We caught up with Nee Soon Town Council’s Chairman, Assoc. Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim over a healthy meal of brown chicken rice. He is after all, Chairman for Singapore’s Healthy Living Master Plan. Here are excerpts from our chat:
Nee Soon Link (NSL): Good afternoon Prof, you are the Town Council Chairman, MP for Nee Soon GRC, Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Health and Transport. You also lead a taskforce on the Healthy Living Master Plan. How do you juggle all of that and family?
Prof.: Good afternoon, and thanks for having me. I am fortunate to have good people working with me in the various offices; everyone plays their part in getting things done. I place a large emphasis on the engagements with my staff and volunteers on the feedback and suggestions I receive from my residents and other Singaporeans. I always see myself as a bridge between people and policy. At home, I have a loving and supportive wife and family who know what is expected of my role. I have been a community leader since the 1990s and my role today is an extension of that. As a family, we make meaningful use of the time we have together, be it through exercise or meals.To make all that happen, you cannot treat work or family as obligations. Instead, you must set your priorities, focus on values that are important to you and do what you do with heart and passion.
NSL: What then to you, are values or the role of a good Town Council?
Prof.: To many residents, the Town Council’s principal role is estate maintenance. It’s the first thing we must deliver. Then we focus on creating a community. Our residents must be at the heart of everything we do. Nee Soon’s core strength is the kampongspirit we inherited from the original villages. We need to sustain and improve that. We launched a Gracious Living Campaign to continue to improve that gracious kampong spirit where everyone looked out for each other. I hope everyone can be a part of it. In terms of values, truth and honesty are critical for a Town Council’s operations. The government provides grants for our operations, but service and conservancy charges (S&CC) also come from our residents. We handle our residents’ money so proper governance is vital. This is our residents’ hard-earned money. Everything must be audited and properly accounted for.
NSL: Apart from work, we are curious about what your growing up years were like?
Prof.: I was brought up to be conscious of the happiness of people around me, and how as a person, I can bring happiness to others. In my kampong, all the children would play and do many things together. It was very simple, and we found joy in little things like building huts and hiding in them. Family conditions can be tough at times but ultimately it was happiness that kept everyone’s spirits up.
NSL: Prof., what is the essence of the Healthy Living Master Plan? Why does it matter?
Prof: We want to make healthy living natural and effortless. The Master Plan is to provide Singaporeans with healthier choices, if they choose to, at various locations. We are bringing all the stakeholders together beyond just the health-related parties. We want to make healthier choices, be it food or recreation, affordable. Good health impacts an individual and his relationship with family and society.For those who want to indulge, you can opt for moderation. My guilty indulgence is durian, but I take it in moderation. Likewise, my family cooks regularly at home and we make an effort to reduce salt, and sugar and opt for healthier substitutes.
NSL: Why did you decide to be an academic and what was the journey like?
Prof.: I never thought I would be one but I always enjoyed learning and knowledge creation. It might be one of the reasons. My parents were frugal and saved to support part of my studies. The rest came from bursary awards. My experience taught me that if you work hard and stay realistic, there will be opportunities for you. Some say that the academic journey would be quite lonely as well. I was lucky I had strong support from my girlfriend whom I met in junior college. She was an integral part of my life then, and still is up till today. She’s my wife now.
NSL: She must play a huge role in your choices. You eventually chose politics. Was she okay with it?
Prof.: It is more a fit, rather than a choice as I was not driven by a political ambition. Growing up in the late 60s and 70s, I saw how politics and the government made life better for people and I was inspired to continue that. As a community leader and activist, I saw the beauty of the Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) first hand – how we helped and benefited people. I still enjoy MPS till today. One learns to handle life a little better. Before I was called to office, I had discussions with my wife. She knows that regardless of whether I was called to office, I would continue to volunteer. I had her full support and I am very thankful for that. I was selected eventually and took it up because I believed I could contribute. In Singapore, being a politician is something worth doing if you enter it with sincerity and honesty. I believe that’s how I was chosen as well – based on those values. We are a small nation and a lot is at stake. Peoples’ lives are at stake and we need good, capable, honest leaders. I always believe that whatever you do, you must have the right attitude and motivation. At the end of the day, you must be able to answer to yourself, your family and to those who trust and support you, and the society you serve.
NSL: Thank you, Prof.!
This article was taken from The Nee Soon Link Issue 05.