SINGAPORE: Singapore’s next leader must first and foremost be someone who can bring the rest of his team together and make the “whole greater than the sum of its parts”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (May 7).
As Singapore's fourth-generation ministers choose a leader among themselves, they can look to Mr Goh and his team for reference, said Mr Lee.
Mr Goh served as prime minister from 1990 to 2004, and retired from politics last year.
"They can have no better template than Chok Tong and his team,” said Mr Lee.
"Whoever will be Prime Minister must first and foremost be someone who can bring the rest together. Pull them together, make the most of the strengths of each minister, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts."
The latest Cabinet reshuffle will give the 4G ministers the chance to work with one another in new capacities as a team, said Mr Lee.
Seven ministries are due to get new heads on May 15 after Mr Lee announced a Cabinet reshuffle last month. The extensive reshuffle, held earlier than usual in the Government's new term, was in part triggered by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's decision to step aside as the leader of the 4G team.
READ: ‘Hiccup’ in political transition: ESM Goh commends DPM Heng’s ‘selflessness’ in stepping aside as 4G leader
READ: Cabinet reshuffle: Chan Chun Sing, Lawrence Wong and Ong Ye Kung get new portfolios; no new DPM
Mr Lee said that persuading good people to join politics is an increasingly difficult task.
"The opportunity costs are significant: You probably have to give up a promising career, and you lose privacy for yourself and maybe your family members because you are constantly under scrutiny and criticism," he said. "Especially now with the social media, and cancel culture."
But it is "the only way to maintain the quality of government that Singaporeans have become used to", said Mr Lee.
The ability to persuade people was one of Mr Goh's "greatest strengths", said Mr Lee, adding that Mr Goh was able to "persuade able people to work for him, bring out the best in each of them, and gel them into a loyal and cohesive team".
"He personally cajoled, persuaded, pressed, persisted, and more often than not, eventually prevailed in getting us to make the life changing decision to enter politics," said Mr Lee.
Mr Goh's Cabinet teams were arguably among the strongest Cabinets Singapore has had, said Mr Lee.
"This meant that when I took over as PM, I inherited a strong and experienced team. I benefited greatly from their support and advice, and of course, from Chok Tong’s too."
Mr Goh handed over the premiership to Mr Lee in 2004 only after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 had been quelled.
Mr Lee said that his predecessor's account of the SARS outbreak is "particularly timely" at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The government had no playbook for dealing with such a crisis. Chok Tong mounted a maximum national response to stem the spread," said Mr Lee.
"He marshalled the whole government machinery ... He also rallied the nation behind him and his team."
Recounting how Mr Goh shared his worries and fears with close confidantes, Mr Lee said: "He was anguished about each SARS death that occurred, particularly those of the brave medical workers.
"One of his Marine Parade activists recalled him exclaiming 'My people are dying! They are my people!'"
Singapore's experience with SARS has given it a "baseline" and a headstart in attempting to bring COVID-19 under control, said Mr Lee.
"But having overcome SARS once, we are confident that despite all the twists and turns, we will overcome COVID-19 too," he said.