The Passing of Othman Wok


April 17, 2017

The Passing of Othman Wok: A Patriot whose courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore

Image result for Othman Wok

Note: It was my good  fortune to have worked with Mr. (Pak) Othman Wok when we together with Mr. Neville Watson were fellow directors of Sime Sembawang Limited, which was engaged in the fabrication of oil rigs and platforms for oil and gas sector. As a director, Pak Othman brought his vast experience  to bear on deliberations of our Board. He was friendly and helpful to me, offering personal advice about building commercial networks based on trust and integrity. I shall miss him and  offer Al-Fatihah in his memory. To Ibu Wok and family, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt and sincere condolences.

I was also grateful that I had the chance to work with Mr. Eddie Barker, Professor Tan Sri Maurice Baker, Mr. Michael Wong Pakshong and Pak Ridzwan Dzafir on the Board of Sime Darby Singapore Limited (1988-1991). They were outstanding individuals who served Singapore  with distinction.  They all touched my life and made a huge difference to my career with Sime Darby.–Din Merican

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/othman-wok-a-man-whose-courage-and-convictions-made-a-difference/3105692.html

Mr Othman Wok, a former Cabinet minister and one of Singapore’s first generation of leaders, died on Monday (Apr 17) at the age of 92.

A journalist, union leader, politician and Ambassador, Mr Othman’s courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore at a critical time in its history, said the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Born in 1924, Mr Othman was the son of a Malay school principal. Despite objections from his grandfather, his progressive father sent the young Othman to Radin Mas School and Raffles Institution – both English-medium schools.

Mr Othman joined the Utusan Melayu, a Malay-language newspaper as a clerk, but was soon talent-spotted and offered a job as a cub reporter by its editor and managing director Mr Yusof Ishak, the man who was to become Singapore’s first President.

Mr Othman Wok in his youth.

While Mr. Othman was working for Utusan Melayu, he became involved in union activities, and it was as Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees Union that he first met Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the union’s legal advisor.

Persuaded to enter politics, he joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) a few days after it was formed in 1954. Mr Othman won his first electoral battle in 1963, but was to learn that achieving racial harmony was easier said than done.

Following Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, racial tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, stoked by fiery speeches by extremist Malay leaders from Kuala Lumpur, came to a head during the 1964 procession to celebrate the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.

“UMNO had a meeting on July 19 at Pasir Panjang, (a) talk about racialism and all that by Jaafar Albar. He made a very strong communal speech at that gathering which included UMNO members from across the Causeway that they ferried down to Singapore by buses and lorries,” recalled Mr Othman. “And these people, after that meeting on the 19th, didn’t go home … they were used to cause trouble.”

Mr Othman, who led the contingent of Malay MPs and PAP supporters at the procession, recalled how trouble broke out: “When my contingent arrived at Kallang Bridge, there was this old Chinese man on a bicycle, on the left side. Some Malay youths came from the front, caught hold of him, beat him up with sticks and threw his bicycle into the drain. He was severely injured.”

For the rest of Mr Othman’s life, the horrific images would return whenever he shared his experiences.

“People were being beaten up, houses were being burnt, vehicles being burnt – all pictured in my mind at that time. I was involved in it, I saw it with my own eyes,” he said. “It is just like a film being played again and again to me. I was very sad. This is racial riot between the communities, the Chinese and the Malays. And before that they were very friendly.”

In the aftermath of the riots, it was clear that concerted and strenuous efforts were needed to rebuild relationships between the races, as racial polarisation was evident, even at relief centres.

“The Chinese didn’t go to where the Malays went – the police station; they went to other police stations, so became segregated again,” said Mr Othman. “And my ministry had to prepare food for these refugees. Every day we cooked, in our central kitchen, and I went around in our lorries together with my staff, and we found that for example, I went to Paya Lebar Police Station, they were all Malays there, no Chinese. Then I went to another police station, Serangoon at that time, they were all Chinese there, no Malays.

“So we decided after the riots that this should not go on – polarisation between the two communities. We had to let them live together. So at that time, we (were) building flats so we moved them, mixed (them) together. It was not an easy thing to do but eventually they began to learn how to live as good neighbours.”

At the height of the 1964 tensions, Mr Othman himself became the principal target of verbal abuse among some segments of the Malay-Muslim community.

Image result for Othman Wok and Lee Kuan Yew

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said of Mr Othman: “I remember your staunch loyalty during those troubled days when you were in Malaysia and the tensions were most severe, immediately before and following the bloody riots in July 1964.

“At that time, the greatest pressures were mounted by UMNO Malay extremists who denounced you and Malay PAP leaders – especially you – as infidels, “kafirs” and traitors, “khianat”, not to Singapore but to the Malay race.

“I heard it, the crowds said it, bunches of them. They were designed to intimidate him and the other Malay leaders in PAP. Because of the courage and the leadership you showed, not one PAP Malay leader wavered and that made a difference to Singapore.”

On the incident, Mr Othman simply said: “I was surprised, because not only I, but my Malay colleagues in the PAP stood together and faced the onslaught together with the Prime Minister, because we were fighting for what we believed in.

“So that accolade to me, I thought, was also for my colleagues because they faced the same danger, they faced the same accusation and criticism from the Malay community at that time.”

Singapore’s Mr. Cool

Mr Othman’s loyalty to Singapore was tested again in 1965, when they were faced with the critical decision to support or oppose separation from Malaysia.

“PM called me. He said: ‘Othman, come with me to the next room.’ And he said to me: ‘Would you sign this separation agreement?’ I said I would. I told him: ‘PM, the only worry I have is the Chinese in Singapore – what I meant was the communists in Singapore.’ ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s my problem, I will handle it. You have nothing to worry.’ That was what he said to me.

“But my feeling when it was announced was, internally, you know, relief. After those two years of bickering, the pressure on me, my colleagues, the Malays in the PAP, on the government, I say it was a relief. No more pressure against us.”

And the next year, when an independent Singapore held its first National Day Parade, Mr Othman made sure he was there – a proud member of the People’s Defence Force.

Mr Othman was to serve for 17 years, 14 of them as Minister for Social Affairs.Promoting racial harmony was a key responsibility, as was the promotion of sports among the masses and encouraging athletes to represent Singapore.

Said SS Dhillon, former Secretary-General of the Singapore Olympic Council: “Mr Othman Wok – I always to refer to him as Mr Cool. He has a very cool personality, he is very approachable, very kind, very loving and he used to go around sportsmen and coax them to participate. Train harder and he encouraged them in that way.”

It was also Mr Othman who got the National Stadium built. “When you think back to those times, those were very economically hard times, and yet he could push this through Parliament and get it passed,” said former Olympian sprinter C Kunalan. “So I think more importantly it was not how he fired us up but how he fired up the Cabinet to get the approval for all the plans that he had.”

“Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”–Othman Wok

As Minister overseeing the Malay-Muslim community, Mr Othman’s legacy includes the setting up of the Mosque Building Fund as well as the Islamic Religious Council or MUIS, which sees to the welfare of Muslims in Singapore.

“Through this fund, we managed to build a first mosque at Toa Payoh,” said Mr Othman. “A modern, better, multi-purpose mosque, not like the old ones, only for prayer; (there were) other activities. And people came to support and it was not difficult to get people to contribute. We had the contribution by deducting their salaries, voluntarily if they wanted to, through the CPF. It started with S$0.50. They could write in to say: ‘I don’t want to contribute’, but the majority, all I think the Muslims who worked with the Government then, contributed and they were able to build one mosque after another.”

After retiring from active politics in 1980, Mr Othman served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia and also on the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Development Corporation.

The born storyteller also published his collections of horror stories as well as his autobiography, Never In My Wildest Dreams.

But for the man who lived through the race riots of the 1960s, unity among Singaporeans was an enduring mission, and Mr Othman continued to serve well into his 80s, giving talks on National Education to civil servants.

“Even with this terrorism problem, some of these young people do not take it seriously because it has not happened in Singapore,” said Mr Othman. “The test will come when a bomb explodes in Singapore, people are killed … What happens, do we tighten our bonding, become a united front of faith or we disintegrate? This is the test that we have to face if the real thing happens. I hope not. Because today when there are disasters in other countries, Singapore came together to help. I am sure were this to happen in Singapore, we will get together, to face it and solve it. I have that confidence.”

He added: “Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”

Mr Othman leaves his wife and four daughters.

– Channel News Asia

The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew–Understanding Singapore’s Foreign Policy


April 16, 2017

The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew–Understanding Singapore’s Foreign Policy

Listen to the views of two brilliant Foreign Policy Experts who served Singapore as Ambassadors with unparalleled  distinction.

It was indeed my pleasure to have met Ambassador at Large Bilahari Kausikan last year (2016) when he delivered a Distinguished Lecture on The Future of ASEAN at The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. He was an outstanding and eloquent speaker, who was never afraid to speak his mind. I am delighted that we as friends are in touch via Facebook and e-mail. I remain his willing Foreign Policy student.

Unfortunately, I do not have the privilege to know Professor Chan Heng Chee, the long serving Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States. From her books, I can say that Professor Chan is a formidable intellect, and a superb specialist on International Relations.  Her two books titled Singapore: The Politics of Survival, 1965–1967 and The Dynamics of One Party Dominance: The PAP at the Grassroots (1976) are my favorite. –Din Merican

Singapore is not quite what Brexiters think it is


April 5, 2017

Recommended READ: John Curtis Perry titled Singapore Unlikely Power.

Singapore:Unlikely Power

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John Curtis Perry

  • Tracks the meteoric rise of Singapore to the status of first-world dynamo in just three decades
  • Shows how longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew adopted a resolutely pragmatic approach to economic development rather than following any one fashionable ideology
  • Offers an accessible, comprehensive, and colorful overview of a city-state that has perfected one of the world’s most influential political-economic models

Singapore is not quite what Brexiters think it is

Rather than a model of laissez-faire capitalism, the state is highly interventionist
by James Crabtree

Not long ago I took a walk up a steep, narrow road in western Singapore, with dense jungle on either side, to visit a memorial housed in a colonial-era bungalow commemorating the final battle before Britain surrendered to Japanese forces in February 1942.

On that site 75 years ago allied soldiers ground out a grim rearguard action, fighting hand-to-hand to defend the linchpin of imperial Britain’s position in Asia. Winston Churchill dubbed their rapid and humiliating defeat “the worst disaster, and largest capitulation, in British history”.

Gaze out from that same hilltop today, however, and you get a grand view of modern Singapore, from the towering cranes of its container port to its towering downtown skyscrapers — in other words the heart of the global trading hub that some in Britain hope to emulate after Theresa May’s decision last week to trigger Article 50.

When Mrs May said earlier this year that no Brexit deal was “better than a bad deal”, the UK prime minister was issuing a threat. If negotiations go badly, Britain will walk away and metamorphose into a minimally regulated tax-haven, ready to pinch business from the continent — a self-styled “Singapore of Europe”. There is a deeper historical parallel here, given that Singapore once endured a kind of disorderly exit of its own. Having won independence after the second world war, it joined a new Malaysian federation in 1963, only to crash out two years later. Against the odds, it then transformed itself from a humid, malarial entrepôt into a rich financial hub, providing a template Britain may now try to follow.

It is easy to mock this comparison. The historical parallels are a mess for a start, not least because Singapore left its own union with such great reluctance. On the day break-up was triggered in 1965, Lee Kuan Yew, the stern national patriarch who led the country for many decades, wept openly on national television. Many things the Brexiters think they admire about Singapore also turn out to be only half-true.

Singapore is indeed a competitive market economy with relatively low tax and a threadbare social safety net. But rather than a model of laissez-faire capitalism, its state is actually highly interventionist, from its famous chewing-gum ban to wide-ranging public ownership of everything from banks to airlines.

Its success as a financial hub, meanwhile, is based not only on openness to capital and goods, but also people. Extraordinarily high immigration has seen the island’s population double in 30 years. Today, not far off a third of its 5.8m people are foreigners, from Filipino nannies and Bangladeshi builders to Japanese bankers. The government has tightened migration rules recently, but still expects to add 1m to its population by 2030 — hardly a policy migration-averse Brexit backers would want to copy. Yet having moved to Singapore last year, it seems to me that this south-east Asian island might provide at least one useful lesson as Britain anticipates its post-Brexit future — namely, the anxiety that flows from navigating the uncertain currents of globalisation all on your own. For all the undoubted successes of its economic development, Singapore is still a small country surrounded by much larger neighbours.

From Malaysia to the north and Indonesia to the south, not to mention regional powers such as China and India, its leaders have learnt to cope with the special vulnerability that comes from never being able to dictate terms. As Prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to lecture his people that they were price-takers in the global economy, and that they must adapt to the world as they found it. Singaporeans took his words to heart, becoming among the world’s most go-getting, highly skilled workers. But the process left a nagging uncertainty. There is even a local Chinese dialect word for this: “kiasu”, meaning fear of falling behind, an often remarked upon national trait.

As it contemplates its future outside the EU, a similar feeling of British kiasu is likely to grow. Back in 1942, the fall of Singapore forced a shocked nation to confront the vulnerability of its teetering empire. Today, those in Britain looking east for inspiration might once again find a more anxious role model than they care to admit.

james.crabtree@ft.com

Singapore: 50 years : The National Day Parade through the years–Down Memory Lane


August 13, 2016

Singapore: 50 years : The National Day Parade through the years–Down Memory Lane

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/the-parade-through-the-years

1966: Singapore’s first National Day Parade kicks off at 9am at the Padang. President Yusof Ishak, resplendent in military uniform, takes the salute, with PM Lee Kuan Yew and ministers behind him. The parade features 23,000 participants and a military parade that marches through Chinatown. According to an interview from the National Archives, a seven-man committee helmed the event.

1966

Singapore’s first National Day Parade kicks off at 9am at the Padang. President Yusof Ishak, resplendent in military uniform, takes the salute, with PM Lee Kuan Yew and ministers behind him. The parade features 23,000 participants and a military parade that marches through Chinatown. According to an interview from the National Archives, a seven-man committee helmed the event.

1967

The second National Day Parade, also at the Padang, sees an increase in the participation of women, with 36 female bagpipers a main draw. The women – young office workers, teachers and students – had less than five months of training. The day also features the “longest and loudest bang” in Singapore’s history – firecrackers are set off for 15 minutes by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

1968

Bedraggled contingents stand stoically throughout an unexpected downpour. MPs, the Cabinet and PM Lee Kuan Yew also take seats in the rain at the Padang. Mr Lee says later that he was worried about the children and asked how many had fallen ill the next day. He says in 1988 that this was his most memorable parade.

With foreign guests – Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Princess Alexandra, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak, and representatives from New Zealand, Britain and Australia – in the stands, this parade sets out to impress. PM Lee Kuan Yew greeting the princess after the parade, while Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee chats with her husband, Mr Angus Ogilvy.

The stars of the show from Singapore’s armoury – 18 tanks, 16 unimogs with 120mm mortars and 32 jeep-mounted recoilless guns.

1970

Jets make their debut, with nine BAC Strikemaster jet-trainers and Alouette III helicopters flying low over the Padang. Participants and guests are asked to tune in to the radio at 5am to find out if there would be a likelihood of rain, in which case the parade would have to be postponed. This parade also features the first fly-past of the state flag, which would become an annual highlight.

1971

This is President Benjamin Sheares’ first National Day Parade as head of state. The parade finale has a “blue-collar” theme, focusing on industrialisation and the importance of blue-collar workers.

1972

Floats are the highlight of this parade, with the People’s Association presenting six of the 10 floats. Progress and multiculturalism are the main themes.

1973

For the first time, the parade is held in the evening. Another first is a contingent of police and army dogs – 50 labradors and alsatians march on-leash.SAF dogs and their handlers at the parade.

1974

The parade is seen on TV in colour for the first time, with colourful floats taking centre stage. It also features the biggest fly-past so far, involving 56 aircraft from the Singapore Air Defence Command. The parade ends with a spectacular fireworks display over the harbour.

1975

On Singapore’s 10th birthday, the parade breaks out into “pocket pageants”, with celebrations taking place at 13 locations around the island for the first time.Bicycle acrobats entertaining the crowds at the Maxwell Road centre.

1976

The parade is held at the National Stadium for the first time, with some 60,000 Singaporeans packed into the parade site. Contingents also march a 6km route from the stadium through streets lined with thousands of people. Singapore Airlines’ 21m replica of a jumbo jet – with 36 stewardesses perched atop it – is reportedly the most attractive float.

1977

Celebrations are held at six decentralised locations – Jurong, Toa Payoh, Tiong Bahru, Jalan Besar, Bedok and Queenstown. However, the centres are reportedly overwhelmed by crowds.

1978

The big parade returns to the Padang. The first troupe of women lion dancers participate in the largest lion and dragon dance performance which comprises 140 lions and nine dragons.

1979

The parade, at six locations in the heartland, is ticketed for the first time to manage crowds that had overwhelmed the 1977 celebrations.

1980

Back at the National Stadium with a crowd of 100,000, the parade is bigger than ever before. It is captured on TV from the air for the first time and is President Benjamin Sheares’ last parade as head of state.

1981

Decentralised celebrations are held at six locations, with some drama reported: At Ang Mo Kio Secondary School, a platform for VIPs collapses under their weight half an hour before the parade begins, and a policeman draws his revolver to break up a fight between members of two dragon dance troupes; in Toa Payoh, a commando skydiver deploys his emergency parachute when the main one fails and two other skydivers land off target – to applause nonetheless – at an electronics factory50mfrom the stadium.

1982

This marks President Devan Nair’s first parade as head of state. The parade is back at the Padang, but the highlight is a display of 1,800 fireworks which are set off near East Coast Parkway. While only 21,000 attend  the parade proper, the crowds lining the streets are said to be the largest in 12 years.

1983

This is Singapore’s last decentralised parade. One commando, aiming to land at Toa Payoh Stadium, ends up in Whampoa when his parachute fails to deploy in Toa Payoh and he has to use his emergency chute.

1984

The famous Stand Up For Singapore is first sung at this parade. A grand military column of 116 vehicles trundles from City Hall to Serangoon Road.

1985

Despite news of a recession, about 60,000 spectators pack the National Stadium. Above: Children lining the street to catch the marching contingents at the full dress rehearsal.

1986

President Wee Kim Wee makes his first appearance as head of state. The year sees the introduction of the popular song Count On Me, Singapore, and marks many firsts: Never before has a parade started so late – 6pm; never before has a rock group been featured – Tokyo Square mimes hits before the parade. There are also no tanks this year.

1987

Another beloved tune –We Are Singapore – makes its debut. The year also sees a street party finale with people dancing and singing in the streets and at the Padang. About 100,000 lights are strung up around the Padang area and lit simultaneously, literally lighting up the night.

1988

Swing Singapore, the first street party, is held on Aug 8 with about 100,000 people packing Orchard Road. Dancing is cancelled due to the unexpectedly large crowd, but Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew says in the following days that it was a mistake to cut the party short. He suggests a second party and one is held at the end of the month with about 250,000 people showing up (above). It is planned in just 17 days.

1989

This year’s parade is remembered for the first daytime fireworks – 20 smoke strings forming the shapes of flowers, palms and willows. They are kept under wraps and come as a surprise to the crowd at the National Stadium. The Red Lions make their first appearance as a formalised team, and continue to be an NDP favourite till today.

1990

Singapore celebrates her 25th year of independence with the catchy song, One People, One Nation, One Singapore. The parade marks Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last year as Prime Minister of Singapore. It also sees a comeback of the military mobile column, made up of a record 250 vehicles.

1991

Mr Goh Chok Tong is greeted with loud applause at his first parade as Prime Minister. Commandos execute the highest Omega Descent from the National Stadium light towers – about 20 storeys high – and there is a heart-stopping moment when half of the Happy Birthday banner they release fails to unfurl. NDP funpacks are introduced.

1992

The parade is specially significant to the SAF as it is the 25th year of NS. National servicemen put on an impressive show using 64 physical training logs. Super Skyhawks execute a precision bomb burst manoeuvre and commandos hang mid-air from Super Puma copters.

1993

Mr Wee Kim Wee attends his last parade as President at the Padang, noting that he felt “not one but two lumps in (his) throat”. He had just recuperated from two operations and stepped down the following month.

1994

The first night parade, starting at 7.15pm, is Mr Ong Teng Cheong’s first as President. It is also the first time the 25-pounder guns used for the traditional 21-gun Presidential Salute are placed inside the stadium. First mass display performance by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, with regulars swooping down via cables from the towers at the top of the gallery.

1995

Singapore celebrates its 30th birthday at the Padang with the mobile column making an appearance after a five-year absence. The parade is a youth-oriented one.

1996

Poet Edwin Thumboo pens a drama on the story of Singapore for the parade. Almost two centuries of history unfold in 40 minutes at the National Stadium as a cast of 4,000 play out the Singapore Story.

1997

The Red Lions parachute into the National Stadium bearing the Asean flag and state flags of member countries for the first time. The centrepiece is a giant inflated rainbow which symbolises the pursuit of the Singapore dream. This is also the year that the National Education Show – for Primary 5 pupils – is launched.

1998

Kit Chan debuts the Dick Lee song Home, which becomes an instant favourite. Two parade venues are rolled into one with a replica of City Hall built at the National Stadium.

1999

Overseas Singaporeans watch the parade live for the first time over the Internet. It is Mr Ong Teng Cheong’s last parade as President. Parade committee chairman Brigadier-General Andrew Tan comes up with the NDP tattoo which has since become a National Day staple.

2000

The first National Day of the new millennium offers several firsts – a four-day carnival, the RSAF Fighting Falcons, a new submarine – and the return of the mobile column. It is also President S R Nathan’s first parade as head of state.

2001

Captain Christine Sim (above) is the first woman to take part in the state-flag fly-past since 1970. A colourful 80m-long “bridge” connecting an island of people to a giant, glowing globe is the parade centrepiece at the National Stadium, while Tanya Chua sings the self-composed Where I Belong.

2002

Coming out of an economic recession, Singapore’s 37th birthday is celebrated with great joy. Parade-goers also get to sample the newly released Newater found in their funpacks.

2003

The parade takes place at the National Stadium just three months after the Sars outbreak kills 33 people in Singapore. The crowd pays tribute to 240 healthcare workers who enter the stadium bearing glowing hearts to the strains of a specially written song – Through Your Eyes.

2004

The 21/2-hour parade is capped with a surprise video tribute to Mr Goh Chok Tong, who would hand in his letter to the President the next morning to step down as Prime Minister. He gets a standing ovation from the crowd.

2005

Singapore celebrates its 40th birthday with simultaneous parties at five locations – a main parade at the Padang and four other celebrations in Marina South, Tampines, Yishun and Jurong East. All are linked by a live feed. This is Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s first parade as Prime Minister.

Above: One of 12 floats depicting aspects of Singapore’s history trundling by the Padang.

2006

The National Stadium hosts the parade for the last time before being torn down. The crowd pays tribute to former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam, who died in February, reciting the Pledge which he wrote.

2007

The first parade on the Marina Bay floating platform (above) gets the thumbs up, with many praising the waterfront ambience.

2008

It is a wet parade but spirits are hardly dampened as parade-goers put their funpack ponchos to good use.

2009

At 8.22pm, SCDF sirens sound across the island and Singaporeans – including thousands overseas – recite the Pledge.

2010

The parade returns to the Padang. Singer Kit Chan belts out Home and Singaporeans follow with a “One Voice” moment, reciting the Pledge and singing the National Anthem. The parade is also celebrated at five heartland locations.

2011

This year marks the final NDP for President S R Nathan as head of state. It is the first time the parade – at the Floating Platform – is held against a completed Marina Bay skyline. It is also the first time former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong do not have front-row seats. Both have retired from Cabinet and are seated behind with the MPs. The parade also gets its first female regimental sergeant major – Master Warrant Officer Jennifer Tan.

2012

Singapore celebrates its 47th birthday with an Olympic win at the ongoing London Games. President Tony Tan Keng Yam observes his inaugural parade as head of state and MPs show up in red and white for the first time, instead of the usual all-white for the People’s Action Party and blue for the Workers’ Party.

2013

Third Warrant Officer Shirley Ng is denied the chance to make history as the first woman to skydive onto the parade floor as part of the annual Red Lions parachuting display after cloudy conditions force the team to cancel its appearance at the Floating Platform.

2014

Third Warrant Officer Shirley Ng becomes the first female Red Lion parachutist to perform at an NDP celebration.

2015

Singapore’s 50th birthday is celebrated with gusto at the Padang, but there are also reflective moments as founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March, is remembered in a video segment. Earlier in the day, public warning sirens herald the broadcast of a recording of Mr Lee reading the Proclamation of Singapore.

2016

The parade will be held today for the first time at the Sports Hub with indoor fireworks, aerial performers and a flying unicorn to wow the crowd. The show also goes high-tech – giant props will be brought to life using 3D projection mapping, while the funpack will include a souvenir booklet that can activate a free augmented reality app.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline ‘The parade through the years’. Print Edition | Subscribe

Joko Widodo prefers nuts and bolts approach


April 16, 2016

Joko Widodo prefers nuts and bolts approach

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b8a0ea4a-0165-11e6-99cb-83242733f755.html#axzz45zKt6k6J

As Joko Widodo clicks through a presentation on infrastructure projects he has launched, an adviser hurries him along, warning that his time is running out. But the Indonesian President is having none of it.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 10, 2016. Indonesia on Thursday opened dozens of sectors to foreign investors in what President Joko Widodo has described as a "Big Bang" liberalisation of its economy, Southeast Asia's largest. Picture taken February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside - RTX26FW2

“No, it’s better I show you,” he says, pointing at photograph after photograph of port, highway and dam schemes he kick-started after years of delays caused by land acquisition problems and intra-governmental disputes.

Eighteen months into his five-year term as leader of the world’s fourth most populous nation, Mr Widodo is persisting with an approach he honed as a small-town mayor and then governor of Jakarta: driving progress, project by project, through spot checks.

“I’ve already been to the toll road in Sumatra six times to check land acquisition and construction,” he says in an interview with the Financial Times, explaining this was the only way to start work on the much-needed highway after 30 years of abortive efforts.

A rare G20 leader happier talking about cement and building permits than big-picture vision, Mr Widodo’s prosaic style has disappointed some of his most enthusiastic backers. But his focus on managing the budget, building infrastructure and trying to reduce regulation has helped see him through a difficult start to his presidency, which was beset by a slowing economy and political problems.

Investor sentiment towards Indonesia has improved of late, with its stock market and currency among the best performing in Asia this year.

Before departing on Sunday for a trip to Europe to drum up trade and investment, Mr. Widodo insists he will push ahead with his plans to deregulate the economy and accelerate infrastructure development.

“I will continue to make economic reforms, removing excessive permits, licences and restrictions,” he says, speaking sometimes in broken English.

“My commitment is to make Indonesia’s economy open and competitive.”

For much of last year Mr Widodo looked uncomfortable as he stumbled from one political problem to another, while the economy continued to weaken because of reduced Chinese demand for Indonesia’s commodities.

A dispute over the appointment of a graft-tainted police chief damaged his reputation for clean government. Policy U-turns, ministerial infighting and protectionist measures undermined hopes for reform — and his uncompromising defence of the execution of foreign drug traffickers prompted a diplomatic backlash.

Chart: Indonesia growth and the rupiah

 

But now the President who grew up in a riverside shack — the first democratic leader of Indonesia from outside the nation’s crony-ridden elite — is looking more at home in the palace. “I enjoy my job,” the 54-year-old says.

Not a bead of sweat forms on Mr Widodo’s forehead, even though the temperature is well over 30C and the air conditioning in the Dutch colonial-era Independence Palace is off.

A close adviser jokes that the President is a “cool customer”. Perhaps too cool, he adds, because he made a slow start to his presidency. “At the beginning, he did not know many people in Jakarta and many of the ministers initially appointed were not his choice,” he says. “But he is improving.”

Mr Widodo’s preoccupation with the nuts and bolts of road and bridge projects upsets those who were hoping for a bolder figurehead. However, for analysts who have seen previous plans for infrastructure investment and economic reform come up short, his approach is what Southeast Asia’s largest economy needs.

“He is not the guy who wants to come up with a grand plan, but [he is] a doer,” says Ray Farris, Asia strategist at Credit Suisse.

“I will continue to make economic reforms, removing excessive permits, licences and restrictions. My commitment is to make Indonesia’s economy open and competitive.” Mr Widodo’s focus on tactics rather than strategy has proved less effective in tackling Indonesia’s broader social and political problems.

When asked if he is concerned about rising discrimination against homosexuals, Mr Widodo’s perfunctory response is that “we respect human rights but Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country”.

As for the challenge of attracting investment from China while also pushing back against Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, he simply says that “all activities that may increase tension must be stopped”, before adding that it is not only Chinese boats that regularly plunder Indonesia’s fisheries.

After a recent skirmish between Indonesian and Chinese patrol vessels near Indonesia’s Natuna islands, his cabinet members offered wildly conflicting views on how to react. Analysts say the disarray betrayed Mr Widodo’s weakness when it comes to co-ordinating more complicated policy areas.

“The question is whether he can really control his cabinet,” says Yohanes Sulaiman, a political analyst in Jakarta. Others warn that he needs to lay out a more convincing plan to raise the money needed to fund his pet infrastructure projects. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of focus or leadership on addressing the core revenue problem,” says Mr Farris of Credit Suisse.

Unperturbed, Mr Widodo insists that running a country of 255m people and 17,000 islands is ultimately not that different from being mayor of a city of 500,000. But is the bigger-scale job pushing him to become a stronger leader? “It’s better you ask the people,” he says with a chuckle.