Saturday 27 June 2020

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to retire from politics after 44 years as MP; Low Thia Khiang and Khaw Boon Wan also not running in GE2020

Singapore GE2020: Singapore's second Prime Minister tried to foster a kinder, gentler nation and enhanced regional links
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

The man who served as Singapore's second prime minister from 1990 to 2004 is retiring from politics as the country gears up for an election campaign in which leadership transition is a key issue.

Specifically, it involves a planned handover to the PAP's fourth generation of leaders since Singapore's independence in 1965.

Mr Goh Chok Tong, 79, has been a Member of Parliament for 44 years. He stepped down from Cabinet in 2011 and has been known as Emeritus Senior Minister since then.

Even as he departs the political stage, he has signalled his continued preoccupation with Singapore's future, asking in a cryptic Facebook post on Tuesday, the day the election was called: "Parliament dissolved. Quo vadis, Singapore? Quo vadis, me?"

"Quo vadis" is a Latin phrase commonly translated as "Where are you going?" or, more poetically, "Whither goest thou?"

Mr Goh announced his decision to retire in a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

PM Lee accepted his decision and thanked Mr Goh for a lifetime of distinguished service.

Born into a working class family in 1941, the man who stood out from childhood - not just because he was the tallest among his peers - began his working life as a civil servant who went on to lead Neptune Orient Lines before being inducted into politics in 1976, at the age of 35.

He rose swiftly to helm several ministries, including Trade and Industry, Health and Defence, before being appointed deputy prime minister in 1985. Five years later, he succeeded Mr Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister.


When he was sworn in as prime minister on Nov 28, 1990, he pledged to make sure "Singapore thrives and grows after Mr Lee Kuan Yew".

During his 14 years at the helm, Singapore's per capita gross domestic product grew from $21,950 in 1990 to more than $38,000 in 2004. A web of free trade agreements (FTAs), including with major economies like the United States and Japan, expanded the island nation's political and economic space overseas.

Mr Goh played a key role in regional integration, working to narrow the development gap between the original Asean five and the newer member states of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. This was done through the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) launched in 2000.

He sparked an "India fever" in Singapore in the 1990s, making multiple trips to the country, urging it to forge closer ties with the region and pushing for the conclusion of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

He also led Singapore's efforts to grow links between world regions, through the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation and Asia-Middle East Dialogue. These cemented Singapore's cultural, economic and political relevance to the world.

As prime minister, it also fell to him to secure a team to succeed himself and his peers in Cabinet.

During his tenure as minister for defence, Mr Goh talent-spotted a young Lee Hsien Loong, then a Singapore Armed Forces leader, and persuaded him to enter politics and stand for election in 1984.

PM Lee himself spoke of Mr Goh's ability to get capable people to join his team and work for him, when he launched the latter's biography Tall Order in 2018.

PM Lee said of his predecessor: "He nurtures and holds the team together. He considers and takes in their views, and gets the best out of the team."

It was Mr Goh who brought in key third-generation leaders, including Mr George Yeo, Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, as well as Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Professor Yaacob Ibrahim and Mr Lim Swee Say. In his speech, PM Lee observed that Mr Goh had assembled "some of the strongest Cabinets Singapore has had" at a time when the task of governing Singapore had become more complex.


At home, the Goh years were about renewing the bond between people and government on terms that the second-generation PAP leaders believed in - a kinder, gentler nation, a government that listened, and paid attention not just to material well-being but also matters of the heart, or "heartware".

Mr Goh set up the Feedback Unit for Singaporeans to share their views on policies. He launched two national engagement efforts to tap the views and ideas of thousands of Singaporeans - the first in 1997 called Singapore 21, the second in 2001 called Remaking Singapore.

He used budget surpluses to set up endowment funds that to this day provide financial support to less well-off Singaporeans. These range from the Edusave scheme that awards grants and scholarships to students, Medifund which helps poorer Singaporeans foot their healthcare bills, the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund to enhance workers' employability, and Eldercare for those needing nursing homes and other long-term care services.

It was also during Mr Goh's tenure that the Government first started redistributing budget surpluses to citizens in the form of Central Provident Fund top-ups.

At the grassroots level, Mr Goh set up community development councils, inter-racial confidence circles and harmony circles to promote social bonding and cohesion among different racial and religious communities.

He oversaw political innovations such as government parliamentary committees which give backbencher MPs a platform to scrutinise policies, as well as the Nominated MP scheme, which remains a key channel for independent, non-partisan individuals to contribute their views in Singapore's Parliament.

Despite his friendly mien and famously dry wit, and his stated goal of nurturing a kinder, gentler Singapore, Mr Goh could be tough in political contests and towards his critics. In 1994, he censured writer Catherine Lim for her article on an "affective divide" between the Government and Singaporeans due to its top-down approach to governing. Dr Lim had gone "beyond the pale", Mr Goh said, adding that those who wished to comment regularly on politics should enter the political arena.

When it came to electoral battles, Mr Goh fought hard to win, leading the ruling party to victory in three general elections in 1991, 1997 and 2001. The last campaign saw the PAP win 75 per cent of the votes in the midst of an economic crisis due to the fallout of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Throughout those years, he stood firm in the face of criticism against the government policy of placing opposition wards last in the queue for HDB estate upgrading.


Having dedicated his life to serving Singapore, Mr Goh naturally worries about the sustainability of its success.

In recent years, he has voiced concern about the lack of diversity among ministers and the resulting "groupthink" that might affect the quality of leadership. His concern stems from the growing share of PAP ministers drawn from the ranks of the public service, including the armed forces. At the same time, he has noted that it is increasingly difficult for the PAP to attract talented people from the private sector into politics.

Another concern is the sustainability of PAP rule - unbroken since 1959.

In 2017, at a dinner to mark his 40 years as MP for Marine Parade, Mr Goh reminded PAP activists not to take voters' support for granted.

The PAP won 56.6 per cent of the votes in Marine Parade GRC in GE2011, on the back of a national slide in the party's vote share, and improved this result with a 64.1 per cent showing in GE2015. But Mr Goh's appeal meant it consistently got a higher percentage of votes in his Marine Parade ward.

"Going forward, we must not assume that we will always poll more than 70 per cent in our Marine Parade ward. We should not even assume that we will always win," said Mr Goh.

Younger voters have a "less instinctive, and more transactional" bond with the party, he added, compared with the pioneer gene-ration who lived through Singapore's early struggles. As for the opposition, he said he hoped to see one that was "intelligent, constructive, critical".

While no longer an MP, Mr Goh has set himself one more political task, and that is to complete the second volume of his biography, entitled Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story.

That at least provides part of the answer to one of the two questions he posed this week. As for the other, "Quo vadis, Singapore?" the answer is a work in progress, though the outcome of the upcoming campaign may provide some clues.

Singapore GE2020: Day of renewal, as ESM Goh Chok Tong, Low Thia Khiang exit politics
Singapore's second PM steps down after 44 years in public service
WP veteran Low Thia Khiang surprises by not contesting GE
PAP unveils 11 more new faces, including likely office-holders
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor and Joyce Lim, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

An era ended as stalwarts from both the ruling and opposition parties retired from politics yesterday, but the process of renewal continued with several new faces being introduced ahead of the upcoming general election.

Among those who will not contest the July 10 polls is the country's second prime minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, who informed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of his decision on Wednesday.

Mr Goh, 79, was an MP for 44 straight years and served as prime minister from 1990 to 2004.

On the other side of the political divide, former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang bowed out of politics yesterday after 29 years in Parliament, the longest by any opposition MP in Singapore.

WP secretary-general Pritam Singh announced that Mr Low, 63, and two-term MPs Chen Show Mao, 59, and Png Eng Huat, 58, would not be standing in the polls.

The departures come as Singapore gears up for a general election in which leadership transition is a key issue, with the People's Action Party (PAP) fourth-generation leadership set to take the helm.

PM Lee lauded Mr Goh for his calm and steady leadership during crises like the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003.

PM Lee said Mr Goh left his biggest imprint in Marine Parade, where he was first elected in 1976 and re-elected in nine general elections and one by-election.

He added in a Facebook post: "I am forever personally indebted to Chok Tong, who brought me into politics. Ours was a fruitful comradeship that spanned the entirety of my years in politics and most of his - a close friendship between two prime ministers that would be the envy of many countries."

In his letter, Mr Goh said many of his activists have urged him to stand for another term. "But I should not. I would not have the same energy when I cross into my 80s," he wrote, adding that smooth and systematic leadership succession is key to Singapore's political stability.

And just as he decided to hand over the reins to PM Lee in 2004, Mr Goh said he prefers to retire now while he is healthy and able, to ease his successor's transition into his Marine Parade ward.

He assured residents that Marine Parade will be in "very capable hands" under Dr Tan See Leng, 55, the former group chief executive and managing director of IHH Healthcare.

Dr Tan was one of 11 new PAP candidates unveiled yesterday, along with former Infocomm Media Development Authority chief executive Tan Kiat How, 43. Both men are said to be potential office-holders.

Meanwhile, the WP introduced four candidates, while the Progress Singapore Party unveiled another five candidates, including two retired Singapore Armed Forces officers.

Mr Low, himself, told the media he was stepping down with no regrets as he felt his work was done. "I have always maintained that a party cannot depend on just an individual or a few individuals," he said.

In a Facebook post yesterday, President Halimah Yacob said that although Mr Goh and Mr Low serve on opposite ends of the political spectrum, their mutual respect for each other is well known.

It is thus an "uncanny coincidence" that they announced their respective decisions to retire from politics on the same day, she wrote.

She added that Mr Goh - who persuaded her to enter politics 20 years ago - has made tremendous contributions to Singapore, while Mr Low has been a voice of reason among the opposition.

"To many Singaporeans, today's announcements mark the end of an era," she said.

Retirement letter from Mr Goh Chok Tong
The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong exchanged letters this week. On Wednesday, Mr Goh informed PM Lee of his decision to retire from politics at the general election, and yesterday, PM Lee wrote a valedictory letter to Mr Goh accepting his decision and thanking him for his contributions. We reproduce both letters.

24 June 2020

Mr Lee Hsien Loong Prime Minister, Republic of Singapore Secretary-General, People's Action Party

Dear Prime Minister,

As Parliament has now been dissolved, I write to inform you that I have decided not to stand in the coming general election. Having served as a Member of Parliament for Marine Parade for over four decades, I make this decision after much thought and with a heavy heart.

Marine Parade is my second home. I love the people. The PAP branch activists and the grassroots leaders are my steadfast comrades and firm friends. Many have urged me to stand for another term. But I should not. I would not have the same energy when I cross into my 80s.

Smooth and systematic leadership succession is the key to Singapore's political stability. I decided to step down as PM in 2004 after the economy had recovered from SARS and when you were in place to take over as my successor. Similarly, I prefer to retire as Member of Parliament now whilst I am healthy and able to ease my successor's transition into Marine Parade.

Dr Tan See Leng has been understudying me for nearly two years now. He helps me with my Meet-the-People Sessions, and with several social projects that I initiated in the constituency. He is now operationalising our Caregiver Support Network, an important new initiative for a mature estate like Marine Parade. He has also played an active role in EduGrow, our youth mentorship programme for students from lower-income families. See Leng connects well with residents, branch members and grassroots leaders alike. He has held dialogues with residents and gone on house visits until COVID-19 put a stop to them. I recommend him to take over from me.

Competent and trusted leaders with the heart for public service are critical to protect and advance Singaporeans' interests. We need more lion-hearted people to secure Singapore's place in an increasingly turbulent world.

I strongly support your planned leadership succession at the national level. The 4G team led by Heng Swee Keat has been tested and strengthened in the crucible of COVID-19. We must look for more good men and women to join the team.

Likewise, we should start building up the core of the 5G team.

I hope you will accept my decision to step down as Member of Parliament.

It has been my greatest honour and privilege to have served the party, residents of Marine Parade, Singapore and Singaporeans for the past 44 years.

I will continue to contribute to Singapore in other ways.

Best wishes for a successful general election ahead.

Yours fraternally, Goh Chok Tong Member of Parliament Marine Parade/GRC (1976 - 2020)


25 June 2020

Mr Goh Chok Tong Emeritus Senior Minister Prime Minister's Office Singapore

Thank you for your letter of 24 June 2020. With sadness, I accept your decision to retire from politics at the forthcoming general election.

Singapore is going through a difficult time because of COVID-19. But we have experienced crises before, including when you were prime minister, such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. On those occasions, your calm and steady leadership gave Singaporeans comfort and courage. Those crises were painful experiences that left their mark on us, but they strengthened us too. This gives us confidence that this time with COVID-19, we will again emerge stronger.

Your contributions continued after you stepped down as PM. In Parliament, you weighed in during key debates, including on integrated resorts and ministerial salaries. You guided the younger MPs, providing them with historical perspective, and inculcating in them the values and ethic of public service. You also served as chairman and remain senior adviser of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, guiding MAS to enhance the resilience of the banking system, strengthen links with international partners, promote innovation, and protect retail consumers.

Internationally, you built bridges for our people, opened doors for our businesses, and flew our flag high. When Myanmar opened up in 2011, your personal relationship with their leaders gave our companies an entry to seize the economic opportunities there. You initiated the Tianjin Eco-City and Guangzhou Knowledge City, creating new platforms for Singapore to collaborate with China.

In India, without the trust and goodwill you built up over many years, I could not have signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in 2005.

It is in Marine Parade that you have left the most personal imprint on the lives of individual Singaporeans. You were returned as the MP for Marine Parade 11 times, in 10 general elections and one by-election over almost 45 years. When you were first elected in 1976, Marine Parade was newly reclaimed land - a large but blank canvas on which our hopes and dreams could be projected. Today, those dreams have become reality. Marine Parade has become a vibrant waterfront town filled with warmth, which people of all ages are proud to call home. The story of Marine Parade is the story of Singapore - out of nothing, we created something special. You made that happen.

In the process, you built lifelong friendships with your grassroots leaders, and an unbreakable bond with your residents. They know that you always have their welfare at heart. In the early days you proposed setting up residents' committees (RCs) in Marine Parade to build communities in our neighbourhoods and precincts. The project succeeded, and today we have replicated that structure islandwide with more than 800 RCs and neighbourhood committees.

After leaving the Cabinet, you devoted even more time and energy to your constituency. Residents from other parts of the GRC would often meet you at Meet-the-People Sessions, as you joined your fellow MPs to help residents in their branches. You raised funds to start numerous social programmes, including the Marine Parade Leadership Foundation to train future community leaders, WeCare@MarineParade to help vulnerable residents, and EduGrow for kindergarten and primary school students from disadvantaged family backgrounds. These projects inspired national programmes like the Youth Corps Singapore, the SG Cares Community Network, and the Uplift programme which MOE is now rolling out across Singapore. You also founded the Mediacorp Enable Fund to help persons with disabilities fulfil their aspirations.

Grassroots leaders and residents in Marine Parade will miss you. But like me, they understand and respect your decision to retire, because they have seen you advocate and uphold the principle of leadership renewal all your life. As PAP secretary-general, you were tireless in bringing in fresh blood to the party. In 2004 when you relinquished the prime ministership, and in 2011 when you left the Cabinet, you still had much more to give. But you decided that it was in the party's interest, and especially in the national interest, to let someone younger take over.

I will always be personally indebted to you. You brought me into politics and have guided and mentored me all these years. It was my privilege to be your deputy throughout your premiership. After you retired from Cabinet, we continued with our regular lunches. I always looked forward to these opportunities to share my thoughts and concerns candidly with someone who fully understood what was at stake, and to hear your reactions and perspectives. Your advice, based on a lifetime of experience, helped me clarify my thoughts and avoid many unnecessary errors. Ours was a fruitful comradeship that spanned the entirety of my years in politics and most of yours - a close relationship between two prime ministers that would be the envy of many countries.

In the PAP Marine Parade branch, I am glad the succession is well in hand, and Dr Tan See Leng will be taking over as branch chairman. I am also glad that you will maintain your links with Marine Parade, as chairman emeritus of the Marine Parade branch and adviser emeritus to Marine Parade GROs (grassroots organisations). At the national level you have agreed to be appointed senior adviser to the People's Association on a pro bono basis. I am happy that you will continue to chair the governing board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. This will enable you to continue to contribute the insights and experience you have accumulated all these years.

On behalf of all Singaporeans, I thank you for a lifetime of distinguished service. You have given your all and more in the service of your country and people. I wish you and Mrs Goh a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Yours sincerely

Lee Hsien Loong

Marine Parade residents, MPs recount ESM Goh Chok Tong's contributions
By Joyce Lim, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

Minimart owner Madam Chua was shocked when told yesterday that Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is retiring.

The 82-year-old, who has been living in Marine Parade for 39 years, said she was hoping he would contest the coming general election. "He is very caring and takes good care of the elderly," she said. "His stepping down will sadden many residents."

She recalled vividly how Mr Goh had come to her rescue in 1981 when she felt so helpless after she failed to get a permit to hire a maid.

Madam Chua had just moved to Marine Parade to start a provision shop business and needed a helper to take care of her two children.

Mr Goh helped to write a letter to the authorities to support her case and she got the permit, she said.

Like Madam Chua, many Marine Parade residents were expecting Mr Goh to stand again.

"Marine Parade has always been a stronghold for PAP because of Goh Chok Tong," said Mr Marican A.J., 75, a resident of more than 30 years who saw the area develop into a mature estate.

"Mr Goh is a sentimental person. Instead of demolishing the old flats, he upgraded them. There are also more clinics to take care of the elderly living here," he added.

Mr Ronnie Foo, 57, who runs a fruit stall, added: "He has done so much for us. He is a very down-to-earth MP and he understands the issues we face.

"When hawkers like me get summonses, we go to see him. He would help us write appeal letters because he knows it's not easy for us to do our business," he said. "It would be hard for you to find someone who says Mr Goh is not a nice person."

Mr Goh has been grooming Dr Tan See Leng, 55, who was introduced as a new candidate yesterday, to take over as chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP) branch in Marine Parade.

Mr Goh will remain chairman emeritus of the branch, and has also agreed to be appointed senior adviser to the People's Association on a pro bono basis.

In a valedictory letter to Mr Goh, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that he oversaw the transformation of Marine Parade estate on newly reclaimed land to a vibrant waterfront town filled with warmth. "The story of Marine Parade is the story of Singapore - out of nothing, we created something special. You made that happen," he said.

In a Facebook post, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat recalled Mr Goh giving him valuable advice during the 2008 global financial crisis when he was deliberating on getting approval from then-President S R Nathan for a $150 billion guarantee on all bank deposits here, to be backed by reserves.

Mr Heng was managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Mr Goh, its chairman.

Mr Heng said he was glad to have Mr Goh's counsel. "He taught us that we must face difficult decisions head-on. Having thought through the options, we must have the courage to do what is right," he wrote. "It was a lesson that stayed with me and continues to guide much of my work."

Other MPs paid tribute to Mr Goh as a mentor who would make time to have lunch with younger MPs to discuss their challenges and issues.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, who is in the Marine Parade GRC team, posted a photo montage of Mr Goh with the message: "He is a gentleman, a mentor, a leader, and an inspiration to all with his lifelong service to Singapore. Above all, he has a caring heart, especially for the elderly and people with special needs and disabilities."

*  GE2020 showed Singapore at 'inflexion point': Goh Chok Tong
ESM notes need to address aspirations of the young for more voices and diversity in govt
By Li Xueying, Enterprise Editor, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2020

Four days after General Election 2020 - and unencumbered by duties and meetings for the first time in his adult life - Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong allowed himself a little chuckle.

In a Facebook post on July 14, he wrote about a health scare following the discovery of a white spot, possibly malignant, on his larynx last year. A biopsy was ruled out as he had a health complication. So a period of observation followed.

"Saw my doctor this morning. Hooray! No more white spot," ESM Goh announced the good news.

"But too late to reverse my decision to retire as MP."

It turns out, Singapore's second prime minister was having a bit of fun. "I was just being cheeky with myself," he tells The Sunday Times. "Some people read it too literally, some people understand - they enjoyed it."

The 79-year-old had actually set the wheels in motion for his retirement more than two years ago when he told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong they should plan for it.

Shortly after, PM Lee sent Dr Tan See Leng, then the chief executive officer of a healthcare group, to understudy ESM Goh in his ward in Marine Parade GRC. But "we would not decide until the last minute, in case I'm really needed to defend Marine Parade".

On Nomination Day, ESM Goh told his activists he would not be contesting in the July 10 polls.

And so, for the first time since 1976, Goh Chok Tong did not appear on a People's Action Party (PAP) ballot paper.

The tall bespectacled man who made history by proving that Singapore can survive - and thrive - without a Lee Kuan Yew at the helm, has yet again departed from the style of his predecessor, who died in 2015 a sitting MP of Tanjong Pagar GRC.


Still, old habits die hard.

On polling night, he was at the PAP branch at Block 46 Marine Crescent - like he was for the past 10 general elections - along with Dr Tan and polling agents as the results rolled in.

"I wanted just to be with them," he says. "To encourage them."

The man he succeeded had famously said he would "get up" even at the point of dying, if he felt something was going wrong in Singapore. ESM Goh has no such idea.

Instead, he quips: "I don't believe that I should leave horizontal, being carried out feet first."

How does this former Singapore prime minister intend to walk away then?

Deliberately and steadfastly, though perhaps not without some looking back over his shoulder.

During the 11/2-hour interview last Monday at the Istana, where he retains an office, ESM Goh reflected on some key moments in his 44 years as an MP (1976-2020) and 14 years as prime minister (1990-2004).

But with the heft of an elder, he also offers his unflinching take on today's Singapore, even as he waves away some questions, citing the need to be sensitive to its leaders.

The biggest change to his life so far is "the ability to slow time".

He says: "Life before this was governed by schedules and meetings. And those very often were not under your control."

Still, his calendar is filling up. He has sounded out PM Lee on conducting fireside chats with new MPs. Topics could range from the role of an MP to geopolitics. PM Lee has given the green light.

He will also retain his ESM title and make himself available for the furthering of ties with India and Myanmar, with which he maintains special links. Since 2011, when he stepped down from the Cabinet, he has received no salary for this.

He has also been appointed Senior Adviser to the People's Association (PA), another unpaid role. He hopes to nudge it into paying more attention to vulnerable residents. He is also mulling over if it could step up as a one-stop information centre for all policies and schemes.

"People say, 'You know, the Government plans policies, how come you never tell me all this?' They are all out there but the residents somehow do not have one place that they can go to for the information."


The conversation inevitably veers to the just-concluded election and what it means for Singapore and the PAP.

Even for the man who fought 10 general elections and one by-election, the GE2020 results came as a surprise. The Workers' Party (WP) won an unprecedented two GRCs and one SMC. The PAP garnered 61.2 per cent of the votes.

"To be very frank, I was expecting a better performance for the ruling party because of the Covid situation. I do believe that people generally will take flight to safety."

Looking back, there was a mismatch in what the PAP campaigned on, and what the people, especially younger ones, want, he says.

"I don't think the party was addressing the aspiration side of what the young wanted, because they started to message on Covid-19 challenges and so on. But the young felt it's your job, you can handle it; but what about my aspirations?"

Key among these is a desire for more voices.

ESM Goh recounts meeting a young woman in Marine Parade who told him diversity was the one thing she wants.

Well, what does diversity mean, he asked her in turn. "So she said, your Marine Parade team - there is no woman."

Beyond gender, there is a craving for a broader representation of voices, he says. The PAP had started moving in this direction in recent general elections, bringing in non-establishment candidates such as animal activist Louis Ng, he says.

But ESM Goh acknowledges that even such voices ultimately have to toe the party line.

Meanwhile, the WP is coming across as an interesting alternative, "a fresh party with fresh faces".

"We're at an inflexion point in terms of political mood and expectation," he says. It is natural that the electorate would want to "try the other side" if it looks attractive enough.

What has surprised him is the speed at which Singapore has reached this point.

"I was expecting this change, but not now. I was anticipating it maybe in 2025, when the 4G takes over and there's a change in leadership. If not, the one after that."

2G ON 4G

GE2020 was widely seen as a coming-out party of sorts for the 4G, led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. It was the first electoral battle since they were catapulted into key PAP positions; Mr Heng and Mr Chan Chun Sing stepped up as the two assistant secretary-generals in November 2018.

On whether the earlier-than-expected arrival of the "inflexion point" is a reflection of public confidence in the 4G, ESM Goh says: "I think the 4G has not yet shown themselves politically. They are intelligent, very competent, hard-working and good in running ministries. To be fair to them, they have not quite yet shown that political acumen, political leadership."

In searching for talent, the PAP looks for people who can govern best, he says.

"In many other countries, people come in because they're politicians. They know how to play around with the mood, how to get votes (but) in governing they are weaker.

"We are trying to get good people who know about governing, who know the subject matter and make them become political leaders."

Mr Heng was originally expected to take over in two years, when PM Lee turns 70. But PM Lee has now said the pandemic may change the timeline, as he wants to hand Singapore over in good shape.

ESM Goh knows what it feels like to be under scrutiny as a politician.

He jokes that he himself was "slightly better than a lamp post" when he entered politics, in the book Tall Order written by former Straits Times journalist Peh Shing Huei.

The seed of self-doubt did not go away even after 12 years in politics. In 1988, the same year that many expected him to take over as PM, his mentor dropped a bombshell.

Goh Chok Tong, said Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was not his first choice to be his successor. He went on to describe his designated successor as "wooden".

The public critique floored ESM Goh then, but he marshalled his embarrassment into improving his communication skills, eventually becoming one of Singapore's most popular political leaders.

Today, with Mr Heng facing the same intense scrutiny, he feels a measure of comradeship with the younger man.

Says ESM Goh: "Let him try his best. Maybe if I talk to him, I can just give him some tips here and there, the way Lee Kuan Yew gave me some tips."

And what might those tips be?

He laughs. "No, no, no, these are secret recipes."


If ESM Goh has his way, the current balance between the PAP and the opposition parties in Parliament will stay as it is.

"If we can stabilise there, I think it's big enough of a presence to put some pressure on the Government."

But having been round the block, he knows that there is no sure thing in politics. Which is why he likes to talk about the importance of "stabilisers", many of which he introduced, from the GRC system to getting MPs to run town councils.

ESM Goh insists these are not aimed primarily at disadvantaging the opposition but to prevent disruptions to service. Also, any opposition party that does take over will be better prepared for the job.


The combative Mr Lee made no bones about his belief that it was better for a political leader to be feared than liked. ESM Goh preferred to emphasise a willingness to listen to the people, and to lead through cajoling and persuading.

In 1988, Mr Lee accused him of not even having the guts to cut pesky journalists off when the stream of questions did not cease.

ESM Goh had also told his speech coach Sue Greenwood his style of governance is: "I don't want to hurt people."

Yet, he has been ruthless when he felt the need for it.

"Some people don't like it but in politics there are times when you've got to go for the jugular, because down the road that person could become more troublesome for you once he gets a foothold.

"When it came to issues of race or religion, you don't allow somebody to put their nose into the tent. So on certain basic issues you've got to come down very hard. If you're not prepared to do it, you can't govern."


Looking back, he says Aug 12, 2004 will be the one achievement he will tell his grandchildren about.

"My proudest moment was when Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as prime minister because that was the end of my journey.

"I kept Singapore going and I handed Singapore in very good shape, pristine state to him, with very beautiful election results. So, a lot of satisfaction.

"I didn't tell anybody, but inside: I've done my job."

Former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang stepping down from electoral politics
I felt my work was done, says former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang who will not stand in GE2020
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

After almost 40 years in politics, 29 of them as an MP, former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang, 63, says he is stepping down from electoral politics with no regrets.

The man who helmed the WP for 17 years told The Straits Times yesterday that he decided not to stand in the coming general election as he felt his work was done.

As party chief, he had achieved the twin goals he had set for himself after taking over from the party's firebrand leader J.B. Jeyaretnam in 2001.

The first was to secure a group representation constituency for the WP, which he did in 2011.

That year, he famously left his long-time Hougang constituency to lead a team to victory in Aljunied GRC, the first and only time an opposition party had won in a GRC.

The second was to renew the ranks of the WP, and hand over to a new generation of younger leaders. Over the years, he has made a concerted effort to attract and field younger members in their 30s and 40s. In 2018, Mr Low stepped down as secretary-general, making way for Mr Pritam Singh, 43.

In his first interview since his retirement from electoral politics was announced, Mr Low told ST and other media: "I hope that the Workers' Party itself has that spirit. The whole organisation's formation and process is important, and not just an individual... I have always maintained that a party cannot depend on just an individual or a few individuals."

It was also the first time that he was speaking to the media after a bad fall at his Upper Thomson home in April left him with traumatic brain injury.

His condition has since improved after being discharged from hospital on May 21, and he appears none the worse for wear.

But the fall he suffered when on the way to the bathroom has left a lasting injury to his olfactory nerve centre, robbing him of his sense of smell and the enjoyment he used to get from a steaming bowl of laksa.

"Laksa has many layers to it, now I can only taste that it is spicy and salty," he said, chuckling.

He was quick to add that it was a small price to pay. "Such a bad fall could have been very, very serious, but now I am mostly OK. If I have lost my sense of smell, it is a small thing, so be it," added Mr Low, who has been given medical leave until July 15.

Throughout his political career, the Teochew-speaking businessman can be said to have tasted, in Chinese parlance, "sourness, sweetness, bitterness and heat".

His experiences as a student at Nanyang University, which was made to merge with the University of Singapore, and later as a teacher who saw students from poorer backgrounds struggling, left him sour and disillusioned.

It pushed him onto the path of politics, which he felt was the only way to change people's lives.

The WP that he joined in 1982 was more focused on issues like human rights and took a more adversarial approach towards the Government, under Mr Jeyaretnam. The party then was plagued by the same problems that other opposition parties faced, with infighting and an inability to attract good candidates.

But under Mr Low, who was elected party chief in 2001, it has taken a different direction, focusing on issues of the day and creating a brand of constructive politics that strives to provide a check in Parliament.

In 2011, Mr Low described the WP as a co-driver that would slap the driver, the PAP, if the ruling party were to go off course in governing the country.

His more pragmatic and moderate line has won credibility with the middle ground, gaining the party a broader base of supporters and also a new generation of members, with not a few lawyers, bankers and academics.

On this front, he feels that the party has evolved even more with its new, younger leadership.

"Probably they are a different generation in terms of political debates. I would think that I'm more aggressive, but the younger generation like Pritam and Leon, maybe they want a different approach, which I think is not a bad thing," he said referring to Mr Singh and Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera.

"If I compare myself with my predecessor Jeyaretnam, I think I am probably mild, right? So probably this political progress, where you become less aggressive and you can sit down and talk about things rather than just political brickbats, is a good thing."

Asked about how he would rate Mr Singh's leadership so far, Mr Low said: "So far, I think Pritam has been good in that from my observation (he has) done well in exchanges with the ministers."

He added that this was true of the party's other MPs as well, as "they respond appropriately and they make a point although they don't go for some attack here and there like me".

The sweet taste of victory in Aljunied GRC in 2011, did not last long, and after that general election, the WP's Aljunied-Hougang Town Council got embroiled in a saga over its accounts.

Observers say this contributed to some extent to the WP's more dismal showing in Aljunied GRC in 2015, when the team scraped by with 50.96 per cent of the votes.

The town council, through an independent panel, had successfully sued the party's MPs, including Mr Low, over more than $33 million in improper payments. Mr Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim were found by the High Court to have breached their fiduciary duties.

In his ruling, the High Court judge said the two Aljunied GRC MPs had acted dishonestly when they awarded a managing agent contract to a company set up by their supporters without calling a tender. He added that in doing so, they had put their own political interests above the interests of their residents.

Mr Low, along with the other MPs and town councillors, have appealed against the ruling.

Having been an opposition Parliament member for so long, Mr Low has taken some heat from the ruling party. But he is also one of few opposition politicians who have drawn admiration from both sides of the aisle.

Yesterday, asked if the party would lose some of its shine without him contesting, Mr Low, who is Singapore's most successful opposition politician to date, quipped: "I do not know how many voters vote solely because of me."

He sought to dismiss the notion that the WP is the "Low Thia Khiang party", adding that it has evolved since he was first elected into Parliament and became the party's only representative in the House.

In the past term of Parliament, the WP had a team of six MPs and three NCMPs, and people would judge the party based on their performance and their interactions with voters too, he added.

Asked how he would like his political career to be remembered, Mr Low said: "I do not have this hope that others will (remember me in any particular way). I have done what I should do, I have no regrets. Of course everyone will have different views. And as a public figure you have to accept them. That's all. I would not be surprised if someone is scolding me; I accept it.

"I will remember the people, the voters. I think these are important life assets, friends in Hougang. I will remember them."

Additional reporting by Tee Zhuo

Political opponents pay tribute to retiring stalwarts
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2020

One-time political opponents paid tribute to top People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP) stalwarts for their decades of service, a day after news broke that the veteran politicians were stepping down.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday paid tribute to former WP chief Low Thia Khiang, whose party on Thursday said he is stepping down from electoral politics.

Mr Low's successor Pritam Singh also thanked Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday. Mr Goh had said he would be retiring as an MP on Thursday after 44 years.

Mr Singh, in a Facebook post, wrote about a Parliament session in May 2018, when he went to take his newly allocated seat opposite the Government's front bench - the same seat Mr Low sat in when he was party chief.

When Mr Goh walked in, Mr Singh said he got up from his seat to shake the former prime minister's hand. He said Mr Goh's first words to him were: "Congratulations on your demotion! Previously you were sitting higher up, now you have come down!"

In his post, Mr Singh said: "I appreciated his good humour and it went some way that day to put things into perspective for me."

Mr Singh added that in the Parliament member's lounge, on more than one occasion, Mr Goh shared his thoughts with him on, among other things, issues such as the Government's position on the country's reserves, and how race was employed "cynically" in past elections by some.

Said Mr Singh: "I have my own views about many of these matters shared by ESM Goh. But I thought it said something of the man - the second prime minister of Singapore - to engage not just me, but my Workers' Party colleagues outside the Parliament chamber."

More recently, Mr Goh would always ask about how Mr Low was doing after his fall whenever he saw Mr Singh in Parliament.

Mr Singh said: "From all of us at the Workers' Party, thank you for your service to Singapore, ESM Goh."

Mr Goh, in his own Facebook post yesterday afternoon, said that he had retired as an MP but not from politics. He said: "My key focus ahead is to support and strengthen the 4G leadership team, and ensure a smooth transition.

"Keeping Singapore going is like pushing a boulder up a hill. You have to keep on pushing or the boulder will roll back down. The 4G leaders are taking over the pushing of the boulder. Singaporeans must avoid the fate of Sisyphus," said Mr Goh, referencing the figure from Greek mythology who was forced to roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll down whenever it neared the top.

Mr Chan, during a press conference to unveil new PAP candidates yesterday, was asked how Mr Low's decision to step down would affect the tone of the general election and the PAP's deployments.

He said: "We thank Mr Low for his many years of service to the Workers' Party, and also to Singapore. And we hope that all of us will work together as a system to take Singapore forward."

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin also thanked Mr Low for his service, as well as friendship, in a Facebook post yesterday. "We may be from different political sides and hold opposing views about issues, but I do know that we actually share many things in common. For one, I know that your heart is with Singapore and Singaporeans," said Mr Tan.

He added that he deeply appreciated the various conversations and discussions the pair have had on different issues.

He said: "I hope we stay in touch. Most importantly, I wish you good health and happiness."

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan retires after 19 years in politics
PM Lee thanks him for tackling the nation's healthcare, housing, transport challenges
By Danson Cheong, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2020

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, 67, will retire from politics and not contest the general election, ending a political career spanning nearly two decades.

Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, entered politics in 2001 and is known for having tackled thorny issues across various ministries.

In a valedictory letter to the veteran politician yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that Mr Khaw has helped Singapore overcome challenges spanning healthcare, housing and transport.

"In your quiet, unassuming way, you have made a huge and lasting contribution, and strengthened Singaporeans' faith that this Government can and will solve their problems and improve their lives," wrote PM Lee.

As Senior Minister of State for Health during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, Mr Khaw was on the front line, checking on arrangements and encouraging hospital staff, he said.

He also instituted new processes that were applied when COVID-19 struck this year, said PM Lee.

In 2010, Mr Khaw had a heart bypass when he was Health Minister. He paid $8 out-of-pocket for the surgery, thanks to MediShield, Medisave and his private insurance, and used the incident to highlight the importance of health insurance and how government policies kept healthcare costs low for Singaporeans.

After the 2011 General Election, he helmed the National Development Ministry. Housing affordability was a hot-button issue that year. Mr Khaw "ramped up the HDB building programme", cutting waiting times and enabling young Singaporeans to own their first homes earlier through various policies, said PM Lee.

One of the biggest challenges Mr Khaw took on was to improve the MRT system, added PM Lee.

In 2015, when he was appointed Transport Minister, Singapore's MRT trains travelled an average of 133,000km between delays of more than five minutes - known as mean km between failure (MKBF).

Mr Khaw set a target of one million MKBF and many thought it was "unrealistic", but this target has since been surpassed, said PM Lee. In the first quarter of this year, the MRT system hit 1.4 million MKBF.

"This dramatic achievement is the product of a huge amount of hard work, your encouragement for the regulator and rail operators to work together as one team, your strengthening of rail engineering capabilities, and your emphasis on the crucial but often unnoticed work of continuous system maintenance and timely asset renewal," said PM Lee.

The Prime Minister called Mr Khaw, who has been in his Cabinet since he became PM in 2004, "one of my most reliable lieutenants" and thanked him for his personal advice and friendship".

He pointed out that Mr Khaw had also made crucial contributions to the People's Action Party. After the party saw its vote share fall to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 election, Mr Khaw led introspective efforts to identify where it had fallen short and "set the party on a fresh course". It contributed to the party's decisive win in the next general election, he said.

"For the younger ministers, you have been a role model and a source of sage advice. They look to you to learn not only how to solve difficult problems, but also your seemingly effortless way of explaining nettlesome issues to Singaporeans."

Mr Khaw's political juniors took to Facebook to pay tribute to him.

"He has been my teacher, my mentor, and helped shaped my career. He has been such a great influence, I would describe him as a Titan Minister," wrote Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who will succeed Mr Khaw as the PAP team's anchor in Sembawang GRC.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Khaw thanked his constituents, civil servants, colleagues in Parliament and the Cabinet. "After 42 years of public service. It is a week of high emotion for me. Gratitude fills me to the brim!" he wrote.

The former Colombo Plan scholar had been in public service since he graduated, and at one point served as principal private secretary to Mr Goh Chok Tong when he was prime minister. Mr Khaw also worked as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry before entering politics in 2001.

"Throughout this journey, my wife stands with me, as my strongest anchor. Our children and grandchildren remind me of the joys of family life, and the larger purpose of nation-building: It is to secure future generations of Singaporeans an even better life," he wrote.

Ms Poh Li San, Changi Airport Group's vice-president for Terminal 5 Planning, is expected to replace Mr Khaw on the PAP slate for Sembawang GRC. She was officially introduced by the party on Thursday.

PM Lee thanked Mr Khaw for his service and said he was glad he would continue to advise newer ministers after retirement. In a Facebook post, he said: "On behalf of all Singaporeans, and especially residents in his Sembawang constituency, I thank Boon Wan for all that he has done, and wish him a happy, healthy and well-deserved rest."

Khaw Boon Wan: Fix-it minister who took on tough assignments and got the job done
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2020

One measure of a minister is the toughness of the tasks handed to him by the prime minister, and on that score, few can match Mr Khaw Boon Wan.

The Transport Minister is retiring from politics after 19 years, in an election season that has also seen two other veterans announce their departures - former opposition leader Low Thia Khiang of the Workers' Party, and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

It was Mr Goh who persuaded Mr Khaw, his former principal private secretary, to stand as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate back in 2001. Since then, Mr Khaw, 67, has earned a reputation as Mr Fix-it, due to his knack for solving hot-button issues that others struggled to come to grips with.

In 2011, he not only took on but also volunteered for the high-stress job of fixing the nation's housing woes, one of a handful of issues which caused the PAP to lose vote share in that year's polls.

He moved to head the Ministry of National Development in May 2011 with "trepidation", he wrote in a Facebook post, as it was then "red hot with widespread unhappiness".

He did so just one year after undergoing open-heart surgery, yet he pledged to "work triply hard to shorten the learning curve".

His resolve bore fruit. During his four years as national development minister, he cracked the twin problems of housing availability and affordability by ramping up the HDB's building programme, boldly delinking the prices of new flats from those on the resale market, and raising subsidies and income ceilings so more young people could buy their first homes.

By the time he handed over the portfolio to Mr Lawrence Wong in 2015, the housing shortage was largely solved.


That year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong handed Mr Khaw another tough assignment - to fix transport at a time when train breakdowns were a major problem and the reliability of the entire rail network was in doubt.

Once again, Mr Khaw stepped up and got the job done.

He put in place the "early closure, late opening" of the rail network so as to give rail engineers and technicians more time to safely complete repairs, maintenance and renewal work on MRT lines. To raise morale on the ground, he visited depots, interchanges and tunnels to understand workers' challenges and celebrate milestones. The engineers, technicians and maintenance crews who toiled day and night were the ministry's "most precious" assets, more so than the billion-dollar rail networks, he wrote in his Moving News blog in 2015.

By setting high and clear targets for senior management at SMRT and SBS Transit, he also fostered a more unified approach between regulator and operators in undertaking tasks.


Besides housing and transport, Mr Khaw's other major contributions were in health.

While a civil servant in the Health Ministry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he helped formulate Medisave, which every Singaporean now uses if he needs to pay for hospitalisation. He also spent seven years restructuring government hospitals, during which time he was consecutively chief executive officer of the National University, Kandang Kerbau and Singapore General hospitals.

In 2003, he was tapped to help Singapore battle SARS and served as SARS combat chief. In 2004, he was appointed health minister and, learning from the painful lessons of SARS, he instituted new processes and extensive preparations to ready Singapore for the next novel disease outbreak. These have "served us well when COVID-19 came upon us", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote in his thank you letter to Mr Khaw.

Over the next seven years, Mr Khaw proceeded to reform Medisave and health insurance plan MediShield, launch long-term care insurance scheme ElderShield - all changes to ensure healthcare costs remained affordable.

To expand Singapore's healthcare capacity, he laid the groundwork for three new hospitals - Khoo Teck Puat, Sengkang General and Ng Teng Fong.

"In your quiet, unassuming way, you have made huge and lasting contributions, and strengthened Singaporeans' faith that this Government can and will solve their problems and improve their lives," PM Lee said in his letter.

Mr Khaw has been one of his "most reliable lieutenants", and a role model and source of sage advice to the younger ministers, PM Lee wrote, adding he is happy that even post-retirement, Mr Khaw will be available to advise his successors and share his experience and wisdom.

With support from many, we managed to deliver, says Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2020

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who has anchored Sembawang GRC for more than a decade, began thinking about passing on the baton after undergoing heart bypass surgery in 2010.

Before the election in 2015, he had set his sights on having Education Minister Ong Ye Kung succeed him as anchor minister in the group representation constituency.

Speaking to reporters at Canberra MRT station yesterday after his retirement from politics was announced, Mr Khaw, 67, said he has known Mr Ong since his civil service days at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and described him as a "very outstanding officer".

"I was being selfish when I lobbied Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to get Mr Ong to come to Sembawang, so that I can hand over to him with confidence," he said. "I'm quite sure that with Mr Ong, we made the right call."

Yesterday, Mr Ong posted a tribute to his mentor on Facebook. He thanked Mr Khaw for including him in the Sembawang team and for the opportunity to lead negotiations on the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed in 2003 when he was a civil servant at MTI, describing it as a turning point in his career.

Yesterday, Mr Khaw teared up as he recounted Mr Ong's tribute. "(It was) very kind of him to acknowledge the small role I played in his career. But that is the way we ought to behave as supervisors, or bosses, or managers - your job is to nurture the young."

Mr Khaw tackled hot-button issues that emerged as flashpoints in past elections, from public transport to housing. On housing and transport, he said: "Both were important, critical political problems. One was during GE2011, one was in GE2015. And if I could not deliver... I think the damage is to the party. So there was great pressure on our shoulders."

His team, he said, "dared not rest" and continued to push on.

"Fortunately, with the support of many people... (we managed to) deliver," said Mr Khaw, who added he is glad rail reliability has not emerged as an issue in this election.

As for his approach to solving complex issues, he said teamwork is key. "(If you) gather good people with the right ethos, you can make changes... this is, on a small scale, the story of Singapore."

Chuckling as he related this anecdote, he said when he told his granddaughter, who is in Primary 2, about his retirement, her immediate thought was: "Huh, there's nobody working in this family. So she says, oh, she has a solution - grandma must go and work. Then her next thought was, 'Grandpa, you must go and do marketing now. Do you know how to buy or not?'"

Reflecting on his more than 40 years in public service, he said: "It has been very satisfying - so now it's time for me to rest."

PM Lee's valedictory letter to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan
The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, 67, is retiring from politics after 19 years.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, for his lifetime of public service to Singapore in a valedictory letter released to the media on Friday (June 26).

Here is his letter in full:

26 June 2020

Mr Khaw Boon Wan

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport

Dear Boon Wan,

As you retire from politics, I write to thank you for your lifetime of public service to Singapore.

You entered politics in 2001, after a distinguished public service career. By chance, the years of both your joining and leaving politics have been marked by global crises - then the aftermath of September 11, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. They bookend a remarkable political career, during which you have taken on the most challenging jobs in the Cabinet. In your quiet, unassuming way, you have made a huge and lasting contribution, and strengthened Singaporeans' faith that this Government can and will solve their problems and improve their lives.

One of your first appointments after being elected was to the Ministry of Health (MOH). Healthcare was not new to you, having run several hospitals as a civil servant. When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak happened, you were Senior Minister of State. You were on the front line, going into the hospitals to check on the arrangements and encourage the medical staff. Subsequently, you took over as Minister for Health from Mr Lim Hng Kiang. Learning the painful lessons of Sars, you instituted new processes and extensive preparations, to get us ready for the next novel disease outbreak. These served us well when COVID-19 came upon us.

At MOH, you also reformed MediShield and MediSave, and introduced ElderShield. These fundamental reforms reassured many Singaporeans that healthcare costs would remain affordable. You expanded our healthcare capacity significantly, laying the groundwork for Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Sengkang General Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, and establishing the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School as Singapore's second medical school.

After the 2011 General Election, you took on the National Development portfolio. Your immediate task was to assuage public concerns about HDB waiting times and affordability. You ramped up the HDB building programme, reduced Built-to-Order (BTO) waiting times and introduced policies to enable newlyweds to own their first flat earlier and live near their parents. These measures gave young Singaporeans the confidence that an affordable home would always be within their reach.

At the same time, you advanced plans to remake Singapore into a liveable and sustainable city. In the URA Master Plan 2014, you set out our vision to expand the city centre to the Greater Southern Waterfront, and to extend our Park Connector Network throughout Singapore and make us a City in a Garden. Future generations will build on these lasting legacies.

Having helmed Health and National Development, no one would have begrudged you lighter responsibilities in the subsequent term. Yet after the 2015 General Election, you volunteered to take on the politically spiky transport portfolio, and later to serve as Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure. Our immediate priority was to improve the reliability of our MRT system. To achieve this, you set a target of one million mean kilometres between failures (MKBF), which at the time many thought unrealistic. But in the first quarter of this year, our MRT system not only achieved your target but surpassed it, hitting 1.4 million MKBF. This dramatic achievement is the product of a huge amount of hard work, your encouragement for the regulator and rail operators to work together as one team, your strengthening of rail engineering capabilities, and your emphasis on the crucial but often unnoticed work of continuous system maintenance and timely asset renewal.

Externally, you strengthened Singapore's air hub and sea hub status. On your watch, Singapore was successfully re-elected to the International Civil Aviation Organisation Council and International Maritime Organisation Council. You pushed for the construction of Changi Runway 3, Changi Airport Terminal 5 and the Tuas Megaport. These projects have been affected by the current uncertainties, and the schedules have to be adjusted and plans reviewed, especially for Terminal 5. But we are determined that Singapore should remain an air and sea hub, and these long term investments will help consolidate Singapore's position in the post-COVID-19 world.

With Malaysia, we concluded complicated negotiations on the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail. Due to changes of government in Malaysia and the pandemic, both projects have been delayed, but discussions continue with our Malaysian counterparts to reach a win-win outcome. With Indonesia too, airspace remains a complex and sensitive bilateral issue under discussion. In both cases, your personal rapport with foreign counterparts has proved invaluable.

Besides your Ministerial duties, you also made significant contributions to the People's Action Party. After the disappointing results of the 2011 General Election, you led the post-mortem to identify where the Party had fallen short. You presented your conclusions and recommendations at the 2011 Party Conference, where they were actively debated. That was a watershed moment for the PAP. The honest introspection and self-critique set the Party on a fresh course. Following that Conference, you became Party Chairman taking over from Lim Boon Heng, and played your part to drive change from within. This contributed much to our decisive win in the 2015 General Election.

As an MP, you are well known for being dedicated and responsive to residents. You were active in bringing the community together, and infusing the kampung spirit in your residents. You took special pride in keeping Sembawang clean and green, and residents often encountered you when you took walks in Sembawang Park to relax. Sayang Sembawang, your community tagline, encapsulated your efforts to make Sembawang an endearing home.

You were in my Cabinet since day one, and have been one of my most reliable lieutenants. Beyond your own portfolios, your comments on matters put before Cabinet always went to the heart of the matter, and focussed our minds on the key considerations and trade-offs. Beyond your ministerial and political contributions, I have deeply appreciated our personal friendship, and greatly benefitted from your advice. You were the one who in 2012 suggested that I venture into social media, which I had until then considered a foreign land, to engage an audience not likely to follow my speeches and statements in detail. Having now done it for eight years, I have found it a fascinating and worthwhile journey.

For the younger Ministers, you have been a role model and a source of sage advice. They look to you to learn not only how to solve difficult problems, but also your seemingly effortless way of explaining nettlesome issues to Singaporeans. I am thus happy that even after you retire, you have agreed to continue to be available to advise your successors on the issues that you have handled as a Minister, and to share with them your experience and wisdom.

On behalf of all Singaporeans, and especially your residents in Sembawang, I thank you for all that you have done for Singapore, and wish you a happy, healthy and well-deserved retirement.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Hsien Loong




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