Speech by Mr. Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC)
Debate on Parks and Trees Acts
I rise in support of the motion.
Today, as we debate on the Parks and Trees Act, I would like to talk about a broader point, which is to deepen the connection between our people and our nature.
There’s a beautiful Chinese saying, 钟灵毓秀. 钟灵毓秀 means that Nature’s beauty brings forth the talent and character in people. Indeed, for those of us who have experienced the joy of nature, we know intuitively that nature centres and nourishes the soul.
Mr Henry Kwek with a calligraphy piece saying 钟灵毓秀 at Ground-Up Initiative, an NGO in Nee Soon. (Photo/ Ground-Up Initiative)
At the same time, most Singaporeans I meet hold NParks in high regard. In particular, the residents of Kebun Baru deeply appreciate how NParks has tended to Bishan Park and Lower Pierce Reservoir Park, as well as the numerous neighbourhood parks nested within Kebun Baru. My residents are also looking forward to the upcoming Thomson Nature Park sited along the Central Reserve.
Given the significant effort we have invested in ensuring that nature is at our people’s doorstep, we should strive to get as many Singaporeans to walk through that door, and enjoy the full extent of Singapore’s beautiful nature.
NParks has indeed done more than its fair share to engage the public. Just to name a few, over the last few years, N Parks has developed:
But while NParks is working hard to engage Singaporeans, it is going against the prevailing trend – one where our children and youth are growing up as full-fledged digital natives, emotionally disengaging with the physical world. Increasingly, mobile phones and iPads are becoming digital pacifiers for our children. We see that in every coffee shop, every social gathering, and in pretty much in every home with young children.
This trend is not just limited to Singapore. Last year, my wife and I hiked at a National Park in the United States for two days. We were surprised to encounter a slick advertising blitz targeting the youth, so as to encourage them to visit the parks. When we dug deeper, we realised that park visitors in the US consist largely of baby-boomers and Gen X. The Millennials are missing. In fact, the US National Parks has identified the lukewarm interest from the millennial as the single largest threat to public support for the country’s National Park. So NParks is not just facing this trend alone.
As such, I would like to propose that we systematically incorporate nature into our children’s curriculum. There are 3 reasons why we should take this approach:
1. Existing, largely optional outreach efforts to our children will naturally attract those who are already pre-disposed to nature, or to children whose school leaders see the benefit of interacting with nature. As much as NPark endeavours, a significant number of our children may not have a chance to develop a meaningful bond with nature.
2. MCCY and MOE are expanding the outward-bound school, so as to ensure that all Singaporean youth have a chance to experience OBS. In the same way, our full-time NSFs have regular interaction with nature in their routine exercises. At some point or another, our youth will have a mandated dose of nature. However, in both situations, we are setting up nature as adversity to be overcome. As such, not all of our youth will end up embracing nature in a positive way.
3. We have set up our education system to cover the fundamentals in life. Over the years, we have started teaching art, so as to imbue our children with a sense of aesthetics. And we have always taught our children physical education, so as to develop their motor skills and to teach the benefits of sports. And recently, we started emphasizing on values, so as to equip our children with the right moral compass in life. In the same manner, especially since our children are raised as city-dwellings in the digital rage, I believe we must build a deep and intuitive connection between our children and our nature.
Perhaps a good way to start is to encourage our primary schools and secondary schools to have quarterly visits to our parks. Some of these trips can be to neighbouring national parks or park connectors. Others can be to iconic national parks such as Pulau Ubin, Ceck Jawa, or Sunggei Buloh.
And when regular school trips take place, perhaps NParks can dedicate more funding to have NPark rangers to introduce the beauty of our animals and flora to our children, and to introduce them to SGBioAtlas and Spark app. Not all children will grow up to be passionate nature-lovers, but at least growing up they have a chance to understand its beauty.
Additional Funding for NParks
Next I would talk about funding for NParks. Over the last few years, I have gradually developed a deeper understanding of NPark’s operations. NParks continue to build more iconic park destinations, such as Gardens by the Bay, Palau Ubin, HortiPark. NParks continue to plant more trees as we build more housing estates, and many more trees in forested town like the upcoming Tengah town. NPark continue to build more park connectors.
Yet against rising expectations of our residents and sharply increased manpower cost for maintenance and pruning, NPark receives a relatively modest operating grant of slightly more than $200M annually. To put it in context, that is around 0.3% of our total budget.
I have no doubt that NParks will effectively stretch every government dollar it gets. In fact, NPark’s strong corporate partnerships, and its ability to attract top business leaders to NPark’s board, are testimony of NPark’s entrepreneurial spirit. But at some point, we might arrive at a stage where the budget might not match NPark’s enlarged mission.
With the economy where it is, resources throughout the government are understandably tight. However, I do hope that when the opportunity arises, NParks will be allocated more funding to deliver its mission, and to strengthen outreach.
Madam Speaker, let me conclude my speech.
Recently, my grassroots members and I were invited to NPark’s ground-breaking ceremony at Thomson Nature Park. We had to take a short hike into the middle of the forest. And during that short journey, our NPark guides gave us a vivid introduction to the various animals living in the vicinity – the Greater Slow Loris, the Banded Leaf Monkey, the Sundar Pangolin. We also chance upon a baby Big Eye Green Whip snake. We even also learnt that the Sambar deers we occasionally see were descendants from a major Mandai zoo escape in the 70s. It was a beautiful experience, and it stayed in our memories.
I hope that all Singaporeans, especially our children, can enjoy similar experiences, and develop a deep love for our land.
With that, I stand in support of the motion. Thank you.