Valedictory Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Prof S Jayakumar

20 April 2011


Prof S Jayakumar
Senior Minister
Prime Minister’s Office

1.        As you retire from politics and government, I write to thank you for your outstanding contributions over the last 31 years.

2.        You entered Parliament in 1980 as Member of Parliament for Bedok, which later became part of East Coast GRC. You served in several key Ministries – Home Affairs, Law and Foreign Affairs, later as Deputy Prime Minister and Senior Minister.

3.        In Home Affairs, you expanded the focus of the Singapore Police Force from law enforcement to community policing, setting up the National Crime Prevention Council, and Neighbourhood Police Posts (NPPs) all over the island. You also took a strong stand against drug and inhalant abuse, to prevent this scourge from taking root in our society. Besides these policy and organisational issues, you handled a major security operation – the Marxist conspiracy in 1987, with a follow up involving US diplomats in 1988.

4.        Twice you had to respond directly to life-and-death emergencies. In 1986, you led the ministerial group which oversaw the rescue operation after the Hotel New World collapsed.  The SCDF and industry volunteers worked around the clock in difficult and dangerous conditions to rescue those trapped.  Then in 1991, you handled the hijacking of Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 117.  Together with Dr Yeo Ning Hong, then Second Defence Minister, you took the decision to storm the aircraft, which resulted in the successful rescue of all passengers unharmed. Singapore was indeed fortunate to have in you a calm, decisive leader tackling both crises.

5.        In the Ministry of Law you played a major role in all the important Constitutional and legislative changes over the last three decades, including the Non-Constituency MP scheme, the Group Representation Constituency scheme, the Nominated MP scheme, the Elected Presidency, and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. In each case, you helped to brainstorm, conceptualise, flesh out, implement, and refine ideas that broke fresh ground and helped adapt our political system to Singa­pore’s unique circumstances and needs. I am privileged to have worked closely with you on several of these, and learnt much from you in the process.

6.        You also shaped the wider legal landscape, setting up the Singapore Academy of Law and a second law school at the Singapore Management University.  You liberalised the legal services market, enhanced the legal framework for international arbitration and spearheaded its promotion. Today, Singapore is recognised globally as an arbitration venue of choice, and a vibrant legal services hub.

7.        You were Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1994 to 2004.  This was a momentous decade for Singapore and the world.  It witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, the rise of China and India, and major political and economic transitions in the region.  The fall of President Soeharto in Indonesia cast a long shadow over a Southeast Asia already hit hard by the Asian Financial Crisis. 

8.        In time, the ASEAN countries responded by expanding the membership and pursuing closer integration.  You played a significant role fostering ASEAN cooperation and advancing Singa­pore’s interests. For example, you hosted the first Ministerial Retreat, which has become a standard platform for Ministers and Leaders to develop a high comfort level and engage in frank discussions.  You were also a member of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) that recommended the ASEAN Charter. 

9.        Bilaterally, we encountered a plethora of issues: with Malaysia the Points of Agreement on Malayan Railways land, water, CIQ, airspace and Pedra Branca; with Indonesia the extradition, haze and boundary issues; and with the Philippines the Flor Contemplacion death penalty case.  In each case, you protected our national interests adroitly, while keeping relations on a steady keel.

10.     One high point of your time in MFA was Singapore’s election to a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) from 2001 to 2002. We were elected with an overwhelming majority, reflecting our high reputation and the wide-ranging ties that Singapore had developed under your leadership.  Our record while serving on the UNSC further distinguished Singapore as a responsible and principled member of the international community.

11.     Beyond these specific achievements, you left a lasting imprint on the DNA of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Your clarity of thought, careful attention to detail, precision in communication and relentless focus on the fundamental national interests at stake have moulded the work ethic of generations of Foreign Service Officers, who have gone on to assume key leadership positions within the organisation and the Civil Service.  Your contributions to Singapore’s growth and international standing will remain with us for decades to come.

12.     After you relinquished the Foreign Affairs portfolio in 2004, you continued as Deputy Prime Minister to oversee foreign policy issues involving legal negotiation or international adjudication.  In 2007, you led the Singapore team to plead Singapore’s case on the Pedra Branca dispute before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The ICJ’s judgement awarding Pedra Branca to Singapore in 2008 marked the culmination of almost 30 years of work by you, starting at the very beginning of the issue in 1979.

13.     You also dealt with complex, multi-ministry policy matters. From 2005 to 2010 you were Coordinating Minister for National Security. More recently, you coordinated Singapore’s response to climate change.  Your active involvement in the negotiations has profiled Singapore as a credible and constructive participant in this global problem facing mankind.

14.     Beyond these specific responsibilities and achievements in your portfolios, you have always offered wise counsel, insightful criticism and tactful advice in Cabinet discussions, whether on issues concerning other ministries or political matters requiring feel and judgment. To me and all the ministers, you have been not just a colleague, but also a mentor and friend.

15.     I thank you for your many years of dedicated service to Singapore.

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