Madam Halimah Yacob says, as she is sworn in as Singapore's first woman head of state, that she welcomes moves to ensure presidents come regularly from every ethnic group.
Prime Minister, Chief Justice, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am honoured by this opportunity to serve as the eighth President of Singapore. It is a heavy responsibility and I will do my best. I will discharge my duties faithfully in the best interests of Singaporeans and Singapore.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all Singaporeans for your support. I am deeply touched by your good wishes and words of encouragement. Over the last few weeks, I have met thousands of Singaporeans from all walks of life, all ages and all races. Many of you shared with me your hopes and dreams for Singapore. I am energised and motivated by your conviction and enthusiasm. We are all united by our deep love for Singapore, our desire to see Singapore do well and our determination to make it a great home for all Singaporeans.
I wish especially to mention the labour movement, with whom I have worked very closely for many years, and from whom I have learnt much about compassion and comradeship. I know that these lessons will help me in my new role. I would also like to thank the many community, social and business organisations which have worked with me all these years. I look forward to our continued partnership.
The presidency is the highest office in our land and is a key institution in our democracy. It unifies our nation by embodying our shared values as a people - multiracialism, meritocracy and stewardship. These values are even more important today, guiding us as we find our way forward in a troubled and uncertain world. Let me speak about each of them in turn.
First, multiracialism. Our first president, Encik Yusof Ishak, together with our other founding fathers, established the foundations of multiracialism during Singapore's formative years. They understood that multiracialism does not mean ignoring or forcibly erasing differences between ethnic groups. Instead, they recognised our diversity, and took steps to reassure every community that they were a unique and valued part of our society. I am glad that our founding leaders went beyond enshrining multiracialism in our National Pledge, to entrench it in key national policies like housing, education and security.
With these strong foundations, we have been able to build a diverse yet cohesive community. I grew up in Selegie House, in a multiracial neighbourhood. I attended Singapore Chinese Girls' School, and I had classmates and friends from all races. In the unions, I served workers regardless of their race. As a Member of Parliament, I took care of the needs of Singaporeans from every race and religion. I am proud that I belong to a country that does not just say it is diverse, but lives out this diversity every single day.
We have made great progress building a multiracial society over the years, but we also know that this endeavour is a constant work in progress. We need guideposts to help us along this journey. For example, integration in housing and schools is now part of our social landscape. Had we left them on their own, they might have taken a different direction. Every generation faces new challenges to our multiracialism. Every generation must update our institutions to strengthen our shared values. And every generation needs champions who care deeply about multiracialism and fight to uphold and realise this ideal.
Therefore, I welcome the recent moves to protect our multiracial identity by ensuring that our presidents will regularly come from every ethnic group, including the minorities. I know that some Singaporeans would prefer to achieve this without needing reserved elections. I respect their views. 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. Today, I want to assure all Singaporeans that as your President, I will serve every one of you, regardless of race, language or religion.
Meritocracy is another of our core values. We believe that all 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. We firmly believe that anyone who works hard should be able to realise his or her full potential, and make valuable contributions to society.
I have strong personal convictions about our meritocratic system, because without it, I would not be here today. I lost my father when I was young; my mum singlehandedly brought up my four siblings and me. We experienced poverty and hardship first-hand, struggling to survive every single day. Fortunately, I was growing up in Singapore. Even though my family was poor, I could get a good education by working hard, with the strong support of my family, teachers and the community. That enabled me to launch my career in the public service, and later to give others in need a helping hand.
I pledge to continue this journey of service to our country. I call on all Singaporeans to join me in this endeavour. Our goal must be to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations. We must measure our success not just by how well we do for ourselves, but by whether we enable the next generation to do even better.
My life story is not uncommon in Singapore. Many of you have stories similar to mine, or know someone who has. This is something special and precious to Singapore. As President, I will build on the good work of president S R Nathan and president Tony Tan. I will use the President's Challenge to uplift the less privileged in our society. Beyond giving immediate help, we must also assist needy families to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. I thus welcome the Government's plans to make major investments in early childhood education, to get those from humble backgrounds off to a good start, ready to do well in our meritocratic system. I also welcome the major investments in skills upgrading, to help their parents earn more and enjoy better job security.
The last core value I want to speak about is stewardship. We have inherited a prosperous and well-developed city, a clean and efficient system, and strong shared values. In all this, we are beneficiaries of the hard work of earlier generations. Now it is our responsibility to steward this island-nation well, so we can pass on to future generations a better country, a more robust system and a stronger commitment to our values.
Stewardship includes taking care of one another, and working together to solve the problems we face today. Socially, we have to take care of our ageing population and growing healthcare needs. Economically, we have to prepare workers and businesses for new jobs and opportunities. And in terms of security, we must deal with divisive forces that are sweeping across the world, including the twin threats of extremist terrorism and Islamophobia.
But stewardship also means planning for the future, and building for the next generation. We must invest in our economy and our people. This includes infrastructure and hardware, but also education and healthcare.
All these programmes and investments will improve our lives, make us more productive and create more opportunities for our next generation. But they also cost billions of dollars. Budgets will be tight. We need to grow our economy so as to generate more resources to afford these programmes and investments. We will also need to husband our reserves carefully.
The President holds the second key to our reserves, and to key appointments in the public service. In exercising my custodial powers, I will use my independent judgment, consulting the Council of Presidential Advisers, and working closely with the Prime Minister and the Government.
Our reserves have been built up through the hard work and careful stewardship of successive governments and generations of Singaporeans. Income from the reserves is an important source of government revenue. But the reserves themselves must not be used, except for very good reason.
Our honest and capable public service is a precious asset that enables us to perform well as a nation, and hold our own internationally against bigger and better-endowed competitors. I will do my duty to ensure that new appointments to critical posts measure up to our high standards of integrity and ability. The public service must maintain its high quality and standing, in order to continue to serve Singapore well.
Ladies and gentlemen, in my previous roles, I have seen how much we can achieve by working together. Now, as President, my duty is to unite the people, to overcome the many challenges ahead of us, together.
I pledge to continue this journey of service to our country. I call on all Singaporeans to join me in this endeavour. Our goal must be to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations. We must measure our success not just by how well we do for ourselves, but by whether we enable the next generation to do even better. Let us commit ourselves to this task, and together create a brighter future for all Singaporeans.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline 'Multiracial society a work in progress: President'. Print Edition | Subscribe
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.