518 receive National Day awards, including former president Tony Tan Keng Yam

President Halimah Yacob giving the Order of Temasek (First Class) to Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam at the 2018 National Day Awards at ITE College Central on Oct 28, 2018.
President Halimah Yacob giving the Order of Temasek (First Class) to Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam at the 2018 National Day Awards at ITE College Central on Oct 28, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
President Halimah Yacob giving the Meritorious Service Medal to National Gallery Singapore chairman Hsieh Fu Hua on Oct 28, 2018.
President Halimah Yacob giving the Meritorious Service Medal to National Gallery Singapore chairman Hsieh Fu Hua on Oct 28, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
President Halimah Yacob giving the Meritorious Service Medal to Ustaz Ali Haji Mohd, co-chairman of Religious Rehabilitation Group, on Oct 28, 2018.
President Halimah Yacob giving the Meritorious Service Medal to Ustaz Ali Haji Mohd, co-chairman of Religious Rehabilitation Group, on Oct 28, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
President Halimah Yacob giving the Meritorious Service Medal to Mr Khoo Teng Chye, executive director for the Centre for Liveable Cities, Ministry of National Development, on Oct 28, 2018.
President Halimah Yacob giving the Meritorious Service Medal to Mr Khoo Teng Chye, executive director for the Centre for Liveable Cities, Ministry of National Development, on Oct 28, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Years before the National Gallery Singapore opened its doors to the public in 2015, then chief executive of the Singapore Exchange Hsieh Fu Hua was asked to join a committee in charge of shaping it.

It turned out to be one of his longest engagements.

This year, Mr Hsieh, 68, marks his fifth year as chairman of the iconic gallery, which houses the largest public collection of modern art in South-east Asia.

His involvement, however, goes back more than 10 years. For his contributions, Mr Hsieh received a Meritorious Service Medal on Sunday (Oct 28).

He was one of 518 recipients conferred awards by President Halimah Yacob, with former president Tony Tan Keng Yam heading the list. The ceremony was held in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central.

Mr Hsieh's citation says he "rallied corporates and philanthropists to support the gallery's permanent galleries, exhibitions and programmes" and describes him as a "strong advocate for arts education and community engagement".

Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Hsieh said he is touched by the award, and privileged to have played a part in building institutions such as the National Gallery.

"The building of a museum is a very long journey. You only have to look around the world to realise that good or great museums come about over decades, and with the work of generations of people," he explained.

"My journey, long as it is personally, is actually a short one in the life of a museum. One must have that perspective in mind."

On Sunday, Dr Tan, 78, the Republic's former president, became the ninth Singaporean to receive the nation's highest civilian honour - the Order of Temasek (First Class).

He was conferred the honour "for his lifetime dedication to public service and his stellar service to his people and country".

Dr Tan, whose public service career spanned nearly four decades, helped transform Singapore's education system, armed forces, reserve management, and research and development efforts.

"The breadth and sweep of his service have been equalled by few," his citation reads.

Dr Tan, who left his job as OCBC Bank's general manager in 1979 to enter politics, went on to helm five ministries.

He has been credited with revamping the school system as Education Minister, championing the development of higher education, as well as laying the basis for Singapore's universities to raise their international standing.

He was founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's top choice for Singapore's second prime minister, but had declined the post. Dr Tan was elected Singapore's seventh president, and served one term from 2011 to 2017.

The last to be conferred the Order of Temasek (First Class) honour was former minister S. Dhanabalan, in 2015. Previous recipients include former presidents S R Nathan and Wee Kim Wee.

The next highest award given out on Sunday was the Distinguished Service Order, conferred to the Singapore University of Technology and Design's former chairman Philip Ng Chee Tat, and National University of Singapore Board of Trustees' former chairman Wong Ngit Liong.

Mr Ng, 59, is chief executive of property giant Far East Organization while Mr Wong, 77, founded and heads electronics manufacturer Venture Corporation.

There were five other Meritorious Service Medal recipients besides Mr Hsieh this year.

They are: Co-chairmen of the Religious Rehabilitation Group Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed and Ustaz Mohamad Hasbi Hassan; Permanent Secretary for Finance and special duties at the Prime Minister's Office, Mrs Tan Ching Yee; Head of civil service, Mr Leo Yip Seng Cheong; and Centre for Liveable Cities executive director Khoo Teng Chye.

Mrs Tan's citation describes how, as Permanent Secretary (Finance), she strengthened the ministry's role as a steward of public resources and helped place Singapore on a sound fiscal footing.

She also worked to enhance the accessibility, affordability and quality of the country's healthcare system and in developing multiple pathways for students.

Mr Yip, similarly, has made "distinguished contributions to Singapore in his 33 years of public service", and held a series of appointments in the police force before becoming Principal Private Secretary to Mr Lee when he was the Republic's Senior Minister.

Among his achievements, Mr Yip helped to establish the Singapore Workforce Development Agency in 2002, and served as its first chief executive, as well as setting in place "a process to formulate and deliver a whole-of-government policy agenda".

In his citation, Mr Khoo is described as having contributed to making Singapore's urban planning and regulatory regime more transparent and responsive during a 20-year career in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The 66-year-old held key leadership positions in the public service at the Public Utilities Board (PUB), Ministry of National Development as well as URA.

"Under Mr Khoo's leadership, PUB won many international accolades including the Water Agency of the Year Award in 2006", his citation reads.

Speaking to ST about the award: "Singapore has overcome some of its bigger urban challenges by innovating at a systems level. I feel proud to have played a part in some of them."

Of his work in urban development, the port and water resources,he said: "Singapore will continue to face challenges in the decades ahead, as our constraints in land and other resources remain."

"We will need to continue to innovate... I am therefore very glad that my current role at the Centre for Liveable Cities is to distil the lessons of our last 50 years into principles of urban governance, and systems that can be applied to tackle our new challenges," he added.

At the ceremony, former chief of defence force Perry Lim Cheng Yeow, 46, received the Meritorious Service Medal (Military).

Apart from recognising individuals who have served the nation, the 2018 National Day awards also paid tribute to two groups which had separately worked on the recent Trump-Kim Summit as well as the Pedra Branca case - which saw the International Court of Justice award sovereignty to Singapore in 2008.

Involving various ministries and agencies, the groups received the President's Certificate of Commendation.