Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the REDAS Mid-Autumn Festival Celebration

Tuesday, 29 September 2020


I am very happy to join all of you virtually for the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration this afternoon. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to join REDAS and the industry for the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration, it is always a big affair, but a cosy one, where Members from across the sector, as well as from the construction sector, come together, bond, renew relationships, engage new Members, and strengthen that spirit of partnership that has seen REDAS grow from strength to strength over the years. Indeed the Mid-Autumn Festival is traditionally a time where families and friends gather in reunion. It is in that same spirit that REDAS has and continues to organise events like this. And pandemic not withstanding, you’ve taken this virtually, and I hope that it will not stop you from meeting using technology and other means, so that we continue to connect with one another. In fact, it is in a deepening crisis like this, it is all the more important that we work together.

Supporting the Built Environment Industry

We do not need any reminding whatsoever that COVID-19 has completely transformed our daily lives, and disrupted many sectors of the economy. Today is one very good example of how we have had to adapt to very drastic impositions on the way we do things, on the way we carry out our activities, our business, our social life. For a small open city like Singapore which thrives because of our inter-linkages to the rest of the world, this crisis is especially challenging.  

Yet also for a sector that is often seen as quite domestic in nature, our built environment sector, especially construction, has been hit very hard. On a quarter-on-quarter annualised basis, our construction sector contracted by a staggering 97.1% in the second quarter of this year. In large part, because of Circuit Breaker, and related restrictions. We face challenges on numerous fronts, such as work suspensions, supply chain disruptions, and cash flow issues. Public health measures have also affected operations at developers’ sales galleries and home viewings, especially during the Circuit Breaker period.

I appreciate how our firms have adapted quickly to keep everyone safe, as we continue on this road to recovery. For example, you have adopted Safe Restart measures at construction sites and dormitories to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 among our construction workers. I know that adjusting to all these measures, the start and stop is a tremendous challenge, and we understand the pain and difficulties that many in our construction sector, both main contractors and sub contractors, face at this very challenging times. Developers too have also made many adjustments to comply with safe management measures at your sales galleries, and some of you have taken the initiative to further reduce in-person interactions where possible for the sake of your customers and for the sake of your staff. For example, many of you have conducted the balloting and selection of units online instead. We know that the recovery process is not easy and we have a long journey ahead of us with many twists and turns, and bends in the road ahead, and certainly a lot of unknown and uncertainty ahead of us. And you’ve had to constantly adjust along the way and we should expect to have to continuously adjust as the situation unfolds ahead of us.

But rest assured we will continue to work closely with all of you in the sector to ramp up and recover as quickly as possible. We have provided significant financial and relief to help our construction firms tide over this difficult period. We have also provided a 6-month extension to developers on the Project Completion Period and Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty remission timelines. We will continue to closely monitor the impact of the pandemic on the sector, and will adjust our policies as necessary. We hope that with the relief on these requirements as developers you will be able to continue to provide support to our contractors and minimise delays to projects and in that sense, help one another. In fact, in a serious crisis like this where everyone in the sector has been hit very hard, what we should seek to achieve is that no one in the built environment value chain – from developers to consultants to builders to sub contractors to specialist trades, all the way, up and down the value chain, that no one has to bear an undue share of the burden imposed by COVID-19. Indeed, there are no winners and we all should share the burden so that as far as possible, all of us or as many of us as possible, get through this crisis in one piece. This is so that we can recover from the impact of this pandemic, and preserve industry capacity for us to continue building and improving Singapore.

Building Resilience and Shaping the Future of Singapore’s Built Environment Together
Even as we work hard to tackle the current uncertainty, we should glean whatever lessons we can from the crisis, and continue to prepare for the long term and make adjustments along the way. Let me highlight a couple of areas. 

First, the pandemic has shown us the importance of building resilience in the system. We need to be ready to take on future ‘black swan’ events that may occur. In fact, this pandemic is extremely severe, but as PM had mentioned previously in one of his speeches in Parliament, there is a big worry of Disease X, that promises to be even more destructive and even more problematic for the whole world. So how can we be more resilient. We could for example look at how we approach the procurement and management of construction supplies, driving digitalisation, and adopting more advanced building technologies. We have been working with you on this for many years. More than anything else, this pandemic has strengthened our collective resolve to quicken the transformation of our entire construction and built environment sector, so that we become more integrated and resilient. This will also help us to enhance productivity, allow us to build and maintain our city more effectively and sustainably. Developers have a key role in this – we look to you in partnership, to continue your research and innovation efforts, and promote the adoption of new processes, technology and designs. So let us take the next few months to try to recover, to stand on our feet again, and then let us pursue in earnest, a whole of the built environment value chain integration and transformation of our sector.

Second, in planning and building our city, we will need to consider the extent to which COVID-19 may permanently impact the way we live, work, and play. For example, many of us are working from home because this is a public health requirement as of now. But when COVID-19 eventually passes, and it will, it may well be that some companies choose to retain significant flexible work arrangements, for business resilience. The mindset and expectations of employees may also change. With more people working from home, we can expect there to be changes to their commuting, retail consumption and lifestyle patterns. Some of these changes are short-term, while others may well be permanent structural shifts, and we will have to be responsive as far as infrastructure and facilities are concerned. All of this needs to be carefully studied, as the pandemic continues to unfold ahead of us, so that we can see how our urban landscape might need to change and evolve.  

Finally, in enhancing and improving our city, we need to factor in climate change. As an island city, we are especially vulnerable to its consequences, such as rising sea levels and increasing temperatures. This impacts not just us, but our future generations as well.

Therefore, we must remake our city to meet the challenges of climate change. Not only through climate adaptation in our infrastructure, but also by pushing for greener and more sustainable buildings. There are many developers here with us who are at the forefront of green development and that is extremely encouraging, as buildings account for over 20% of our carbon emissions. Hence, there is potential for us to do more, and we want to continue this partnership with all of you to develop innovative solutions, and build a greener city together.

As the COVID-19 situation and our operating circumstances continue to evolve, we will stay vigilant and continue to partner our stakeholders to develop our capabilities, tackle new challenges and collectively shape our future. 


REDAS has been a key partner with us in building Singapore. I would like to convey my appreciation to REDAS Committee Members for continuing to dialogue with us even during this very challenging times, for being very frank in sharing your concerns and that of your Members and your partners, and those in the built environment sector. It is in that spirit of dialogue and partnership, and constructive engagement, that we seek to secure the future of this sector and of the Singaporeans who work hard in this sector. 

Indeed through this journey of nation building, we have faced many challenges before, and have pulled through only because we’ve work together. Let us continue to look ahead as we seek to position ourselves to emerge stronger from this crisis. 

On that note, have a good evening and also a happy Mid-Autumn Festival. Thank you. 

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