SINGAPORE - Singaporean from different sectors come together to serve as volunteers within the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), and this embodies the trust within society here.
This trust is often taken for granted, he noted on Thursday (Aug 22) at an appreciation dinner for about 300 volunteers serving on Mindef's boards and committees.
"Because if we did not have multiracial and multi-religious harmony that breeds trust rather than fear and suspicion, can we believe that people of one race would trust another to make important decisions that will affect their life, whether it is his vocation during NS or the judgment of a military court?" Dr Ng said.
The minister highlighted the ongoing protests in Hong Kong to underscore the point that trust is essential for a society to function.
Government leaders and officials have visited Hong Kong periodically for many years because it is a high-functioning society much like Singapore but organised differently, he said.
Dr Ng recounted how he would invariably be impressed on every visit by the vitality and resourcefulness of Hongkongers, their service standards and willingness to go the extra mile.
"But now, trust within the Hong Kong society is broken," he said. "It matters less how this downward spiral began because with each passing day, the acrimony and distrust mount and that makes it that much harder for any trust to be restored."
Dr Ng said he hopes the people of Hong Kong can regain the fortitude and cohesion they have displayed so often in the past against formidable challenges, "to start and rebuild what has been broken".
In Singapore, the trust within society explains why the public has continued to support national service and the Singapore Armed Forces over the years, he said.
He cited public polls that show 98 per cent of respondents believe in the importance of a strong defence.
"If our people believed that the system discriminated and is not fair for all, we would not have that level of support," he added.
Dr Ng also lauded the Mindef volunteers for their personal commitment to the nation as well as their professionalism and integrity.
He added that their varied expertise, viewpoints and experiences have helped Mindef and the SAF to evolve and meet changing needs and challenges.
For example, he said members of the External Review Panel on SAF Safety assisted Mindef greatly during recent Committees of Inquiry into the deaths of national servicemen.
A pro bono lawyers' panel set up last year has also improved legal access for servicemen who need it, he added.
During the dinner at Regent Hotel, Dr Ng presented certificates of appointment and re-appointment to 53 volunteers.
He also paid tribute to the SAF Volunteer Corps, which is currently in its fifth year.
The Corps has more than 800 volunteers to date, including more than 200 permanent residents.
There are now 30 vocations in the Corps, after five roles were added in July - physiotherapist assistant, veterinarian technician, drone auxiliary trainer, video surveillance operator and sea soldier.
Concluding his speech, Dr Ng said: "We in the present are beneficiaries only because our forebears acted responsibly and courageously to do their part to give us a better life today.
"In turn, we in the present must give of our best so that tomorrow, Singapore will be better, stronger and more united."