Monday, 4 May 2015

President declares August 7 a public holiday for SG50

August 7 will be a public holiday in Singapore this year to commemorate the nation's 50 years of independence, which will extend the Jubilee weekend over four days.

Chairman of SG50 Steering Committee Minister Heng Swee Keat says, "SG50 is a unique moment in our young nation’s history. It is a time for us to show appreciation to our pioneers, to strengthen our ties as one big Singaporean family, and to celebrate all that is special, all that we love, about our home. Many Singaporeans and organisations have come up with ideas on how to make SG50 meaningful and personal.”

Over the extended weekend, programmes will be prepared around the island such as at the Marina Bay area, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, parks, and the Sports Hub. There will also be carnivals and mini-parades being held in neighbourhoods for families, friends and neighbours to spend time together.   

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SG50 plans may be adjusted

The SG50 steering committee will consider whether to adjust plans for the Republic’s 50th birthday celebrations, in light of the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, said its chairman Heng Swee Keat.

Mr Heng, who is Education Minister, today (March 30) told reporters this on the sidelines of a visit to Changkat Primary School. Asked by reporters about whether the festivities will take into account Mr Lee’s death, Mr Heng said SG50 and its related activities are about “what we stand for as Singaporeans (and) what we are going to do together to build a better future”.

“How we are going to modify particular aspects of the programme, my committee will have to look at that in the coming days,” said Mr Heng, who added that he welcomed ideas from Singaporeans.

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S’poreans request for 1-week public holiday to get over loss of Lee Kuan Yew

Singaporeans from all walks of life who spent the past week mourning the loss of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew have formally requested the government for a one-week public holiday to be set aside for coming to terms with their loss.

They say this period of down time is needed for their bereavement and acceptance of the eternal demise of the elder statesman.

One Singaporean, Zho Hao Lam, said: “Singaporeans would really appreciate it if we can have some time to ourselves and reflect upon our loss.”

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Correct Not to Declare a Public Holiday for Lee Kuan Yew's Passing/Funeral

In what must be a trying time for the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, following the death of his father and the country's 1st PM, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), I do believe he and his Govt have handled the matter in a very professional manner. He handled himself with poise when announcing the death on TV on Monday morning. He was close to tears but composed himself to deliver a fitting statement in the 3 national languages he's proficient in, English, Mandarin and Malay.

And the funeral arrangements and national mourning were done professionally too, taking into consideration both the private needs of the family and that of the nation as a whole. A 7 day mourning period, the first 2 being private, a State funeral and a private cremation. The State Flag lowered to half-mast, the Lying in State at Parliament and a motion/tribute to LKY in the House. All these are good and proper precedents to set and follows the norm in most countries. The tribute in Parliament was a fitting touch, recognising the supremacy of the House as the principal representatives of the people. Many countries use this method. In Australia last year following the death of Gough Whitlam, a motion was moved in the Australian Parliament for MPs and Senators to express their feelings on the country's 21st PM.

I suspect and hope that a 21 gun salute will take place on Sunday and maybe a 'Missing Man Flypast' by the Air Force in LKY's honour. But amidst all these outpouring of grief, there's 1 glaring omission, perhaps even 2. The 1st - no declaration of a public holiday, either on the day of his death or for his State Funeral. However this is a correct precedent to set. A public holiday should only be accorded for the death of a sitting or serving President, perhaps even a serving PM. The other is of course, no switching to mournful music or a cancellation of normal programmes on TV and radio. Both of these things occurred when President Benjamin H Sheares died in office in 1981 (I believe the same occurred for President Yusof Ishak's death in 1970, but I was too young to remember).

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Impractical to make all key festivals public holidays

We appreciate the perspectives shared by many Singaporeans on whether Thaipusam should be reinstated as a public holiday. As many have noted, it was a public holiday until 1968. (“Reinstate some public holidays”; Feb 11, online)

The prospect of the British withdrawal and the need to compete for a living in world markets necessitated many changes in the country. The Government decided to reduce the number of public holidays, among other things.

The decision on which to give up in 1968 was reached only after careful discussions with various religious groups. The Muslims chose to give up Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday and an extra day for Hari Raya Puasa.

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Can we have our holidays back now?

There has been heightened public discourse on the reinstatement of Thaipusam as a Public Holiday in Singapore. An online petition to make Thaipusam a holiday has gathered more than 10,000 signatures within 24 hours. There has even been an event organized at Hong Lim Park on 14 February to stand in solidarity with Indians and demand for Thaipusam to be gazetted as a religious public holiday under the Holidays Act.

There have been a handful of arguments which support this. One argument which is central to the aim of the petitioners is the disparity between the number of holidays for the major races of Singapore as outlined in the picture below.

It is indeed a very convincing argument. If the strong show of support from Non-Indians for Thaipusam to be made a public holiday isn’t a hallmark of our much-vaunted Racial Harmony, then I don’t know what is.

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Why Thaipusam is no longer a public holiday in Singapore
Reuters/REUTERS - A devotee carrying his kavadi waits to start his procession during Thaipusam festival in Singapore February 3, 2015. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival observed on the day of the full moon during the Tamil calendar month of Thai, and celebrated in honour of the Hindu god Lord Murugan. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The manpower ministry says Thaipusam is no longer a public holiday in Singapore because it was one of several religious observances that were given up by various religious leaders in 1968.

In a letter to the Singaporean Today newspaper on Friday evening, Ministry of Manpower (MOM)'s Workplace Safety and Strategy Division director Alvin Lim said the religious public holidays were given up due to the need to compete in the global market, following the withdrawal of British colonial troops.

His letter could be viewed as a response to claims that public holidays here were allocated by race, as opposed to what it actually is — religion.

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