High standards in politicians must be kept: President Tharman at swearing-in of new PM and Cabinet

The President said Singapore was once again undergoing a smooth and orderly transition in political leadership, only the third in its six-decade history. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE – Politicians in Singapore are held to high standards of integrity, incorruptibility and conduct, and such standards must never be allowed to slide, said President Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Upholding and reinforcing these standards defined the most important part of Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s legacy, President Tharman said in a speech minutes before Mr Lee officially passed the baton of leadership to Mr Lawrence Wong.

Noting that Mr Wong has played a key role so far in shaping the Republic’s economic, fiscal and social policies, he expressed full confidence in the new prime minister’s ability to rally Singaporeans to create the next chapter of the Singapore story.

At the swearing-in ceremony at the Istana on May 15, Mr Tharman said Mr Lee had delivered on his promise at his own swearing-in in 2004 – to be a prime minister for all Singaporeans – having transformed the economy and built a more inclusive society. He had also kept the country together through crises like the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But it is above all, the norms and standards that Mr Lee upheld and reinforced – the intangibles of political leadership – that define his most important legacy,” he said.

These were reflected in Mr Lee’s personal integrity, the expectations of high standards of conduct that he set for those in political office, and his resolve to tackle difficult issues early rather than leave them to future leaders, even if it meant paying an immediate political price, said Mr Tharman.

While governments can reverse policies when circumstances change, there is no reversing when standards slide, as unfortunately illustrated by many other countries, he added.

“Public distrust grows, political leaders respond by avoiding essential decisions for their country’s future, those who enter politics lack conviction, and the downward spiral continues,” said Mr Tharman.

“We must never let slide the expectations of integrity, incorruptibility and conduct that Mr Lee and his predecessors established.”

The President said Singapore was once again undergoing a smooth and orderly transition in political leadership, only the third in its six-decade history.

“No lengthy defence is needed for this because it has worked well for Singapore,” he said. “It has preserved political stability and allowed Government to plan for the long term, while enabling a new team to adjust policies to fit the changing times.”

While Mr Wong takes over in a period of growing fractiousness and big power contestation, Mr Tharman noted that the new team comprises both experienced hands and fourth-generation (4G) ministers with years of engagement with their international counterparts. It is well placed to secure Singapore’s national interests amid unpredictable geopolitical currents, he added.

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Those who have worked with Mr Wong know that he brings his own set of convictions, life experiences and skills, said Mr Tharman.

“He is, first and foremost, someone who listens, as he did in the Forward Singapore exercise,” he said.

Mr Wong has also worked with the labour movement to advance workers’ interests, showed that he is calm and decisive under pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, and holds his own with counterparts on the global stage, he added.

“I have full confidence in Mr Lawrence Wong’s ability to lead Singapore as we venture into uncharted waters... He will be his own person, with his own approach to building consensus and finding the best way forward for the country,” he said.

“And he will no doubt do so to his own rhythm and beat.”

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The President said he is committed to working with the new PM and his government.

Since he took office eight months ago, Mr Tharman said he has met Mr Lee regularly, and had candid private discussions on key plans and challenges Singapore faces.

Calling theirs a constructive and harmonious relationship with a shared understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities in Singapore’s system of governance, Mr Tharman said he looks forward to maintaining this close and productive relationship with Mr Wong.

“Singaporeans can be assured that our country is in good hands,” he said.

“Mr Lawrence Wong and his team will build on the strong foundations laid by previous prime ministers and governments, and keep our little red dot shining ever more brightly.”

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