While speaking at the Marina Parade National Day Dinner on Saturday (17 August), Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said that it’s getting tougher to convince individuals who are dedicated, able and honest to join politics and serve the country.
However, he stressed that this is not solely a problem for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), rather a national one.
“People think this is the PAP’s problem. It is not. It is a national problem. If the PAP cannot persuade honest, dedicated and capable people to serve Singaporeans, and neither can the opposition, it will have grave consequences for everyone,” the former Prime Minister said to about 950 people who attended the dinner at Roland Restaurant.
He added, “If people who lack honest, dedication and competence run the government, then sun must surely set on Singapore”.
He also explained that citizens expect a future that is safe and stable, caring and compassionate, fair and just. And in order to achieve this, there must be three strengths.
ESM Goh highlighted that the first is an innovative economy that remains competitive and continue to grow even as it gets harder. Next, an enterprising and more resilient people.
“We have become used to creature comforts like air-conditioning, covered walkways and food from all over the world. Can our people swallow hardships?” he questioned. He added, “What if our aspirations are not met…Can we find new ways to up our standard of living? Will millennials rise up to the challenge of keeping Singapore glowing?
Although Singaporeans have to be resilient, strong and enterprising, the country still needs a strong and good government which can plan for the long run, unite the people and deliver on promises.
“If our politics is divisive and our people are disunited, the result will be a fragile government, this will leave us vulnerable to foreign interference in our domestic politics,” ESM Goh opined.
As such, if the county wants to achieve these, then it’s crucial to find good and dedicated leaders, a task that’s growingly becoming more difficult, said the politician.
“Governing is an onerous and underappreciated task. Many able people who have been approached are not prepared to give up their stable and successful careers for an uncertain and unglamorous political future,” ESM Goh noted.
He also added that not having privacy for themselves and their families due to social media is another hindering factor that stops one from joining politics. However, he pointed out that those who are asked to serve should really consider it.
“Regard it as a call to do more national service for the country. Singapore has shaped you to become who you are. Pay it forward for your children and country, even if it means making personal sacrifices,” he said.
As an example, Mr Goh remembers how he once asked Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat to join politics when he was still the managing director of Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
Although Mr Heng declined the invitation at first, but Mr Goh persisted and Mr Heng finally “accepted it as a call of duty”.
Despite having a current 4G team who is honest, dedicated and able, it will be much more powerful with people from the private sector as well, ESM Goh noted.
“We need a well-rounded Cabinet with diverse expertise, knowledge and experiences. We also need younger people to join them now to form the core of the 5G team,” he explained.
This is not the first time the former Prime Minister had brought up the issue on the importance of political leadership. Last May, in an interview with Lianhe Zaobao, ESM Goh also said that it getting more difficult to entice talented people from the private sector to join politics.
If that’s not all, during a forum in April, he also mentioned the need for leadership that can gauge people’s long-term interests against immediate needs, as well as make difficult but balanced decisions.