Friends and fellow colleagues from the MND Family,

I'm very happy to join all of you at this observance ceremony. Let me start by wishing everyone a Happy National Day in advance.

This year marks our 52nd year of independence. I'm sure we can agree there's much for us to be grateful for as we look back on how far we have come as a nation.

It's very fitting that we are having our National Day Observance Ceremony this year at HDB. It was not too long ago, when we look back at the early 1950s and 1960s, when our urban landscape was completely different. It was disorderly. It was dotted with slums and squatters. The bulk of the population in the 1950s lived in the city centre, which had no space for housing and was disorderly and in slums. The rest of the population outside the city were living in kampungs, not HDB flats that we see today.

Housing shortages then were a major problem. The Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) under the British Colonial government did not build enough homes. They knew what the problem was, they had to build more homes, but they just could not solve this problem. They estimated that the local industry did not have the capacity to build the number of homes that they needed. They thought that if you push the industry too hard to build too many homes too quickly, prices would shoot up and then you will have another problem. They were caught without any good solution.

SIT itself was poorly organised. The majority of the staff were expatriates � these were the technical and professional staff �but many of the experienced ones had resigned, and the remaining staff were completely demoralised.

So it's not surprising that when HDB was formed in 1960, the view then was that very few new public housing authorities in the world could have been confronted with so many problems and so formidable a task at the start of its formation. Today we think that everything looks like it's easy to do, to build flats, but at that time it was a huge problem confronting HDB.

But HDB under its first chairman Mr Lim Kim San was not daunted and took on this challenge. Within three years, HDB had built nearly 23,000 units of homes, which was about the same number of flats that SIT built in its entire 32 years of existence. This is quite a remarkable feat.

That's the can-do and never-say-die spirit of MND and our agencies. It's the spirit that has enabled us to build today's Singapore. It's the same spirit that must guide us in the future, to keep pushing the boundaries, to keep defying the odds and to keep reaching new heights of excellence.

I'm glad that we have many dedicated and enthusiastic officers who indeed uphold this spirit and take pride in their work. This morning, we will be recognising the outstanding work of 15 teams in the MND family. I'll just share three examples with you.

One is the multi-agency team led by HDB which implemented the Kampung Admiralty project. This is an integrated development in Woodlands with a host of amenities under one roof, which will be completed later this year. The project has several firsts. It is the first to fully integrate housing for the elderly with a medical centre, eldercare and childcare centres, retail outlets and a hawker centre, all integrated into one development. It's the first to have an active aging hub co-located with a childcare centre. It's also the first to have an automated bicycle parking system. The bicycles will be stored underground protected from theft, weather and vandalism.

It's a unique project with many firsts. It's also designed with many common spaces to bring people together and to strengthen the community spirit. Our environment shapes our actions and behaviour. So when we designed this with more common spaces, hopefully people will come together and we can nurture stronger community bonds. This is the collective effort of multiple agencies, not just HDB, but includes other agencies like MOH and NEA.

The second example is the NParks team that developed the Learning Forest at Singapore Botanic Gardens. I'm sure many of you would have gone to see it. If you have not, please go because it is truly a wonderful place to visit. This is the most significant enhancement we have made to the Singapore Botanic Gardens since its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Before the project was initiated, the site was originally disused land infested with weeds. But the NParks team came in, they restored and enhanced the area into a valuable site for education and conservation. They engaged over 800 stakeholders, including schools, the community and corporate partners. From the freshwater wetlands to the lowland rainforest, there are now over 3 km of nature trails and boardwalks for the public to enjoy.

The third example I will cite is the inter-agency taskforce for the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) which was led by BCA and MND. We all know that we face challenges in the construction sector. We need to be more productive, we need to build with fewer workers, to build more efficiently and safely. It's a challenge we have been grappling with for years. But we are making progress and the use of advanced technologies can enable us to have breakthroughs.

The taskforce introduced various strategies to push for higher adoption of these productive technologies. For example, they introduced the Public Sector Construction Productivity Fund (PSCPF) so that public sector projects can tap on this fund to offset the higher cost of technologies which are being adopted. They are building up capabilities in the industry and working with regulatory agencies to remove regulatory hurdles to technology adoption. This is a collaboration across 15 Ministries and agencies. It's a major step we are taking to transform the Built Environment sector.

I have cited three examples; there are many more. I understand we have a bumper crop of awards this year and I thank all the winning teams for their efforts to build a home that we can be proud of. I also want to thank all of you for the hard work you have put in in MND and all our agencies to make Singapore a more endearing home.

Across the work that we do, these winning projects as well as the work that all of you do, we see several common themes. The first is a refusal to accept the status quo. This means to never believe the current way of doing things is the best and to just continue to repeat it. We must have an attitude that says the status quo is not good enough and to change and make things better.

Another common thread is the boldness and willingness to experiment, to take some risks, to innovate and try to do better. Some of you may be worried that by taking some risks, something may go wrong. Will I end up with a career-ending move? I understand these are on your thoughts but if we all think this way, nothing will change. So another common thread you see among the winning teams is the willingness to experiment, to push the boundaries, to innovate and to try new things.

The third mindset is the willingness to collaborate with others, both in the public sector and in the private sector. This willingness to collaborate is very important because it's also a mindset that says not everything needs to be invented here. You may have heard of the NIH syndrome � the Not Invented Here syndrome. It basically means if it's not invented here, it's not as good. That's a mindset you see in various organisations sometimes. But a willingness to collaborate means you are willing to tap on ideas from the public sector, from the private sector, you are willing to learn and have the humility to accept that not everything needs to come from yourself. You don't have all the answers but you are prepared to adapt the different solutions from both the public and the private sector. That's an important mindset to have as well.

These are the mindsets we need to have in order to embark on our work and to do them even better. There is indeed a lot that we must do in the coming years. There's a lot of infrastructure we will have to build. Singapore is a small country. Our island is small but we have not reached our physical limits. There's a lot more we can do and must do to build new infrastructure for the future.

I'm sure all of you have heard of major plans we have to transform our city. We are expanding our airport and our seaport. At the airport, we are building Terminal 5. Terminal 5 itself will double the capacity of Changi Airport today. We plan to do this over the coming decade, perhaps a little beyond, but that's already being planned. On the western part of Singapore, we are building a new Tuas Megaport, that means consolidating all the seaports we have, including in the city and in Pasir Panjang, moving them to the west and building a seaport that is double the capacity of today's port. So in air and at sea, we will be doubling the capacity of both ports.

We are also building new housing estates like in Tengah, we are building new Regional Centres like in Jurong Lake District, which will also be the site of our High Speed Rail. In Woodlands we will have the Rapid Transit System Link with Johor, in Punggol we will have the creative cluster, so many different things that are being done. If you put it all together, it is in fact a significant investment in new infrastructure over the coming decade.

As we embark on these plans to build our future city, we must look at how we can do our work even better. Unlike the 60s, where the problem was housing shortages, we just need to build quickly and as many as possible, that problem has been solved. But there will new challenges in the future. We have to build better homes, public expectations are higher and we have to meet these demands. We have to build in ways that are safer, more productive, more sustainable and we must make Singapore a more liveable city, a better City-in-a-Garden. These are the challenges before us and we must all strive to do our work even better.

As we embark on these future plans, let us remember and be inspired by what our pioneers had done. Remember the challenges they have faced. SIT said it cannot be done, but HDB came and said we can make it happen and they did. Likewise, when we look ahead, in the coming years and the coming decade, there will be many things we want to do, new breakthroughs we have to achieve in building our future city. Sceptics will tell you it cannot be done. But remember what our pioneers have done and be inspired by their actions. Let's all work hard together to prove the sceptics wrong, and make things happen as our pioneers did. That's the spirit that will enable Singapore to continue to succeed in the future. That's the spirit that will enable us to build a better Singapore for ourselves and our children.

On that note, I wish all of you a Happy National Day.

Source: Ministry of National Development, Singapore