CHALLENGES AT SG50

Good ministers advance S'pore's interests abroad

Two ministers who have shown Singapore's worth on a global stage are Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (in the centre of photo on the right) at the UN Climate Change Conference last year, and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say
Two ministers who have shown Singapore's worth on a global stage are Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (in the centre of photo on the right) at the UN Climate Change Conference last year, and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say at the ILO Conference in June.PHOTOS: FACEBOOK PAGE OF VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, TRIPARTISM@ WORK

Having good ministers has helped advance Singapore's interests abroad, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made special mention of two office-holders who helped showcase the country's worth internationally.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say lifted the mood of participants at an International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference dinner earlier this year.

Ministers at the event shared the problems their countries faced, such as slow job growth, youth unemployment, stagnating wages and widening income gaps.


Two ministers who have shown Singapore's worth on a global stage are Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the UN Climate Change Conference last year, and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say (above) at the ILO Conference in June. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK PAGE OF VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, TRIPARTISM@ WORK

"It was a very miserable dinner," PM Lee said to laughter from the audience. "Swee Say, never one for a miserable dinner, decided to turn the discussion around to focus on solutions and not problems. He did it in the way only Swee Say knows how."

Mr Lim, who attends the Geneva gathering every year - previously as labour chief - told them about the three "D" challenges: Jobs Deficit, Skill Deficit and Quality Deficit.

By the time Mr Lim finished talking about three "F" opportunities that countries wanted - Jobs of the Future, Skills of the Future and Careers of the Future - everyone at the dinner was smiling.

Solving the problems, though, required strengthening the partnership between the three "P"s - partners Government, unions and employers, Mr Lim said, as he explained this unique Singapore approach. "When Swee Say finished, the mood in the room had lifted. Everyone was discussing solutions," said PM Lee. "The Director-General rounded up the discussion and proposed 'three cheers for Singapore'."

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan too had Singapore playing a key role at last year's United Nations climate change conference in Lima, Peru. In doing so, he contributed to securing a positive deal to combat climate change at the gathering.

Dr Balakrishnan was not just the Singapore delegation chief, but also had the role of "Friend of the Chair". That meant being an honest broker working behind the scenes to bridge gaps between different countries in the complex negotiation.

PM Lee said Dr Balakrishnan was effective because he was competent and had mastered a very complicated brief. He also had a strong team of officials working across ministries and adopting a national perspective.

And in the process of reaching a good outcome at the conference, he and the officials also protected and advanced Singapore's interests.

"That was Team Singapore at work," PM Lee said.

Wong Siew Ying

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Good ministers advance S'pore's interests abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe