In an interview with Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), published last Friday (17 May), Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat asserted that the government has “very strict rules against nepotism” as he spoke about Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds, Temasek and GIC.
Temasek is run by Ho Ching, who is also wife to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She has led the fund for the past 17 years since 2002.
GIC (formerly known as Government of Singapore Investment Corporation) is led by Lim Chow Kiat. PM Lee is the chairman of GIC’s board while Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is the group’s Deputy Chairman. PAP heavyweights like DPM Heng, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and former Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang are also directors at GIC.
Among other questions he was asked during the interview, Mr Heng – who also serves as Finance Minister – was asked about Singapore’s purported “one party regime”. NZZ asked: “Singapore has elections, but the People’s Action Party has dominated them so much all the time that one can speak of a one-party regime. Would not the time be ripe for more democracy and more political competition?”
In response, Mr Heng said that Singapore has “free and fair elections,” that “five important ministers lost their seats” in the 2011 General Election (GE), and that several opposition parties contesting the 2015 GE.
Opining that this is democracy, the DPM asserted: “The fact that our ruling party has won over and over again has nothing to do with repression but with the fact that we kept what we promised. And because we won the confidence of the Singaporeans.”
When NZZ followed up and asked the presumed future PM how he prevents nepotism that is usually associated with a one-party regime, DPM Heng pointed to Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF) GIC and Temasek as examples of how the government does not tolerate nepotism and corruption. He said:
“For example, we have our sovereign funds Temasek and GIC. Not once did I intervene as Minister of Finance in their investment decisions. Because if I did, I would not be able to hold her responsible for her performance.
“Under the Constitution, as Finance Minister, I am responsible to Parliament for its performance, and I, in turn, must hold the leadership of the SWF accountable. We have very strict rules against nepotism, very strong anti-corruption rules.”
When NZZ pressed and asked the heavyweight minister what is best in a system with a dominant party, he said:
“If my party does not deliver what it promises, it’s out. But my concern can not be the survival of the party. My concern must be the survival and success of Singapore.
“If we do not do a good job and the Singaporeans think it is time to change the situation, then we will fall out and a more competent party will come; and we hope that it will advance Singapore.”
The DPM also said that the greatest challenges Singapore faces have to do with governance. Asserting that Singapore has had “constructive policy over the past 50 years,” he asked whether the nation will still be able to “reach a good consensus on the key issues that we as a society have to tackle together” in the future. He said:
“Our greatest challenge is to create and maintain a sense of unity and togetherness in the midst of these great changes taking place around us. We have had a constructive policy over the past 50 years.
“Will we continue to have this in the future? Will we still be able to reach a good consensus on the key issues that we as a society have to tackle together? Are we ready to continue making decisions that are difficult in the short term but necessary in the long term?
“It’s about governance. If we succeed and we have a sense of unity in the people, then we will remain strong.”
Read the NZZ interview in full HERE.