Hawker centres 'saved Singapore', says Tommy Koh

People at having their meals Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, on Nov 9, 2018. PHOTO: ST FILE
Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh at the launch of Fifty Secrets Of Singapore's Success. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The hawker centre has "saved Singapore" as it is the one place ordinary Singaporeans can go to have a good meal at an affordable price, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh said on Wednesday (Jan 28) at the launch of the book Fifty Secrets Of Singapore's Success.

Compiled by Professor Koh, the book consists of 50 essays written by leaders and experts from various fields in Singapore about how the small city state has succeeded in a number of areas.

In his opening speech, Prof Koh said: "Hawker food makes Singapore unique. It is part of our national identity."

He added: "I must say that my wife and I are great fans of hawker centres. We go to the wet market every week. We often have lunch on a Sunday or Saturday in one of the hawker centres."

Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers Eddie Teo, who launched the book, had earlier expressed surprise that it contained an essay on hawker centres, along with one on toilets. "At first glance, many will fail to see the relevance of these two subjects," said Mr Teo.

However, he said the essays written by World Toilet Organisation founder Jack Sim and Singapore Management University president Lily Kong "convincingly explained how important they are for nation-building and national development".

Mr Teo added that the 340-page book would be useful for young Singaporeans, who may not even recognise the authors of the essays.

"Sadly, my 10 years as chairman of the Public Service Commission has left me with the impression that many of our brightest students have very little knowledge of Singapore's history," he said.

Many, he said, admitted that they had never heard of former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee, and also confused former DPM S. Rajaratnam with veteran opposition figure J. B. Jeyaretnam.

"So I hope that this book will not only reach foreigners, but will also find its way into the hands of younger Singaporeans, if not the hard copies, at least the e-version," Mr Teo said.

But he added a caveat for young Singaporean readers. He said that while it was important to know the past to understand the future, they needed to think of their own solutions for new and future problems.

Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh at the launch of Fifty Secrets Of Singapore's Success. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

"I'm not advising them to be as frugal as Dr Goh, or as negligent about work-life balance as Lee Kuan Yew," he said, adding that they must help address Singapore's problems with their own unique solutions.

"But, to succeed, they must have the same passion, commitment and love for Singapore, which our founding generation leaders clearly had."

Prof Koh said the book explained to other developing countries that pursuing sound policies and having honest and competent leaders, along with a good public service, would allow them to overcome their limitations.

"Singapore is too small to be a model. And the world is too diverse to have one single model. We are not a model, but we can be a source of inspiration. We can be a source of practical solutions to many of the problems that developing countries face," he said.

In response to a question, Prof Koh said that the lack of natural resources had forced Singaporeans to accept the ethic that "the world does not owe us a living".

He noted that Singapore had been forced into emphasising heavily on education, healthcare and housing to ensure that the population remains "happy and productive".

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