Visit of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to Yokohama, Japan, 27 to 30 August 2019
Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong is in Yokohama, Japan, for the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICADVII).
ESM delivered remarks at Plenary Session 2, titled Accelerating Economic Transformation and Improving Business Environment Through Innovation and Private Sector Engagement this afternoon. The prepared remarks are appended.
The Essentials of Development
I thank the Japanese government for inviting me to share Singapore’s experience in economic development. Since its inception in 1993, TICAD has become a key platform for leaders to discuss Africa’s development, peace and security. I hope Singapore’s experience will be useful to you. But please bear in mind that Singapore is a tiny city-state while countries in Africa are big and diverse.
2. That said, Singapore, like many countries in Africa, comprises people of different ethnicities, languages and religions. Our first and most pressing task in nation-building was to unite them to live in harmony and work together for the country. We did but this is always work in progress.
3. Singapore was fortunate to have a wise, founding leader in Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He was just, fair and strong. Just, because he shut out nepotism and cronyism, and practised meritocracy and the rule of law. Fair, because he ensured that all communities had space to live in peace and equal opportunities to improve themselves.
4. And politically strong because he delivered what he promised � from mudflats to metropolis and a better life for the people. He won election after election, fairly and squarely. He outfought his opponents in the political arena.
5. Mr Lee firmly believed that Singapore’s fortunes should outlive him. He inculcated national values, built national institutions, and bequeathed to Singapore the practice of smooth, systematic political succession.
6. Planned and smooth leadership succession is not easy in any big corporation, let alone a democratically-elected government. But it is critical for durable economic growth. Investors will not commit huge sums of capital which takes many years to recover unless there is political stability and policy consistency. Mr Lee retired at his political prime when he was 67. I retired at 63 after 14 years as Prime Minister and after an overwhelming electoral victory. The current Prime Minister has just completed his 15th year in office. He is grooming a younger leader to take over after the coming elections.
7. But trust cannot simply be transferred from one leader to another. Every generation of leaders will have to forge their own compact with the people. They have to earn their respect and confidence. They must continue to improve the lives of the people. That means getting the economics right. Politics and economics are like two sides of the same coin. For Singapore, political stability through smooth succession has allowed us to plan long-term to sustain inclusive economic growth.
8. Our people are more precious than any natural resource. Therefore, we invest heavily in education, to maximise every Singaporean’s potential. There are many pathways to cater to children of different abilities. Learning is life-long. Skills are upgraded and workers are retrained in anticipation of changing industry demands, global competition and technological disruptions.
9. Singapore is an open economy by choice. Our mantra is that the world does not owe us a living. We either innovate, transform, trade and stay relevant to others, or we revert to a fishing village. We support a multi-lateral trade order. We pay close attention to the needs of international businesses, and create the most conducive and competitive conditions for them to sink their roots in Singapore. These include a safe and secure environment to live in, world-class infrastructure, as well as a stable and consistent policy regime. It is also just as important to strengthen local businesses, which are the backbone of any economy and often employ large numbers of local workers. Help them build their capabilities, help them innovate, help them internationalise. This will help create dual engines of growth, from foreign investment as well as from local enterprises.
10. But how does one stay competitive? The inability of companies and workers to adapt to the changing environment is a major problem in many advanced economies today. For Singapore, we regularly restructure our economy. We do not implement populist or protectionist band-aid policies to win votes. The government and the people have a proven track record that they can absorb painful but necessary measures to address the underlying structural issues. In fact, we are in the midst of implementing industry-by-industry transformation maps. We also practise tripartism, where government officials, employers and unions work closely to create win-win-win outcomes. This is only possible when there is trust between all three sides. The Government is both pro-business and pro-workers: pro-business to create the conditions for investment, profits and jobs; pro-workers to ensure that they are appropriately rewarded for their skills and productivity. We even have an annual tripartite golf game which I initiated 25 years ago to foster closer bonds.
11. Singapore will continue to share our experiences with our African friends. Over 10,000 African officials have participated in the Singapore Cooperation Programme. We also have a very successful joint technical assistance programme with Japan – the Japan-Singapore Partnership Programme for the 21st century. In fact, I launched this programme in 1993, when I was Prime Minister. Over 500 African officials have participated in this programme, and I welcome more to participate.
12. To conclude, we have to get our politics and economics right to deliver a better life for our people. I am happy to see that Africa is making great strides towards a better future. The African Continental FTA is an unprecedented step in economic integration. More governments like those in South Africa, Ghana, CAte d’Ivoire and Rwanda are focusing on attracting foreign investment and improving the ease of doing business. Ethiopia has also taken the initiative to build peace in the Horn of Africa.
13. This century can be Africa’s century, just as much as we in Asia hope that it is also Asia’s century. When it comes to the scale of urbanisation, the pace of innovation and the energy of the large youth population, there is much potential across the continent. I wish our African friends all the best as they strive for political stability, good governance and sound economic policies to drive growth, create prosperity and improve the livelihoods of their citizens.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore