Lee’s advice on looking for able leaders: 1979

The following is an excerpt from the 70s publication “Perjuangan”


May 1979: “On this May Day, allow me to congratulate the NTUC on a successful decade of modernisation in the 1970s.

It was the decade which saw Singapore transformed from a caterpillar into a chrysalis, something full of promise. The core leadership has been in charge from the 1950s, for over two decades.

In the 1980s, the next generation will take charge. To discuss it openly is to help it to take place smoothly and successfully. The torch, with the flame alight, must pass into firm and strong hands. Union branch leaders must face up to this question and consciously help to decide on the successors to the present leaders.

After 20 years of universal education and plenty of scholarships from the government, the unions, the People’s Association and other constituency associations, all bright pupils in primary school have reached the university. The unions must recruit top talent from amongst the best that have got to university. The days when unions from their own ranks found a Devan Nair are no longer with us. And Devan came from the ranks of the teachers, not the office or factory workers.

Times have changed. The question today is not whether or not to induct able men into the ranks of union leadership. It is how grassroots union leaders are to identify which of the able men brought into their midst are sincere and reliable, are men of principles.

For without convictions, how can they serve the cause of the working man? Ability is easy to identify. What is difficult is to see beyond ability, in the the “heart” of the man, for otherwise ability may mask selfishness and opportunism.







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