MFA Press Release: Keynote Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam and Remarks by Former President Mr S R Nathan at the Commemorative Event for the 20th Anniversary of the Singapore Cooperation Programme

speech[Photo: MFA]


Mr S R Nathan

Members of the Diplomatic Corps


Very good evening and welcome. Today, we mark the 20th Anniversary of the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP). Thank you all for joining us to celebrate this special occasion.


Tonight, I will say a few words about what the SCP does and how it has become a key part of our diplomacy. I will also explain why the SCP is important to Singapore and to friends of Singapore around the world.


We established the SCP in 1992. We had reached a certain level of development and wanted to give something back to the international community.

From the onset, we decided financial aid was not the way we would go or finance infrastructure projects. We understood from our own experience that technical assistance is equally or more effective in creating the right conditions for growth. Accordingly, the SCP provides training and experience sharing in areas where Singapore is strong, such as Public Administration, Economic Development, Port Management, Civil Aviation and Water Management.

We train officials from several countries, equip them with skills and knowledge which would help them make a real impact in changing their people’s lives for the better. We also invite foreign officials to visit Singapore to see first-hand our ports, our infrastructure, our gardens, our systems. We share Singapore’s development experiences – our successes as well as mistakes we have made along the way.

The SCP is very well received by Singapore’s friends and partners. Over the past two decades, SCP has trained over 80,000 officials from 170 countries.


The philosophy behind the SCP is threefold. First, most simply, giving back to the international community is the right thing to do. We believe that all peoples have a right to social and economic development.

Singapore has benefitted in significant ways from technical assistance. When we attained self-rule in 1959, our government turned to the UNDP to develop an economic plan for Singapore. The UNDP led a survey headed by Dutch economist Dr Albert Winsemius. Dr Winsemius later became the Singapore government’s Chief Economic Advisor. Among his early suggestions was the creation of a one-stop investor agency – what we now know as the EDB – the key to our success that has brought several billions every year. He advised that Singapore establish a financial hub.

In our first decades we sought and received technical expertise in almost every sector. We benefitted from the advice of experts:

- from the FAO, the ILO, the ITU, and the WHO
- and also from the ADB and the World Bank

During the 1980s, as we sought to raise industrial productivity, we received substantial technical assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Even as Singapore has grown to become an advanced economy, we have not forgotten the help that we had received in the past. We see it as our duty to, in turn, make our contribution to help others in the international community reap the benefits of economic development. So we started the SCP – through which we share our expertise and experiences.

The second reason for the SCP is that it is in our enlightened self-interest.

That is to say helping other countries also helps Singapore. We are a small state and a price-taker in international relations. We cannot prosper in a turbulent and unstable environment. It is in our interest that our region is well-governed, prosperous, equipped to capitalise on globalisation, and attractive to international investment. Likewise, Singapore benefits when countries all around the world are well-equipped to deal with challenges such as financial crises, terrorism and pandemics. These threats are magnified by the inter-connectedness of our world today.

The SCP helps our neighbours, and also benefits Singapore. For example, a good part of the SCP is aimed at strengthening ASEAN. We have focused on subjects such as trade liberalisation and customs management so as to support ASEAN Community Building. Under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration, we have committed S$170 million to narrow the development gap. We have trained more than 50,000 officials from ASEAN. These resources will be spent on enhancing human resource and governance capacities of ASEAN countries. To reach more people, we have established training centres in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

An ASEAN that is economically integrated, strong, and coherent can better attract investments, create jobs, manage regional challenges, and be a platform to engage larger powers.

The third reason for the SCP is that it helps Singapore build friendships. On a personal level, the SCP alumni I meet overseas - senior officials - have pleasant memories of Singapore and of Singaporeans. Laotian DPM Thoungloun Sisoulith is an SCP alumni. Many have shared with me how SCP training had helped them in their work and opened their minds to new ideas.

On a country-to-country level, many appreciate Singapore’s consistent support in training and technical assistance. For a small country like us, it is important to have this international network of friends. They put us in a better position to defend our interests at the United Nations, and at other international organisations. In such forums, Singapore’s influence depends not only on our abilities and what we bring to the table, but also on the goodwill and trust that other countries have in us.


The SCP has been successful because Singapore has been successful. Our experience stands as a powerful example, because we have shown that a small country without natural resources can survive and thrive as long as it has good leadership, political stability, rule of law, well-run and forward-looking institutions, as well as sustained investments in its people. And also pragmatism, a willingness to learn from others, to constantly adapt good practices to local conditions.

We have limited resources and cannot meet all requests for assistance. At the same time, for the reasons I have earlier explained, we want to do more and can do more. We will provide smarter assistance. We will:

- concentrate our efforts in areas where we can make the greatest positive impact;

- use feedback to improve existing programmes and to customise new programmes;

- develop new courses and new capabilities;

- experiment with new tools such as Public-Private Partnerships;

- revitalise our network of partnerships with aid agencies, International Organisations, and other developed countries; and

- work even more closely with our “domestic” agencies in a Whole-Of-Government manner to tap their know-how and expertise to train foreign officials, even as they remain focused on providing services to Singaporeans as their first priority.

We have already started on this. In January this year, to support Myanmar’s efforts in reform, we put together an enhanced technical assistance package tailored to Myanmar’s present needs. In February, I signed an MOU with Hillary Clinton to establish the Singapore-US Third Country Training Programme, primarily in support of ASEAN’s community-building efforts.

We have also developed a new programme on sustainable development and climate change targeted at small island states and the least developed countries.

We are collaborating with the Chinese government on ways to share experiences on social management.


Apart from these initiatives, we have also been preparing a new fellowship programme. Under the SCP, we frequently customise visits to Singapore for foreign officials to observe how we deal with issues and challenges
of interest to them. In the process, they get to know us better, and understand us better.

Tonight, it is my pleasure to announce that MFA will be launching a new high-level Fellowship. This will help us to establish deeper links with leaders and opinion-shapers such as cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, mayors, journalists and academics from around the world. We will invite them to Singapore to exchange ideas, experiences and perspectives on current and long-term challenges.

We are naming this new high-level Fellowship the “S R Nathan Fellowship” to honour former President Nathan’s tremendous contributions to Singapore and to Singapore's foreign policy. Mr Nathan has helped Singapore make many friends during his long tenure with MFA and during his 2-term presidency. There is no better person whose achievements and spirit we would like to associate with this new and prestigious Fellowship.

We hope that this Fellowship will expand Singapore’s network of friends and advocates around the world.

Once again, I would like to thank Mr Nathan for joining us this evening,
for his many years of public service, and for having kindly consented to lend his name to this Fellowship.


Before I conclude, I wish to pay tribute to the many officers in the background who play important roles in the success of the SCP.

They include:

- Our partners from the various Singapore agencies and universities who have not only shared their professional expertise but have also taken time to tell SCP participants more about Singapore and our way of life;

- Our team of liaison officers who are the first and last people SCP participants see in Singapore. Thank you for making SCP participants feel at home; and

- Last but not least, the past and current staff in MFA’s Technical Cooperation Directorate. They have toiled behind the scenes to take care of logistical arrangements, to ensure the quality of content and curriculum, and to satisfy themselves that SCP participants are well looked after during their stay in Singapore.

All of you can be proud of what the SCP has achieved.

. . . . .

Mr K Shanmugam,
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law

Mr Masagos Zulkifli
Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

The memories of “yesterday’s men” are often lost in the sands of time – so the saying goes. Yet today, members of the Foreign Ministry have seen fit to discard such thoughts and honour me. I am deeply touched by their gesture – to name their distinguished new Fellowship under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) in my name. I want to thank Minister for Foreign Affairs and for Law K Shanmugam for the consideration he has shown towards me, in bestowing on me this honour, by which I am deeply humbled. It makes my return to MFA today, seeing so many friends and familiar faces, even more special and memorable.

I was part of the newly established Foreign Ministry in 1965. In the years that followed, I worked closely with our founding leaders as they led this new nation through troubled times on the road to independence. They painstakingly built the Singapore of today that so many applaud for its achievement – its transformation from Third World to First World.

In my career, I had felt the joys of success of our leaders’ endeavours during momentous moments in our founding history. But I also saw how they dealt with the lows of failures and mistakes. Their clarity of purpose and conviction to ensure that Singapore survives and thrives left a strong imprint on me. Those early years of growing pains were turbulent, and it was not easy to translate the passion and vision of our leaders to turn Singapore into a successful and independent nation. Working in the Foreign Ministry in those days was for me a very enriching experience.

But this fascinating story of Singapore’s past is not what this new Fellowship will seek to share with those who will visit us and spend time in this dynamic nation of ours.

I have visited many countries, met many people, and made many friends during my tenure in the Foreign Ministry and as Singapore’s President. Many of them wanted to know Singapore’s “secret” for its phenomenal development within one generation. They were keen to apply what we did in their countries so that they could emulate our success: whether to provide comprehensive social services to their people, to attract investments to develop their economy, or to adopt our best practices to build their human resources.

Like the leaders I met, many will come under the aegis of this Fellowship looking for answers to questions and models of administration and policy making that arose in our years of experience which they would consider worthy of adaptation. Questions on our transformation and the unexpected constraints that we faced as we progressed will be matters of interest to them. They will enquire about the compromises we made to principles of economic development and whether there were any critical transforming factors like harnessing modern technology that helped to hasten our transformation.

There will be others who would want to seek attachments with our principal economic and social agencies that play a key role in our way of making progress in different areas. They will seek opportunities to meet and discuss with leaders and officials their hands-on experiences in the progress of our political, economic and social development.

Having worked with the founding leaders of Singapore, I know that there was no secret recipe for success. The basic formula was, and still is, to have a realistic and hard-headed appreciation of our circumstances, paired with the political will to do things differently and make tough choices. Sometimes, this involved short-term pain for long-term benefits, in order to ensure that Singapore remains relevant to others and exceptional vis-à-vis our competitors. The main difference between then and now is that developments move exponentially faster in today’s inter-connected globalised world.

Many of our friends, including some big countries, are fully aware that Singapore is a small city state, and that our systems and development experience may not be so easily replicated in their countries. Yet, they still find it useful to visit Singapore to look at what we do to solve similar social, economic, technical or environmental challenges they face back home.

In a way, Singapore is to them a “living lab” for them to study not just how we moved from the Third World to the First, but also how we manage the new challenges development has brought us. For instance, how we constantly remake ourselves to sustain our competitiveness and how we manage the effects of a greying population, and preserve racial and religious harmony among our multi-racial people.

The Fellowship’s purpose has been amply explained in the address by Foreign Minister Shanmugam in launching this event. I have nothing to add to the purpose of the Fellowship, other than to express the hope that it will help participants gain some fresh insights and experiences from being with us, discussing the areas of their interest, and clarifying their doubts that may have arisen from their exchanges in the course of their stay in Singapore.

It is not our intention to use these interactions with visiting Fellows, to be just a one-way endeavour. I hope our colleagues in the public service will likewise make full use of their interactions with the participants of this Fellowship and make not only new friends, but also take an active interest to learn about their countries, their problems and their systems, and in return give them a better appreciation of Singapore and the road we took to be where we are today. We should also be humble in knowing that we do not have all the answers, and try to pick up new ideas and insights from them and others as well.

My message to the participants of this Fellowship is not to regard their visit to Singapore as a one-off contact, but the start of long and meaningful journey filled with conversations with their Singaporean counterparts that continues even when they return home. All these joint efforts must also go towards building stronger people-to-people ties between our countries and peoples.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the SCP on its 20th Anniversary and express my wish to see it continue to build on its record of its good work and in the years ahead, be useful to those who seek experience from its progress.

Thank you.

. . . . .

min_nathan_globe_web[Photo: MFA]

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