National Day Message 2004 from Singapore's PM
Politics of Dissension and Divergence
-Flying Singapore Higher-
August 8, 2004
[During the 1960's, Singapore wanted to emulate the success of Sri Lanka. Forty years have passed, and one can see the role reversal caused by contrasting leadership skills.]
In other countries, the politicians exploit the divisive forces in society to get elected and, in the process, pull their countries apart. I call this the "politics of dissension and divergence". In Singapore, the political leaders do not fight for personal power or gain. Instead, they mobilise the society's energies for the nation's collective interest. This "politics of consensus and convergence" is the best way forward for us.
Building a nation is not like building a block of flats. It is not just a matter of laying bricks and pouring concrete.
More important are the emotions and intangibles that bond us to our country - our shared values and memories, our families and friends, our progress as one people and our common commitment to a society where each of us can achieve his or her full potential.
Full text of PM Goh Chok Tong's National Day Message 2004
My fellow Singaporeans, When I was sworn in as Prime Minister on 28 November 1990, I pledged:
"to ensure that Singapore thrives and grows after Mr Lee Kuan Yew; to find a new group of men and women to help me carry on where he and his colleagues left off; and to build a nation of character and grace where people live lives of dignity and fulfilment, and care for one another."
It has been 14 years since I made that pledge. Though this National Day Message is my last, I address you with a happy heart.
Our economy has grown significantly. Our society is more compassionate, open and gracious. We have inducted a capable group of younger leaders. As a people, our bonds have deepened. As a nation, we are maturing. We are now more confident of who we are, and what we stand for.
The first seven years produced bountiful harvests. We distributed the fruits, and helped lower-income Singaporeans.
The next seven became lean years. First, Southeast Asia was struck by the Asian Financial crisis. Then followed September 11, terrorism, Sars and economic recession.
But we did not throw up our hands in despair. We rallied and fought back. We worked and grew our economy again.
And together we defeated Sars. It was a frightening time. A good number of our loved ones died. This was my saddest moment in government.
But our collective response to Sars and other crises strengthened my confidence in Singapore's future.
We went through fire together; the steel in us strengthened.
This is what I am proudest of, my fellow Singaporeans, this fighting spirit, the character of our people, our strong bond and social cohesion.
Many of you have thanked me for taking care of Singapore. Tonight, I want to thank you. I have had the privilege of leading Singapore. I could not have shouldered the responsibility alone. I am deeply grateful to you, my fellow Singaporeans, for your support. And the support of my Cabinet colleagues, Members of Parliament and my Party.
The responsibility of taking our nation further will now rest on the shoulders of the next generation of leaders. How do we fly Singapore higher and further? I want to share with you key lessons which I have learnt over the past 14 years.
First, Singapore's future depends on the commitment of its people to the country.
Building a nation is not like building a block of flats. It is not just a matter of laying bricks and pouring concrete. Material wealth alone is not enough to root Singaporeans to Singapore. I believe that Singaporeans will love their country more when they feel valued and have the opportunity to shape its future.
The second critical factor to keep Singapore going is trust - the trust between the different communities and the trust between the people and the Government. The discovery of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network after 9/11 shocked our people. I was worried that it could break the trust between our Muslim and other communities. I remember our first dialogue session at Kallang Theatre with community and religious leaders. The anxiety was palpable. We explained why the Government had made the JI arrests and that they were not targeted at Muslims. We urged non-Muslims to reach out to the Muslims. We also urged the Muslim community to integrate more with the other communities.
I was relieved when speaker after speaker - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - rose to support the Government's actions. They condemned the terrorist plot as the work of misguided individuals. They emphasized that the plot had nothing to do with our Muslim community.
We could deal with race and religion so openly because of the mutual trust we had built over the years. We have deepened this trust with the way we handled the JI episode.
The third critical factor for Singapore's future success is the quality of national leadership.
Singaporeans are not naturally drawn to politics. So we have to systematically seek out good and able people and persuade them to become MPs and Ministers. And amongst them, there must be at least one who can eventually take over the controls.
Politics was not in my blood. I was asked to stand for elections in 1976 by the late Mr Hon Sui Sen, who was then Finance Minister. I accepted. It was my duty and privilege to serve the country. I had benefited from how Singapore was run. Like many of my generation, my family could not afford to send me to university. I went through university on a government bursary. I advanced in my career because Singapore was not run on the basis of race, family connections or money, but on equal opportunities and merit. By the time Mr Hon's invitation came, I was the managing director of Neptune Orient Lines, leading a comfortable life away from public glare.
I never dreamt that one day I would become your Prime Minister. When I took over from Mr Lee Kuan Yew, many people, including my grassroots leaders, worried for me. At my first National Day Rally, my friends feared that I might fall flat on "live" television. After I finished my speech, I could hear the collective sigh of relief. The audience clapped! And I saw Senior Minister Lee beaming away. He looked immensely relieved. He wanted the younger team to succeed. Had I failed, I would have jeopardised the process of political self-renewal.
Like Mr Lee, I have paid much attention to leadership self-renewal. Planned, orderly transition is what distinguishes Singapore. In other countries, the politicians exploit the divisive forces in society to get elected and, in the process, pull their countries apart. I call this the "politics of dissension and divergence". In Singapore, the political leaders do not fight for personal power or gain. Instead, they mobilise the society's energies for the nation's collective interest. This "politics of consensus and convergence" is the best way forward for us.
I have piloted Singapore for nearly 14 years. Everything is in good working order. The economy is growing strongly. Growth in the first half was 10 per cent. For the whole year, we can expect growth to be between eight and nine per cent. Now is a good time for me to hand over the controls to a new captain and his crew.
Hsien Loong and his team will face different and tougher challenges ahead. The world has become more uncertain. The global economic environment will be more competitive. We must expect lower-skilled jobs to migrate to lower-cost countries. Older, less-educated workers will have to be retrained.
Hsien Loong will also have to deal with fundamental changes in Singapore society. There are fewer babies and more old people. He will have to manage the rising expectations of the younger generation. Many more Singaporeans will live and work overseas. He must make sure that their hearts continue to be Singaporean.
I am confident about Hsien Loong and his team. They are ready to take our nation to a new level. But they cannot do this on their own. They will need your full support and active participation to fly Singapore to greater heights.
I am very happy that I can leave the office of Prime Minister at a time of my own choosing. I do so with full confidence about Singapore's future. We may meet the occasional storm but we will pull through.
I will be there with you too. Hsien Loong has asked me to stay on in the Cabinet. I have agreed to do so.
Tomorrow, when we celebrate our National Day, my heart will fill with pride for Singapore.
My fellow Singaporeans, serving you has been the highest honour of my life.
I wish you a very happy National Day
Posted August 8, 2004