Excerpts from What Singapore Means to Me, by Devan Nair


Transcribed by Jess C Scott from Not By Wages Alone (Selected Speeches and Writings of Devan Nair, 1959-1981).

Full article at Singapore Repository.

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Excerpts from “What Singapore Means to Me” (1981)
by Devan Nair


Devan Nair:
Istana File Photo

(1) Presidents and Heads of State are expected to be nice and gracious to everybody. My doctors tell me that this will be good for my health. I have no doubt that it will also be good for my soul.

(2) I do not know what you feel when Majulah Singapura is sung on National Day. . .I struggle against tears of pride as I mentally scan the last 40 years. I know it is difficult for the younger generation of Singaporeans to appreciate the reasons.

(3) The difference between my generation and theirs is simply this: We were not merely ready to die for our beliefs. Many of us expected to die, whether in communal riots, or from the bullets and knives of communist assassins.

(4) Reading about hell, war, unemployment, imprisonment and riots in cold print is one thing. Living through hell, war, unemployment, riots and imprisonment is quite another.

(5) I remember how, during the bloody Hock Lee Bus riots in 1954, a student, hit by a stray police bullet, could have been saved. . .but communist united front cadres took the bleeding student on their shoulders and paraded him around the city. . .four hours later, [when] he was taken to hospital, he was already dead.

(6) It would be wrong to assume that there is nothing at all you can obtain from the founding generation of Singaporeans. There are certain constants in our collective social life, the preservation of which will ensure that the core of our society will not be corrupted by dry rot.

(7) These constants are the standards and values we rigorously subscribe to in our private and public lives, [which] include intelligence, [honesty] and integrity, social justice and fair play.

(8) More enduring and much harder to gain than popularity, is public respect.

(9) Moments of truth are devastating, for both individuals and nations, because they often come too late. The only way to avoid them, for leaders and citizens alike, is to try and be sincerely truthful all the time.

(10) I hope and pray [these standards] will remain some of the constants in our public life. You will jettison them only at grave social peril. You may exceed these standards and values. But it will be a betrayal of our people and their future if you settle for anything lower.

(11) If the future is to be secured, young persons of dedication, intelligence and ability should not shirk the responsibilities of leadership in the institutions of public life.

(12) In other countries, selfish clinging to power and office on the part of the ageing have been impediments in the path of able and intelligent members of the younger generation.

(13) The most obstinate stupidity in the world is that of old men who forget that they are mortal.

(14) The right to lead is not transferable. Leadership must be justified, deserved and won.

(15) In a democratic society, the instruments of leadership cannot be acquired through inheritance. . .the right to lead has to be fought for and won at the bar of public opinion.

(16) Our people are neither obtuse, naive nor gullible. They are a sophisticated lot. They have shown in the past that they can distinguish the genuine from the spurious, the sincere from the hypocritical. Their children will not be less discerning when they mature with experience.

(17) It is the sacred responsibility of able, intelligent, honest and dedicated members of the younger generation not to leave the leadership of the future to the vagaries of chance. If the best young people in our midst do not aspire to leadership roles, the field will be occupied by lesser persons. This would be a tragedy, for Singapore requires and deserves our best young persons to come forward.

(18) The lessons of history. . .remind us that where self-renewal is left to haphazard chance, the decision-making process in society [passes] into the province of fickle and irresponsible gamblers with destiny, [wastefully extravagant] with the nation’s wealth. They then proceed to mortgage the future, and generations to come will continue to pay for their follies of omission and commission.

(19) The greatest contribution you can make to the nation is to so constitute yourselves as to become a potent force for the national good. No individual can prosper if the society in which he lives and works goes down the drain. . .it is the quality and motivation of the individual which determines the quality of achievement of society as a whole.

C.V. Devan Nair, in What Singapore Means to Me (1981)

Excerpts from Not by Wages Alone, by Devan Nair


Transcribed by Jess C Scott from Not By Wages Alone (Selected Speeches and Writings of Devan Nair, 1959-1981).

Full article at Singapore Repository.

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Excerpts from “Not by Wages Alone — Reflections on the Elimination of Strife in Industry” (1972)
by Devan Nair


Mr. Devan Nair bidding farewell to NTUC staff members in 1981, the year he became President. — ST FILE PHOTO

(1) But there is a bit too much of artificial euphoria in our Republic, what with the seeming economic boom. . .and so on and so forth.

(2) The survival of a small nation state like Singapore depends on the degree to which we achieve integration at all levels — national integration of different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups; educational and social integration so that each individual feels part of the national larger community; integration of development efforts involving the tripartite association of Government, entrepreneurs and labour.

(3) Now, if you regard the wage motive as the sole motivation that a worker is capable of, then it stands to reason that he will try and conform to your expectation. There will be no place in his thinking for solidarity of interests with the enterprise he works in, for pride of achievement, for job satisfaction and other satisfactions.

(4) If the commercialism of the labour market treats the worker as a mercenary, then a mercenary he inevitably becomes.

(5) One may expect wages and salaries, however, to be increasingly determined in future years on the basis of general guidelines laid down by the National Wages Council, having regard to the performance and the growth rate of the national economy as a whole. This should help to remove fears that incomes of workers in the Republic do not keep pace with economic growth and capacity.

(6) Wages and salaries are not the sole determinants of either the quality of production or of the quality of our society.

(7) The worker has a right not only to a decent wage. He has also a right to expect, and a civilised society owes this to him, that his work will provide him with satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. To regard the worker as nothing more than a wage slave enhances neither productivity nor the quality of our society. It merely diminishes the one and depraves the other.

(8) The successful personnel manager is one who can steer both management and workers to a shared sense of partnership in production, and is able to promote a sense of loyalty and of belonging to the enterprise on the part of the workers and of genuine concern for the progress of the undertaking as a whole.

(9) The improved industrial climate and the higher productivity. . .will be something quite beyond the reach of the old tribe of bullying drill-sergeant supervisors, whose only measurable achievements are man-hours lost, and not man-hours gained.

(10) If desirable changes for the better are to take place in our present system and concepts of industrial relations, we require to have our forerunners to scout the possibilities of improvements in the future. [Singaporeans] must be their own forerunners into the future.

C.V. Devan Nair, in Not By Wages Alone (1972)

Excerpts from The Emerging Elite, by Devan Nair


Transcribed by Jess C Scott from Not By Wages Alone (Selected Speeches and Writings of Devan Nair, 1959-1981).

Full article at Singapore Repository.

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Excerpts from “The Emerging Elite” (1973)
by Devan Nair


Devan Nair:
Istana File Photo

(1) The shortcomings, weaknesses and foibles of the elite have their reactions on the ground. . .there should be periodic and public assessments of ground level reactions to them.

(2) What distresses me is the feeling that, at ground level, the new elite in Singapore appear to be generally regarded, not as the inspiring social leaders they ought to be, but as somewhat odious but necessary evils.

(3) There is a very vital reason why our new elite should take a hard look at themselves, the image they project to the ground, and their social values, or more correctly, what strikes the ground as their lack of social values. . .in order to rule and to lead effectively, there is a fundamental pre-requisite. And this is the acceptance by the ground of [the] aspirants to political and social leadership in Singapore.

(4) It is important to appreciate, however, that Lee Kuan Yew and Co. belong to a freak generation. In fact, as individuals, they were quite unrepresentative of the great majority of their social class. . .in more senses than one, [they] are the creators of the vibrant and bustling Republic we know today. However, freak generations are never repeated by history. Indeed, it sometimes happens that their work is undone by those who inherit their mantle of leadership.

(5) One unpleasant side-effect has been the creation of [an] elite with an enormous appreciation of their own financial value and a singular lack of any larger social consciousness or commitment. The success syndrome has engendered in many of them, not loftier and more worthy social drives, but baser and narrowly personal and selfish appetites.

(6) Excessively self-centred, [the new elite’s] primary concern seems to be the constant enhancement of their own market value, and the extra perks they can get for themselves.

(7) What [people on the ground] do resent is the lack of any tangible signs of general social concern or commitment on the part of the new elite. . .flamboyant life styles, and vulgar displays of affluence and spending power, do not endear the elite to the ground. They only estrange.

(8) The fact remains that an elite in any society must be a minority. And the sole social and political justification for an elite, in the long run, is the degree to which they can lead and inspire a whole society to higher levels of achievement. If they fail to do this, and are content merely to serve themselves and feather their own nests, there can be only one end-result — social and political instability in the Singapore of the future.

(9) It would be much easier for members of the emerging elite in Singapore [if] they took their own market value a little less seriously, and concentrated much more on widening and deepening their social values and commitments.

(10) What is called for is less of the cocktail circuit and more of the community circuit. . .all this must be done sincerely. For nothing smells more rankly to ground level noses than insincerity and hypocrisy at the top.

(11) After all, it requires only a little reflection on the part of our emerging elite to help them restrain their own selfish concerns. The simple truth is that they are where they are today, with their enhanced market value and special perks, because of the discipline and wage restraint exercised by the working population.

(12) The elitist aspirants to the future leadership of Singapore must be educated to realise that to be accepted as leaders of society, they must be clearly seen to be giving of themselves, their time and their energies, in a whole-hearted way, to the community. Those who choose only to receive, but not to give, will deserve, not the crown of leadership, but the failure of the Singapore effort to create a more just and a more equal society. It will be a failure which will be placed squarely at their doors.

C.V. Devan Nair, in The Emerging Elite (1973)