SINGAPORE - Just as Singapore's founding generations held the National Day Parade (NDP) to signify the country's collective confidence in the future, Singapore should celebrate National Day this year precisely because it faces even more challenging times, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Friday (June 5).
Singaporeans traditionally chose to hold NDP and rallied together even in tough times, and the nation has emerged stronger because of this hope and optimism, he added.
Dr Ng made these points in Parliament when he explained the decision to hold the celebrations this year.
Some had called the celebrations "wasteful" and argued that the same resources ought to be spent elsewhere, especially given the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and jobs.
Dr Ng said he appreciated the views and fully acknowledged the need to be prudent in the celebrations, adding that the costs for this year's celebrations will be reduced by at least one-third of the usual budget.
This is possible because of savings from the infrastructure costs of holding the NDP at the Padang or the The Float @ Marina Bay. This year's parade will be held at multiple locations, including a small-scale segment at the Padang.
Dr Ng cautioned that Singapore should guard against being overcome by a mood of despondency, and not allow individual preferences to divide the country.
"If we allow despair to prevail in our national psyche, particularly in this Covid-19 pandemic, then I say that will be the greatest harm to the future of Singapore - much more devastating than the economic impact, the loss of jobs and businesses."
NDP has always taken centre stage in Singapore's relatively short history as a nation, he said.
In its first year of independence, Singapore held an "extraordinary" NDP, with fireworks, a marching contingent and a big display, even as the fledgling nation faced a host of unsolved problems such as high unemployment and inadequate medical care, the minister noted.
The decision was made because the unity and collective confidence for the future that NDP engendered for Singaporeans were priceless, he said.
The parade showed the rest of the world that despite great difficulties, Singapore was a country that would not be beaten down and its people would rise up and overcome.
Thus, at every subsequent NDP, Singapore makes a conscious effort to celebrate the occasion with that same indomitable spirit, he added.
Even in difficult periods, like the British withdrawal in 1971, Asian financial crisis in 1998 and Sars in 2003, Singaporeans have chosen to celebrate NDP and rallied together, he said.
"Because of that hope and optimism, Singapore emerged stronger."
This year's NDP executive committee has stayed true to its roots, but adapted the format to reduce risks of infections, he said.
The usual parade will still be held at the Padang, but will be scaled down, with only the contingents from the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team. This will be telecast live.
Other elements will be brought closer to Singaporeans in the heartland, and fighter jets will be flown around the island. The mobile column will also travel through various parts of the island, along with the front-line heroes and heroines who have shown exemplary sacrifice and courage in fighting the pandemic, said Dr Ng.
The usual NDP show with thousands of participants will replaced by a studio show, which will be broadcast live.
"We may be physically apart but we want to join in spirit as one people, with that same confidence and optimism, and unity that the founding generation fostered despite harsher and grim circumstances," Dr Ng said.
He urged Singaporeans to reaffirm their unity and resilience, and be bonded by the same vision and optimism that Singapore will overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19.
"The months ahead will be trying, and the difficulties ahead will test our resolve and cohesion," he said.
"Despite all of this, Singaporeans can, and Singapore will, celebrate NDP 2020 with confidence and hope for a brighter future."