Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat paid tribute to former-Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who retired ahead of the 2020 general election, in Parliament today (30 Aug).
A prominent member of the People’s Action Party (PAP), Mr Goh became Singapore’s second Prime Minister on 28 November 1990, succeeding founding PM Lee Kuan Yew. He served in the role until 12 August 2004, when he stepped down and was succeeded by Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son.
Mr Goh subsequently served as Senior Minister until May 2011, and as Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). He went on to hold the honorary title of “Emeritus Senior Minister” before he retired from electoral politics in June 2020.
Even though he initially told PM Lee that he would prefer to step down from electoral politics “whilst [he was] healthy”, Mr Goh later hinted that he may not have been totally healthy when he made the decision to bring his 44-year political career to an end.
Revealing that he had a cancer scare sometime last year, Mr Goh said in a Facebook post after the most recent election that while his health has vastly improved, it is “too late” to reverse his decision to step down from politics.
DPM Heng, who is positioned to become Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister, paid tribute to Mr Goh in Parliament today. In what was his first debate speech in the 14th Parliament of Singapore, Mr Heng said:
“Let me also express my appreciation to the MPs who have retired, and the NCMPs who have stepped down. The longest serving is Mr Goh Chok Tong, who served for nearly 45 years, including almost 14 years as Prime Minister.
“Mr Goh’s years as PM from 1990 to 2004 are remembered as a time of stability, peace and growth, during which we became a kinder, gentler society and a more confident people. He steered us through two major crises – the Asian Financial Crisis and SARS. He continued to contribute in many areas, even after stepping down as PM.”
Recalling his close working relationship with Mr Goh, Mr Heng said that Mr Goh taught him how important it is to face difficult decisions head-on. He recounted:
“Over the years, I had the privilege of working closely with Mr Goh, including on many trips. His rapport with leaders around the world enabled us to forge many new agreements and partnerships, which in turn expanded our external space.
“I remembered vividly his advice to me during the Global Financial Crisis, when I was the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He was then our Chairman. Banks around the world were in trouble.
“So when we had to make a momentous decision on whether to seek approval from the President for a $150 billion guarantee on all bank deposits backed up by our past reserves, I was glad to have his wise counsel. Mr Goh taught us that we must face difficult decisions head-on. It was a lesson that stayed with me and continues to guide much of my work, especially during this crisis.”
The PM-in-waiting added that Mr Goh continued to mentor him when he joined politics nearly a decade ago, in 2011: “After I entered politics in 2011, ESM Goh continued to be a good mentor, with his signature mix of humour and wisdom. Mr Goh has left an indelible mark on many Singaporeans, especially those of us in this House.”
Wishing Mr Goh a happy retirement, Mr Heng said: “When I last met him, Mr Goh told me he was spending more time with Mrs Goh and their children and grandchildren. Let us all thank Mrs Goh and their family for being Mr Goh’s staunchest and closest supporters all these years. I wish our beloved ESM a happy retirement.”
Mr Goh had endorsed Mr Heng after he was identified as the frontrunner for the PM job during the ruling party’s most recent Central Executive Committee Election. Recalling the DPM’s days as director of the central bank during the 2008 global financial crisis, Mr Goh said: “I saw how he worked. I think he could take crisis, and he could manage crisis.”
Mr Heng also paid tribute to the other long-serving ruling party parliamentarians who retired from politics ahead of the 2020 election, in his parliamentary speech.
Naming Khaw Boon Wan, Lim Hng Kiang, Lim Swee Say, Yaacob Ibrahim, Charles Chong, Lily Neo, Teo Ho Pin, and Cedric Foo, he said: “They may have left Parliament, but I am confident that they will continue to contribute to nation-building in other ways.”