Quote from Dr Goh Keng Swee's last major speech before his retirement
Many years ago, a group of students returned to colonial Singapore with a mission to change the system. One of them was Dr Goh Keng Swee, who went on to become the architect of Singapore, shaping various areas such as defence, tourism, and the arts.
In his last major speech on 25 Sep 1984 before retirement, he described his group’s entry into politics as an act of “reckless folly”. Their fierce power struggles with communists during Singapore’s early years, and the happier times after that, resulted in a style of governance that had shaped our nation.
Said Dr Goh, “Men are fond of innovations, and liking the first taste, fail to see the poison within. Having failed at the beginning of our political career to see the poison within, we are always on the lookout for poison in new situations.”
He identified three key features in Singapore’s foundational ways:
We prioritise long-term benefits over short-term costs: “We are willing to take unpopular steps if the long-term advantages to Singapore justify the policy.”
We do not shirk from solving problems: “Experience shows that difficulties cannot be wished away. Postponing action in the hope that time solves everything usually makes your predicament worse.”
We work as a close-knit team towards the same goals: “The style of government must change and probably, to a significant degree, the substance of policy as well. But the ends of policy are immutable. They are, first, to achieve prosperity for the Republic and her citizens, and second, to ensure the survival of the Republic as an independent sovereign state.”
He said Singapore’s sovereignty rests on the existence of a strong SAF, which in turn, requires a civilian population that understands what is at stake and will pay the price of safeguarding our peace.
Our pioneer leaders may have started out as rookies, but real-world problems forced them to figure out what was needed for our unique circumstances, achieving hard-won wisdom through experience.
“In government, you have to live with the consequences of your decision. If you make a mistake, the results are painful. Dealing with real issues in this way can be a humbling experience.”