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20 July 2022 Speeches

Keynote Address by Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, Mr Chan Chun Sing at the Public Service Commission Scholarships Award Ceremony


The Public Service – Shaping Singapore’s Future in Challenging Times

Chairman and Members of our hardworking PSC,
Members of our Education Fraternity,
Family, Friends, and Fans of our award recipients. 
A very good afternoon to you all.


1 As Chairman has mentioned, the scholarship that you are about to be awarded is not a reward for your achievements. Instead, it is a recognition of your potential to contribute, and a reflection of your commitment to serve Singapore and Singaporeans.

2 With this scholarship, comes responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities.

3 Recently, I read a book compiled by Peh Shing Huei called “The Last Fools”.  It gave a glimpse of the challenges that Singapore had to overcome in our early years. How the “8 Immortals”, or the 8 senior civil servants during the early years of nation-building who were usually not in the limelight but were pivotal to Singapore’s success, worked with the political leadership to translate ideas into reality and to shape the foundations of modern Singapore. Together, they overcame the odds to bring Singapore from 3rd World to 1st.

4 But the world which you will be confronting, the Singapore that you will be shaping, and the Singaporeans whom you will be serving will be fundamentally different from what the founding generation and the 8 Immortals had to face.  

5 There will be different challenges and different opportunities.

Challenges and Opportunities 

6 The geopolitical order is undergoing tremendous stress. We should not assume that the next 50 years will be the same as the last. We should also not assume that any one global power will be able or willing to underwrite the international security order. Neither should we assume that the international rule of law will not fall to the law of the jungle, where might is right. How Singapore navigates this more uncertain world to create relevance for ourselves will be one of the key orders of business going forward.

7 The global trading order is also being reshaped by geopolitical forces, new supply chains layout and technological disruptions. How we earn our living by entrenching our value in the new global economic order and new production layout will be another key challenge to overcome and another opportunity to be seized. It is not just about efficiency but resilience, especially in times of crisis and disruptions. How do we seize the opportunities in a world where connectivity allows us to transcend the tyranny of our geography and size? How do we leverage the shift towards intangibles like intellectual property and creativity to overturn our resource constraints? How do we distinguish ourselves with our brand of trust, rule of law, and policy consistency against competitors with more tangible physical resources and geographical heft?

8 Our domestic population while ageing, is also becoming more diverse, more able, and with greater aspirations. We are also much more susceptible to external influences and the contest of ideas as an open society in a hyper-connected world. How do we engender unity amidst diversity? How do we leverage our diversity of talents to create global talent networks to strengthen our competitive advantage? How do we continually reinvent our system of governance and build that deep sense of trust necessary to distinguish ourselves in peace and crises?

9 Climate change can soon become an existential crisis for island city-states like ours, threatening not just our coastal defences against the rising sea levels, but also reshaping the global economic layout and supply chains. How do we overcome our energy and carbon challenges, and turn them into opportunities, just as our forefathers turned water from a constraint into an opportunity? To this end, we will be starting a new PSC Scholarship (Sustainability) to build our capabilities in this and related areas.

10 In the next 50 years, as we build and rebuild Singapore, how do we optimise our 1000+ sqkm of land and sea space, above and below ground, above and below sea even, to create even more and better live, work and play options for future generations?

What is Required

11 These and many more exacting challenges and exciting opportunities are what awaits you when you return from your studies to take Singapore forward and create a better life for generations of Singaporeans to come.

12 You might be daunted and be wondering, how can you ever overcome them all?

13 The stories of the “8 Immortals” in the book “The Last Fools” provide some inspiration – gumption, tenacity, and mission.

14 Gumption.  The 8 Immortals never believed that anything could not be done.  The only thing that could not be done was what they did not think about; or did not dare to think about. No one gave them a model for HDB, EDB, SAF, CPF, GIC and many more. They were deeply connected with the ground and knew the fears, concerns and aspirations of our people. They were clear-eyed about the challenges and had the gumption to dream, to dream big and to dream far.  They were never constrained by their imagination. So can all of you. So must all of you.

15 Tenacity.  They never always succeeded.  They tried, they stumbled, they picked themselves up and tried again. They implemented. They adjusted as circumstances evolved. They never fell in love with their original plan. They only fell in love with the challenges and never gave up in trying to come up with ever better ways to solve them. You too, can. And you too, must.

16 Finally, a sense of mission.  They knew there was no lifeboat waiting to save us. We would either survive by our wits and hard work; or be consigned to the dustbins of history. Yet, they knew that we could defy the odds of history to not only survive but to thrive. To show the world, that a well-led, well-run, united city-state, without a conventional hinterland, can survive and thrive by creating man-made competitive advantages and turning the equation around by having the world as our hinterland for markets, resources, talent and networks. Ultimately, they never forgot that we must never love ourselves more than we love our country. They put our country first, always. Sometimes even at great danger and price to their own security, and personal comfort. They dedicated their lives to our country and gave us their best. It is now our turn, and your turn, to do so for our future generations.

17 Upon the current high point, we will step forward together to scale the next higher peak. You will be part of the next chapter of our Singapore Story. You will never be alone because we will do it together. May this be an even more exciting and fulfilling chapter for all Singaporeans.

18 Thank you for answering the call to serve.

19 We look forward to your contributions and leadership. Thank you.