SINGAPORE - To be in public service, one's happiness must come from other people's happiness: That is the essence of a person in public service, and the fourth-generation (4G) leaders of the People's Action Party have their hearts in the right place, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on Friday.
"They also have the ability and capability, and you can see that, and increasingly so, over the last few years. Covid-19 is a very good example," said Mr Teo.
During the pandemic, the younger leaders were thrown into a crisis and had to make difficult decisions amid uncertainty, while explaining the situation to a public that was frightened, confused and looking for guidance, he said.
"I think they have succeeded in doing that quite well, and if you ask me, they are up to the task," he added.
He was speaking at the FutureChina Global Forum gala dinner at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, where he was asked by Temasek's Asia vice-chairman and operating partner Robin Hu about how he had mentored the 4G and shared his experience.
Mr Teo said he was confident that the next generation of leaders are people who are able to foster the kind of leadership and community bonding among Singaporeans, to take the country forward to face further challenges.
He added that when he entered politics in his late 30s, in 1992, he learnt things along the way, from the hard knocks in politics, from seniors and peers, and also how to work together with colleagues.
"Most importantly, how to work together with our fellow Singaporeans and to build that trust and to build that bond," said Mr Teo.
"I have now worked with my younger colleagues for many years and I have watched them at close range, what they do, how they make decisions... I can see the qualities that they have. The most important quality is that your heart is in the right place."
He added that even from the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's time, the practice has been to let the younger leadership team step up and take responsibility.
"Hold the steering wheel, put your hand on the throttle and actually feel the machine. You can't learn to drive by sitting next to the driver. You have to sit in the driver's seat and drive to know what it feels like," he said.
Mr Teo also said he had the fortune of learning from seniors, such as former senior minister S. Jayakumar.
He added: "If we maintain this kind of system in the future, then we can maintain the good governance that we have. We are a small country, our margin for error is very, very small.
"If you topple it, can you put it back together? I don't know. But I wouldn't want to take bets on that. Unity and being able to work together is very important for a small country."
Mr Teo also cited research that showed Singaporeans felt strongly that they had become more united than divided after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Using the analogy of a football team, Mr Teo said that if a team came together against a very strong opponent and beat them, the members would feel very good about it and come out feeling united.
If there is a team full of star players who do not want to play together - not wanting to pass the ball, or share glory, in the end they lose and come off the field blaming each other, they will be more divided.
In the same study, Singaporeans also topped the list of countries with the highest proportion of respondents who felt it was very important to be vaccinated to be a good member of society.
Mr Teo said: "That shows the sort of spirit of unity of Singapore. Did that come about just on the spur of the moment? I think not. That kind of spirit has come about over many, many years, overcoming many crises in the past, working together and developing the trust, not just in government but each other."
When asked whether he would continue to mentor the 4G team and be part of the government after the next general election - which has to be held by November 2025 - Mr Teo said that the secret to continuity and stability for a country or even a company is making sure there is a good succession plan.
"For myself, whether I am in government or not in government, it matters less to me," he said.
"I know where my heart is and I know that I am committed to serving Singapore and Singaporeans, and I will continue to do so regardless of where I am and what position I'm holding for the future."
Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.