Sunday, October 26, 2008

'Only an A-Team will do'

Oct 25, 2008

First-class leaders needed to face challenges ahead

By Kor Kian Beng

IS THERE a need for a new type of leadership to steer Singapore into the future? Or will what has worked in the past continue to work in the future?

These questions flitted through 41-year-old Jonas Ang's mind as he sat through a dialogue at the Human Capital Summit with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew yesterday.

The human resource director decided to pose them to the man most responsible for building modern Singapore.

Mr Lee's immediate response: 'That's a very pertinent and deep question which I've asked myself.'

He said the Singaporeans of today have higher aspirations and are better educated than in the past, but that has also led some to believe that they know better than the Cabinet ministers.

'You can see it in the letters to the press, which isn't a bad thing provided they understand that they may not be right, because the ministers aren't stupid,' he said.

Changing times notwithstanding, Singapore must continue to have an A-Team of leaders in place, he added.

He said: 'If we field a B-Team, we are in trouble. We've got to have an A-Team. I don't care whether it's the PAP (People's Action Party) or any other party.

'You need first-class people with good minds, a sense of obligation to do a good job for the people and the ability to execute. That's an A-Team.'

How is an A-Team picked? MM Lee gave a peek into the process.

First, potential leaders undergo rigorous selection tests. They are then put through at least two five-year terms before they get to higher office, he said. 'So we know that they got what it takes.'

A type of leader that Singaporeans must guard against is the glib speaker who cannot perform.

Said MM Lee: 'That you can talk plausibly doesn't mean you can perform effectively. They're two different qualities. A good politician must be able to do both.'

One reason for the stringent criteria for future Singaporean leaders is the competition the country faces from up-and-coming economies like China and India, he said.

Still, there is something very much on the side of future Singapore leaders.

This is the Singapore system, characterised by traits like the rule of law, transparency, fair play and meritocracy, he said.

India and China will take at least 20 to 50 years to catch up with Singapore in this aspect, he believes.

Canadian and Singapore PR Edouard Merette, who has lived here for 12 years, agreed with MM Lee.

The peaceful, safe and efficient environment here is one reason why his company, Aon Consulting, decided to set up its regional headquarters and a research centre here.

Said Mr Merette, Aon Consulting's CEO for Asia-Pacific: 'Singapore is a modern society in a Third World area. You can give compliments only to Mr Lee's leadership.'

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