Build social reserves, says Dr Tony Tan

President Tony Tan Keng Yam working in the office at the Istana on Aug 1, 2017.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam working in the office at the Istana on Aug 1, 2017.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Mr Prime Minister, thank you for your very generous remarks about my service.

Thank you also for your kind words about the important role that my wife, Mary, has played.

Mutual trust and respect underpin our constitutional roles as prime minister and president, and our cordial relationship has allowed formal, as well as informal, opportunities to work together. I have greatly valued our regular meetings, and I am happy that my contributions and views have been helpful and constructive.

Six years ago, when I took office, I pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans.

I was committed to the understanding that our nation's president is not a centre of political power. But the president can be a resource. And our president must be a symbol.

Mr Prime Minister, I am glad that my experience has been a resource to you and your colleagues in government. But more important, I was determined that the president's office should symbolise and champion the role we all can play to make Singapore a better society.

I am deeply aware of the challenges faced by those who struggle to make ends meet. Our progress as a nation is measured not only by our ranking on international tables or the success of our highest fliers. The measure of our society rests on how we care for those less fortunate than ourselves.

With this in mind, I encouraged Singaporeans to give their time, talent and resources to help those in need. I was delighted to see the many initiatives launched by Singaporeans from all walks of life. Each initiative served to improve the lives of our fellow citizens and connected us all more closely.

Over the past half-century, I have served Singapore as a university lecturer, a Member of Parliament, a minister, deputy prime minister, and, over the past six years, as president. From tomorrow, I look forward to continuing to serve Singapore - as a citizen.

These ties that bind us together as one people are vital. I have described the value of these ties as "social reserves".

Like our financial reserves, these social reserves are important when we navigate through uncertain times. This was the reason I expanded the President's Challenge to move beyond philanthropy to include volunteerism and social entrepreneurship. I wanted to encourage citizens, corporations and other organisations in Singapore to be active in building our social reserves. And through the President's Volunteer and Philanthropy Award, we recognised the energy, ingenuity and commitment of those dedicated to making a lasting difference in their communities.

As a resource and a symbol, the president is also sometimes dubbed Singapore's "chief diplomat". In today's interconnected world, we need to maintain strong relations with partners around the globe.

State visits are important for raising our international profile, promoting government-to-government ties, and creating opportunities for Singaporean companies in new markets. On each visit, I was also delighted to meet Singaporeans living, studying and working overseas. Within their own communities, they are Singapore's ambassadors.

It was also wonderful to cheer on our Olympians and Paralympians, who achieved historic successes in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. They flew the Singapore flag with pride. The nation was behind them. They showed us, and the world, what passion and determination can achieve.

Singapore, itself, is a product of such passion and determination. As I look back on the past six years, there is no question that our SG50 golden jubilee was the high point. It was a remarkable celebration of all that we have achieved since independence.

Like many, my joy at our nation's 50th birthday was tempered by Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passing earlier that year. But we also came together to pay our respects to Mr Lee, and in the process revealed the depth of our relationships as one people.

We are now stewards of the legacy that he left us - the values of meritocracy, honesty, integrity. These will serve us well as we look forward to our next half century.

Mr Prime Minister, my time as president has been the highlight of my career. Personally, it has been a deeply moving opportunity to see Singapore in all its diversity and to meet Singaporeans from all walks of life.

In this journey, I have been so blessed to share it with Mary. Throughout our marriage, she has been a tremendous source of strength and wise counsel. Mary has been a key pillar of support to me, both during and before my presidency. She has a genuine empathy for people which has brought warmth to this Office and helped me throughout my career.

Over the past half-century, I have served Singapore as a university lecturer, a Member of Parliament, a minister, deputy prime minister, and, over the past six years, as president. From tomorrow, I look forward to continuing to serve Singapore - as a citizen.

Mr Prime Minister, Mary and I wish you wisdom and good health in leading Singapore to even better days ahead. With the nation standing in solidarity, we are confident that Singapore will continue to prosper and progress.

Thank you once again, Prime Minister, for your kind words. And thank you, my fellow citizens, for giving me the opportunity to serve as the President of Singapore.

It has indeed been an honour and a privilege. Thank you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2017, with the headline 'Build social reserves, says Dr Tony Tan'. Print Edition | Subscribe