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Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Joint Forum on Professional Development and Mobility for Engineers

Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Joint Forum on Professional Development and Mobility for Engineers

Her Excellency, Margriet Vonno, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Singapore,

Prof. Yeoh Lean Weng, President of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES),

Er. Tan Seng Chuan, International Outreach Committee Chairman of IES,
 
Distinguished guests,
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Good afternoon.
 
Engineering is part of the Singapore story.
 
1. It is a pleasure to be here in the presence of so many engineers. The spirit of engineering is to solve problems, and turn what might initially seem impossible into reality. That is why engineering has been an important part of the Singapore story. From the beginning, engineers have helped us build this nation and overcome our constraints.
 
2. As a small country, land has been a key preoccupation for us. How we can maximise the land that we have, how we can recycle our land efficiently and how we can create more land for ourselves.
 
3. Engineering has played a significant role in this endeavor. Land reclamation has allowed Singapore to increase our land area by about 25% over the past two centuries, and helped us to maintain a liveable environment while supporting our economic and population growth. Our first land reclamation project dates back to 1822, in the area now known as Boat Quay. Since then, we have embarked on bolder projects to meet our national needs.
 
4. In the 1990s, the JTC Corporation (JTC) reclaimed land to merge a collection of islands off our south-western coast to form Jurong Island. This was to transform Singapore into a global petrochemical hub.
 
5. Another achievement is JTC’s Jurong Rock Caverns – Southeast Asia’s first commercial underground storage facility for liquid hydrocarbons. This freed up 60-hectares of scarce land (about 84 football fields) which would otherwise have been needed for storage tanks.
 
6. Last week, the National Environment Agency of Singapore (NEA) also won a global engineering award presented by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) for its outstanding feat in developing the 350-hectares Semakau Landfill, the world’s first offshore landfill, which affirms the role of engineering in sustainable development.
 
7. We have also learnt from other countries on land reclamation along the way. This includes the Dutch empoldering concept used for reclamation works in Pulau Tekong, which reduces the amount of sand needed for reclamation and saves on construction costs. We will continue to learn from best practices as we seek new solutions for liveability, and as we increasingly look to underground spaces as the next frontier for space creation, to free up valuable surface land.
 
8. Water is another of Singapore’s constraints. Both the Netherlands and Singapore face water problems – too much water for the Netherlands, but the reverse for Singapore. We have limited natural water resources. About 54 years ago, when we first gained independence, we did not even have enough water for this country. But sound long-term planning, and investment in research and technology, have enabled us to build a robust and diversified supply of water to meet our needs.
 
9. Let me share a story. Some of you may be familiar with our Singapore River which runs through key tourist destinations such as Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. It is a lovely river we are proud of. During the colonial era, the River was the centre of trade and commercial activities, and became polluted due to the heavy traffic. After independence, we had to decide what to do about it.
 
10. Many Singaporeans know of Dr. Albert Winsemius, a Dutch economist and Chief Economic Adviser to the Singapore Government from 1961 to 1984. Dr. Winsemius, who knew Mr Lee Kuan Yew well, recommended covering up the polluted River to turn it into a sewer. Mr Lee disagreed and instead promised Dr. Winsemius that he would one day catch a fish in the Singapore River. During his final visit to Singapore in 1993, Dr. Winsemius did catch a fish and said he was never happier to lose a wager.
 
11. The clean-up, which took 10-years, was successfully completed in 1987 and paved the way for the Marina Barrage and Marina Reservoir. With the creation of new reservoirs and damming of rivers, two-thirds of Singapore’s land are water catchment areas today and a source of sustainable water supply.
 
Engineering will help us tackle the problem statements of the future.
 
12. Engineering’s problem solving spirit will continue to help Singapore progress. This is all the more so, as we now live in a globally connected, technologically driven world.
 
13. Technological advancements can indeed bring uncertainty because of the disruptions it pose. But in larger part, technology can be a force for human progress. When I was in Japan in October this year, I visited OMRON – once a small factory, but now a leader in technology. The founder, Mr Kazuma Tateishi’s management philosophy was this: “To the machine, the work of the machine, to man, the thrill of further creation.”
 
14. Like Mr Kazuma Tateishi, I do not think that automation and technology will replace human workers. They will augment and empower human workers, not displace us. This is especially important for Singapore, in view of our ageing population. We need innovative engineering solutions to improve productivity, and help older workers to work for longer, if they want to. This is one important way to maximize the potential of our workforce.
 
15. Another great challenge of our times is climate change. Here, Singapore and the Netherlands have common ground and can work closely together. Due to its geographical location, the Netherlands is prone to flooding, and has since emerged as a global leader in designing techniques to keeping rising waters at bay. Singapore is also a low-lying island - a third of our nation is less than five metres above the mean sea level.
 
16. Last year, Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to enhance cooperation on environmental and water management. The agreement facilitates knowledge sharing on water management and industry collaborations on water solutions, among other areas. As Singapore transits to a circular economy, it also brings opportunities to collaborate with Dutch firms who are forerunners in resource recovery and waste management.
 
17. Singapore will continue to do our part for climate change. At the same time, we have few alternative energy options available to us. This means that we need to exercise imagination and ingenuity to achieve a future where our energy is cleaner, affordable and reliable. We need solutions such as adopting clean mobility options, reducing carbon emission of power generation; enhancing grid resilience through energy storage solutions; and even Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technologies in future to convert carbon emissions into useful products.
 
18. With the world’s population projected to hit 10 billion by 2050, we will also need sufficient food to meet our needs. Singapore has set up an Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP), to catalyse innovation by bringing together high-tech farming and research and development activities. We are also supporting investments into innovative agri-food technology to transform how food is grown and produced. This is done in three priority areas – urban agriculture, aquaculture and alternative proteins. These efforts strengthen and build on Singapore’s established industries, like advanced manufacturing, specialty chemicals, biopharmaceuticals and food manufacturing. We believe Singapore can become a global leader for developing and commercialising solutions that can be exported to the region.
 
19. There is much ahead to do, and that is why we need more engineers. We must equip our young people with strong Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills. We are glad to see them embark on science and engineering careers.
 
20. The Government is also working with industry, unions and institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to support lifelong learning, beyond academic grades. Professional associations like IES have an important part to play. I am happy to note that IES has formed a tripartite Steering Committee to develop a competency-based National Engineering Career Progression Pathway for Technologists and Technicians.
 
21. This will complement the current academic pathways and provide a non-academic route for Technologists and Technicians to be accredited Chartered Engineers, even without an academic qualification. The IES will work with the IHLs to identify industry-relevant Continuing Education & Training (CET) programmes mapped to the Skills Framework (a SkillsFuture initiative developed for the Singapore workforce to promote skills mastery and lifelong learning), to be progressively rolled out from the first quarter of 2020.
 
Conclusion
 
22. Let me end with a few words on the longstanding friendship between the Netherlands and Singapore. We are like-minded partners, with similar values that emphasise overcoming challenges through hard work, resilience and innovation. We are both outward looking countries with open economies, and firm advocates of the multilateral trading system.
 
23. We have deepened our relations with the MOU signed last year, between the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and Enterprise Singapore. The MOU helps more Singapore and Dutch enterprises to do business together and expand their operations into the Asia and Europe markets. For example, our local firm Durapower Technology has become a close strategic partner to Dutch conglomerate VDL Groep. The firm is now a major battery supplier and joint development partner to various VDL companies for the serial production of autonomous commercial vehicles for the Europe and Singapore markets.
 
24. There are other similarities between the Netherlands and Singapore, like limited natural resources and ageing populations. Thus, we benefit from working together, sharing knowledge and exploring new solutions. We can continue to learn from each other and take our collaborations to an even higher level. I hope to see the partnership between IES and KIVI grow in strength from year to year, helping both countries build stronger peopleto-people ties.
 
25. Thank you.
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