PM Lee: 'No better template' for choosing next PM than ESM Goh & his team's formula

He said that whoever is next must first and foremost be someone who can bring the rest together.

Jane Zhang | May 07, 2021, 06:04 PM

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged 4G ministers to consider the template of Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong and his team, as they choose the next PM.

"Whoever will be Prime Minister of Singapore must first and foremost be someone who can bring the rest together", he added.

Speaking at the official launch of the second volume of Goh's biography on Friday (May 7) afternoon, published by World Scientific, PM Lee spoke about the decisions that Goh had to make as PM, and spoke about Goh's leadership team as a template for the 4G leadership succession.

Standing Tall: The Goh Chok Tong Years is a biography written by Peh Shing Huei about ESM Goh's time as prime minister from 1990 to 2004. PM Lee also launched Goh's first volume in 2018.

Working on a team & leadership succession

One of Goh's greatest strengths is his "ability to persuade able people to work for him, bring out the best in each of them, and gel them into a loyal and cohesive team", said PM Lee.

He listed out members of Goh's team who convinced to join politics by him — Lim Boon Heng, Yeo Ning Hong, Abdullah Tarmugi, Wong Kan Seng, Lee Boon Yang, George Yeo, Lim Hng Kiang, Teo Chee Hean, Yaacob Ibrahim, Lim Swee Say, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Khaw Boon Wan, Ng Eng Hen, Vivian Balakrishnan, President Halimah Yacob, and PM Lee himself.

PM Lee added that Goh's Cabinets were "arguably among the strongest Cabinets that Singapore has had" in terms of depth and breadth of talent and experience, teams which consisted of both older and younger ministers.

"This meant that when I took over as PM, I inherited a strong and experienced team. I benefitted greatly from their support and advice. And of course, from Chok Tong’s too."

In the same way, PM Lee said, he aims to hand over a strong team to his successor.

4G ministers will settle on someone to lead them

Speaking about the 4G ministers, PM Lee said that they have accumulated experience in a wide range of portfolios, and have had to make tough decisions in the fight against Covid-19.

He stated that the latest Cabinet reshuffle will give the 4G ministers a chance to work with each other in new capacities, as a team.

He added that one thing that they have yet to do, since Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stepped aside as leader of the 4G ministers, is to "settle on someone from among themselves to lead them, as first amongst equals".

PM Lee continued:

"As they consider their choice, they can have no better template than Chok Tong and his team. Whoever will be Prime Minister of Singapore must first and foremost be someone who can bring the rest together.

Pull them together, make the most of the strengths of each minister, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And that was the secret of Chok Tong’s successful premiership."

Difficult to pursuade good people to join politics

"Persuading good people to join politics is an increasingly difficult task," PM Lee said, going on to explain that Goh's main motivation in writing his biography was to inspire more people to "take the plunge into politics, and to serve Singapore".

He highlighted some of the difficulties that Goh wrote about in his biography: significant opportunity costs, needing to give up a promising career — "because if your career is not promising, we probably wouldn't ask you", PM Lee said — and loss of privacy and constantly being under scrutiny, "especially now with the social media, and cancel culture".

However, PM Lee explained the importance of good leadership:

"Singaporeans deserve the best people that can be found and developed to serve and to lead them, as one united national team.

It is the only way to maintain the quality of government that Singaporeans have gotten used to, and the only way to maintain the confidence in Singapore that attracts investments and creates jobs, and the only way to assure the country’s success and to secure the future of our children and grandchildren."

Thank Goh for a lifetime of service

PM Lee highlighted some of the crises that Goh wrote about dealing with during his time as prime minister, such as the hijacking of SQ117 in 1991, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, and the SARS outbreak in 2003.

He paralleled Goh's management of the SARS outbreak with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis:

"Having overcome SARS once, we are confident that despite all the twists and turns, we will overcome Covid-19 too."

PM Lee also commended the "new social compact" that Goh forged with Singaporeans, through policies such as Edusave, HDB upgrading, and MediFund.

He closed his speech by thanking Goh for his service:

"Finally, let me thank Chok Tong for a lifetime of selfless and distinguished service. It was always a 'tall order' to keep Singapore 'standing tall'. And now that we are standing taller, the order has also gotten taller.

But you have succeeded, and handed over a better Singapore to your successors. Now your successors must strive to do the same."

Read about what Goh said at his book launch:

Top photo via Prime Minister's Office and MParader Facebook.