Opening Address by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment at MSE Excellence Day on 1 April 2022
1 Good morning. It is my pleasure to be here at MSE Excellence Day to celebrate the achievements of MSE Family officers.
Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence
2 This year's celebration is especially meaningful as 2022 marks our Ministry's Golden Jubilee. We are commemorating five decades of our Ministry's journey in building a green and sustainable Singapore. This is a special occasion for me personally, as I was also with our Ministry when we celebrated our 40th anniversary 10 years ago.
3 Right from the early days of nationhood, Singapore has placed emphasis on protecting the environment. We were one of the first countries to form a Ministry of the Environment (or ENV) to tackle issues such as pollution and environmental health in 1972. Helmed by the late Mr Lim Kim San, the first environment minister, ENV was tasked to safeguard the environment amidst the rapid industrialisation of the 70s.
4 Over the years, we have witnessed significant milestones. In 2001, PUB was transferred from the Ministry of Trade and Industry to ENV and was reconstituted to become Singapore's national water authority, overseeing the entire water loop.
5 In the following year, a new statutory board – the National Environment Agency (NEA) – was formed under ENV. This created a leaner, policy-focused Ministry, along with a nimble statutory board focused on implementing environmental policies.
6 In 2004, ENV was renamed the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources to better reflect the Ministry's expanded role in managing Singapore's water resources.
7 More recently on 1 April 2019, we welcomed the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to our ministry family, to oversee food safety and security. SFA brought together food-related functions carried out by the former Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, NEA, and the Health Sciences Authority. Today, SFA turns three – congratulations to all our SFA colleagues!
8 Our Ministry's role, its composition, and even its name have evolved to address changing circumstances and reflect varying emphases over the years. On 27 July 2020, the Ministry was again renamed — to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment. This reflects the Government's strong emphasis on sustainability, and our wide-ranging responsibilities in climate mitigation and adaptation, coastal protection, zero waste and circular economy, as well as food and water security.
9 Singapore's sustainability journey has been truly remarkable. From the clean-up of the Singapore River and the development of markets and hawker centres, to fostering a Clean and Green Singapore, our efforts have significantly improved the quality of life of our people. From the Four National Taps to 30 by 30, we have ensured access to essential resources such as food and water.
10 Internationally, Singapore is active on sustainability issues — from chairing the 3rd Asia Pacific Forum under the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2019, to taking on key facilitating roles at the UN Convention on Climate Change (or UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) meetings, including co-facilitating (with Norway) Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on carbon market rules at COP-26. Singapore will continue to strive to be a trusted and constructive interlocutor, who can be relied upon to work with other countries to strengthen the multilateral framework on sustainability and climate action.
11 Although the past two years will be mostly remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was also an eventful year for sustainable development. In February last year, the Government launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement for sustainable development and climate action. One year on, our sustainability efforts are progressing well. You would have heard our updates on the Green Plan during the Committee of Supply debates last month.
12 We will mark our Golden Jubilee this year by commemorating MSE's milestones and renewing our commitment to build a green and resilient Singapore through videos, events, and meaningful mementos. This will include a commemorative stamp set on environmental sustainability.
13 We look forward to having past and present staff, our partners from the people, private and public sectors, and generations of Singaporeans who have been part of our 50-year journey to join us to celebrate this key milestone. My deepest appreciation for your valuable contributions in safeguarding our environment.
14 As we write the next chapter, I hope to foster a deeper understanding of sustainability issues among our people and to encourage everyone to be stewards of our environment.
Co-Creating with Diverse Stakeholders
15 We will continue to partner stakeholders and citizens to co-create practical and balanced solutions to achieve Singapore's environmental goals and make the Green Plan a reality.
16 For example, the SFA team that won the MSE Citizen Engagement Award today had carried out extensive engagements for the Lim Chu Kang Master Plan. More than 300 passionate stakeholders from diverse backgrounds came together over six months from May to October last year to discuss their aspirations for Singapore's flagship agri-food hub. These included farmers, urban food solution providers, nature groups, institutes of higher learning, grassroots leaders, and members of the public. Many industry players and other stakeholders are keen to embrace high-tech farming, with ideas like shared processing and distribution facilities, and centralised waste management systems for complementary uses which will enhance the entire farming eco-system. The feedback and ideas from the engagements will be folded into the actual planning phase of the Lim Chu Kang Master Plan this year.
Building an Innovative and Agile Public Service
17 Besides building close partnerships, we must continue to build a strong public service. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that innovation, agility and collaboration across the whole-of-government are critical to deliver integrated and quality services to our citizens.
18 We must continue to leverage technology to innovate and transform our operations and services. We see many examples amongst the winners today, using technologies such as Virtual Reality to enhance training, using drones for reservoir surveillance, or leveraging digitalisation to better manage farm visits.
19 The new myENV mobile app led by NEA saw the agencies under MSE Family working together to develop a one-stop mobile interface to provide users with real-time information on our environment, water and food safety. Launched last March, more than 400,000 users have downloaded this app, with 200,000 of them accessing it every month. myENV users can now receive personalised information such as food recalls, nearby dengue hotspots, PSI and heavy rain alerts while on-the-go. The team, one of the winners of today's MSE One Public Service Award, will continue to gather data and leverage technology such as Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning to enhance user experience.
Leadership and Proactive Learning
20 Behind all these achievements and efforts are our people, our most valuable resource. Two key factors that have enabled our officers to persevere despite challenging and uncertain times – transformational leadership and proactive learning.
21 Over the past 50 years, we have been blessed with many visionary and inspiring leaders who led our predecessors to overcome many critical challenges. Two prominent pioneer leaders are Mr Tan Gee Paw, who served as the Permanent Secretary (Environment) from 1995 to 2001 and later as PUB's Chairman from 2001 to 2017, and Mr Loh Ah Tuan, who served as Director-General for Environmental Protection and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of NEA before he retired. Mr Tan provided able leadership and foresight to implement sound policies in environmental health and pollution control to ensure a clean and green country — something Singapore is renowned for. He also played a pivotal role in shaping Singapore's water story. Under his leadership, Singapore developed our third and fourth national taps – NEWater and desalinated water – strengthening our water resilience as a nation. Mr Loh was instrumental in revising the Environmental Public Health Act and the Environment Pollution Control Act. He also oversaw waste collection and disposal facilities, and was extensively involved in major projects such as the Singapore River and Kallang Basin Clean Up.
22 We must ensure that the legacy and inspiration of our past leaders continue to live on through our actions and pursuit of excellence.
23 One of the winners of today's Exemplary Leader Award is Wong Wai Cheng from PUB. Wai Cheng played a key role in leading her division to implement the Smart Water Meter Programme, a key project to drive water conservation and enhance operational efficiency. Smart water meters enable consumers to adjust their water consumption behaviours with greater awareness of their usage. With the roll out of this new system, some staff have to perform new functions or be redeployed to take on new job roles. Wai Cheng personally engaged all 120 of them to explain the transformational journey and transition plans. She also ensured proper training for the officers to build new competencies and embrace new technologies. Wai Cheng obtained the Chartered Engineer Certification in Environmental and Water Engineering in 2020 as part of her professional development, epitomising lifelong learning.
Sustainability Starts with Me
24 Finally, I would like to mention an initiative that is close to all our hearts. As one MSE, we are committed to our role in supporting the sustainability movement through GreenGov.SG launched last July.
25 A group of 24 volunteers from the MSE Family initiated the "Sustainability Starts with Me" Recycling Campaign last year. During the three-month campaign, they sought to cultivate a culture of recycling right and encourage MSE Family officers to be recycling ambassadors. Through the campaign, our officers have gained more knowledge in recycling, are motivated to recycle more, and have more confidence in sharing different recycling tips with their families and friends. Aligned with our Ministry's mission, this ground-up initiative also helped galvanise MSE Family to foster a stronger sustainability culture.
26 I am confident that we will continue to live out this conviction that sustainability starts with me.
27 As we transition to living with COVID, I would like to extend my appreciation and gratitude once again to all our officers for your hard work, commitment and professionalism. I am proud of how you have consistently demonstrated the Public Service values of integrity, service and excellence to create a positive impact for Singapore. The 108 nominations received for this year's Awards across 11 categories bear testament to our Ministry's unwavering dedication to this cause.
28 Fifty years from now, I hope that our future generations will similarly look back at the work of MSE Family with pride and appreciation.
29 Let me share a quote from Ralph Marston: "What you do today can improve all your tomorrows." And that is what we do at MSE — we do not just look at the problems today, but also those which are long-term. As we have seen from the people and projects mentioned, our efforts will go a long way in building a much better tomorrow for our people, whether it is cleaning up the Singapore River, building hawker centres, protecting people from dengue and predicting weather better. All that you do have significance and impact on us as a people and nation, as well as globally. Thank you and my heartiest congratulations to all our award recipients.