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Minister K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, was elected Member of Parliament in Chong Pang in 1988. He spoke to the Nee Soon Link about the changes he’s seen in these 30 years.


“How credible is he?”


Q: Minister, what did you feel when you first came to Chong Pang?


A: Chong Pang residents were and are mainly Chinese-and-dialect-speaking, resettled from kampungs nearby, very traditional, solid, good people.  

I think they thought, “How credible is this guy? Law school graduate, speaking English, so young.” I was only 29!

I focused on getting to know people. Walked the ground intensely. For example, during Hungry Ghost Festival, I will attend almost all the dinners. I attended all other temple dinners and other events. I met a lot of people, and over time, a bond was created. They got to know me.



Q: And how does it feel to be in your 30th year here?


A: (Laughing) Feels like 30 years!


I have known many residents for over 30 years. I’ve seen them work hard to provide for their families. Now when I visit them, they have a family photo with the children in graduation robes. It’s a great feeling to see them doing well.



Residents’ needs changing


Q: What was Yishun like at that time?


A: In 1988, Yishun MRT was still being built. Many residents had just moved. Some were still adapting to high-rise living. Yishun was seen as a quiet, faraway place.   



Q: Now, we have malls, hospitals and MRT stations. Does it mean you can relax?


A: Definitely not. There are changing needs. We have to cater to aging residents. We have set up wellness kampungs and the first dementia-friendly community in Singapore. At the same time we also have to meet the expectations of newer residents. So there are always new challenges.



From neglected shops to “second Chinatown”


Q: When you look back on all the things you did, what are you most happy about?


A: Many things. Perhaps, collectively, the many steps we took to rebrand Chong Pang. In the early 90s more shopping choices opened up. Business in Chong Pang was affected. They were concerned that Chong Pang will become a very quiet place.  


We decided to do something. The Shopkeepers and Merchant Association came together with grassroots. Put funds together, I got Town Council to support. We transformed two rows of shops into a shaded shopping belt and named it “Chong Pang City”. With active promotion, business improved. We did many things. Chong Pang was also among the first neighborhoods where the shops were sold to the shopkeepers. Chong Pang City transformed the whole atmosphere. Now, Chong Pang City is a popular shopping and dining destination. During Chinese New Year it has a great festive atmosphere. Some people even call it a “second Chinatown”.


Becoming a Minister


Q: It’s also your tenth year in Cabinet. How do you balance government and constituency work?


A:  It is challenging. But it has to be done. And I also ask my fellow GRC MPs to help me. I try and keep on top of constituency issues with a lot of help from my fellow MPs, grassroots leaders, Town Council and constituency staff.



Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing us in the next few decades?


A: What’s often called the “silver tsunami”. The proportion of working-age citizens to elderly citizens is dropping rapidly. By 2030, there’ll be only 2 working adults to support each elderly person, less than half the proportion today.


This will change our society in a number of ways. Healthcare infrastructure and spending is an obvious one. How do we take care of our seniors with limited resources, labour and land? Another would be the impact on our economy. The labour force will shrink. What will that do to our economic vibrancy? Defence planning has to also factor this in. Many aspects.


 The sheer size and speed at which our society is aging means we will face many tough choices.