Monday 28 August 2017

President Tony Tan reflects on his presidency; Singapore's seventh president leaves office on 31 Aug 2017

It's been hard work but... very rewarding: Dr Tony Tan on his six years at the Istana
As end of his presidency nears, Dr Tan stresses the need to further strengthen social bonds
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor and Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 27 Aug 2017

President Tony Tan Keng Yam leaves office this Thursday as the head of state who preceded the biggest change to the elected presidency in its 26 years.

The move to entrench multiracialism in the highest office in the land, by ensuring members of the country's main races occupy it periodically, is a change he fully supports.

He believes it will stand the nation in good stead and further fortify the social fabric at a time when the terror threat to Singapore is at its highest.

Citing the spate of recent terror attacks and disrupted terror plots around the world, he says: "Singapore is a target for terrorists."

In a measured voice, he adds: "One of these days, an incident will happen. And when that happens, it's very important to ensure we do not allow it to destroy our cohesion, or to have tensions between the various communities.

"In that respect, reserving this next election for the Malays is appropriate - unfortunately, because of these circumstances around the world which Singapore is caught up in," he says.

For Dr Tan, 77, the need for Singapore to continue reinforcing multiracialism is never-ending.

It is a key reason he cited for supporting the reserved election when the Constitutional Commission proposed the mechanism last year.

"Since the elected presidency was instituted, the presidents, including myself, have all been non-Malays," he adds in an interview at the Istana's Yusof Room, where a bust of the first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970, is displayed.

"It's good to make sure from time to time, people of different ethnic groups have the opportunity to become president so that it reflects our multiracial society," he says.

Indeed, ensuring Singapore stays multiracial and the bonds that bind its diverse people grow stronger each day are aspirations especially close to the President's heart.

During the 75-minute farewell interview with The Sunday Times and sister newspapers Lianhe Zaobao and Berita Harian late last month, he repeatedly stresses the need to constantly tend to the social fabric, to build up what he calls the country's "social reserves".

These reserves include mutual trust and understanding developed over the years by Singaporeans of different backgrounds, which has helped cement inter-racial and inter-religious harmony, he says.

But out-of-the-ordinary incidents, like the Little India riot on Dec 8, 2013, demonstrate how fragile this state of affairs could be.

Dr Tan was abroad when he got news on the scale of the riot by foreign workers from the Indian sub-continent.

"I was alarmed," he recalls. The violence and burning of police cars - scenes reminiscent of the communist and race-instigated riots of the 1950s and 1960s - worried him.

"If it gets out of hand, it could cause great strain on our social fabric," he says, recalling his anxiety.

He felt it would be good for the President to make a statement "to emphasise the need for calm, for people not to take matters into their own hands and reinforce the importance of racial harmony".

"We should not let a single incident such as this undermine confidence in our society," he wrote in a Facebook post soon after the incident. "Instead, let us redouble our commitment to keeping Singapore safe, peaceful and strong."

Dr Tan recalls in the interview: "We have no SOP (standard operating procedure) for this sort of thing because we never thought this could happen in Singapore. But when it arises, you have to decide whether you should just sit back or whether that's an area (in which) you could make a contribution."

Singapore's multiracial harmony and peace are very fragile, he notes.

"You have to keep emphasising it and it's not something which is to be taken for granted," Dr Tan says.


Dr Tan came to the job after a quarter-century of public service and in an election that he won by a whisker: 7,382 votes.

During the 2011 campaign, the call by some for the president to be an alternative centre of power was not only insistent but reflected a widespread misunderstanding of the role of the elected president.

In his characteristic calm voice, Dr Tan describes the president's role and responsibilities, making clear the job of governing the country is that of the Government, not the president.

But as head of state, the president can build a sense of community and a cohesive society.

This thinking underlies his active support for various causes to help the less fortunate and encourage volunteerism, among others.

It also explains his Facebook posts to remind Singaporeans that racial harmony and understanding are fundamental to the nation's stability and progress when incidents, like the arrests of radicalised Singaporeans in June this year, happen.

As many leaders here and overseas have, Dr Tan reiterates: "Islam is a religion of peace and all the violence propagated falsely in its name is not Islam."

Islamophobia - or hateful sentiments towards Muslims that have gained ground in other societies - unsettles him too and he feels its spread is "very, very dangerous".

The scourge of terrorism and its impact on communities elsewhere is an issue Dr Tan has intimate knowledge of. He was deputy prime minister and defence minister back in 2001, when the Government uncovered home-grown terror cells that were part of regional network Jemaah Islamiah. And two years ago, he was the target of a young Singaporean radicalised by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The youth had planned to go to an Istana open house and kill the President if he could not go to Syria.

Dr Tan reminds Singaporeans that such cases should not lead to fear and suspicion that drive a wedge between communities.

He notes that the Malay-Muslim community has taken progressive steps to counter radicalism.

Foreign leaders he meets are keen to find out how Singapore maintains multiracial harmony and what role is played by the Malay-Muslim community.

He credits the community for its response, saying: "A large part is due to the way the Malay community has reached out to other communities as well." The progress the community has made and continues to make "can be a source of pride for all Singaporeans", he adds.


Educating people about the presidency and explaining its unique evolution in Singapore have also been a key effort of Dr Tan's during his time in office.

It led him to initiate the formation of the Istana Heritage Gallery in Orchard Road to make the Istana more accessible and highlight the president's other critical roles - the ceremonial, like leading the nation in major celebrations and representing it abroad; and the custodial, which involves safeguarding the reserves as well as the integrity of the public service.

He also initiated guided tours of the Istana and its grounds for the public during the five open houses a year. "They are helpful in demystifying the presidency and making people more aware of its role," he says.

"The president has the right to be informed, but the Government is actually the one that sets out the initiatives, that runs the country daily," he adds.

His slim victory, a result of the unsettled state of the ground in the wake of the May 2011 General Election, led Dr Tan to declare, when he was sworn in as Singapore's seventh president, that it would be his "most challenging appointment in three decades of public service".

He pledged to reach out to all Singaporeans, whatever their political persuasion.

It is manifested, among others, in his frequent meetings with cultural and community groups, the Istana Heritage Gallery and his active presence on social media.

In Facebook posts, he would recount his public events and offer a voice of reassurance in the wake of terror arrests, and offer comfort during tragedies like the bus crash in Muar on Christmas Eve last year, when Singaporeans were killed.

One area he is heartened by is how ethnic self-help groups work together on joint activities for those in need, regardless of race.

"This helps show this is what Singapore is - despite our different communities, we all work and walk together and share common aspirations, and we can help other people together. It's an achievement we have to carry on," he says.

Dr Tan's presidency coincided with several eventful milestones that brought Singaporeans closer. These include Singapore's Golden Jubilee festivities, its first Olympic gold medal and the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.


However, a very important function of the presidency that is hardly carried out in public view is the custodial role.

Dr Tan says he spends "a lot of time" on it: from reading information papers and briefs from government agencies to discussing fiscal matters touching on Singapore's reserves with the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

Under the Constitution, the president holds the second key to the national reserves, accumulated in previous terms of government.

These include deposits with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and assets managed by GIC and Temasek Holdings. No official figures have been made public, but the reserves are valued at several hundred billions of dollars.

Dr Tan, a former executive director and deputy chairman of GIC, notes that as a country with no natural resources, "our reserves are the only asset which will see us through a crisis or a difficult time".

The CPA, which was expanded this year from six members to eight members, meets him very often, Dr Tan says. "They give me their views, I join them at meetings with ministers. And they always give me their recommendation on proposals from the Government or the appointment of senior officials."

Several long-term issues also feature in his discussions with the CPA and the Government. These include large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the expansion of Changi Airport and the seaport, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and the expansion of the MRT network.

"This would take not one term of government, but many terms. You have to study ahead and see how these can be financed in different ways," he says.

Dr Tan previously noted that he has had a harmonious working relationship with the Government, which keeps him informed of all its major decisions. In a statement to Parliament last year, ahead of its debate on changes to the elected presidency, he said: "On a regular basis, the Prime Minister and I meet over lunch and on other occasions, for him to brief me on his preoccupations and intentions, and to exchange views on the strategic direction in which Singapore is heading.

"Our relationship is built on mutual trust and respect. This, to me, is key to the effective functioning of our system," he said then.

Giving his assent to the Government's annual Budget is another function which Dr Tan does with the close involvement of the CPA.

Dr Tan and the CPA would meet Finance Ministry officials to hear the Government's spending priorities, and clarify questions they might have on the Budget.

This is because after the Budget is presented to Parliament and approved, it goes to the president, who will consult the CPA for their recommendation and decide whether to give his assent."The actual figures are fairly straightforward. What is less straightforward is understanding the motivation, the concerns of the Government and the issues they see ahead," Dr Tan says. "Also, (understanding) the implications of some of these expenditures, because they may take many terms of government."

To better understand the workings of major agencies, Dr Tan says he and CPA members have made visits to the Housing Board and JTC Corporation, as well as newer towns like Punggol to see developments first-hand and what the Government is doing to improve the lives of Singaporeans and benefit the economy. "You talk to people who are actually doing the job, and see what they are concerned with on a day-to-day basis rather than just at the policy level," he says.

Asked for his assessment of his term in office, he says: "I've done my best. It's been hard work but it's always been very rewarding. How Singaporeans will regard me, that's for Singaporeans to decide.

"It's been an honour and a privilege to serve as your president. I'm glad to have been able to help Singapore continue to progress."

In carrying out his duties during the six years in office, Dr Tan has also been steadfastly supported by his wife Mary, 76, who is often by his side at community events.The quiet ways of Mrs Tan, who is also warm and friendly, have endeared her to many, say Istana staff, officials and ordinary Singaporeans who visit the Istana when it is open to the public.

Dr Tan seems more approachable when his wife is with him. "She has a way of empathising with people, and they warm up to her," he says.

Has she softened his image?

"I won't say soften. I don't think I've got a harsh image," he says with a chuckle. "We each contribute in our own way."

Dr Tony Tan on the presidency and today's young
The Sunday Times, 27 Aug 2017

Q What are your reflections on the presidency as you approach the end of your term?

A The president has a very important role domestically. As head of state, he's a unifying force. He has to build a sense of community, a cohesive society, where people help each other, look out for each other, are concerned for each other.

This is more important than ever in these difficult times when we have problems of radicalisation and extremism.

I've met many voluntary welfare organisations and social groups to try and understand their different concerns in order to explain some of the major changes in Singapore - for example, our demographic changes and how technology is disrupting our economy.

Singapore is an ageing society and that has vast implications for our organisation of social services. Health spending will go up, government spending will go up.

Q What are your views on today's youth and how confident are you of their capacity to take Singapore forward?

A Every generation is different. Our younger generation grew up in a very different world from the previous generation in the sense that Singapore has done well over the last 50 years. They have had a comfortable livelihood.

But I'm very impressed with their energy, in that they are able to fend for themselves.

For example, it is unusual for anybody nowadays to take a job when he or she finishes school or university and remain in one job for life. So being resilient, looking forward, lifelong education, being prepared for change - these are important areas our young people need to absorb.

And talking to them, I take heart and am encouraged by their enthusiasm and confidence.

I look forward to Singapore being in their hands. I'm sure they will do a good job. Maybe not in the same way the previous generation would have done it, but things must change, we have to change with the times.

Q There have been a number of spoofs about you. One is of you as Colonel Sanders of KFC. How do you react to them?

A Some are amusing, some less so. As long as it's not defamatory, you have to take it in your stride. I won't say it's comfortable, but what can you do?

They have all been done in reasonably good spirit. People are amused and I try not to get too excited over that.

You can't keep on being angry about all of this. There's no end to it.

Q Looking back at these six years, did you make any conscious effort to distinguish yourself from your predecessors?

A Every president has got his own style, his preoccupations. The circumstances were different in each term. I don't think it's a battle.

You can't change yourself. You have to be yourself. Each of us is made up of a complex combination of personality, behaviour, likes and dislikes, what you're concerned with, and it is for each president to define his or her role and then to work out the priorities.

The president has to set out his own style.

Q What do you think Singapore can expect from the next president?

A I am sure there will be a suitable candidate who will do a good job. Singaporeans should choose wisely, look at their background.

Q Any advice for your successor?

A That would be presumptuous. Each president has his or her own priorities and strengths, and will have to use that as well.

Making waves for Singapore abroad
By Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 27 Aug 2017

There was little time to spare.

As the last guest left the National Day reception that President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary hosted at Gardens by the Bay, the President's car pulled up to take him home and then to the airport for his post-midnight flight to Brazil.

Hopes were high that swim star Joseph Schooling could win Singapore's first Olympic swimming medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Some 30 hours later, at about 9pm on Aug 11 (local time in Rio), Dr Tan landed at Rio de Janeiro's Tom Jobim International Airport, swiftly donned a Team Singapore T-shirt and headed to the Olympic Aquatic Stadium.

He arrived in time to see the then-21-year-old clock the fastest time in the semi-finals for the 100m butterfly event.

Like many Singaporeans, the President began to dream that history could be made the next day.

It was. Recounting the moment of glory last year, his face lit up as he relived the 50.39-second swim, followed by the robust sound of Majulah Singapura, heard for the first time at the Olympics.

"It was a moment we all came together, you could feel the pride, excitement of Singaporeans," he says.

"It's one of the highlights of my presidency, that I was able to be there cheering for Joseph Schooling, not only with the Singaporeans who were there but also Singaporeans back home."

Equally jubilant, the Olympian later draped the gold medal on the President's neck before they posed for photographs. Dr Tan, 77, quipped: "This is the only time I will ever wear an Olympic gold medal."

It was a sweet end to a nail-biting episode at the start of Dr Tan's working visit to Brazil, one of at least 35 overseas trips he made in his six years as the country's chief envoy in promoting Singapore.

Of these, 25 were state visits, which is the highest level of international visits where one head of state is hosted by another.

These were made to, among others, all the ASEAN nations except Thailand - as its then-King Bhumibol Adulyadej was ill - as well as China, India, Australia and New Zealand. Some trips took him as far as Norway and Mexico.

Last October, Dr Tan went to Thailand to pay his respects to King Bhumibol at the Grand Palace after the monarch's death.

The President broke new ground on several occasions as well, being the first Singapore head of state to make state visits, for instance, to Latin America and the Holy See.

Each trip is painstakingly prepared by the President's Office and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, as a positive impression at the highest level can deepen ties, open doors for more business and project Singapore's image.

A high-level business delegation often goes along on these visits.

"When you make a state visit, the host country will form an impression of Singapore, depending on how they interact with you as president - is this a country worth cultivating, how do we strengthen ties," Dr Tan says.

"It's very important to put across our case for Singapore, that we are an open society, we have an open economy, we are in favour of freer trade and dealing with all parts of the world. We're not a closed society where people are prevented from speaking out," he stresses.

Each visit is also an opportunity for Dr Tan to raise issues that are important to Singapore, take into account the concerns of the host country and establish rapport with foreign leaders - and in so doing, strengthen the nation's network of friends and expand opportunities for its people and businesses.

The European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was one key area of cooperation he assiduously argued for when visiting European countries.

"It's still in the process of ratification, so when I visit European countries I stress to them the benefits of this FTA for their companies as well as for Singapore and the region, and how it can be a pathfinder eventually for an EU-Asean FTA."

Air connectivity is another topic he pursued as Singapore seeks to establish more agreements to let the national carrier's planes fly to, from and beyond other countries.

The President made two state visits in 2012, and four to six a year after that. These have included visits to celebrate Singapore's 50 years of diplomatic relations with countries such as Japan, France and Egypt.

The trips, which can last from a few days to more than a week if it includes visiting a neighbouring country as well, are packed with activities, ranging from state dinners and meetings with officials to cultural events and visits to educational institutions.

They can be tiring, Dr Tan says, as "you have to be alert all the time" and find issues relevant to both sides to discuss.

Sometimes, he has to address the misconception that Singapore is a closed society.

It has become more difficult nowadays because of social media and the Internet, where false statements can be circulated widely and do great damage even if they are taken down later, he adds.

But the key to tackling such fake news is to explain how the Singapore system works, he says, adding: "By and large, Singapore is quite well known now to all the countries. They know our positions, our foreign policy, our positions on economic policies."

President Tony Tan leaves office on 31 Aug 2017
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2017

Singapore's seventh president bids farewell to the Istana today.

Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, sworn in on Sept 1, 2011, leaves office after completing a six-year term.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will host a reception and ceremony tonight at the Istana, where Cabinet ministers and MPs will say goodbye to the President and his wife Mary, as is the custom for outgoing presidents.

Staff of the President will say their goodbyes in the afternoon.

From tomorrow, Mr J. Y. Pillay, chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers, will be acting president until a new president is sworn in. Nomination Day for the presidential election is Sept 13, followed by Polling Day on Sept 23.

Reflecting on his term, President Tan said in a farewell interview last month: "I've done my best with regard to the functions and the work which I have to do. It's been an honour and a privilege to serve as your president for the last six years."

His presidency began in an unsettled time in Singapore politics. The general election in May 2011 saw a swing against the ruling party. Just over three months later, the presidential election was held. Dr Tan won by a whisker, with 35.2 per cent of the votes.

His term also coincided with important moments, including the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the nation's 50th birthday, the Little India riots, Singapore's first Olympic gold medal, and significant changes to the elected presidency.

Dr Tan also built on the President's Challenge, which began as an annual fund-raiser for the social service sector and those in need under the late president S R Nathan. President Tan also urged Singaporeans to volunteer and support social enterprises.

More than 37,000 have volunteered for causes since 2012.

Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh paid tribute to President Tan this week, saying: "History will remember that two historic events took place during his presidency: the celebration of Singapore's 50th anniversary and the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

"He led the nation in celebrating the first event and he also led the nation in mourning the second event."

Tony Tan: A president defined by his integrity
Singaporeans say Dr Tan was a down-to-earth leader who brought dignity to the office in his six-year term
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2017

Just before the presidential election in 2011, former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan met Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam at a National Day reception.

He recalls Dr Tan's sober statement on his chances: "He told me he didn't expect a big majority. He knew the mood and the confusion being sown on the ground.

"The other candidates were promising all kinds of things which were not constitutional. And people were buying into the confusion.

"But he did not descend to that level. He was very measured. He believed in not promising anything you can't deliver. He has integrity."

This, for Mr Dhanabalan, defined Dr Tan's presidency: his integrity.

Never mind that his insistence on abiding by the constitutional role of the presidency may have cost him votes, Mr Dhanabalan says.

Dr Tan received 35.2 per cent of votes, a lead of 0.35 points over the runner-up. He became Singapore's seventh president on Sept 1, 2011, and finishes his six-year term today.

As his term draws to a close, Mr Dhanabalan and other Singaporeans share with The Straits Times their memories, views and impressions of President Tan.


Mr J.Y. Pillay, 83, chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), describes the President's term as dignified.

For Mr Dhanabalan, 81, also a member of the CPA, the President manifests "gravitas" - both because of his personality and the experience he brought to the office.

Dr Tan, who was deputy prime minister, defence minister and finance minister, is a man of few words, Mr Dhanabalan says. "But when he speaks, people listen."

This ability to command attention and respect stood him in good stead when playing the president's custodial and diplomatic roles.

Political analyst Lam Peng Er, 58, adds: "Because of his experience, he was comfortable interacting with his foreign counterparts. He carried himself well in terms of diplomatic protocol."

Mr Dhanabalan said the President's gravitas projected to foreign dignitaries "the image of us being serious people, thoughtful people, not hail-fellow-well-met kind of chaps".

Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, 80, noted that Dr Tan made four to six overseas state visits a year, and was the first president to visit Latin America and the Vatican.

"On all such occasions, President Tan was well informed, friendly and engaging," he says, adding: "He has done a very good job for Singapore as our chief diplomat."

Former Istana media and communications head Saleh Ali, 66, adds that the work rate of the President, who is 77, amazed him. "He often had very tight schedules, with events that would end late at night, especially during overseas trips."


In the president's custodial role, he holds a second key to past reserves and on key public appointments.

With Dr Tan's heft of experience, he invariably knew better than many what he was scrutinising.

Mr Pillay recounts how the CPA would think it had exhausted all "salient facets" of an issue at a government briefing, only for Dr Tan to find "key aspects that we had overlooked" when he joined in later. "It was an educational experience," Mr Pillay says, calling Dr Tan "cerebral" and "very intellectually intense".

Observers say his depth of knowledge and experience also gave him stature and an independence of mind. Law don Walter Woon, 60, says: "The reason I voted for Dr Tony Tan was that I felt that of the four candidates, if there were any shenanigans in high places, he's the only one who had the stature to put a stop to it, because he had been deputy prime minister, and he was not beholden to the current Government - he had been senior to them."

Mr Dhanabalan adds: "He's known as a serious person who looks at details and makes up his own mind. He established himself very clearly that he was not there just to rubber-stamp what the Government wanted."

There was no occasion to exercise his second key on past reserves, as the Government did not ask to draw down on them. A request was last made in 2009, when then President S R Nathan assented to a withdrawal of $4.9 billion to help Singapore ride out the recession.

But Dr Tan had to give his assent to key public service appointments.

Dr Lam says the terms of Dr Tan and the late Mr Nathan would be remembered for the harmonious relationship between the elected president and the Government of the day.

Prof Woon views it as "fortuitous" that Singapore chose Dr Tan. If one of his three rivals had won, there might have been "constant friction" with the Government, but for the wrong reasons.

"We might have had a grandstanding president who made pronouncements on policy. That's bad friction. It's not the president's job."


Singaporeans who have met him say that while his public image is that of a shy, reserved man, not naturally at ease with people, it is different when they interact with him.

Hwa Chong Institution students Penny Shi, 18, and Harris Song, 17, say they appreciated his "warmth and hospitality" when he hosted them and others at the Istana.

Mr Benny Se Teo, 57, recalls a visit by Dr Tan to the restaurant he founded, Eighteen Chefs, a social enterprise that hires former offenders and troubled youth.

The President's staff had visited earlier to check the dining area. But when the President came, he startled his staff by walking unannounced into the kitchen.

"He was not supposed to go there. A kitchen is never a safe place. But he wanted to talk to my boys, who were preparing food."

Artist Brian Gothong Tan, 37, was multimedia director for National Day Parade 2016. When the idea of filming the President in his car on the way to the parade was raised, the parade commanders were jittery, but Dr Tan agreed immediately.

"We did two takes. He was very game and accommodating, and asked us if we were satisfied with the video," he recalls.

Mr Tan Yishu, 25, a final-year engineering student at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, presented his team's invention - a motorcycle helmet that overcomes blind spots - to the President this year. He encouraged them to bring their invention to market to help motorcyclists. "I found him to be very humble," Mr Tan says.

Ms Lisa Dass, 39, general manager of Roses Only, took part in a charity sale at the Istana. The President and his wife Mary thanked each and every vendor, she says.

Mrs Tan, 76, is often said to complement her husband. She has helped the President to engage people and put them at ease, says Prof Koh. "She has been a great asset to her husband and to the nation."

Presidential advisers had robust discussions
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2017

There were no government requests to draw down on past reserves during the term of President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Still, the issue of the reserves was scrutinised by Dr Tan and his Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

They discussed how the estimated long-term real rate of return was calculated by the agencies responsible for investing the reserves, said Mr J.Y. Pillay, 83, chairman of the CPA since 2005.

This rate is important because it affects how much the Government can include in its annual budget for current needs - 50 per cent of expected returns can be used.

Making liberal assumptions about this rate might hence result in more reserves being spent, which could be imprudent.

The agencies managing the reserves are GIC, Temasek Holdings and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Mr Pillay said the CPA asked agencies to bring in independent consultants to give a second opinion on how the rates should be computed. He said the Government's rates were lower - and hence more conservative - than the consultants'.

Dr Tan weighed in on this issue during deliberations, and leaned in the direction of prudence. "His view was that the investment environment is becoming more risky and not necessarily more rewarding," said Mr Pillay, one of two CPA members who spoke to The Straits Times in interviews marking the end of the presidential term today.

During Dr Tan's six years in office, the CPA engaged in "robust" discussions on government budgets and key appointments, but it did not face any difficult or "borderline" decisions, they said.

The CPA also met prospective key appointees, including the chairman or chief executive of key agencies, judges, the attorney-general, the auditor-general and the top brass of the Singapore Armed Forces.

"We meet appointees to assess their quality and character," said Mr S. Dhanabalan, a former minister and CPA member since 2004.

Mr Pillay said the calibre of appointees has improved over time. They are better qualified, more educated - "and, I would say, smarter".

The CPA also visited key agencies such as JTC Corporation and the Housing Board, often with Dr Tan.

These visits help the CPA understand agencies' long-term plans, so that if a drawdown were requested, the council would have enough background knowledge to make an assessment.

"We have to be mentally prepared for all these eventualities, although they never arose," said Mr Dhanabalan.

Farewell, President Tan
PM Lee says Singapore gained greatly from Dr Tan's presence and steady judgment
By Joanna Seow and Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

Six years ago, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam was sworn in as Singapore's seventh president after a very tense contest marked by misperceptions about the role of a president.

Dr Tan offered himself as a unifying figure and a steady hand.

Yesterday, as his six-year term came to a close, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore has benefited greatly from his calm and dignified presence, wealth of knowledge and steady judgment.

Paying tribute to Dr Tan, 77, at a farewell reception in the Istana's chandelier-lit banquet hall attended by over 200 guests, PM Lee thanked Dr Tan for working tirelessly at being a unifying figure at home and projecting Singapore vigorously abroad.

Dr Tan gave support and recognition to volunteer groups and others, and helped deepen Singaporeans' sense of unity and attachment to the nation as they celebrated SG50. He was also a conscientious custodian of the nation's reserves and the integrity of its public service, roles he played smoothly and effectively.

"Your office and the Government have had a close and constructive working relationship, based on mutual trust and respect," PM Lee said, adding that he admired Dr Tan's clarity of focus, imperturbable demeanour and sense of duty.

"On behalf of the Government, my Cabinet colleagues and all Singaporeans, I thank you once again for your dedication and distinguished service to the nation."

Earlier, Dr Tan packed his belongings and bade farewell to Istana staff personally. Responding to PM Lee last night, he said mutual trust and respect underpinned their roles as prime minister and president.

"When I took office, I pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans. I was committed to the understanding that our nation's president is not a centre of political power. But the president can be a resource. Our president must be a symbol."

He added: "I am glad that my experience has been a resource to you and your colleagues in Government. More importantly, I was determined that the President's Office should symbolise and champion the role we all can play to make Singapore a better society."

Singapore's progress, however, is measured not only by global rankings but by "how we care for those less fortunate than ourselves", he said, adding these ties - or "social reserves" - that bind people are vital.

Dr Tan also said SG50 was the highlight of his term, a reminder of all the nation has achieved. While founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's death tempered the joy, it revealed Singaporeans' deep ties as one people. "My time as president has been the highlight of my career. It has been a deeply moving opportunity to see Singapore in all its diversity and to meet Singaporeans from all walks of life," he added.

Dr Tan ended his speech to applause and a warm hug from Mrs Tan, followed by a farewell parade.

Council of Presidential Advisers chairman J.Y. Pillay will be acting president until a new president is elected later this month.

PM Lee pays tribute to President Tony Tan: A ‘relationship based on mutual trust and respect’
PM Lee pays tribute to Dr Tan, lauding warm ties between head of state and Government
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

In his six years as president, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam was a "prudent and conscientious custodian" who made sure Singapore's past reserves were well guarded and its key public offices held by suitable, qualified people.

This was helped by the warm ties between the head of state and the Government, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

"We were able to operate these presidential safeguards effectively and smoothly, because your office and the Government have had a close and constructive working relationship, based on mutual trust and respect," he said at a farewell reception for Dr Tan at the Istana.

Dr Tan said in response: "Mutual trust and respect underpin our constitutional roles as prime minister and president, and our cordial relationship has allowed formal as well as informal opportunities to work together. I have greatly valued our regular meetings, and I am happy my contributions and views have been helpful and constructive."

Mr Lee gave a glimpse of his working relationship with Dr Tan, recounting fondly their regular meetings, often over lunch.

He would update Dr Tan on significant developments and plans, and discuss with him a range of issues. Said Mr Lee: "These informal interactions helped us understand each other's thinking, and enabled the formal mechanisms of the elected presidency to function properly."

He recalled how, when the Government sought the President's consent last year on a guarantee for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project, Dr Tan studied the issue carefully, and gave his thoughts from the perspective of safeguarding the country's reserves. "Happily, we were able to take your views fully into account in the final agreement, which we signed with your concurrence," said Mr Lee.

The Government also discussed with Dr Tan and the Council of Presidential Advisers how the Government could fund over the next two decades major infrastructure such as Changi Airport's Terminal 5 and the Cross-Island MRT line.

"No funding decisions need to be made yet. But these are huge long- term investments," said Mr Lee. "It is therefore necessary to begin thinking about possible funding approaches early."

Dr Tan gave his input, and Mr Lee said: "Your views will be valuable as we continue to study this issue with your successor."

In his response, Dr Tan said he was committed to the understanding that Singapore's president is not a centre of political power.

"But the president can be a resource," he added, saying he was glad that his experience had been a resource to the Government.

"More importantly, I was determined that the President's Office should symbolise and champion the role we all can play to make Singapore a better society," he added.

The elected presidency was also reviewed and strengthened during his term. Mr Lee noted the amendments were the prerogative of the Government and Parliament, but Dr Tan's views were sought, and it was "proper and valuable" that he gave them his public support.

With the new arrangements, the upcoming presidential election will be reserved for Malay candidates.

"If all goes well, Singapore will have a Malay president whom all Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion, will look up to with pride, as representing them and the nation," said Mr Lee. "A president who will bring as much honour and distinction to the office as you and your predecessors have."

President, PM hail Mrs Mary Tan's empathy and warmth
By Joanna Seow and Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

Confetti was showering down on a buggy carrying President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary at this year's Chingay parade in February.

Mrs Tan leaned forward to dust off some confetti on the buggy driver's hair.

That endearing moment, captured on video, was a spontaneous gesture typical of her warm personality, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recounted yesterday.

"Singaporeans will remember her fondly for her grace, empathy and warmth," he said in a speech at the farewell reception for Dr Tan at the end of his six-year term.

Thanking Mrs Tan, 76, for her contributions and support for her husband throughout his years of public service, PM Lee noted how she was always by Dr Tan's side as he carried out his duties as president, whether he was engaging foreign dignitaries or meeting Singaporeans from all walks of life.

"She would put everyone at ease with a friendly word and a gentle smile," he said, to murmurs of agreement from many among the 200 guests at the Istana.

Dr Tan, 77, said his wife brought warmth to the highest office in the land. "In this journey, I have been so blessed to share it with Mary. Throughout our marriage, she has been a tremendous source of strength and wise counsel," he said.

He added that she has been a key pillar of support, both before and during his presidency.

"She has a genuine empathy for people which has brought warmth to this office and helped me throughout my career."

As applause resounded through the banquet hall, Dr Tan stepped down from the stage - and into the arms of Mrs Tan, his biggest supporter. They embraced, before Dr Tan was swarmed by well-wishers, his wife by his side.

Farewell to the President

Best wishes, hugs for Dr Tan and his wife
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

One for the album.

Ministers and MPs, armed with phone cameras last night, crowded around President Tony Tan Keng Yam for a memento of a historic event as he stepped down as Singapore's seventh president.

As they expressed their best wishes to him, he clasped their hands and thanked them, with his wife Mary smiling beside him.

MP Saktiandi Supaat said he told Dr Tan what a pleasure it was to accompany him on a state visit to Italy. His best memory of the President and his wife was that they were a loving couple.

MP Joan Pereira said Dr Tan and Mrs Tan have a soft spot for children and the less privileged. Through their "quiet grace" as a couple, they are also a model of mutual support and devotion, she added.

The farewell event began at around 7pm and, at the tail end, a guard of honour gave Dr Tan a final salute as the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Central Band played the Presidential Salute.

Dr Tan, accompanied by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, also inspected the guard of honour contingents from the SAF and the Singapore Police Force.

Ministers formed a long line to say goodbye as the SAF band played Where I Belong. The 2001 National Day theme song was chosen to symbolise Dr Tan's hopes for a cohesive society and remind him that Singapore will always be home to him. Some, like Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, hugged Mrs Tan in a fond farewell.

Stopping and giving a final wave to guests at around 8.15pm, Dr Tan and Mrs Tan stepped into the state car for the last time and were driven off in a presidential motorcade.

J.Y. Pillay takes on role of acting president
CPA chairman will fill post until after Polling Day on Sept 23, or Nomination Day on Sept 13
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

From today, Mr J.Y. Pillay, chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), is acting president until a new president is sworn in. His role follows the completion of Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam's six-year term yesterday.

When the office of president is vacant, the first in line to exercise its powers is the CPA chairman, followed by the Speaker of Parliament.

Mr Pillay, 83, will act as president until after Polling Day on Sept 23 - or after Nomination Day on Sept 13, if a candidate is elected unopposed.

This is the first time the office has fallen vacant since the elected presidency was introduced in 1991.

The first popular election was in late August 1993, with the elected president Ong Teng Cheong taking office on Sept 1 and finishing six years later, on Aug 31. All terms since then followed this schedule.

But a move of the election to this month - to avoid a clash with National Day festivities last month - was announced this year, along with changes to the Presidential Elections Act. The move will happen only once, since the calendar stabilises again after this election.

The Government consulted the Attorney-General on the move in dates and confirmed that it "can be done under the current laws".

Mr Pillay is no stranger to exercising the powers of the president.

As CPA chairman since 2005, he has been acting president each time the president goes on an overseas trip. He acted as president in May, when Dr Tan made state visits to Europe. Mr Pillay has served more than 60 such "stints" - the longest of which was 16 days in April and May of 2007, when then President S R Nathan visited Africa.

Mr Pillay told The Straits Times that when there is an acting president, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs customarily does not organise incoming visits. But such visits have cropped up, like that of US President George W. Bush in November 2006.

Mr Pillay was a veteran civil servant, whom founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said was "equal to the best brains in America".

He was permanent secretary in the finance, defence and national development ministries. He was also chairman of the Singapore Exchange and DBS Bank, and managing director of GIC and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

He, however, is best known for his role as founding chairman of Singapore Airlines (SIA). From a small fleet of just 12 aircraft when he took over in 1972, SIA grew into one of the world's top airlines by the time he stepped down in 1996.

He was modest about his achievements, noting the "simpler environment then".

He quipped: "We would do nothing and the economy would grow by 5 to 7 per cent. Now we struggle to get 2 to 3 per cent, and the electorate is much better educated."

Thank you, President Tan, for doing right by Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pays tribute to Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam and says the country has benefited from his wealth of knowledge and steady judgment during his six years as president
The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

We are gathered here to mark the completion of President Tony Tan’s term of office, and to thank the President and Mrs Mary Tan for their services and contributions to Singapore.

Mr President, you came to office in a hard-fought presidential election. It was just a few months after the 2011 General Election and public sentiments were still affected by that intense earlier contest. You were acutely aware that the presidential candidates would come under close public scrutiny, especially a candidate like yourself, who had a long association with the Government.

Yet, you came forward to offer yourself as a candidate. You felt that the country needed a unifying figure, a steady, experienced hand; someone who understood the role of the president, and would do right by the people and by Singapore while staying above the political fray. Fortunately, you were elected, and Singapore has benefited greatly from your calm and dignified presence, wealth of knowledge, and steady judgment.

The president is the head of state. He sits at the apex of our political system and our country. Domestically, he has to be a unifying figure to all citizens. Externally, he represents Singapore to other nations.

He is also the custodian of our reserves and of the integrity of the public service.

Mr President, you have worked tirelessly to fulfil these important responsibilities.

You have brought people closer together. You broadened the President’s Challenge beyond philanthropy, launching the President's Challenge Volunteer Drive and the President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award. You continued the President's Challenge Charity Briyani, and supported community efforts such as the Inter Racial and Inter Religious Harmony Nite to promote a cohesive and inclusive society.

You gave support and recognition to volunteer groups doing good work, and to professions like nurses and teachers, who serve quietly, day in and day out, making a difference to the lives of others. You took a keen interest in the development and progress of our national athletes.

You lent patronage to promising Singapore artists. You also initiated the Istana Heritage Gallery to familiarise Singaporeans with the history of the Istana and the institution of the presidency.

When we celebrated SG50, you hosted many commemorative events and receptions, both in Singapore and when you were abroad, to deepen Singaporeans' sense of unity and attachment to the country, and show our appreciation to the pioneer generation.

Mr President, you have also enhanced our international relations, and widened our circle of friendly countries. You hosted many foreign leaders in Singapore, and made numerous state and official visits - more than 30 in all.

You visited our Asean partners, as well as many other countries, including several which had not previously been visited by a Singapore president. You brought along business delegations on your visits, opened doors for Singapore companies, and strengthened our network of trade and investments.

Your visits were also occasions to promote cultural, scientific and technological collaborations, fields in which you have a special interest. Your efforts have strengthened ties with our friends and highlighted opportunities to do more together.


You have also been a prudent and conscientious custodian. You ensured that our national reserves continue to be well-protected, and used only for good cause; and that only well-qualified, suitable people are appointed to key public offices.

We were able to operate these presidential safeguards effectively and smoothly because your office and the Government have had a close and constructive working relationship, based on mutual trust and respect. I personally have enjoyed working with you.

We met regularly, often over lunch. I would update you on significant developments and plans. We would discuss impending appointments, the financial outlook, and many other matters beyond the president's custodial responsibilities.

These informal interactions helped us to understand each other's thinking, and enabled the formal mechanisms of the elected presidency to function properly.

For example, last year, the Government had to seek your consent to make one commitment: to give a guarantee for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail project.

This was to safeguard Singapore's interests in the bilateral agreement with Malaysia to build the High-Speed Rail, matching a similar guarantee by the Malaysian government. We briefed you and the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA). You studied the issue carefully, giving us your views from the perspective of safeguarding our reserves.

Happily, we were able to take your views fully into account in the final agreement, which we signed with your concurrence.

Separately, the Government discussed with you and the CPA the major infrastructure projects in the pipeline, such as Changi Airport Terminal 5 and the Cross Island MRT Line, and how the Government can fund them over the next two decades. No funding decisions need to be made yet. But these are huge long-term investments. They will take many years to complete, and their benefits will be felt over many decades.

It is therefore necessary to begin thinking about possible funding approaches early. You gave us your reactions, based on your extensive experience in the public and private sectors. Your views will be valuable as we continue to study this issue with your successor.


Mr President, during your term, we also reviewed and strengthened the institution of the presidency. The elected president was created more than 25 years ago. The institution needs to be kept up to date, to stay effective and relevant. Only then can the president continue to fulfil both his ceremonial and custodial roles.

We amended the Constitution last year to tighten the qualifying criteria to be president, to strengthen the CPA, and to ensure that Singapore regularly has presidents from the minority communities.

Constitutionally, this amendment was the prerogative of the Government and Parliament. But the Government sought your views on this important change affecting the President’s custodial powers, and it was proper and valuable that you gave us your views publicly and supported the changes.

Under the new arrangements, the next presidential election will be reserved for Malay candidates. If all goes well, Singapore will have a Malay president, whom all Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion, will look up to with pride, as representing them and the nation. A president who will bring as much honour and distinction to the Office as you and your predecessors have.

Mr President, I must also thank your wife, Mrs Mary Tan, for her contributions. She has supported and encouraged you through the milestones of your life and career, including the presidency. She was always by your side as you carried out your duties, be it engaging foreign dignitaries, or meeting Singaporeans from all walks of life.

She would put everyone at ease with a friendly word, and a gentle smile. Some of us may have seen the video showing President and Mrs Tan riding a buggy at this year's Chingay Parade. Confetti was falling everywhere, and Mrs Tan leaned forward to dust off some confetti that had landed on the buggy driver's hair.

It was such a spontaneous and characteristic gesture. Singaporeans will remember her fondly for her grace, empathy and warmth.

Mr President, as you complete your term of office today, you can look back on a long and illustrious public service career. It has been my privilege to work with you for more than 30 years. When I first entered politics, you were my minister at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. You mentored and guided me, and helped me to find my footing in government.

Later, we were for many years Cabinet colleagues, working together in various roles. Like many others, I have always admired your clarity of focus, imperturbable demeanour, and sense of duty. It was the same these last six years that you have been president. I am grateful that we have had a long, productive and happy working relationship, and I hope that you will look back on it as warmly as I do.

On behalf of the Government, my Cabinet colleagues, and all Singaporeans, I thank you once again for your dedication, and distinguished service to the nation. We wish you and Mrs Tan all the best in your future endeavours. I am sure you will continue to contribute to the country in many ways in the years to come.

Build social reserves, says Dr Tony Tan
The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2017

Mr Prime Minister, thank you for your very generous remarks about my service.

Thank you also for your kind words about the important role that my wife, Mary, has played.

Mutual trust and respect underpin our constitutional roles as prime minister and president, and our cordial relationship has allowed formal, as well as informal, opportunities to work together. I have greatly valued our regular meetings, and I am happy that my contributions and views have been helpful and constructive.

Six years ago, when I took office, I pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans.

I was committed to the understanding that our nation's president is not a centre of political power. But the president can be a resource. And our president must be a symbol.

Mr Prime Minister, I am glad that my experience has been a resource to you and your colleagues in government. But more important, I was determined that the president's office should symbolise and champion the role we all can play to make Singapore a better society.

I am deeply aware of the challenges faced by those who struggle to make ends meet. Our progress as a nation is measured not only by our ranking on international tables or the success of our highest fliers. The measure of our society rests on how we care for those less fortunate than ourselves.

With this in mind, I encouraged Singaporeans to give their time, talent and resources to help those in need. I was delighted to see the many initiatives launched by Singaporeans from all walks of life. Each initiative served to improve the lives of our fellow citizens and connected us all more closely.

These ties that bind us together as one people are vital. I have described the value of these ties as "social reserves".

Like our financial reserves, these social reserves are important when we navigate through uncertain times. This was the reason I expanded the President's Challenge to move beyond philanthropy to include volunteerism and social entrepreneurship. I wanted to encourage citizens, corporations and other organisations in Singapore to be active in building our social reserves. And through the President's Volunteer and Philanthropy Award, we recognised the energy, ingenuity and commitment of those dedicated to making a lasting difference in their communities.

As a resource and a symbol, the president is also sometimes dubbed Singapore's "chief diplomat". In today's interconnected world, we need to maintain strong relations with partners around the globe.

State visits are important for raising our international profile, promoting government-to-government ties, and creating opportunities for Singaporean companies in new markets. On each visit, I was also delighted to meet Singaporeans living, studying and working overseas. Within their own communities, they are Singapore's ambassadors.

It was also wonderful to cheer on our Olympians and Paralympians, who achieved historic successes in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. They flew the Singapore flag with pride. The nation was behind them. They showed us, and the world, what passion and determination can achieve.

Singapore, itself, is a product of such passion and determination. As I look back on the past six years, there is no question that our SG50 golden jubilee was the high point. It was a remarkable celebration of all that we have achieved since independence.

Like many, my joy at our nation's 50th birthday was tempered by Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passing earlier that year. But we also came together to pay our respects to Mr Lee, and in the process revealed the depth of our relationships as one people.

We are now stewards of the legacy that he left us - the values of meritocracy, honesty, integrity. These will serve us well as we look forward to our next half century.

Mr Prime Minister, my time as president has been the highlight of my career. Personally, it has been a deeply moving opportunity to see Singapore in all its diversity and to meet Singaporeans from all walks of life.

In this journey, I have been so blessed to share it with Mary. Throughout our marriage, she has been a tremendous source of strength and wise counsel. Mary has been a key pillar of support to me, both during and before my presidency. She has a genuine empathy for people which has brought warmth to this Office and helped me throughout my career.

Over the past half-century, I have served Singapore as a university lecturer, a Member of Parliament, a minister, deputy prime minister, and, over the past six years, as president. From tomorrow, I look forward to continuing to serve Singapore - as a citizen.

Mr Prime Minister, Mary and I wish you wisdom and good health in leading Singapore to even better days ahead. With the nation standing in solidarity, we are confident that Singapore will continue to prosper and progress.

Thank you once again, Prime Minister, for your kind words. And thank you, my fellow citizens, for giving me the opportunity to serve as the President of Singapore.

It has indeed been an honour and a privilege.

Thank you.

**  Book Launch of "Tony Tan Keng Yam: My Political Journey"
PM Lee hopes ex-president Tony Tan’s new book will inspire more to step up and lead Singapore
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2024

Singapore has been fortunate that Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam chose to serve the country on many occasions, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the launch of the former president and deputy prime minister’s memoir on his political journey.

Speaking at the event on March 12 afternoon, PM Lee said he hoped the book would inspire more to follow in Dr Tan’s footsteps to come forward and lead Singapore into a better future.

PM Lee recalled the times he worked closely with Dr Tan, adding that he always valued his views.

Dr Tan was first convinced by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to join politics in 1979, despite being initially determined to stay in the banking sector.

After retiring from Mr Lee’s Cabinet as education minister, he was persuaded to come back as deputy prime minister and defence minister in 1995 to help shore up then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s Cabinet.

And despite wanting to retire during PM Lee Hsien Loong’s time at the helm, he agreed to PM Lee’s request to stay on a while longer, and volunteered to helm research and development policy.

The book titled Tony Tan Keng Yam: My Political Journey is published by Straits Times Press and co-authored by Dr Tan and former journalist Leslie Koh.

PM Lee was guest of honour at the book launch, held at the Singapore Management University’s Administration Building function room.

Dr Tan’s book covers his personal perspective of national policymaking and decision-making, and reflects on difficult decisions made during his political career, such as scrapping the graduate mothers’ priority scheme and the 1986 Central Provident Fund rate cut.

PM Lee said the memoir was readable and insightful. In particular, younger readers will benefit from an inside view of Singapore’s nation-building journey from someone who was intimately involved in getting Singapore to where it is today and who had contributed so much to the nation’s success, he added.

Having worked closely with Dr Tan for many years, PM Lee said he was familiar with many episodes highlighted in the book but enjoyed reading Dr Tan’s perspectives on these significant events.

He highlighted three in particular – his own first posting, which was to the Ministry of Trade and Industry where Dr Tan was minister; when Dr Tan chaired the National Research Foundation (NRF) between 2005 and 2011; and when Dr Tan was elected president in 2011.

During his stint as minister of state at MTI, PM Lee said he was assigned by Dr Tan to chair an economic committee in 1985, meant to rethink Singapore’s long-term economic strategy.

But the economy unexpectedly dived into a sharp recession, and while there were many steps taken to reduce business costs, there was one move employers were pushing for.

That was to cut Central Provident Fund contribution rates, which the Government had strenuously resisted, said PM Lee.

Then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew even said at that year’s National Day Rally that the rates should not be cut, as they helped to protect workers’ savings.

But discussions confirmed that the high CPF rates had to be cut by 15 percentage points to help the economy.

“But how should we navigate this radical change in policy, which was likely to be surprising, controversial and unpopular? It was difficult, not just because the Government has taken such a strong public stance on the issue.

“But Dr Tan also felt that it would be awkward for me as a new MOS (minister of state), on such an important matter, to be the one to publicly contradict the prime minister, who was my father. He was very conscious that we had to keep public and personal life separate,” said PM Lee.

Eventually, Dr Tan publicly floated the idea, and also convinced the Cabinet and Mr Lee.

“To me, this episode exemplified Dr Tan’s leadership style – entrusting someone with a task, leaving him to run with it, judging the moment to make a decisive move, and then making a strategic intervention himself to secure the key outcome,” said PM Lee.

During Dr Tan’s time at the NRF, the organisation made a strong push in biotech, which was a big, long-term bet with an uncertain payoff, added PM Lee.

But today, Singapore is seeing the returns on that investment, he said.

The last highlight was when Dr Tan put himself forward as a candidate for the 2011 Presidential Election.

Having already held leadership positions in the public and private sectors, Dr Tan had nothing more to prove and no reason to expose himself once again to the hurly-burly of an election campaign and intense scrutiny of public life, noted PM Lee.

“But he felt he had something to contribute that the nation required at that moment. He knew what was needed of a president, to be a respected and unifying figure that stood above the fray of politics, represented a whole nation and provided a steady fulcrum for our political system,” he said.

Speaking next, Dr Tan said he had never thought that he would write a book, let alone one about himself or his political life.

When he retired – a number of times, he quipped – many encouraged him to share his story, but “to be honest, I was more than a little reluctant”, he said.

He eventually began writing as a personal exercise to recall what he had done and the lessons he had learnt, in case his grandchildren were interested in reading about them.

In 2019, he began discussions with ST Press to write the book, though the Covid-19 pandemic hit a year later.

“That is when I realised how valuable the lessons I had learnt over my life and work were,” he said.

Dr Tan, who is the former chairman of Singapore Press Holdings, said he could see that Singapore was once again facing something unprecedented, unknown and uncertain.

And just like in the earlier days, Singapore had to figure things out on the spot and try to solve the crisis as it unfolded, while keeping an eye on the future, he said.

He said: “I hope that some of the lessons we have learnt in the past might be of value to the next generation of citizens and leaders.

“In sharing about problem-solving, policymaking approaches when taken in my book, I hope this will help the next generation to be better prepared to manage any crisis the future might hold for us.”

The book launch was also attended by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, former deputy prime minister S. Jayakumar and former People’s Action Party chairman and MP Khaw Boon Wan.

Other attendees included chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers Eddie Teo, Banyan Tree founder Ho Kwon Ping, DBS Bank chief executive officer Piyush Gupta and Singapore Management University president Lily Kong.

The book is available for purchase at $40.33 for the paperback version and $78.48 for the hardcover version at all major bookshops from March 12. It is also available on the website.

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