Singapore — At the launch of the Chinese-language version of his biography, Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, on June 4, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong explained the decision to have Singapore’s founding Prime Minister stay on in his cabinet—so that any differences between them would be resolved between them in private, rather than out in the open.
This, he said, would prevent division in Singapore, as Mr Goh was well aware that he and Mr Lee would not always see eye to eye.
“You know Lee Kuan Yew; if things were to go wrong, even from the grave he would get up. If I were to do something wrong as Prime Minister, I would expect him to say something in public.
It would divide Singapore if people thought there was a fight between us. I knew we would have differences from time to time, so it was better to have him on the inside rather than outside.”
Along with the writer of Tall Order, Peh Shing Huei, as well as the head of Singapore Press Holdings’ Chinese Media Group, Lee Huay Leng, ESM Goh spoke at a panel discussion at his biography’s launch at Capitol Piazza, as part of the Singapore Book Fair 2019. Mr Peh is a former news editor for the Straits Times.
At the panel discussion, ESM Goh mentioned how he asked current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to read the manuscript of his book. PM Lee made one suggestion after reading it, that an adjective describing his father be changed.
“I used the term ‘domineering personality.’”
Apparently, PM had written on the side of the manuscript, “’Do you mean dominant personality?’
That was the only change he made.”
Later on in his career, Mr Goh found himself in the exact same position as the founding Prime Minister, when it became his turn to become the senior minister after current PM Lee Hsien Loong took over the premiership in 2004. He said that senior ministers, unlike cabinet ministers do not interfere.
The Straits Times (ST) reports Mr Goh as saying, “So, as senior minister, you would not interfere, but as a minister in Cabinet, you give your view. If you think that they are very wrong, then you state your view very clearly and robustly. You say, I think you are wrong, and you try to persuade him (the Prime Minister) and persuade the other ministers to come around. But in the end, they decide.”
Concerning whether or not the current Prime Minister will serve the same function as he and Lee Kuan Yew did, ESM Goh said it remains to be seen.
“Whether Lee Hsien Loong will be the senior minister to (Deputy Prime Minister) Heng Swee Keat depends on their interactions. If one party is not comfortable, then it may not work.”
However, he did express the hope that this would be the case. “I think the next PM will be wise enough to keep (PM Lee) in Cabinet.”
As to whether PM Lee would join serve as the third senior minister along with Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam after handing over the reins to his successor, Mr Goh said that it would ultimately be the decision of the next Prime Minister./ TISG
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