Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, Ms Indranee Thurai Rajah, has been in politics since 2001. She responds to SG:Indian on the challenges our community faces, how businesses can cope with COVID-19 and how we can leverage diversity as a strength.
SG:Indian: COVID-19 has created considerable difficulties to Indian businesses, particularly to retailers and F&B outlets. What advice would you give them to help them cope with the difficulties they currently face? What government programs can they take advantage of to cope with the current situation?
Minister Indranee: The COVID-19 situation has posed many challenges, and many among us – from businesses to individuals, have been through a lot on this journey. Despite the bumps, I am confident we can pull together as one. I would like to assure the community that we are committed to living as a COVID-19 resilient nation. The Government is taking a careful and calibrated approach towards our COVID-19 safe management measures. We will progress carefully by monitoring the number of severe COVID-19 cases, and look out for the health and safety of our people. Our approach also prevents our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
We have provided targeted support where needed, especially for sectors that continue to be hard-hit. The Ministry of Finance recently announced a $640m support package for affected businesses and workers, for the extension of the stabilisation phase. At the national level, we extended the Jobs Support Scheme to sectors such as food and beverage, and retail, to help ensure people stay employed. At the more sector specific level, we extended the COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund to provide additional support for our taxi and private-hire car drivers during this period.
The Government will continue to fine-tune its measures to provide targeted help where needed. PM Lee had said that Singapore will take between three to six months to get to the new normal safely. I hope that everyone can continue to hang in there, stay safe and look out for your loved ones. Please reach out to relevant government agencies or SINDA, if you require any form of help or support.
When people of different backgrounds come together, they offer different perspectives which promote innovation and problem solving.”
SG:Indian: The Indian community is very diverse. How can we embrace our differences/diversity as a strength? How can the Indian community further build upon the progress achieved to date?
Minister Indranee: Despite the rich diversity of Indians in Singapore – different identities and languages, the community has come together for the common good of the community. To further build upon progress achieved to date, the Indian community should continue to come together and strive towards a common goal and further uplift the community. Chief among these goals is the pursuit of social upliftment, and creating a cohesive community where everyone enjoys and has access to resources and opportunities to fulfil their life aspirations.
I believe that diversity builds strength. When people of different backgrounds come together, they offer different perspectives which promote innovation and problem solving. This does not apply to just the Indian community but to Singaporeans in general. We aspire to build a cohesive society, as expressed by our pledge to be one united people regardless of race, language or religion. At the founding of our nation, our nation demanded a willingness to compromise, a readiness to reach out and build bridges across different communities, and the will to forge common ground based on our shared aspirations for all. This endeavour has not changed, and will always require constant tending as our population becomes more diverse.
My hope is for us to move beyond tolerance towards deeper mutual understanding and appreciation of the different communities. It is important to ensure that Singaporeans of different communities have regular, positive interactions with each other in their daily lived experience, enjoy shared memories even as we celebrate the heritage and cultures of each community.
SG:Indian: What are three key challenges/problems that the Indian community is facing today, as you see it? What is the government’s plan to help us tackle them?
Minister Indranee: Due to the pandemic, the three key areas that we want to focus on to uplift the Indian community are:
- Mental health and well-being issues. With COVID-19, people are facing increased stress, including anxiety over uncertainties, finances, work, and academic performance for students. Social interaction has also been a challenge, and this may impact people’s mental well-being if they find it more difficult to turn to friends for support. The Government recognises this and set up the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being to coordinate strategies to tackle mental health issues at the national level. Individuals who need help to manage mental health issues should not be afraid to seek help. Everyone should also provide the care and concern to their loved ones or those around them who may need help.
- Digital literacy. The pandemic has accelerated the rate of digitalisation everywhere. When students go through home-based learning, parents themselves must be familiar with the digital tools used, such as Zoom. People are also finding it more convenient to order food via delivery platforms such as Grab or Food Panda. We are also moving towards digital payment modes such as PayNow. Hence, digital literacy is especially important during this period and even more so for seniors. That is why MCI launched the Seniors Go Digital programme, to assist seniors with digital adoption.
- Women’s development. The Government has dedicated 2021 as the Year of Celebrating SG Women. We are well-represented across various sectors where Indian women have made significant strides, and I hope to see more confident women in our community, at all ages and ensure that they are empowered to pursue the things they want to do. We are helping vulnerable and disadvantaged Indian women. For example, SINDA started Project Athena, which empowers single Indian mothers to become confident, self-sufficient, and resilient individuals. The programme works closely with single mothers and their children to identify their needs and offer transformative support. SINDA will also introduce a broad-ranging women development framework for women of all ages, where each one can gain valuable knowledge and skillsets that will add value to their intended life path. We will continue to look into implementing even more effective programmes that aim to uplift all women and build up their support systems.
I am heartened to see many Indian youths contributing meaningfully to social causes and at leadership platforms…”
SG:Indian: In the last election, the ruling party did not field any new Indian candidates. How can we encourage the development of capable Indian leaders, so that in subsequent elections, we have one or more new Indian candidates? How can the Indian community of Singapore best contribute to nation building?
Minister Indranee: There are exemplary leaders across all races. They also include Indian leaders in business, the arts, and public service, past and present, who have contributed significantly to nation building – the late Mr. S Rajaratnam, one of our founding fathers who authored our National Pledge and articulated our aspiration to be “one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion.” Mr. J Y Pillay is also one of our pioneers that helped build up the Singapore economy and was the founding Chairman of the Singapore Airlines. Mr. Sundaresh Menon SC was formerly Singapore’s Attorney-General and currently our Chief Justice, who contributed significantly to the justice system in Singapore and strengthened our position in the world as the leader for international commercial dispute resolution.
I am extremely delighted to know the younger generation are also blazing their own trail. For example, social entrepreneur Mr. Sazzad Hossain, was listed on Forbes 30 under 30 Asia for setting up a Singapore-based social enterprise to support migrant workers. You may have also heard of the three young Indian ladies (Ms. A Aarthi, Ms. Vaishnavi Naidu Rajendran, and Ms. Sindhura Kalidas), who formed Women of Shakti (WOS) to provide foreign domestic workers from India and Sri Lanka greater access to healthcare and opportunities to attend English classes as well as writing, storytelling and dance workshops. Mr. T Devanantthan who struggled with mental health issues, set up Mental ACT with his partner in 2017, which provides counselling, crisis intervention, and various workshops and panel sessions to educate the Indian community on the importance of mental health.
I am heartened to see many Indian youths contributing meaningfully to social causes and at leadership platforms, and hope that everyone can contribute to the community in their own ways.
I encourage anyone who wishes to serve, regardless of your race, to step forward.
SG:Indian: Deepavali symbolises light overcoming darkness. The times we live in can be very depressing. What is your message of hope to SG:Indians this Deepavali?
Minister Indranee: Do not lose hope because we are moving towards our goal of living as a COVID resilient nation. Just like how Deepavali marks the triumph of good over evil, we will persevere through these dark times, together with our loved ones.
I wish everyone a Happy Deepavali and stay safe.
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