Address by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, at the 2018 PSC Scholarships Award Ceremony

18 July 2018



Chairman and Members of Public Service Commission. 

Recipients, Families, Teachers, Principals, Friends and Colleagues. 

Let me first start today’s sharing by thanking Mr Eddie Teo, who has served Singapore for almost five decades.

When I was a young officer, Mr Eddie Teo was one of my superiors, a mentor, and he had kindly shared his time and experience with us, the younger generation. So, today, as I stand before you, a part of me has been guided and moulded by people like Mr Eddie Teo, who has contributed their time, talent and treasures to the course of Singapore. So thank you very much.

Mr Eddie Teo was one of the first few batches of scholarship holders from Singapore. Today, I must say that I do feel a bit old because amongst the recipients today, are children from my own batch, who are here with us. But before I carry on, I must also welcome Mr Lee Tzu Yang for taking over as the Chairman of PSC and I hope that all of you would give him the support that you have given to Mr Eddie Teo as well. So, thank you Tzu Yang for joining us.

For all the recipients present here today, let me start off by sharing with everyone that we are here, not only because of our hard work or our intelligence. We are here because of the support given to us by our families and the opportunities given to us by society. 

I always remember that when I took the scholarship many years back and went to Cambridge University, there were many more people in my cohort from other countries who are equally, if not more talented than myself and our fellow Singaporeans. But today, they do not necessarily excel or have the same opportunities as us. That is a constant reminder to all of us here, that we are here not just because of our intelligence and hard work but because of the support and love from our families and also the opportunities given to us by our society, which is why, later, when we take the pledge, we take the pledge in front of our family members and our community partners. 

Many of you, today, will start on a new journey. This will be a milestone in your life, and you will be wondering how far you will go and what you will achieve. Perhaps at this point in time, it’s useful for us to think about our own definition of success in time to come. In 50 years’ time, will you be in a position like Mr Eddie Teo, or will you be serving in other capacities in different stations in life? Regardless of what our station in life might be, it is important to remind ourselves, what should that definition of success be. And here, perhaps, I would just offer two perspectives on what our definition of success can be for all the scholarship recipients today. 

One, we are here not because of ourselves. We are here because of the kind of values and system that our society has. This is a country where we pride ourselves that we will build a nation regardless of race, language, and religion. And I dare say that it is also a country where we pride ourselves that one will be able to succeed regardless of one’s ancestry and one’s personal connection. Our promise to each and every generation of Singaporeans is this, that so long as you are capable and committed, our country will provide you with the best opportunities possible for you to fulfil your potential. That in fulfilling your potential, your definition of success is not just of how well you do for yourself or for your family. 

It is also about how able we are to uphold the values and system that have brought us thus far. If all of us believe that we are here because of the system that has given us opportunities, then let us challenge ourselves that we will build an even better system for the next generation.  For generations after generations, every Singaporean can be proud that they can excel regardless of race, language, religion, ancestry or connection. This is the kind of system that will inspire generations of Singaporeans to continue to serve, not just for themselves but for the greater good. 

It is never easy for Singapore to survive and to thrive. We have done that for the last 53 years, despite the odds, despite the challenges. We were able to do that because we have been able to recruit and develop generations of leaders, whose hearts are at the correct place, who put the country before themselves.  They were committed to turn every constraint, every challenge into an opportunity for Singapore. If we do not have enough water, we will make sure that we build sufficient capacity for us never to be held ransom. If we are a small country without resources and sufficient market, we are determined to build the links to connect ourselves to the rest of the world, so that we will transcend the limitations of our size and geography. And there will be many, many more challenges that Singapore will confront in the years to come. 

But what will set us apart is not just how intelligent we are but how able we are to continue to recruit and attract the best to come forth and serve the nation over and beyond defining success for ourselves. 

And in that, yet another perspective beyond building the system is upholding the values. Upholding the values whereby meritocracy is at the core of what we believe in. 

But I don’t mean meritocracy in a narrow definition or meritocracy in a uni-dimensional way. We practise continuous meritocracy. We practise meritocracy with multiple peaks. And this becomes even more important as Singapore goes forth into the next 50 years, where our challenges are much more complex. This is the reason why PSC spares no effort to continuously build diverse leadership teams for Singapore going forward.

Diversity comes with resilience. If we are uni-dimensional in our search for leadership potential, then we will become fragile in our leadership capacity. This is the reason why we send students to many different countries to undertake many different subjects of studies, and we try to look for people with diverse experience, diverse backgrounds because this diversity provides the resilience that our country needs. 

We need to be like the Swiss-knife, so that regardless of the challenges going forward, we will have the diverse skillsets within Team Singapore for us to overcome the challenges together.

So to me, I hope, when we look back one day at this very moment, that we remind ourselves our definition of success for all scholarship holders cannot just be how well we do for ourselves, but how well we are able to build a better system for future generations of Singapore, and how well we uphold the values that define us as Singaporeans.

As you move forth to do your various studies in various countries, I hope you will also remember these 4 ’A’s.

First, be alert; alert to the challenges facing our country, facing the world. Never, never, confine ourselves just to the subject of study. When I was in Cambridge, my subject of study was Economics, but I took the time to understand Game Theory, Sociology, Psychology, Science and so forth. Because it is the best time for us to keep alert to what is happening around us.

Next, always analyse why something is happening or not happening. Do not accept what people say on face value. Ask ourselves, “why is this happening” or “why is something not happening”. 

Third, try to apply it to Singapore; and if not, find the alternative. It is easy for us to go to a new country, look at the model, either to say “yes, this is very good, I should copy wholesale”; or “No, this is not good enough and I will reject it.” Both are not particularly useful. Even if something works in another country, we need to ask ourselves “will it work in our context”. Even if something does not work in another country, we have to ask ourselves “why is it not working in that country”. 

Last but not least, I hope all scholarship holders will remember to anticipate. It is very difficult for us to foretell the future moving forward and the ability to anticipate and adapt will determine whether Singapore will continue to do well and excel.

Singapore is at the forefront in many areas of our governance in the way we develop our systems. We can never be complacent, because if we do not anticipate the challenges that we will face, we will not adapt and we will not be agile, then history will pass us by.  Our job is to continue to defy the odds of history as Team Singapore - people with diversity of talents and the commitment to serve, constantly asking ourselves how we can not only survive, but thrive for another 50 years or more in the history of this land that we stand on now. 

We have always been part of a larger entity because it has always been difficult for small states to survive without access to a larger hinterland for resources and markets. But we have transcended our geography and size because we remain connected to the rest of the world. We make it a point that we will never, never be constrained by geography or size. Instead, we turn geography and size into opportunities by connecting to the rest of the world as our hinterland, we have greater access, greater diversity of avenues to get resources and markets. That is why and how Singapore has thrived, and there will be many, many more of such challenges that we will need to face.

All I ask for is that you never be complacent that we have arrived. We must constantly be alert to the challenges facing our country; analyse what is happening around us; apply our abilities and anticipate the future.

If we can do all this collectively as a team, I am confident that the next generation of Singaporeans will have even better opportunities than this generation. And perhaps, that is the reason why we are all gathered here today.

Today, I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me. They have made the path for my generation. It is the duty of my generation to similarly lend our shoulders to your generation to stand taller and see further. I hope that in time to come, all of you will also lend your shoulders to the next generation to stand taller and see further.

If we can do this for generations after generations, I am sure that the Singapore Public Service will distinguish itself for our country to continue to defy the odds of history, to not only survive, but to transcend. This is our collective responsibility as Public Servants for our nation.

I wish you all the very best for your future endeavours and I look forward to your contributions to take our country to the next higher peak.

Thank you very much.