SINGAPORE - As the People's Action Party's fourth-generation ministers deliberate on their next leader, their eventual choice has to be someone who is able to bring the rest together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (May 7).
He urged his younger Cabinet colleagues to take reference from Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and his team, adding that this was the secret of Mr Goh's successful premiership.
"Whoever will be prime minister must first and foremost be someone who can bring the rest together," Mr Lee said in a speech at the launch of Standing Tall, the second of a two-part biography on Mr Goh.
"Pull them together, make the most of the strengths of each minister, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts."
Singapore's leadership succession was set back after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced last month that he would step aside as leader of the 4G team, paving the way for a younger person to succeed Mr Lee when he retires.
Mr Lee said the latest Cabinet reshuffle - which saw seven ministries get new ministers - will give Singapore's 4G ministers a chance to work with one another in new capacities as a team.
This will strengthen their mutual understanding and teamwork and prepare them to take over from the current leadership, he added.
Mr Goh, who retired from politics last year, spoke at the launch about how his team - which included former Cabinet ministers such as Dr Tony Tan, Mr S. Jayakumar, Mr Wong Kan Seng, Mr S. Dhanabalan and Mr Ong Teng Cheong - enjoyed good camaraderie and had warm personal relations with one another.
This enabled them to speak frankly and debate issues thoroughly, he said.
"We might have had different points of view but once a decision was made, all of us rallied behind it," he added. "We trusted each other. We worked as a team, with members looking out for one another. We had a shared sense of purpose. We were united."
Mr Goh also had words of advice for the 4G team - to continue working closely as a team to set the agenda for Singapore.
"Show confidence and leadership as a group. Hone your political skills and prepare yourselves to take over the reins from the 3G,," he said. "Deliberate carefully who among you should be the leader, and band together to support the leader once a decision is made."
He urged Singaporeans to give the 4G team time to make this important decision for the country's next lap, noting that the next leader must act as the captain of a soccer team.
"They will have to work together to produce the best results for the people, just as a soccer team has to click to win matches for its fans," he said.
Standing Tall was written by former Straits Times news editor Peh Shing Huei, now a partner at content agency The Nutgraf, and published by World Scientific. Apart from chronicling Mr Goh's thoughts and actions during key events in his 14 years at the helm, it also includes a series of reflections and verbatim interviews with the man.
One topic that comes up several times is the difficulty of getting good people to join politics, a challenge that Mr Goh and Mr Lee addressed in their speeches.
People who think that political succession is an "internal PAP problem" cannot be more wrong, Mr Goh said.
"It is a national issue. We need people of ability and integrity to serve the nation," he added. "Many have answered the call, and more must do so."
Mr Lee said he and Mr Goh often discussed the matter at their regular lunches, and noted that his predecessor's main motivation in writing his biography was to inspire more people to take the leap into politics, and serve Singapore.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that the opportunity costs for any individual entering politics are significant, ranging from the loss of privacy to having to give up a promising career.
"But regardless of how difficult the task, we must persevere, and for Singapore's sake, we must hope that we succeed," Mr Lee added. "Singaporeans deserve the best people that can be found and developed to serve and to lead them, as one united national team."
This is the only way to maintain the quality of government that Singaporeans have become used to, and the confidence in Singapore that attracts investments and creates jobs, he said. It is also the only way to assure the country's success that secures the future of generations down the road.
Mr Lee thanked Mr Goh for handing over a better Singapore to his successors, adding: "Now your successors must strive to do the same."