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Government leaders must have the moral authority to govern: ESM Goh

Government leaders must have the moral authority to govern: ESM Goh
ESM Goh Chok Tong said government leaders should also adapt their leadership style to the current times. Photo: SMU

Government leaders must have the moral authority to govern: ESM Goh

SINGAPORE — To ensure a sustaining legacy, winning elections is only one step for government leaders. They also must have the moral authority to govern, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Wednesday (Sept 13).

It is also important to “find people who can succeed, not just in politics, but in institutions like the civil service, judiciary, universities, corporations and the social sector”.

“If these institutions are manned by able people, honest people, then you have the structure to carry on,” he added.

Mr Goh was speaking at the start of the inaugural Singapore Summit Young Societal Leaders Programme held at the Hilton Singapore.

The four-day-long programme — part of the Singapore Summit — brings together 18 young leaders under the age of 40, who were selected to participate based on their work to better societies in Asia and globally.

The programme aims to promote the exchange of diverse and multigenerational perspectives among young societal leaders, as well as with leaders from the private and public sectors, through dialogues, field visits and participation in the Singapore Summit.

It is organised by the Institute for Societal Leadership at the Singapore Management University in partnership with the Singapore Summit.

In a dialogue session with the group of young leaders, Mr Goh, who is also a patron of the Singapore Summit, noted that governments have to look out for the collective good of their citizens.

In the era of social media “where every individual thinks his voice is bigger than the government”, values have changed in today’s society, Mr Goh noted.

While people might “want immediate gratification”, government leaders must think long-term, he said.

“These individuals must be given the freedom to express their views, but the leaders then weigh the views and sit down together. In the end, my views have been heard, but the goal is the collective interest. Who judges (that)? The government,” Mr Goh added.

Government leaders should also adapt their leadership style to the current times, he said.

For example, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew “governed with a strong hand”, having to build the country from ground up after fighting for independence.

When Mr Goh took over as Prime Minister in 1990, however, he could not govern that way as Singapore had changed and Singaporeans grew more educated.

“I wanted to have a participatory democracy, (for people to be) able to participate, (have) a sense of belonging, a stake in the government,” he said. “I wanted a gracious society as well. Now, with the current Prime Minister, the style has changed again. His mantra is an inclusive society.”

In order for civilians to get government support, both sides must find a way to balance their interests, he noted.

“The government of the day must see that helping you is helping themselves, because you’re helping society,” Mr Goh added.

The annual Singapore Summit brings together business and thought leaders from Asia and the world to discuss opportunities and challenges that could impact regional and global growth.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said the Singapore Summit Young Societal Leaders Programme was organised by the Institute for Societal Leadership at the Singapore Management University (SMU) in partnership with Temasek Foundation Connects. SMU has clarified that the programme is organised in partnership with the Singapore Summit, which is in turn organised by Temasek Foundation Connects, with the support of the Singapore Economic Development Board, GIC, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Temasek.