SINGAPORE - The National Day Parade (NDP) executive committee will produce packs for about 80 per cent of all Singaporean and permanent resident households, after taking into account those who said they do not need one.
From prior experience, this should be adequate, and people who want the packs can collect them from community centres for National Day, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Friday (June 5).
The plan to distribute funpacks to every Singaporean and permanent resident household for National Day sparked a debate and an online petition that has garnered some 110,000 signatures so far. Some argued that resources could be better diverted to other causes - especially in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Ng noted that the NDP executive committee aims to be inclusive for every NDP, and will take in views and accommodate different interests where possible.
But he cautioned that "if every interest group pushes for its own agenda, especially during NDP, then our common ground to celebrate this national event shrinks because the exco will simply never be able to satisfy every request adequately".
Responding to Workers' Party Non-constituency MP Leon Perera, Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) and Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), Dr Ng acknowledged that there were some who felt the celebrations were wasteful and that the resources ought to be spent elsewhere, especially given the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and jobs.
"I appreciate their point of view and agree fully with them that we ought to be prudent," he said, adding that this year's NDP should cost at least a third less than usual, with savings from infrastructure costs had the parade been held at the Padang or The Float @ Marina Bay.
However, Singapore should guard against a mood of despondency and not allow individual preferences to divide the country, said Dr Ng.
"If we allow despair to prevail in our national psyche, particularly during 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."
He made the point that Singaporeans have always chosen to celebrate NDP and rally together, even in troubled periods of the nation's history, such as the British withdrawal in 1971, the recession of 1985, the Asian financial crisis in 1998, Sars in 2003, the global financial crisis in 2008 and the H1N1 epidemic in 2009.
"Because of that hope and optimism, Singapore emerged stronger," he said.
"So I say, despite the difficulties, and indeed because of the more challenging times that are ahead, we should celebrate this year's NDP as we have done before and just as our founding generation did during the first NDP."
Replying to Ms Cheng, Dr Ng said the 80 per cent target for the packs is less than the usual volume, which caters to about 90 to 95 per cent of Singapore households.
"Those who said they don't need one, I would like to believe they feel that we are confident enough to celebrate and to join other Singaporeans (in celebrations) without all these facilitative things."
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) proposed consulting all households on whether they wanted a pack, to get an accurate estimate of the number of funpacks needed.
Dr Ng replied that those who lead organisations or businesses will know there is a limit between analysis and paralysis.
The NDP exco, in a separate statement, said they had consulted various green advocacy and community groups since November 2019. It also took into account public feedback received in past years for the planning of this year's funpacks.
The "Singapore Together Pack" has 12 items, down from the usual 20 to 25. The items include hand sanitisers, face masks and thermometers as well as such celebratory items as a full-sized national flag, iron-on patches for masks, face tattoos and a pledge card.
There will also be red filters that can be fixed onto phone torches, for a special "light-up" segment on National Day, said the exco statement.
The bag itself is a foldable and reusable grocery bag, designed by primary school students or artists with disabilities.
Dr Ng said there will be no single-use water bottles, plastic clappers or packaging in the pack, as families will be at home.
Each pack will cost about $2.40 to produce, and companies will contribute other items such as snacks and drinks, he said in his reply to Non-constituency MP Leon Perera. The usual discount booklets will come in the form of e-booklets, he added.
He assured the House that any extra packs will not go to waste as there will be no shortage of means to distribute them to homes or institutions.
Collection of the packs will start from July 20 at community clubs and residents' committee (RCs) centres. The exercise is expected to be completed by Aug 2. Volunteers will distribute the packs to vulnerable groups.
Dr Ng said the NDP exco team will facilitate requests for more bags.
"For many heartlanders, these are physical touch points, commonalities... Never dismiss these symbols even though the cost is little," he added.