The most important thing [was] to believe that you can build a country here, there's a future and we can make it happen... If you don't believe that, you can't start. In fact, you will fall apart and... fortunately not only did the leaders believe that but they were able to convince Singaporeans of that and as we were able to make progress, we got into a virtuous circle which brought us here 50 years later. I think that was the master solution. The policies are important, economics, free trade, armed forces - building up the SAF, diplomacy, getting our place in the world, educating our people, housing, healthcare, all those are important and you must get good people looking after all of them but first you must have that conviction that here there shall be a nation.
Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, at the SG50+ Conference, 2 July 20151
This volume traces the development of the public institutions that were established to address Singapore's most pressing needs as an independent nation. Today, these institutions have come to characterise the Singapore story in many ways.
Over the past 50 years, Singapore has faced many existential challenges. We had to eliminate corruption from public life and establish working institutions of law and order, including our Constitution, Judiciary, legal environment, and a competent Public Service. We had to overcome deteriorating urban conditions to lay the foundations for a modern city. We had to house, school, support and care for our people, and find a means to make a living despite being cut off from our economic hinterland. Left small and vulnerable, we had to defend our shores from threats both within and without, and fight for our voice to be heard in the world as a sovereign state. Throughout our struggles to survive and thrive, we had to unite our diverse people as one nation, with a shared destiny and common purpose. Although we have been tested time and again, we have pulled together and overcome these challenges through the dedication, professionalism and leadership of our pioneering public officers.
From those desperate early days. Our Public Service has grown in sophistication and confidence, becoming one of the most highly regarded, innovative and trusted in the world. Today, the Public Service continues to strive for improvements in a cosmopolitan city internationally respected as a fair and prosperous nation that is safe, secure and well-governed.
From the outset, our leaders and forebears in the Public Service believed Singapore needed to be exceptional. This spirit has endured in our institutions. We have not allowed our inherent constraints to limit us. Our institutions have demonstrated resourcefulness, ambition, pragmatism, and are guided by what is in the long term interest of the nation. As needs change, these institutions have adapted dynamically and innovated quickly, learning from the best in the word to find solutions that fit Singapore's unique context. These values, underpinned by strong, capable and honest leadership, have helped us nurture a first class Public Service, ready to serve and worthy of Singapore.
The remarkable aspect of Singapore's accomplishments is not found only in the gleaming sky-lines, safe streets, green parks and international accolades. Our true achievement has been in the core principles, systems, spirit and culture that have made the Singapore story possible.
I hope this book conveys the purpose, energy, ingenuity and spirit of the Singapore institutions that are both our legacy and our responsibility, as we progress together as one nation and strive for greater heights.
UPHOLDING THE RULE OF LAW
Singapore’s Statutes form the basis of our legal system and government framework today. Adherence to the rule of law has been an important factor in Singapore’s stability and success over the past 50 years.Read This Chapter
HOUSING A NATION,
BUILDING A CITY
Citizens balloting for flats at Jalan Balam in 1965. The Home Ownership for the People scheme has given every Singaporean a roof over their heads – as well as a stake in the country. Today, over 80% of our households live in public housing that they own.Read This Chapter
MAKING A LIVING,
A factory in Jurong, one of many set up in the 1970s to employ Singaporeans in new skilled jobs. Thanks to farsighted and broad-based economic policies that help keep our products, services and skills relevant to changing global markets, Singapore’s per capita GDP is now among the highest in the world.Read This Chapter
INVESTING IN OUR PEOPLE
Singapore’s education system has been highly successful in preparing our people for successful lives in the workforce. Building on this foundation, our schools today seek to nurture a broader and more diverse range of abilities, and to inculcate a spirit of lifelong learning.Read This Chapter
National Servicemen marching proudly at their Passing-out Parade in Taman Jurong Camp, 1968. Over the past five decades, we have steadily strengthened our ability to defend our homeland and our loved ones, ensuring peace and security for Singapore in an unpredictable world.Read This Chapter
PLACE IN THE WORLD
The Singapore flag flies at Madras Airport during Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s visit to India in September 1970. Singapore has built a reputation as a responsible international citizen, with strong ties to friendly nations around the world and a credible voice on the world stage. The Singaporean passport is widely recognised, allowing our citizens unfettered access to many countries.Read This Chapter
KEEPING THE NATION HEALTHY
Temperature screening at Changi Airport during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. As one, our nation pulled together to combat the deadly epidemic – one of the worst crises to confront Singapore in recent years. Today, Singapore is stronger, more prepared, and more resilient than ever.Read This Chapter
AND ENSURING NO ONE
IS LEFT BEHIND
Investments in affordable, quality healthcare and the dedication of our healthcare professionals have led to significant improvements in the lives of our people over the past five decades.Read This Chapter
BECOMING ONE PEOPLE
Young people celebrating Racial Harmony Day in present-day Singapore. Singapore’s rich, multicultural heritage is a source of strength and inspiration. Regardless of race, language or religion, we stand together as one nation.Read This Chapter
Although Singapore’s brief history has been marked by crisis and vulnerability, we have shown ourselves to be vigilant, prepared and determined to stand together as a nation.Read This Chapter
BUILDING A PUBLIC SERVICE
READY FOR THE FUTURE
In a world of constant change, our Public Service has sought to become ever more competent, responsive and forward-looking – always ready to serve Singapore.Read This Chapter
Special thanks to the respective public agencies for their support of this book project. We appreciate the time our colleagues took to arrange for interviews, their thoughtful suggestions during review and their keen eye during editing.
This project was supported by the National Archives of Singapore.
The National Archives of Singapore (NAS) is the official custodian of the corporate memory of the government as well as much of the social memory of the nation and its people. The archives that the NAS acquires, organises, preserves and presents allow current and future generations of Singaporeans to understand our different cultures, explore our common heritage and appreciate who we are and how we became a nation. These archives include government records, private papers, maps, photographs, posters, oral history interviews and audiovisual materials. Discover more of what NAS has the privilege to care for at Archives Online: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/.
Last but not least, the Civil Service College would like to thank our interviewees, who gave their time graciously and inspired us with their stories and rich experiences. We hope you enjoyed the interview as much as our writers enjoyed the conversations and stories.
Our writers from the Civil Service College: Jenny Chan, Chen Jia’en, Kharina Zainal, Patricia Lam, Eugene Liow, James Low, Vernie Oliveiro, Soh Tze Min, Toh Boon Kwan, Cheryl Wu and Wu Wei Neng.
Mark Chen, our writer from the Housing and Development Board, and Jonathan Ng, previously from the Strategic Policy Office.
Public Service Division: Ms Toh Su Fen, Ms Chong Chee Yin, Ms Esther Kong and Mr Tan Mike Tze
Civil Service College: Mr Luke Goh, Mr Alvin Pang, Ms Sheila Ng, Ms Liza Lee and Ms Yee Lai Fong
The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission.
Central Provident Fund Board
William Cho, used under a CC BY-NC-SA2.0 license.
Choo Yut Shing, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
Civil Service College
Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
Early Childhood Development Agency
Energy Research Institute @NTU
Health Promotion Board
Housing and Development Board
Immigration and Checkpoints Authority
Institute for Adult Learning
Institute of Technical Education
Jason Goh, used under a CC0 1.0 license.
Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
Land Transport Authority
Lifelong Learning Institute
Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Social and Family Development
National Archives of Singapore
National Council of Social Service
National Institute of Education
National Day Parade 2015 Organising Committee
National Parks Board
National Population and Talent Division
National University Hospital
The New Paper © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission.
Terence Ong, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Public Service Commission
Public Service Division