Goh Chok Tong: 'How Singapore overcame its seven lean years'

From a farewell speech given by the Prime Minister of Singapore on the country's National Day
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When I was sworn in as Prime Minister 14 years ago, I pledged: "to ensure that Singapore thrives and grows after Mr Lee Kuan Yew". It has been 14 years since I made that pledge. The first seven years produced bountiful harvests. The next seven became lean years. Southeast Asia was struck by the Asian financial crisis. Then followed 11 September, terrorism, Sars and recession.

But we did not throw up our hands in despair. We rallied and fought back. We worked and grew our economy again.

And together we defeated Sars. It was a frightening time. A good number of our loved ones died. But our collective response strengthened my confidence in Singapore's future.

Another critical factor is trustbetween the different communities. The discovery of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network after 11 September shocked our people. I was worried that it could break the trust between our Muslim and other communities. I remember our first dialogue session with community and religious leaders. The anxiety was palpable. We explained why the Government had made the JI arrests and that they were not targeted at Muslims.

I was relieved when speaker after speaker - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - rose to support the Government's actions. They condemned the terrorist plot as the work of misguided individuals. They emphasised that the plot had nothing to do with our Muslim community.

We could deal with race and religion so openly because of the mutual trust we had built over the years.