Former senior minister Jayakumar launches book on governance in Singapore

Former senior minister S. Jayakumar speaking at the launch of his new book, Governing: A Singapore Perspective, with guest-of-honour Dr Ng Eng Hen, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Nov 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Former senior minister S. Jayakumar launched a book chronicling his views and experiences of Singapore's governance, including his views on the Lee family dispute over their 38 Oxley Road home, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's retirement plan if the Covid-19 crisis does not abate.

Titled Governing: A Singapore Perspective, the 192-page volume includes first-hand and behind-the scenes accounts of his time spent working with founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, leadership succession after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the 4G leaders, and GE2020, among others.

At the book's launch on Friday (Nov 6) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Professor Jayakumar, 81, said that when he began writing the book, it was never his intention to give a lesson to Singaporeans.

He quipped: "I've been in politics long enough to know that Singaporeans don't like to be told lessons, don't like preaching by ex-ministers or ministers. Those of us who are parents will know that when we tell our kids how it was back in our time, their eyes glaze over.

"But... I can best describe the book as my invitation to Singaporean readers to come with me on a journey into behind-the-scenes workings of the Government, and try to lift the veil of mystery."

His previous book in 2015, Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu: A Singapore Memoir, discussed Singapore's foreign policy and developments during his political career that spanned 31 years.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was the guest of honour at the launch, said he counts Prof Jayakumar as a "close friend and fearsome golf kaki".

He had this to say of the man who had worked with all three of Singapore's prime ministers:

"There are very few like him who have been in the thick of the action or had ring-side seats to Singapore's political struggles across such a lengthy period. It is no wonder then that Prof writes with authenticity and authority, not vicariously bestowed by position, but as a first-hand witness of those events."

Prof Jayakumar, he added, "has no axe to grind, no point to prove, no lofty ambition that craves to be fulfilled".

"Brief, to the point, no hyperbole or unsubstantiated assertions, with caveats where necessary for precision, coupled with a prodigious memory and searing intellect.

"These qualities not only translate to reliable accounts but also convey the core of the issues, challenges and events distilled in his book," Dr Ng said.

SPH Brightcove Video
Former senior minister S. Jayakumar gives his views on the leadership transition, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the increased opposition presence in Parliament.

Prof Jayakumar entered politics in 1980 and held portfolios that include Foreign Affairs, Law, Home Affairs and Labour. He was Deputy Prime Minister from 2004 to 2009.

He retired from politics at the 2011 General Election, passing on his Bedok ward in East Coast GRC to then Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say.

He continued to advise the Government, at first in an unofficial capacity, and from June 2018, as senior legal adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In August, he was awarded Singapore's highest civilian honour, the Order of Temasek (With High Distinction), for his sustained and invaluable contributions to Singapore.

His book is divided into six sections.

In Part 1, he recalls his experiences working with the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In the second part, his impressions of foreign leaders, including former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The third to fifth sections touch on the relationships between the Government, Ministry of Law, Attorney-General's Chambers and the Judiciary; land matters; and challenging legal issues such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) as well as the death penalty.

In the sixth and final part, he reflects on the challenges that lie ahead for Singapore, including the transition to the 4G leadership, GE2020, fight against Covid-19, and the elected presidency.

Dr Ng said that in writing the book, Prof Jayakumar's intent is not only to inform and sometimes entertain, but ultimately to leave with the reader, the seminal truths and choices Singapore and Singaporeans must make to master their own future.

"This book does not shy away from provocative issues, as long as they are core to Singapore's existence and well-being," he said.

Professor S. Jayakumar (left) answering questions during a Q&A session at his book launch, held at Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Nov 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Prof Jayakumar dedicated his book to his wife, Dr Lalitha Rajahram.

Governing: A Singapore Perspective is published by The Straits Times Press and is available at leading bookstores at $35 (inclusive of GST) .

The book can also be ordered from The Straits Times Press Online Bookstore from Nov 7.

The Amazon Kindle e-book is priced at US$16.99 (S$22.90).

Prof Jayakumar is donating his royalties from the book to MFA's adopted charity, The Rainbow Centre, which supports children with developmental and learning needs.

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