all Singaporeans to ensure social mobility. It cannot only be for those who have the resources, but for everyone, regardless of where they start off in life and where they are today.

f.         We must get this right, no matter how difficult. Because if we fail, Singapore will go down the path of becoming a fractured and disunited nation.

10         In essence, we want everyone in Singapore to be happy because they succeed in our society of opportunities that the Government continues to create.

a.         At MSF, we will help those faced with transitional difficulties to bounce back and enable those with disabilities to participate, contribute where they can, and benefit from our society of opportunities.

b.         We need those who have succeeded to give back for the betterment of society. Many have done well, not only through their own efforts, but from an enabling system that provided the opportunities.

c.         We must also resist the natural tendencies for society to stratify, and actively encourage social mixing in our housing, national service and public spaces that we all treasure together – like our hawker centres.

d.         MSF’s work contributes to uniting our people, across social classes, backgrounds and groups – through their generosity and kindness, to give back, creating a stronger sense of togetherness in our society.

e.         For those permanently unable to care for themselves and without other forms of support, we will help care for them. Enabling, uniting and caring – these are at the core of our mission in MSF.

11         I would like to sketch out our plans to build a stronger social compact in three areas:

a.         First, ensuring greater inclusivity and opportunities for all;

b.         Second, helping individuals bounce back from COVID-19; and

c.         Third, enabling our preschool and social service sectors to emerge stronger.

12         Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee, MOS Sun Xueling and Parl Sec Eric Chua will subsequently elaborate more on our other initiatives – and they all revolve around enabling, uniting and caring for each other.


13         Chairman, many Singaporeans, including members of this house, have shared about their wishes for Singapore to be a more inclusive society, which provides opportunities for all. No one should feel that they will be at a disadvantage because of their life circumstances. We share the same vision.

14         While we have done well in some regards, we must continue to press on.

a.         We will strive to give every child a good start in life, regardless of family background.

b.         We will make our society more inclusive for Persons with Disabilities (or PwDs), including children with developmental needs.

A Good Start For Every Child

15         During my earlier speech at MOH’s COS, I shared with members about the importance of the early years in building resilience. With this, MOH launched the Child and Maternal Health and Well-being strategy – with a focus on medically sound pathways. But the child’s gift to the world can only be realised with a rich environment in which he or she grows up in.

16         Our preschools are an important enabler for this and within our broader strategy to support families with young children. We want to give every child a good start.

a.         As we enhance the affordability, accessibility and quality of preschools for all families, we recognise that children from lower-income families may require more targeted assistance.

b.         Hence, we are scaling up KidSTART to provide this additional upstream support. Evidence from local research like GUSTO, and our own practice and experience, tells us that intervening properly as early as we can, will in a big way prevent disadvantages from snowballing later in life. In the early years, our KidSTART practitioners focus on equipping parents with relevant knowledge and skills on child development, parent-child interaction, health and nutrition. When the child is older, about age three onwards, we focus our efforts on facilitating their enrolment into our quality preschool system.

c.         These will also be progressively implemented alongside the scaling up of ComLink which Minister Desmond will share more.

17         As strong and resilient families provide our children with a nurturing environment to grow, we have put in place a continuum of family services to meet different needs. We will also continue developing the Families for Life (FFL) movement to help all families build strong relationships upstream and foster a community-based ecosystem of support.

18         MOS Xueling will elaborate further on these in her speech.

Making Our Society More Inclusive For Persons With Disabilities

19         Chairman, during the Emerging Stronger Conversations, many Singaporeans shared with us about their desire for a more inclusive society for PwDs across life stages.

a.         Mdm Rahayu Mahzam also asked if existing efforts to encourage inclusiveness have been successful, and if more can be done.

b.         We have stepped up efforts to raise public awareness of disability issues and inclusion through campaigns, such as “See The True Me”, which reported more positive attitudes towards PwDs amongst viewers.

20         At the national level, we have three workgroups looking into key aspects of our journey to foster stronger inclusivity in our society under the Third Enabling Masterplan.

a.         They look into areas like employment, independent living, and making our preschools more inclusive, and will share their recommendations in April.

b.         I would like to share more about what we are doing to make our preschools more inclusive, in response to Mr Don Wee and Ms Ng Ling Ling.

21         Over the years, MSF has worked with the sector to enhance early intervention support for children with developmental needs through our network of preschools and early intervention centres.

a.         We can do more. Starting by instilling inclusive values and mindsets from as early on in life. This will lay the foundations for a more caring and inclusive society.

b.         This will be beneficial for everyone. Studies show that both children with developmental needs and typically developing children can benefit from greater inclusion in preschools. In areas like developing positive social attitudes and relationships, without compromising their development. Let me repeat, without compromising their development.

c.         Building on existing efforts, we set up the Inclusive Preschool Workgroup to bring us closer to that vision. They have come up with some recommendations to bring us closer to that vision, which MOS Xueling will share more in her speech.


22         The second key area that we will focus on is helping individuals bounce back from the setbacks of COVID-19, in a manner that builds resilience.

23         When COVID-19 first hit, the Government mounted a decisive response.

a.         We rolled out the Jobs Support Scheme to help businesses retain their workers and launched the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package to keep our workers economically engaged.

b.         To cushion the impact on incomes, we rolled out various financial support schemes. Together, more than 440 million dollars were disbursed under the Temporary Relief Fund and COVID-19 Support Grant which provided a much-needed lifeline to many families.

24         While the situation in Singapore has stabilised, we recognise that the economic impact of COVID-19 will continue to be felt by many.

25         Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Seah Kian Peng asked for an update on the COVID-19 Recovery Grant, or CRG, and how we are creating more jobs, especially in the social service sector.

26         We launched CRG in January.

a.         It provides temporary financial relief to lower-to-middle income workers impacted by COVID-19, as they look for new jobs or upskill to prepare for career changes.

b.         One example is Mr Lee whose employment contract ended last year and receives support under CRG. Since his job loss, he attended three courses to upskill himself. He shared that CRG helped to cover some of his living expenses, including transport expenses for job interviews and training sessions. He also recently secured a part-time job as a packer to supplement his CRG. He is confident that his training will put him in good stead to transit to full-time work soon.

c.         We want to enable workers just like Mr Lee bounce back from their setbacks and do well for themselves.

d.         Over 7,500 Singaporeans have benefitted from CRG to date. This support is complemented by a national drive by the National Jobs Council to create new jobs to help those who are affected.

27         MSF too has supported this job creation initiative. We have worked towards creating around 4,500 jobs and skills opportunities by this year. Singaporeans can look forward to opportunities in the early childhood and social service sectors, as well as within the MSF family.

a.         A key thrust is also the creation of opportunities for PwDs through the existing Open Door Programme and new initiatives including the Place-and-Train, Attach-and-Train, and Skills Development programmes.

b.         One example is Ms Kelly Ong, a graduate from APSN Delta Senior school who lost her job during Circuit Breaker when her employer stopped operations. As part of SG Enable’s Job Placement Job Support Programme, a job coach helped Kelly with the job search process and prepared her for interviews. Eventually, Kelly found a job as a kitchen crew at a restaurant given her interest in the F&B industry. We will continue to support others like Kelly.

28         Together, these will put us in good position to actively build resilience in our people and enable them to bounce back from the crisis even stronger.


29         Finally, we want to enable our preschool and social service sectors to emerge stronger and become more resilient to future challenges. In response to Mr Shawn Huang and Mr Seah Kian Peng, I will share more about how we are doing so in three areas:

a.         Digital transformation;

b.         Building organisational excellence and capability; and

c.         Strengthening partnerships with the community.

Digital Transformation

30         Digitalisation is a core pillar of our transformation journey. To this end, we are developing Industry Digital Plans for both the early childhood and social services sectors.

a.         They will provide structured frameworks to help preschools and Social Service Agencies (or SSAs) optimise resources and business processes.

b.         This will improve efficiency, support professionals in their work, and raise the quality of services.

Building Organisational Excellence And Capability

31         Next, we will strengthen support for SSAs to drive organisational excellence.

a.         We rolled out the Transformation Support Scheme to co-fund SSAs to hire manpower in areas of transformation.

b.         We are setting up the Community Capability Trust, or CCT. It is a new fund of up to $480 million, comprising government funds and community donations. It will be made available next year to provide longer term support for SSAs’ capability- and capacity-building needs.

c.         In response to Ms Carrie Tan, the CCT will build on existing capability building efforts and expand them so that SSAs have continued support to transform themselves.

Strengthening Partnerships With The Community

32         Mr Seah Kian Peng and Mr Xie Yao Quan also asked what MSF is doing to encourage more giving during these challenging times and to harness the power of the community.

33         MSF will continue to renew our social compact in a manner that builds a caring society with a strong sense of mutual help and giving back.

a.         Corporates and individuals have been giving regularly to Community Chest’s SHARE.

b.         To encourage greater giving, we will be extending the SHARE As One programme to provide dollar-for-dollar matching for another two years till Financial Year 2023.

34         As DPM had earlier announced, Change for Charity is a new initiative to empower giving through everyday consumption habits.

a.         From Financial Year 2021, Community Chest will work with businesses to enable customers to donate through their transactions on payment platforms. This can be conversion of loyalty points to donations or even direct donations at point of payment.

b.         The Government will match 50 cents to every dollar donated through these platforms. We will increase this to dollar-for-dollar matching, if businesses also match customers' donations, adding up to three dollars in total.

c.         I was very glad to hear Mr Seah Kian Peng putting up his hand for NTUC Enterprise to be the first to come onboard and I hope many other companies will join us. Corporates can receive a one-off grant to support the implementation.

35         During the Emerging Stronger Conservations, many Singaporeans expressed their desire to be more involved in efforts to care for those in need.

a.         We will continue to strengthen our partnerships with the community, in the spirit of SG Together.

b.         We agree with Mr Melvin Yong that caregivers play an important role in our social safety net. During my earlier speech at MOH’s COS, I spoke about strengthening support for caregivers of seniors. At MSF, we will embark on a similar effort to support caregivers of PwDs. NCSS, SG Enable and community partners will form a Singapore Together Alliance for Action for caregivers of PwDs in the coming months. This will complement the Third Enabling Masterplan, which I spoke about earlier.

36         Ms Denise Phua also shared about a similar alliance for the Autism Enabling Masterplan. MSF will review the recommendations and is committed to working with friends from the Autism community on this.

Supporting And Celebrating Singapore Women’s Progress

37         Chairman, if there is a partnership that we must build, it is between our men and women.

a.         All of us know women close to us – our mothers, our wives, our sisters, our daughters. They deserve our respect and to be celebrated. I would like to wish everyone a Happy International Women’s Day in advance.

b.         As a whole, we have done well in many areas – enabling our women to access quality education and healthcare services, and higher labour participation. We have provided them with safe and secure neighbourhoods and streets, where women can be out late at night alone without worrying about safety. A luxury that is uncommon in many other cities and communities. Even among this house, women occupy close to 30% of the seats, which is higher than the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global average of 25.5%.

c.         The recent spate of sexual offences and violence against women are abhorrent. They somewhat reveal how some of our boys and men view women. We want to correct this. We must not allow such misplaced attitudes to fester because they have no part in our society. And we can do more to protect our women by reviewing the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences. My colleague Minister Shanmugam has made a Ministerial Statement to this end.

d.         But our partnership with our fellow Singapore women cannot stop there. We will also look into other areas that have been frequently brought up. An example is that of enabling the careers of our women – supporting their career development, even while they build their families, and increasing the representation of women on Boards through our Council for Board Diversity, in a manner that is not perceived as tokenism.

e.         The ongoing Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development aim to explore how we can do better collectively for Singapore women at home, in workplaces, in schools, and in the community on these various issues.

38         MOS Xueling will elaborate more in her speech.


39         Mr Chairman, Sir, in Malay please.

40         COVID-19 telah membawa pelbagai cabaran untuk masyarakat di seluruh dunia, lantas menjadi salah satu krisis sosial yang paling mendesak di zaman moden ini. Mereka yang telah menghadapi cabaran terus dilanda masalah berterusan, bak peribahasa “sudah jatuh, ditimpa tangga”. Perpecahan sosial semakin dirasakan.

41         Pada waktu yang sama, kita akan menghadapi landskap sosial yang amat berbeza dalam masa yang akan datang, membawa bersamanya pelbagai cabaran baru.

a.         Terdahulu, sebelum COVID-19 melanda, kami telah melipatgandakan perbelanjaan sosial dalam sepuluh tahun terakhir ini.

b.         Strategi sosioekonomi kita telah meningkatkan taraf kehidupan sebahagian besar penduduk kita. Namun, cabarannya adalah untuk memastikan mereka yang berada di bawah dapat terus maju, seiring dengan masyarakat lain.

c.         Kita harus memastikan bahawa peluang untuk semua rakyat Singapura kekal tersedia. Walau bagaimana sukar sekalipun, kita harus memastikan mobiliti sosial tetap tercapai dalam struktur sosial yang dibina. Kerana jika kita gagal, Singapura bakal menuju ke arah menjadi negara yang retak dan berpecah-belah.

d.         Kita juga tidak boleh melupakan orang-orang terdekat kita – ibu, saudara perempuan, isteri dan anak-anak perempuan kita. Kita harus memastikan bahawa wanita yang memerlukan perlindungan dilindungi, yang kurang bernasib baik diberi bantuan, dan mereka yang mempunyai aspirasi kerjaya diberi peluang untuk mencapainya. Mereka berhak dihormati dan disanjungi. Saya ingin mengucapkan kepada semua Selamat Hari Wanita Sedunia yang bakal disambut Isnin ini.

42         Kami akan terus bersama anda, membantu mereka yang kurang bernasib baik dah mendukung aspirasi-aspirasi masyarakat Singapura.

43         In my previous ministry, we did everything we can to save our planet. But leaving good children to take care of our planet is as important as leaving a good planet for our children.

44         In Singapore, we have progressively strengthened our social compact over the years and took a pragmatic approach, as our society evolved and our resources enabled us. We are now faced with an immediate problem to renew our social compact as we tackle the uncertainties of a future global economy scarred by the pandemic that can either deplete our resources or enable us even more. The long-term impact of climate change will severely tax our resources too.

45         Our pioneers set the foundations of Singapore and painted our city with hope amid a crisis. In the background of the uncertainties of separation, we saw hope in building a metropolis together. Similarly, we must ask ourselves: what kind of society do we want to be over the next fifty years? What kind of society do we want to leave our future generations?

a.         How we each decide to act in the face of adversity will shape our values and norms for generations to come.

b.         For us at MSF, the crisis presents us the opportunity to build more resilient individuals and stronger families, with a more caring and resilient society – characterised by greater inclusivity and opportunities for all.

46         The Government cannot go about this alone. We need everyone, and a whole-of-society approach and effort to bring us closer to that vision of home.

a.         I look forward to our continued partnership with fellow Singaporeans, and members of this house, to build a better future for ourselves and our children.

b.         Together, I am confident that we can emerge stronger.

Thank you.