The fourth-generation (4G) leadership of the People's Action Party (PAP) Government will always uphold and defend the high standards of trust and integrity that have underpinned Singapore's success and put partnerships with Singaporeans "front and centre", said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Speaking at the PAP65 Awards and Convention at the Singapore Expo yesterday, Mr Heng, the party's first assistant secretary-general, said trust and integrity were why he moved a motion in Parliament on the governance of the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) last Tuesday.
Parliament had voted for the motion that called on WP MPs Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from all financial matters at AHTC, after the High Court last month found the two opposition leaders had acted dishonestly in awarding, without a tender, a managing agent contract to a company set up by their supporters after winning Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.
Mr Heng acknowledged that some supporters felt the leadership should not move this motion as it could be misunderstood. But the leadership was convinced it would be wrong to keep silent, he said at the gathering of key party activists.
Explaining the move, he told the 2,500 party activists in the audience: "The issues were very serious. They called into question the integrity of elected officials.
"As the party in power, it is our responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system in Singapore. We must and have taken a clear stand on this matter of principle. As PAP activists, the motion should also be a solemn reminder that we set an even higher bar for ourselves, and Singaporeans will expect no less."
Mr Heng said the PAP had kept Singaporeans united through times of difficulty, such as the 1997 and 2008 financial crises, because it had rallied people around a clear set of values: leading with integrity, upholding Singapore's multicultural identity, building a meritocratic society and preserving a spirit of self-reliance.
Touching on the convention's theme of Advancing Singapore Together, Mr Heng said the 4G leaders cannot build Singapore's future alone, but Singaporeans have to trust them and work with them.
The trust and partnership of Singaporeans will not come easy, he noted, saying there will be those without constructive ideas whose aim is to rile people up, create mistrust "and mislead them into making the wrong choices".
This was the case in 2011 when many of the 4G leadership entered politics and the PAP lost Aljunied GRC in the election, he said. "There was anger on the ground. The political mood remained tense, even months after the election," he said. "As one of the new PAP MPs learning the ropes, we knew that we had to win back the trust of our people."
Following this was years of hard work, Mr Heng said, starting with Our Singapore Conversation in 2012. The year-long exercise saw over 600 dialogues with almost 50,000 Singaporeans from a wide cross-section of society.
"We listened to Singaporeans from all walks of life, and listened to their views and concerns, hopes and dreams for Singapore," he said.
This baptism of fire deeply shaped his and his 4G colleagues' views of politics, added Mr Heng.
The passion, creativity and can-do spirit of Singaporeans up close also strengthened his conviction that the nation's future depends on the people and the Government working even closer than before.
"Our experience shaped our approach to leadership. We want to put partnership with Singaporeans front and centre.
"Instead of just working for our people, we want to work with our people. Working with you, for you - this is our commitment to Singaporeans," he said, reiterating his message of partnership when he launched the Singapore Together movement in June.
Concrete examples of this include the Youth Action Plan to empower youth to make their ideas and vision for Singapore a reality, the Citizens' Panel on Work-Life Harmony, and the Recycle Right Citizens' Workgroup to co-create solutions to different problems.
He and his team will also conduct several engagements over the next few months to prepare for next year's Budget, Mr Heng added.
Exhorting the audience to be active agents of change as members of a "party of action", he sought their support to win the trust of the people and secure a decisive mandate at the next general election, and to expand a democracy of deeds.
Noting that this could be the last major party gathering before the election, he said Singaporeans will judge their leaders not simply by what they say during the campaign period, but what they have done over the last five years - and the party's legacy over the last 65 years.
Citing a Chinese saying used by PAP activist Alex Yeo, Mr Heng said it is only after a long journey that one knows the strength of a horse. "It is only after a long time that we know a person's heart, convictions and values.
"Our track record is clear for all to see. This is what the PAP's mission is about - progress, fairness and justice... We have always done what is right by Singaporeans, for Singaporeans. The 4G will do the same."