Good leaders needed to inspire and deliver results

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave a speech at the May Day Rally yesterday. Below is an excerpt from his speech.

More than 4,000 unionists, employers and government officials attended the May Day Rally yesterday at The Star Performing Arts Centre, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged everyone to "continue joining hands to achieve better lives for all Sing
More than 4,000 unionists, employers and government officials attended the May Day Rally yesterday at The Star Performing Arts Centre, where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged everyone to "continue joining hands to achieve better lives for all Singaporeans".ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Some people say we don't have to worry about national leadership any more.

We already have a good system. You just keep it running on auto-pilot. The civil ser-vants know what to do. They will write the papers, they will draft the speeches, they will draft the parliamentary-question replies. Not so hard to be a minister, even a prime minister.

And anyway, nowadays we have lots of talent. In fact, why don't we have a different team? May be more exciting.

I say: "Be very careful." By that logic, because Mercedes has an outstanding F1 car, you don't need Lewis Hamilton to win the F1 championship! The car will drive itself.

But national leadership makes all the difference. And I think because people realise that, when Mr Lee passed away, there was such a strong reaction, because everyone knew that what we see around us would not be around us today had not Mr Lee and his team made it happen. Without that leadership by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team, there would not be modern Singapore.

And I think his passing reminded people that exceptional leadership made a big difference to us. It has caused many people to pause and to ask ourselves: Are we sure we don't need that quality of leadership any more?

Of course, Mr Lee didn't do it alone and part of his greatness was that he brought together exceptional people to form an outstanding team.

And today, my job is to build that strong leadership team for Singapore - for now, and for the future.

For now we are all right. I have a balanced Cabinet, some ministers with more than 20 years' experience, just the right amount of grey hair, battle tested, some who joined in the last General Election (GE), long runway ahead of them.

They've mastered their portfo-lios, learnt about politics, gained the trust of Singaporeans. I think they've come under some fire and they have come through and they have gelled and work together as a team.

But we all grow old and we all need successors. I'm already 63 years old this year. I just came back from Jakarta, the Asia-Africa Summit. It's held every 10 years.

I went in 2005. Ten years from now - 2025 - they may hold an Asia-Africa Summit again, I will be 73 years old, I really should not be attending. But you must make sure that whoever is the Prime Minister in 2025, when he goes, he will do us proud and advance our interests.

This year, my doctors discovered that I had prostate cancer. Luckily they discovered it early, I went for an operation in February, it was successful, now I'm back to work, no medical leave on May Day.

After the op, the doctor told me: You wait two months, do a blood test, then we'll know whether you're clear and then we will see. So two weeks ago, two months was up, I went for the follow-up blood test, results were good, doctors gave the all-clear.

But they were very precise, they never say you're completely out of the woods, they say prostate cancer specific survival rate, 15 years is 98 per cent. What that means is over the next 15 years, my chances of dying because of prostate cancer are just 2 per cent. It's not bad but 15 years from now I will be 78 years old. Even if the prostate cancer doesn't cause me trouble, something else will act up.

It's not just me, it's the same with my team. Just because you're a minister doesn't mean you're Superman, it doesn't mean you won't get ill, it doesn't mean you don't grow old. And from time to time, ministers get ill.

If I lose any of them, my team would be weakened. Can I replace them quickly with people of the same quality and experience? And if the team is weakened, can the Government deliver on what Singaporeans expect of us?

The SG50 Budget this year, the Pioneer Generation Package last year - could it have happened without Tharman (Shanmugaratnam) as Finance Minister, without (Gan) Kim Yong in the Health Ministry, without (Senior Ministers of State) Josephine (Teo) and Amy (Khor) and (Minister of State) Sim Ann helping to promote, making videos?

SkillsFuture - can we have conceived it and now make it work without (Education Minister) Heng Swee Keat, (Manpower Minister) Tan Chuan-Jin, (Senior Minister of State) Indranee (Rajah), (outgoing labour chief Lim) Swee Say and (incoming labour chief Chan) Chun Sing on the union side as well as on the Government side?

The 27,000 HDB flats this year - would they have been built without (National Development Minister) Khaw Boon Wan, (Senior Minister of State) Lee Yi Shyan, (Ministers of State) Desmond (Lee) and Maliki (Osman), the whole Ministry of National Development team?

Nothing happens by itself that is good, only bad things happen by themselves. So I need good men and women to come in, to form the next team to take Singapore forward, beyond me and my generation of leaders. I tell you frankly it's very tough to do.

First, because suitable people are not so many, and, secondly, because the people who are suitable are not so easy to persuade. More than once, I've been told: "Thank you very much, you're doing an outstanding job, you have my full support but please count me out. I've considered it carefully, honestly, I don't think I have what it takes to enter politics. And, anyway, my family say no."

I'm still trying hard, and I think I will get a few people to enter and join politics and stand for election in the next GE, but you can never have enough. We can never have an A Team for Singapore which is too strong. So the most critical question for us is: How do we form the most outstanding leadership for Singapore?

And in the next election, leadership renewal is the most important issue. It's not doing more or spending more, as some would like you to think, it's who will lead Singapore into the future. This place could not have been built, and cannot be kept going, without exceptional leadership so that people can perform their jobs and do exceptional things.

We need good leadership to set the direction, to guide, to work, to inspire and to deliver results. And we have to bring in enough new people, committed to Singapore, with the ability, with the character, with the dedication and gumption, so that we can keep this country special.

And so I need your help: Give me and my team your support, so that after the next election, and well before the election after that, a younger team will be ready to lead us forward.

Who's to say that the next 50 years will not be even better? We may be a small country, but we must have big dreams - otherwise we perish. So let's continue joining hands to achieve better lives for all Singaporeans.