SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong marked annual Tree Planting Day on Saturday (Nov 20) morning by planting the same type of tree that his father and Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew did back in 1963.
A light morning drizzle did not stop PM Lee and three of his fellow MPs from Ang Mo Kio GRC - Mr Darryl David, Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Ms Ng Ling Ling - from picking up shovels to help plant nine mempat trees, which are distinctive for their light pink flowers resembling cherry blossoms.
They were joined by Kebun Baru MP Henry Kwek and Yio Chu Kang MP Yip Hon Weng.
The event, which was held at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, also shone a spotlight on sustainability initiatives by the Ang Mo Kio Town Council, from upcycled benches to student-led green projects.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the event was only attended in person by about 40 people including grassroots advisers and guests. Residents were unable to participate in the event for the second year running but could watch it on a Facebook live stream.
The seeds of the yearly tradition were sown on June 16, 1963, when Mr Lee Kuan Yew planted a Cratoxylum formosum or mempat tree in Farrer Circus. But the first official Tree Planting Day was launched on Nov 7, 1971, when then Acting Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee planted a rain tree on the summit of Mount Faber.
Since then, town councils typically organise their own Tree Planting Day activities with their MPs.
The native mempat tree can reach a height of 10m in Singapore's parks and gardens. In February and August, it typically sheds leaves that contain medicinal benefits and blooms pink-coloured, faintly fragrant flowers.
The tree is also valued for its wood, which can be used for carving, furniture and house construction, or as firewood and charcoal, among other things.
Mr David, who is the chairman of Ang Mo Kio Town Council, said tree planting was symbolic to Singapore's Garden City epithet.
"Having a tree planting ceremony like this every year reminds us of the need to bring greenery to our urban settings," he added.
After planting the tree, PM Lee unveiled the town council's first set of wooden benches and coasters made from rain and khaya trees that were felled in Ang Mo Kio earlier this year.
Ten benches will be placed at public areas for residents to use, while 500 coasters will be given away as prizes in sustainability-related contests.
The town council also teamed up with children from Deyi Secondary School, Jing Shan Primary School and Pathlight School to design and paint more than 40 used rubbish bins, and with special education social service agency APSN to fashion around 20 stationery holder pouches from used town council banners.
Merchandise produced by APSN will be sold on Ang Mo Kio Town Council's Facebook page and website for $5 to $10 each, with all proceeds going to the social service agency.
Next year, the town council aims to recycle more than 100 bins and 200 banners.
Mr Kwek, who chairs the town council's sustainability committee, said it was about switching from the mindset of a consumer to that of a producer.
"When a person produces, like a craftsman produces, he appreciates how things are made, and will be more mindful of his usage," he said, pointing to efforts to promote green fingers among his residents.
The town council is working with urban farming firm Citiponics - as well as winners of a biennial competition to recognise outstanding community gardeners in Ang Mo Kio - to bring fruits and vegetables to 100 financially challenged families in the Teck Ghee ward overseen by PM Lee.