Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Education, MP for Jurong GRC, Adviser to Taman Jurong GROs and MAS Deputy Chairman at the Taman Jurong Community Club Official Opening and Singapore 40th National Day Celebration on 30 July 2005
Dr Wang Kai Yuen, MP for Bukit Timah Constituency,
Dr Ong Chit Chung, MP for Jurong GRC,
Dr Ho Kah Leong, Former MP,
Donors and Supporters,
A warm welcome to everyone to Taman Jurong's celebrations of Singapore 40th National Day and the Official Opening of Taman Jurong Community Club (CC).
Rejevunation of Taman Jurong
2 Our new CC has been a labour of love. It is the result of a few years of hard work, and a passion to serve our residents, on the part of our grassroots leaders. We have built a Community Club that will be a place for residents young and old to come together to participate in activities that enrich their lives, to mix and mingle and develop community spirit. My grassroots leaders say it is like a 21st century kampong - although some people say it looks more like a kelong - a 21st century kampong with the latest facilities, and educational programmes and courses, arts and sports, and other activities for residents of all races and backgrounds to take part in and to enjoy the kampong spirit.
3 There are so many people to thank, who have contributed their time and energy to make this possible. (To name persons who have contributed) We also are deeply grateful to all our donors, for helping to fund both our new CC and our welfare and education programmes in Taman Jurong. And finally, we thank the People's Association and various government agencies, and the consultants and contractors, all of whom have been our close partners in the redevelopment of the CC.
4 Taman Jurong is being rejuvenated. We have the new CC, at the heart of Taman Jurong. Just beside us, connected to the CC, we have the new Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre, with its multi-storey carpark, and within walking distance for many residents.
5 There is more to come. By early next year, we will see:
- Jurong Lake Park - a brand new park along Jurong Lake with landscaped greenery, a waterfront promenade and open spaces for leisure and recreation for residents of Jurong as well as others to enjoy.
- Taman Jurong Greens - a 1.5 hectare garden at the borders of Corporation Rd, Corporation Drive and Yung AN Rd. It will have fitness corners, a jogging track, a multipurpose court and greenery.
- I am happy to announce also that we plan to develop a sports hub on the vacant state land at Yung Ann road, beside the new park at Taman Jurong Greens and next to Assyakirin Mosque. It will provide much needed sports facilities for our youth. Working with the Singapore Sports Council, we will develop facilities for sports such as football, hockey and extreme sports such as skateboarding and BMX.
We all look forward to enjoying these new recreational facilities, by the first half of next year.
Arts and Culture
6 We are also making Taman Jurong a centre for arts and culture. In March this year as part of our Jurong Chingay Parade, we had an event on the street in front of us that many residents remember - an assembly of 40 dancing dragons from various parts of Singapore, to commemorate our nation's 40th year. Two days ago we received good news. The event has been officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records, as the largest dance of dragons to date. We are also waiting for confirmation from the Guinness Book of the record set in August last year for the largest gathering of harmonica artists, playing together.
7 Last week we had a high-energy event in our CC, 'Paint Singapore'. Over a thousand children from our schools did their own paintings on a 'SINGA' sculpture. The place was full of creative energy. The students' work is displayed behind us. And on our right this evening, we have a captivating piece of graffiti art done by a talented group of youth.
8 These arts and cultural activities will go on. Some of the future events our grassroots are planning are musical concerts, film showings for our residents, and art exhibitions. Arts and culture are not just about the Esplanade and museums. Every constituency can be alive with arts and culture.
9 But one of our key priorities in Taman Jurong will always be to help the needy and less fortunate - those who have lost their jobs and cannot find a new job immediately, those who have difficulties because of disabilities, and the elderly poor. We care for them. I am proud that my grassroots leaders have worked hard to raise funds to allow us to continue helping poor families in Taman Jurong. This year, our CCC is helping over 300 students in Taman Jurong with monthly bursaries - double the number of students we helped last year. This is over and above the Edusave bursaries, Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) for preschool students and other schemes that the government and Community Development Councils (CDCs) provide. And numerous other families have been helped through our Welfare Fund in Taman Jurong. We will keep this up. We will make sure that everybody has the chance to improve themselves, and knows that they are part of a caring family in Taman Jurong.
10 As we look forward to National Day on Aug 9th, we celebrate the tremendous progress that Singapore has made in 40 years. Life has improved greatly for all Singaporeans - better jobs, housing that is the best in Asia, and excellent schools, Institute of Technical Education (ITE) colleges, polytechnics and universities.
11 But we are not just looking at the past, but the future. We are looking forward to a new era of prosperity for Singapore. It will be full of opportunities, in Singapore and in Asia. Through education, we are preparing young Singaporeans to make the most of these opportunities.
12 But there will also be challenges. China and India are emerging quickly as competitors, in a whole range of industries. Their people earn less, but can do the same jobs as us, often as well as we do. So we will see continued pressure coming from this new competition - jobs and wages, especially for our lower-skilled Singapore workers, will be under pressure. This problem will not go away soon. It will be with us for several years to come, just like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and all the developed countries face this problem.
13 The Government is developing a concerted strategy to help lower-income Singaporeans, not just to help them get through a year or two, but to help them improve their lives and share in Singapore's prosperity over the long term. Last month, PM Lee Hsien Loong set up a Ministerial Committee on Low Wage Workers to work out ways to help this group of Singaporeans. We want to help them upgrade their skills, and work with industry to design jobs that pay them better. And make sure their children stay in school and are encouraged to do as well as they can, so that their families do not get into a poverty trap, with each generation facing the same problems that their parents had. Last month, PM also launched the ComCare Fund to help those who face sudden loss of income, as well as needy children, the elderly and disabled who need long-term help.
14 Another priority that I would like to highlight is the need to manage our household finances wisely. This is a responsibility for all of us, whether low-income or middle-income. We have to plan our spending carefully, save enough for rainy days such when you suddenly lose your job or someone in the family falls ill. And we must save for our needs when we retire, over and above what we have in our CPF.
Findings of the National Financial Literacy Survey
15 The Government set up a 'MoneySENSE' programme two years ago to strengthen financial education amongst Singaporeans. We recently conducted a national survey to find out how Singaporeans were managing their finances, and the areas where more financial education is most needed. The survey findings are basically encouraging, but also throw up some concerns. On the positive side, 86% of Singaporeans save, and 61% monitor their expenses. Before applying for a loan, 84% consider whether they can afford the monthly instalments.
16 However, many Singaporeans do not appear to be well-prepared for emergencies. Less than one third (32%) have cash savings of three times or more of their monthly salary. It is understandable that families on very low incomes will have difficulty putting aside savings each month. But we have to step up our financial education to help more Singaporeans realize the importance of saving for a rainy day. Putting aside some savings every month, however small, has to be habit and discipline. Everyone can do this. I have met several residents in Taman Jurong who not only do everything to keep a job, even if the pay is low, and who take pains to put aside some money for the future.
17 The survey also showed that few Singaporeans are actively planning for their retirement needs. Only 24% have actually calculated how much they would need at retirement and only 28% know how much CPF funds they would have when they turn 55. This is of real concern, because many Singaporeans in fact do not have enough in their CPF to meet even their basic retirement needs. In 2004, only about 40% of active CPF members were able to meet the Minimum Sum. We have to be a lot more aware of our needs as we get older, and build up savings beyond what we have in the CPF.
18 Many Singaporeans also do not understand the key features of common financial products. For instance, 70% do not know that they will not get back any money when a term life insurance policy ends. 58% think that all bonuses in life insurance policies are guaranteed, while 44% are not aware that when they invest in unit trusts, the returns they get will be affected by fees and charges. We need to address these issues. MAS will continue to work with the industry associations to raise standards of professionalism in the financial advisory industry. We will also increase our investor education efforts and raise awareness among consumers of their rights and responsibilities when dealing with financial advisers.
Further Financial Education Initiatives
19 The survey findings confirm that there are varying levels of financial literacy among different segments of the population. Going forward, MoneySENSE will target its initiatives to address the specific needs of groups such as low-income families and housewives.
20 MoneySENSE is currently working with the Community Development Councils (CDCs) and other grassroots organizations to reach out to low-income families. A few CDCs have launched basic money management workshops for families on financial assistance schemes. South West CDC recently launched a programme called 'Budgetsense'. It helps these families use basic savings and budgeting skills to manage their money better. Trainers will meet each family under the programme a few times, to review the progress and help them set new targets for spending and saving.
21 A second group we will focus on is housewives. They often control the household budget. But the survey showed that many need help to improve the way they budget and save for future needs. MoneySENSE will work with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS Women's Workgroup on Re-skilling: IT and Financial Literacy) and other groups to tailor programmes suitable for housewives.
22 Finally, we will focus on students, so that they can manage their finances and invest wisely when they become young adults. MoneySENSE will continue to work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to infuse financial literacy concepts into the school curriculum, such as in Social Studies and Civics and Moral Education (CME). We are also working with private educational specialists to develop creative and fun activities that improve financial literacy, that can be used in schools' enrichment programmes.
23 Aside from these targeted initiatives, MoneySENSE will continue to deliver broad-based initiatives to reach the general public. More talks will be planned in constituencies. Taman Jurong CC for example will be organizing a talk on basic financial planning in September.
24 Besides talks, more indepth workshops aimed at families are also being planned. MoneySENSE is working with the Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS) and the Singapore College of Insurance (SCI) to launch a new series of half-day "Financial Planning for Families" workshops next month.
25 MoneySENSE will be stepping up its media programmes to reach out to more Singaporeans. The regular MoneySENSE columns in your Sunday newspapers will be revamped, with the aim of explaining to consumers how to read and understand common financial documents, such as their CPF statement and benefit illustrations for insurance policies, through the use of graphics and illustrations. MoneySENSE will also be publishing quarterly newsletters to disseminate money management tips to a wider audience.
26 At the end of the day, every household and citizen has to take responsibility for managing their finances. We have to make the effort to learn more about financial matters, be careful in our spending, and always try to leave something for the future.
27 Let me conclude by thanking everyone for coming tonight. We are creating a strong, caring and vibrant community amongst residents of all races and religions in Taman Jurong. I give full credit to my grassroots leaders for the tremendous effort that they are putting into this. They are a great team, with a heart for serving residents. I also thank all our residents in Taman Jurong for playing an active part in keeping the community safe, secure and happy.
28 This is a party to celebrate our CC official opening and our nation's 40th birthday, so please relax for the rest of the evening and soak in the festive atmosphere.