From ‘Succession planning ‘part of Government’s DNA’, 1 March 2015, article by Lim Yan Liang, Sunday Times
Succession planning has long been a part of the Government’s DNA, and the next team of leaders who will helm the country is taking shape, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.
A key tenet of governance here has always been to ensure that good people will be in charge, he said after attending a Chinese New Year lunch with grassroots leaders from Geylang Serai constituency.
“Mr Lee Kuan Yew has always emphasised political succession, and when I took over, likewise, I planned for succession,” he said. “Prime Minister Lee is also working very hard to plan for succession.”
His comments to reporters came as the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc) said in its risk rating update last Thursday that health issues affecting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew have put political succession in the spotlight.
…”It is hard for many Singaporeans even to imagine an island without a member of the Lee family at either the helm or being groomed for it, but that is another reality Singapore will have to face,” it (Perc) added.
When one uses the analogy of ‘DNA’ like ESM Goh has you are implying that people, or organisations, are innately predisposed to a certain behaviour or characteristic. For example, ‘kiasuism’ is in our DNA, but without the right external trigger (PSLE) I wouldn’t be lining up to register for primary school at 3 in the morning. You don’t say ‘queuing’ is in our DNA. What he really means is that the PAP is ‘well prepared’ when the top man is suddenly removed due to unforseen circumstances, that ‘succession planning’ is really more a company ‘philosophy’ than a trait. In other words, ‘foresight’ is in your DNA, while succession planning is the natural outcome of it. Alas, according to PM Lee, there’s still room for improvement in that department.
It’s interesting how ESM Goh uses ‘DNA’ in this scenario, given that there are actual bloodlines running within the PAP, other than the world famous father-son link. Desmond Choo’s uncle is ex MP Choo Wee Khiang. Grace Fu and her dad James Fu is another example. Chua Mui Hoong once commented that the PAP should ‘change their DNA’ of ‘wonky leaders’ (policy wonks, she clarifies). Which makes me wonder if she passed her secondary school Science because you can’t ‘change your DNA’ unless you expose yourself to nuclear radiation. Law Minister Shanmugam says ‘looking after people‘ is in the PAP’s DNA. Again, confusion over what one actually does (look after people) vs what predisposes one to do (compassion). I’m not sure if the PAP has much to brag about either. What they do need is a refresher in biochemistry before using catchy buzzwords willy-nilly.
‘Succession planning’ is a whole business process by itself, but what it boils down to is who gets to rise, why he deserves it and who decides that he’s the chosen one. In the case of GCT himself, he was selected not by the people, nor the MPs, but an ‘inner circle’ of ‘cabinet ministers’. Back in 1985 he addressed murmurs that he was merely paving the way for LKY’s son by saying: ‘If Singapore will be better led by someone else, if I’m just to warm the seat, then so be it.’ A year later, everyone already knew what was in store for the younger Lee, when Goh was reported to have said that it was ‘unlikely’ that BG Lee would take the top job ‘immediately after LKY’s retirement’. Which makes ‘succession planning’ more of a formality of transparency. Up to now, we have been led by a successions of PMs fondly referred to by some as ‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Goh’. God knows who’ll be the next in line. It’s easy for the ESM to glorify succession planning, but we may have a genuine problem on our hands if an heir apparent isn’t identified NOW.
As for our current PM, he intends to leave the decision of his successor to the ‘younger ministers and their generation‘. While we Singaporeans sit by, watch and place our bets. ‘Risk-taking’ through gambling is also in our DNA after all. So what would Singapore be like without a member of this ‘Lee dynasty’ at the helm then? There are those who believe that we’re not ready for a world without LKY. Perc seems to think the end of the Lee era would be unthinkable. PM Lee himself has mentioned that he does not envision his kids doing politics, so it’s very possible that the bloodline stops here. It’s up to us Singaporeans then to make sure the beating heart of the country doesn’t, whoever the baton is passed to. As LKY himself eloquently, and rather accurately, put it in his memoir ‘Lee Kuan Yew: The Critical Years 1971-1978 Vol 2:
…There is one fundamental quality we (Singaporeans) have, which nothing can change, and that is the verve, the vitality, the drive in our people. Call it what you will – the DNA – the double helix – whatever you like to call it, it is in us.