Honour in Singapore – About chairman Lim Siong Guan

“Honour in Singapore” is a mini series by TOC following the recent formation of the Honour (Singapore) non-profit organisation, made up of distinguished individuals closely related to the government and a far-right Christian group. The series will explore some of their profiles, and bring to light what the group meant by “promoting a culture of honour and honouring” in Singapore.

By Ghui

The inception of Honour (Singapore) has unsurprisingly raised quite a few eyebrows. Much of the skepticism has arisen over the purpose, motivation or plans for a soceity such as this. Given that the content of its website is couched in vague and general language, it is difficult to guage the specifics of what the group hopes to achieve.

The website states that Honour (Singapore) seeks to promote a culture of honour and honouring but does not elaborate on how it intends to do this.

Besides, what does honour even mean? While the word honour is synonymous with a whole hosts of postive traits such as integrity and righteousness, the actions that are taken in the name of such traits are often diverse and subjective. For instance, in certain cultures, it is perfectly normal to murder your wife or daughter for committing adultery to uphold the family honour. To most in the developed world however, this would be considered an abhorrent crime. The choice of the word “honour” with scant information on the actions that would be undertaken to uphold that “honour” is therefore curious and begets confusion.

In the absence of further clarity, I would like to examine the board members deeper to gain some insights on what the possible motivations behind this group could be, beginning with the group’s chairman, Mr Lim Siong Guan.

Lim’s CV and record of public service is certainly impeccable. A former President’s scholar, Lim held various high profile postings – head of the Singapore civil service; first principal private secretary to PM Lee Kuan Yew; chairman of various government agencies such as the Accounting And Corporate Regulatory Authority, Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore and Central Provident Fund Board; board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore; and currently the Group President of GIC. He was even one of the three-member Presidential Elections Committee who reviewed the qualifications of former President SR Nathan.

With his impressive track record in government service, and no doubt having a career that is molded by the same political and governance system, might it be safe to assume that Lim would share the conservative values of old-school People’s Action Party methodology? If so, it is likely that his views of “honour” would likely mean upholding the values associated with the PAP.

In fact, in a speech he apparently delivered at the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship annual dinner in 2004, while he was still the head of the civil service, he provided his view on how the response of citizens toward the government must be grounded in submissiveness, and in overtly religious undertones to boot.

“Things are changing in Singapore. People are much better educated than a generation ago, much more self-confident, much more demanding of government and of fellow citizens…

How is the government reacting to this? Certainly, it is doing its best to make the best possible future for Singapore, planning, anticipating, engaging, connecting and mobilising.

What is the Christian’s role in this? Just leave the government alone, and ask very strongly that the government leave you alone?

God created two institutions to maintain order in the world. One is marriage, which is why Christians must have clear views about the role of marriage and family and not be driven by the views and inclinations of the world.

The second institution is government. As Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-4: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong…””

It is important to note that although Lim was then still the head of the civil service, he made the speech in his personal capacity. As such, it would be reasonable to believe that he still holds these values where he is today.

Indeed, this theme of “fear of God and authority” seems to run consistently in Lim’s life and career. In an interview with his alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School, just as he was leaving his post as the head of the civil service, he had this to share:

“…there is one thing absolutely critical for me personally in my work, and that is the “fear of God”… It is one thing to join the public service and subscribe intellectually and even by action to these values. It is another when you know that the driving force to observe those values in the way you lead your people run your organisation and relate to those around you, is the inner motivation based on being true to Jesus Christ and His Word… As a public officer, I must treat all people equally, irrespective of race, language or religion, but the drive to serve with excellence and the way I treat people comes from Christ.”

Honour (Singapore) chairman Lim Siong Guan clarifying on media queries (image - STOnline).
Honour (Singapore) chairman Lim Siong Guan clarifying on media queries (image – STOnline).

Lim recently denied categorically that Honour (Singapore) had Christian inclinations, despite the fact that all the members of the board are also senior members of the Full Gospel Business (FGB) Singapore, a group that believes in bringing the Christian teachings to the “marketplace” and all levels of society. The fact that Honour (Singapore) and FGB Singapore share the same office was also downplayed as a matter of convenience.

However, while we might not think too much about what Lim now claims to be a misunderstanding, we do need to question if Lim might harbour Christian underpinnings in his work with Honour (Singapore), given that he has personally vouched for its influence in Singapore society at large.

If so, then the implications that this might have on Singapore as a secular society is indeed of concern. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with Lim being a committed Christian, it is important to note that his religious views might now affect his idea of “honour” and those views might not be congruous with that of other religions or communities in secular Singapore.

To add, Honour (Singapore) is likely to have the unfettered support of the government, or at least many of its Ministers, in the implementation of its as-yet unknown activities. Has the group’s leaders thought about the sensitivities that such relationships might have on the social fabric?

The fact that he needs the media to probe him on the relationships between FGB and Honour (Singapore) is also not a good indicator. Given the recent unhappiness over the infusion of religious groups into secular society, should Lim not have thought that the relationships might ring an alarm bell, and be open about it right from the beginning?

Top image – Honour (Singapore) website

The “Honour in Singapore” series includes:

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  • Alwyn Ng

    I adopt “wait and see”. Am happy more people want to contribute to Singapore. We all have our particular worldviews, be it Christian, Muslim, Secular Humanist, Buddhist etc.
    If they have good records, why slow down their IPC? If they do not prove their worth, it can always be removed later. It is giving due credit for past work. Is it necessarily fairer or better for Singapore to ensure that their IPC is the same speed as a new guy on the block who has not had the experience running organisations? Why slow down potential good work by people with good track records?
    We may also want to relook at how “secular” is defined. Most Singaporeans are religious. I don’t think those of us who are religious want “secular” to mean that religious views hold no water. Perhaps “secular space” can mean that competing views for the betterment of society are given the space to present itself so that the wider society which holds to no particular affiliation can then make better choices. After all, Singapore is maturing and we should hone our skills at discerning between choices.
    I am fine with Muslims/Buddhists/any group coming together to form groups on how to engage the common space so long as it is done in a civilized manner.
    For those who are wondering. I am a Christian. I know the people in Honour Singapore only by their reputations and am not personally acquainted with them.