SINGAPORE: Outgoing Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng announced his intention to enter politics on Tuesday (Aug 18), ahead of a change of command ceremony where he hands over the reins of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to his successor, Major-General Perry Lim.
"It's an open secret where I'm going next," acknowledged the 47-year-old, who served the SAF for 29 years.
"And one of the things why I've decided, with the blessings of my family, to step forward, is really to serve the Singapore which I grew up in. For giving me all the opportunities through our meritocratic system. It's not something that I've seen in many parts of the world. I'm indebted to Singapore."
LG Ng said this comes from not just the opportunities afforded by the SAF scholarship, but also the nurturing and space to test himself and his abilities. Over the course of his career, he had been the Commander of Changi Air Base, the Commanding Officer of 144 Squadron and Chief of Air Force.
He was also the Chairman of the State Funeral Organising Committee for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and was part of the Vigil Guard at the founding Prime Minister's lying in state.
"Even in school we have always learnt the essence of remembering your roots, and giving back to society," said LG Ng, who hails from Chinese High School.
"It is something that I hold closely to heart. That when we have some successes, we take care of the rest to make sure that we create the same opportunities - if not better opportunities - for others to succeed. For future generations to succeed."
He added: "It's with mixed feelings to answer to a call of duty, a different form of duty, and leaving the SAF a few months before my time is up. Usually CDFs serve three years, to leave earlier."
During LG Ng's term as SAF's chief, the organisation successfully carried out a range of international operations in Afghanistan and the Gulf of Aden, as well as a range of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations in the region. Closer to home, he was a member of the Committee to Strengthen National Service's (CSNS) Steering Committee, and oversaw programmes to further hone the SAF's capabilities.
Some of these have already begun to bear fruit. For example, the new Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) format has seen improvements in 2.4 kilometre run-times in 73 per cent of servicemen who participated in a three-month pilot.
But a political career is unlike a military one. He agreed that uniting Singaporeans under a strong, shared identity could be a long and difficult journey, unlike an organisation that, although large, carries the same core values.
"So one key thing to do is to consult widely, listen actively as we've done in the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CSNS) where we engaged over 40,000. Get different people to come on board. And always have the humility to seek out the best ideas from people," said LG Ng.
Asked if he feels he has achieved all he set out to do as chief, LG Ng said he only played a small part in the journey of keeping the SAF strong.
"No doubt I am the CDF, but this journey of keeping the SAF strong, giving strength to the nation, is a relentless journey," he said, adding that the work towards the SAF 2030 vision has begun. "We're looking at fresh opportunities that technology can offer us, and at the same time scanning the horizon for the challenges that the SAF will face.
"I leave the SAF full of confidence in the next generation of commanders who will take over from me. They will carry on with the work. It was never about a single person in the SAF."
LG Ng said he has spoken with the various formation Chiefs, and they are ready to take over. His immediate replacement as CDF is Major-General Perry Lim, whose position as Chief of Army was filled by outgoing Chief Guards Officer Melvyn Ong.
"The SAF is a strong organisation. I think they will have the strength and the vision to carry the organisation forward with or without me. In any case, I'm always with the SAF," said LG Ng.
LG NG HAS THE ABILITY TO TAKE SINGAPORE FURTHER: DEFENCE MINISTER
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen thanked LG Ng for his "exemplary leadership and sterling contributions as CDF".
"As a fighter pilot, a proven leader who advanced to helm the entire SAF, I am confident that he will do well in all he undertakes. As he did in the SAF, he has the ability to take Singapore further," he said.