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Homesingapore'Crazy argument' to say Singapore doesn't need capable ministers because of good...

'Crazy argument' to say Singapore doesn't need capable ministers because of good civil servants: PM Lee

SINGAPORE: The argument that Singapore does not need experienced or capable ministers because of its good public service is “crazy”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 5). 

Speaking at this year’s People’s Action Party (PAP) convention, Mr Lee, who is the party’s secretary-general, addressed the upcoming leadership transition. 

Mr Lee, who is 71, announced that he plans to hand over leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election. 

The PAP’s priorities are governing competently, keeping clean and winning elections, which will “need high-quality leadership”, said Mr Lee. 

The party has a strong, capable team that is in touch with Singaporeans and has “shown what it can do”, he added. 

“We have a very good public service. Sometimes people argue that Singapore civil servants are so good that we don’t need ministers who are so competent or experienced,” said Mr Lee. 

“It’s a crazy argument. The civil service didn’t create itself out of thin air.” 

Singapore has a good civil service because it has good political leadership who built it up, said Mr Lee. 

“The civil servants are excellent, but they can only deliver good results because they are led by competent ministers who understand the issues, make good decisions, who command their respect,” he added. 

Ministers can then guide and complement the civil servants in their work and deliver on their political promises, said Mr Lee, comparing this dynamic to an orchestra and a conductor. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore’s ministries and agencies “performed magnificently”, he added, as an example. 

“But without the ministers to make the big and risky decisions, to take political responsibility for them, to provide national leadership, we couldn’t have come through as we did.” 

The decisions to impose the “circuit breaker”, close borders, pre-order vaccines or draw on reserves were all political decisions, said Mr Lee. 

“Remember, if you have ordinary political leaders, you’re going to have an ordinary public service and this is going to become a very ordinary country.”

If Singapore is one day no longer exceptional and cannot stand out against other countries, then it is “sunk”, Mr Lee continued. 

“So leadership renewal is a critical process for the party and for Singapore.” 

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“FIRM, GOOD” GOVERNMENT

Politicians are elected not just to occupy office, be popular, or seek power for the sake of power, said Mr Lee. 

Instead, they fight to form the government so that they can serve Singaporeans, to make decisions on their behalf, he added. 

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew advocated clear and strong governance, and the government should be prepared to make hard decisions and have the courage to do the right thing for Singapore, even if it incurs short-term political costs, said the Prime Minister. 

“And if we are not able or ready to do that, we should get out of the way,” he added.

The PAP has provided Singapore with this “firm, good government” for more than 60 years, pushing through decisions like National Service and introducing the Goods and Services Tax (GST), despite doubts and resistance, said Mr Lee. 

“Our policies worked, the country progressed and people’s lives improved beyond recognition. And that is why voters continued to give their mandate to the PAP.”

The party has continued to do its best in the current term of office, battling COVID-19, preserving jobs and helping households cope with the rising cost of living, he said. 

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Singapore is closely watching events in the Middle East, he added. 

“The quarrel between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not our quarrel, but it impacts our society,” said Mr Lee. 

While Singapore feels sympathy for civilian victims on both sides and will extend humanitarian help to those in need, it must not let problems elsewhere widen fault lines in our society, he continued.

The government has also made longer-term decisions to prepare for the future, including the GST increase. 

“A difficult decision, but unfortunately an unavoidable one, if we are to fund the growing healthcare needs of an ageing population,” said Mr Lee. 

Policies on sensitive social issues, including repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code and allowing nurses to wear the tudung, were also changed, he added. 

“These policy changes could easily have set off contentious debates. We could easily have ended up quarrelling with ourselves over them,” said the Prime Minister. 

“But I decided to tackle them, because I knew that if I kicked the can down the road, I would just be storing up problems for my successors.” 

Tackling a global pandemic, solving immediate problems and planning for the future all at the same time is what people expect of a competent and effective government, said Mr Lee. 

“But these things don’t happen by magic. A lot of hard work goes into making Singapore run smoothly.

“When the next General Election comes … whenever that may be, the PAP can in good conscience tell Singaporeans … that we have served them well, and we have done a lot together.” 

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