25 August 2016
There might not be a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) today if not for Mr S R Nathan’s success in turning it around in the late 1970s and instituting various practices that still stand today, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday (Aug 24) as he paid tribute to the former President’s leading role in crucial chapters of the nation’s foreign policy.
Speaking at a remembrance ceremony at MFA yesterday afternoon, Dr Balakrishnan noted that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had put some of the best men into the Ministry shortly after Singapore’s independence and Mr Nathan himself was transferred from the union movement to MFA in 1966.
A year later he became a Deputy Secretary and after a brief stint outside, Mr Nathan came back to MFA as First Permanent Secretary from 1979-1982.
“He was given two years in which to make a difference, failing which the Prime Minister intended to disband MFA, and we would become part of the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
… Three pioneer Foreign Service Officers who worked closely with Mr Nathan — Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan, Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong and Mr Chew Tai Soo — also delivered eulogies.
… Mr Ong said he learnt several things from Mr Nathan.
“First, no job is too big or too small. Second, there are two sides for everything. He believed that all MFA officers must be able to do the strategic thinking and writing as well as the administrative and operational chores,” said Mr Ong, who served as deputy to Mr Nathan in Kuala Lumpur and Washington DC.
“His diplomatic skills and energy level left me panting for breath very often,” said Mr Ong, recalling how Mr Nathan had paid for a professional music teacher to polish up the singing of the MFA staff in Kuala Lumpur when he found that they did not sing Majulah Singapura well enough.
“The fact is this is a humble ordinary man who became a super achiever with his guts, instincts and tenacity. He was so natural. But he continuously drew on each episode of his fascinating life to be a better person and an extraordinary leader of our community.”
RSIS / Online / Print
Last updated on 25/08/2016