MP Jamus Lim

Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim asked the Minister for Manpower (a) whether the current approach to gazetting public holidays retains the historical colonial-era practice of allocating two holidays per ethnic group; (b) if not, what considerations led to the abandonment of this principle; and (c) if so, whether the Government can explain the current mapping of holidays by ethnic group.

Dr Tan See Leng: The current configuration of public holidays in Singapore has been in place since 1968. At the time, faced with the British withdrawal and the need to compete in global markets, the Government decided to reduce the number of public holidays.

 The Government conducted consultations with the various religious groups and reached a consensus on which religious festival should be gazetted as a public holiday. Difficult compromises were made as religious groups had to give up observing some of their significant festivals as public holidays. Muslims chose to give up Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday as well as an extra day for Hari Raya Puasa. Christians chose to give up the Saturday after Good Friday and Easter Monday. Hindus had to choose between Thaipusam and Deepavali, and chose the latter. Buddhists, who comprised the largest faith and had only one public holiday to begin with, Vesak Day, were not asked to give it up.

Our calendar of public holidays thus reflects the outcome of these consultations with religious groups. Maintaining this balance has served us well and it continues to be the sensible approach.

Ministry of Manpower
3 October 2022

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