'Continue to work with Govt to lift Malay/Muslim community'

The trust and confidence of Malay/Muslim Singaporeans has enabled the Government to work with the community to tackle key challenges in the past, Minister-in- charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim told the House.

This link between state and community has strengthened over the years, and allowed the community to thrive, he added, calling for an even stronger partnership to tackle difficult challenges ahead.

One such challenge is that of a rapidly evolving and volatile economy, and Dr Yaacob said businesses and workers have to be "more productive, adaptive and committed to continual upgrading".

"Without this commitment, the consequences will be grave. We may have a pool of well-meaning, hard-working workers, but they lack the skill sets to compete and do well in the new economy," he said.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted the number of Malay workers undergoing skills upgrading training is "still low" compared with the other communities.

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Without this commitment, the consequences will be grave. We may have a pool of well-meaning, hard-working workers, but they lack the skill sets to compete and do well in the new economy.

MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS YAACOB IBRAHIM, on how firms and workers must commit to upgrading

"This can affect the ability of our Malay workers to get good jobs when Singapore's economy undergoes renewal," he said.

Dr Yaacob said the current challenges are not insurmountable. He cited how the consultation and engagement between Government and community led to, for instance, Mendaki being formed in 1982 to address the under-achievement of Malay students. More recently, initiatives to raise the education quality in madrasahs were announced.

Such state-community engagement on sensitive matters is not unique to the Malay/Muslim community, he said, citing the relaxation of rules on live music in the Thaipusam procession after over 40 years. There was some measure of give-and-take, but importantly, "an openness and appreciation of needs and constraints as state and community worked together to arrive at the best possible solution".

The perspectives of the Government and communities may not always be aligned, but "we want to work with the community to realise multiple possibilities, and to dabble less in narrow binaries", he added.

"It is how we manage those differences to allow for a greater plurality of views and ideas, and yet not pull the society apart," Dr Yaacob said.

"It is always easier to dismiss differences for their perceived potential divisive effects. But it is far more enlightened and progressive to look for ways to accommodate some of the differences in order to enlarge the common ground."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline ''Continue to work with Govt to lift Malay/Muslim community''. Print Edition | Subscribe