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Think-tanks must be objective: Shanmugam

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Home Affairs and Law Minister explains crucial role of think-tanks in S'pore

Think-tanks may disagree with the Government, but they must not do so under the influence of a foreign country, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

While such institutions play an important role - to explore issues civil servants may not be able to - they must maintain an independent stance.

"Objectivity is critical," he said at a forum by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

His remarks come shortly after an academic was rapped for working with a foreign government to influence Singapore's foreign policy.

Dr Huang Jing, 60, who was from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, had his permanent residency cancelled this month after the Home Affairs Ministry labelled him "an agent of a foreign country".

While Mr Shanmugam did not refer to a specific case, he said it was unacceptable for academics to be "suborned" and to project views of a foreign country "under the guise of objectivity and academic freedom", with a hidden agenda of influencing Singapore's policies.

He said academics do so because they are "working with foreign intelligence" or because they are "seduced by them".

He was responding to a question about the role of think-tanks and businessmen in foreign relations.

Mr Shanmugam said the late deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee set up think-tanks to provide fresh perspectives and prevent groupthink.

Dr Goh pictured think-tanks challenging the Government's views at times and being knowledgeable, objective and clear.

"Dr Goh would certainly turn in his grave if he thinks that the think-tanks he set up or was responsible for have become instruments of influence for other countries," he said.

He added that think-tanks should challenge the Government "where (the Government) needs to be challenged".

Academics ought to be "real scholars and put forward (not just) scholarly viewpoints, but practical ones, that help the country".

Turning to businessmen, he said they played a key role in expanding Singapore's gross national product and in building good economic relations with other countries, which helps Singapore's foreign relations.

But both businessmen and the Government should "understand where the line is drawn", and the Government cannot take the advice of businessmen due to the different perspectives.


K ShanmugamBusiness