SINGAPORE – Former senior minister S Jayakumar, who served in the Cabinets of all three of Singapore’s prime ministers, headed the list of more than 500 recipients of the National Day Award on Sunday (April 4).
Professor Jayakumar was conferred the Order of Temasek (With High Distinction), the nation’s highest civilian honour, for his “wide-ranging, invaluable, and unique contributions to the well-being and security of Singapore”.
The investiture ceremony, postponed from last year, was held at ITE College Central.
President Halimah Yacob, wearing a blue face mask, gave out the awards to recipients who were similarly masked.
Those receiving their awards were reminded not to shake hands, a practice that has become de rigueur amid the pandemic.
Guests in the audience, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as well as former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and former President Tony Tan, were also subject to safe management measures.
They had to undergo Covid-19 rapid-antigen tests and were seated a distance apart.
Prof Jayakumar, 81, was commended for having “given his entire life to the service of Singapore”.
He has served as diplomat and minister in a public service career spanning more than 30 years, and was a key negotiator and legal adviser in important issues involving Singapore’s neighbours, such as the Defence Cooperation Agreement and Extradition Treaty with Indonesia and the Pedra Branca dispute with Malaysia.
As a minister, he helmed a wide array of ministries from home affairs to law to foreign affairs.
Said the citation for his award: “Uniquely among public servants, Prof Jayakumar brought an exceptionally keen legal mind to bear on a considerable range of issues, from national security and foreign policy to political and constitutional developments.”
Long after his retirement from politics in 2011, he continues to provide advice on some of the most sensitive legal and diplomatic matters as Senior Legal Adviser to Minister for Foreign Affairs.
On the ceremony, Prof Jayakumar said: “It was an unusual personal experience because in my 30 years as a minister I attended this ceremony to witness others getting awards.
“I was immensely satisfied to be in the company of so many others from all walks of life who have contributed in their own ways, touched the lives of others and helped our country.”
Others who received top honours were social service stalwart, Mr Koh Choon Hui, 79, as well as one of the world’s foremost historians, Professor Wang Gungwu, 90.
Both were conferred the Distinguished Service Order.
Mr Koh, chairman of the Singapore Children’s Society since 1978, has nurtured several social service agencies in his four decades in the social service sector.
As Vice-President of the National Council of Social Service from 1994 to 2000, he also initiated a review of social service sector salaries, laying the groundwork for the sector to recruit and retain talented staff.
“His work has benefited many Singaporeans,” said the citation.
Prof Wang, founding chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and the former chairman of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and East Asian Institute (EAI), was recognised for his instrumental role in “developing world class research institutions in Singapore”.
The widely respected scholar has also published pioneering works on the history of China, South-east Asia, and East Asia, as well as the Chinese diaspora in South-east Asia and Singapore, providing invaluable insights for policymakers.
In a Facebook post after the ceremony, President Halimah said: “Our public service officers deserve this recognition and honour for their selfless contributions to Singapore’s development and growth in various sectors. I hope they will continue with their service to Singapore as we work towards the next phase of nation building.”