Sunday, 10 September 2017

ESM Goh Chok Tong: Terror threat closer than Singaporeans think; LKYSPP academics should offer constructive criticism, build trust with govt leaders

ISIS already active in region and individuals here have been self-radicalised, he warns
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2017

The scourge of terrorism is closer than Singaporeans think, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group is already in Marawi, he noted, and could possibly establish itself in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where Muslim Rohingya refugees are fleeing fighting between the military and militants.

These developments, coupled with the presence of self-radicalised individuals here, means Singaporeans need to prepare themselves for an eventual terrorist attack, he said.

The Home Affairs Ministry had announced the arrests of two Singaporeans under the Internal Security Act a day earlier, the latest in a string of terrorism-related arrests this year.

Speaking at a dialogue to mark the 13th anniversary of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Goh stressed that the real challenge would come after a terror attack.

"What will that mean for race relations - that's No. 1. If as a result of (an attack) race relations become fragile, broken, collapsed, then the terrorists would have achieved their purpose," he said.

He listed terrorism as one of two future challenges Singapore would face, in response to a question during the dialogue at the National University of Singapore.

The other challenge is how to get young Singaporeans to "accept politically", slower growth in their incomes, he said, given that Singapore will no longer see high economic growth of 8 to 9 per cent. This means incomes may grow at a slower rate of 2 to 3 per cent, but salaries will start from a higher base, he added.

"If we can't convince you on that and if you have a change in government, and people think life will get better, I can tell you that life will get worse, very quickly, because the new government still will not be able to produce 5 to 6 per cent growth," he said.

During the hour-long dialogue, Mr Goh spoke candidly on a wide range of issues, often with a dose of humour that drew laughter from the auditorium of 300 students, faculty and alumni.

He also shared personal experiences, like how the 2003 SARS crisis was the most frightening challenge he faced during his tenure as prime minister from 1990 to 2004.

He highlighted the importance of forming personal relationships with other world leaders, citing how he and then United States President Bill Clinton agreed to have the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement following a midnight golf game in Brunei in 2000, after an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting.

Mr Goh, who chairs the LKY School's governing board, also urged the school to find ways to offer added value to the Government in future. "I find that as the Government, I am not getting my money's worth," he quipped, saying the school has to offer alternative viewpoints and shape thinking on policies.

"But unfortunately, the dean will say 'it's very sensitive, you know'," added Mr Goh, to laughter from the audience.

LKY School dean Kishore Mahbubani, who chaired yesterday's dialogue, replied: "I speak from personal experience."

Professor Mahbubani had drawn flak from former colleagues in the Foreign Ministry and Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in July, after saying in a commentary that Singapore should behave like a small state and avoid getting tangled in affairs beyond its borders.

Said ESM Goh: "To be fair no leader likes to be criticised... but to do it constructively, you must build up that trust between one another."

As the dialogue drew to a close, Mr Goh turned the tables and asked Prof Mahbubani about Singapore's biggest challenge in future.

Prof Mahbubani said the political philosophy that "worked very well" in Singapore's first 50 years may not work as well in future.

"In many ways we are changing, and Singapore is becoming more open... and that process of continuous change is what I see as the biggest challenge," he said.

Offer constructive criticism, build trust with govt leaders, ESM Goh tells LKYSPP academics
By Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 9 Sep 2017

While academics from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) should offer the Government critical alternative views, they should do so constructively and build trust with political leaders, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said on Friday (Sept 8).

Speaking at the LKYSPP’s 13th anniversary dialogue session, Mr Goh, who became the school’s governing board chairman in April, said that the LKYSPP, having reached a “comfortable” size, is in a good place to examine how it can “provide greater value-add to policymaking”.

He said the Government is not getting its “money’s worth” in terms of ideas being contributed by the LKYSPP.

“I want to get this flow-back to the Government. It’s a good tool (and) you must’ve very good opinions, you must be able to challenge the thinking of the Government in some areas,” Mr Goh added.

While he did not refer expressly to recent episodes in which the Government called out the school’s academics, including its dean Kishore Mahbubani, over remarks they made publicly, the Emeritus Senior Minister said: “To be fair, no leader likes to be criticised ... neither do I. But do it constructively. You must build up that trust between one another.”

On several occasions in recent months, government leaders have slammed comments by LKYSPP academics.

In July, Professor Mahbubani’s commentary arguing that small states such as Singapore must always behave as such and refrain from commenting on matters involving great powers drew sharp rebuttals from Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and diplomats, among others.

In April, a Facebook post by LKYSPP’s associate dean Donald Low also led to a rebuke from Mr Shanmugam, who said the academic’s comments had “seriously misconstrued” the statements the minister had made in an interview with TODAY, with regard to considering public opinion when deciding on criminal sentences.

Mr Low later apologised.

While Mr Goh said the school has done well since its inception, he acknowledged that “we want to do better”.

First, the link between theory and practice should be burnished, he said.

Noting the need to go beyond public-policy theories, Mr Goh said the school should find ways to better meld the experience and lessons of its many “practice professors” with vast experience in the public service with its professors’ academic lectures.

Pointing out that foreign delegations turn to the LKYSPP to study Singapore’s public policies, Mr Goh said the school has a “front-row” seat. To this end, it introduced a compulsory module for all its master’s students this year, giving an overview of Singapore’s policies.

Besides tapping the expertise of former officials, Mr Goh said the school could also consider inviting current senior civil servants to serve as “practice fellows”.

“This integration of theories and practice will set the school apart from other public-policy schools,” he added.


In Friday’s dialogue, attended by 300 students, alumni and academics, Mr Goh, asked how the LKYSPP and the Government’s Civil Service College can be bridged, said formal links between the two institutes to share ideas and collaborate are in the offing.

Right now, there are interactions and sharing of case studies between them, but these are done informally, he added.

Fielding a question on how race and ethnicity have figured in Singapore’s success, Mr Goh said Singapore’s approach towards public-housing ethnic quotas, if tried in other countries, would have seen the Government thrown out or sparked riots.

But Singapore set out to take this approach “from day one” to treat all races fairly and justly.

He also cited the example of religious buildings in the early years. Christians, for instance, could pay the market price for land to build churches, but the Muslim community, which was then poorer, faced greater difficulty.

“As the Government, you (had) to make sure that (there are) places to go and worship. But how do you do that and yet not attract unhappiness from the other religious groups?” he asked.

Hence, the Government reserved sites for them, so tenders were not necessary, but the community still had to pay market prices.

To help them do this, a Mosque Building Fund was set up, with Muslims contributing a small sum from their monthly wage to build mosques in their housing estates.

This allowed the Government to balance the interests of all the religious communities, Mr Goh said.


Asked whether Singapore can maintain its position in South-east Asia amid the emergence of neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, Mr Goh said the Republic can serve as a “catalyst” to establish a “smart” or “digital Asean” by helping neighbouring nations go digital and connecting the countries’ economies.

This will allow start-ups, entrepreneurs and innovators in the region to compete against China.

While Singapore would not be a base for these start-ups, a “multi-super-corridor”, or an “Asean Silicon Valley”, could be set up through links between the various countries.

“It can be done ... Singapore can, therefore, play a role of being a catalyst. We have got the resources (and) can help Indonesia to build up its digital capabilities if necessary,” he added.

In response to another question, Mr Goh also singled out terrorism and sustaining high economic growth yet changing the mindset of younger Singaporeans to accept a slower pace of economic growth, compared with decades past, as the main challenges for the country going forward.

He then turned to Prof Mahbubani, who moderated the dialogue, and asked the academic about the biggest challenge that will confront Singapore.

Prof Mahbubani said the country has created one of the most successful middle-class societies, and has a top-notch education system and a “globalised” population.

“The political culture in Singapore has got to change and adapt to this new environment ... The philosophy of governing Singapore that worked very well in our first 50 years need not necessarily work well in the next 50 years,” added Prof Mahbubani.

“That process of continuous change is what I see as the biggest challenge.”

Reserved Presidential Election part of Singapore's multiracialism policy: ESM Goh
Channel NewsAsia, 8 Sep 2017

Reserving a Presidential Election for candidates from a particular minority community is part of Singapore's multiracialism policy, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Friday (Sep 8).

Speaking at a dialogue session to mark the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's (LKYSPP) 13th anniversary, Mr Goh noted that the reserved election this year is "quite unpopular with a large proportion of the population because it goes against the principle of meritocracy".

He added, however, that Singaporeans should understand why the Government is doing this.

Mr Goh said Singapore has been successful in managing race and ethnic relations because it "started very early from day one", citing the ethnic integration policy for public housing as an example. The policy helps to ensure an ethnic mix in HDB estates to help promote racial integration and harmony.

"We have succeeded because we started very early from day one. Everybody is equal and yet you know their differences. We try and make them equal in result when we can – on a fair and just principle basis," Mr Goh said in response to a question about how Singapore has been able to manage race relations.

When asked about the potential crises Singapore could face in the future, Mr Goh said: "Terrorism is closer than you think."

He noted that pro-Islamic State (IS) militants are already in Marawi in the southern Philippines, and IS "may have a chance to establish itself in Rakhine state in Myanmar".

In Singapore, it was announced on Thursday that two Singaporeans were arrested in July under the Internal Security Act for terror-related activities. "Those whom we have arrested - a handful - but how many are out there, we don't know," said Mr Goh who is also chairman of the governing board of LKYSPP.

"The Government is already passing the message – more or less trying to condition all of us – (that) it's not a question of if a bomb or truck will be driven into some crowded place in Singapore, it’s a question of when.

"The big worry for us in reaction is not the bomb per se, it's the aftermath. What would that mean for race relations? If race relations become fragile, broken, collapsed, then the terrorists would have achieved their purpose."


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