Newly sworn-in President Halimah Yacob pledges to uphold multi-racialism, meritocracy, stewardship

Newly sworn-in President Halimah Yacob pledges to uphold multi-racialism, meritocracy, stewardship
Newly sworn-in President Halimah Yacob pledged to uphold multi-racialism, meritocracy, stewardship in her first speech at the Istana on Thursday (Sept 14). Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY
Published: 6:05 PM, September 14, 2017
Updated: 7:06 PM, September 14, 2017

SINGAPORE – Amid an uncertain and troubled world, Singapore needs to continue to uphold the principles of multi-racialism, meritocracy and stewardship as it deals with challenges ranging from terrorism threats as well as an ageing population and ensuring jobs for workers, said Madam Halimah Yacob.

In her first speech as the Republic’s eighth President following in Thursday’s (Sept 14) swearing-in ceremony at the Istana, Mdm Halimah spoke about the importance of these three shared values, and her role in upholding them.

Paying tribute to the work by the country’s founding fathers, together with its first President Yusof Ishak, to establish the foundations of Singapore’s multi-racialism during its formative years by entrenching it in key national policies like housing, education and security, while recognising the diversity between ethnic groups, she said she is proud to belong to a country “that does not just say it is diverse, but lives out this diversity every single day”.

But she also stressed that despite the progress made, building a multi-racial society is an endeavor that is a “constant work in progress”, with every generation facing new challenges, needing “champions who care deeply about multi-racialism and fight to uphold and realise this ideal”.

While she lauded the changes to the Constitution to ensure multi-racial representation in the country’s highest office, she also acknowledged public unhappiness over the reserved election, which saw her emerging as the sole eligible candidate.

“I know that some Singaporeans would prefer to achieve this without needing reserved elections. I respect their views,” she said. “Like them, I look forward to the day when we will no longer need to rely on the provision to have reserved elections, and Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as Presidents.”

In the meantime, she reassured all citizens that as President, she would serve “every one of you, regardless of race, language or religion”.

Citing herself as a living example of the product of Singapore’s meritocratic system despite her underprivileged background, she said she will continue to use the President’s Challenge – an initiative started by the late President SR Nathan – to give underprivileged families a helping hand, ensuring that their children receive a good start and helping parents upgrade their skills for better job security.

Singaporeans should have the opportunity to get a good education and a good start in life “regardless of who your parents are or where you come from”, said Mdm Halimah.

On the core value of stewardship, she said Singapore has benefitted from the efforts of earlier generations and it is the responsibility of the current generation to “steward this island-nation well” so the future generations inherit “a better country, a more robust system and a stronger commitment to our values”.

This involves working together to address future challenges such as managing an ageing population and growing healthcare needs, preparing workers and businesses for new jobs and opportunities as well as combating threats posed by terrorism and Islamophobia, she said. Investing in future infrastructure and education, among others, are also important for the next generation.

As all these efforts will be costly amid tight budgets, with the President holding the second key to the country’s reserves, and to key appointments in the public service, Mdm Halimah said she would exercise her custodial powers by using her “independent judgement”, consulting the Council of Presidential Advisors as well as working with the Prime Minister and his Government.

The reserves “must not be used, except for very good reason”, she said, adding that she will also ensure new appointments to critical posts “measure up to our high standards of integrity and ability” to ensure that the public service maintain his high quality and standing to serve Singapore well.

Concluding her speech with a call to unity, she said her duty as President “is to unite the people, to overcome the many challenges ahead of us, together”, with a collective goal to leave behind a “better Singapore” for future generations.