Wong Kan Seng: I wanted to step down in 2001

Mr Wong stressed the need for the Government to “not abandon things that we have done right”.
Mr Wong stressed the need for the Government to “not abandon things that we have done right”.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

This story was first published on May 22, 2011, in The Sunday Times.

Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng first thought of retiring from the Cabinet in 2001, he revealed yesterday. 

At that point, he had served for 17 years and told then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong that he was prepared to be let go “any time” so he could pursue other interests. 

But Mr Goh decided that he should carry on, he added.

Then in 2004, when Mr Lee Hsien Loong took over as the Prime Minister, Mr Wong again made known his intention to retire. 

READY TO GO

This time round, during the election it was the same thing, I said I’m ready to go. I informed Prime Minister that I’m ready to step down from Cabinet any time, having served for so long.

Mr Wong Kan Seng, on his desire to retire 

“But he said: ‘Well, we still need you for a while’,” said Mr Wong. 

“So this time round, during the election it was the same thing, I said I’m ready to go. I informed Prime Minister that I’m ready to step down from Cabinet any time, having served for so long.” 

Mr Wong, 64, was speaking on the sidelines of the National Clan Associations Congress held at the premises of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations in Toa Payoh.

He was the event’s guest of honour and, during his speech, he noted that it was the last event he was attending as Deputy Prime Minister.

A decade after the thought first took root, Mr Wong has retired from the Cabinet and also relinquished his position as Coordinating Minister for National Security.

He first entered politics in 1984 at age 38 and was appointed Minister of State the following year.

Over the years, he has helmed various ministries such as Community Development, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs. He became DPM in 2005.

While he admitted that he had mixed feelings about his retirement given that he had been “involved in government for so long”, he felt that the new Cabinet is a good one, and he believes that the members have the strength and ability to carry through with their plans for Singapore.

While Mr Wong agreed with PM Lee about the need to review existing policies, he stressed the need for the Government to understand the fundamental constraints of the country and “not abandon things that we have done right”.

Singapore’s constraints are limited land, resources and manpower, Mr Wong said. 

He added that the Government has expanded international trade and made efforts to build ties with other countries to deal with these limitations.

He reiterated the importance of tolerance, given the country’s multi-racial, multi-religious makeup, and urged Singaporeans to put aside their political differences now that the election is over.

“I can assure you that there will always be unexpected events,” Mr Wong said. 

“The country and people must have the resilience to deal with them and be able to recover and move forward again.”

He plans to spend more time serving the residents in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC as their Member of Parliament and find ways to reach out to the younger residents. 

He said he is also looking forward to spending more time with his four grandchildren. 

mellinjm@sph.com.sg