MAS among best regarded central banks: Tharman

Singapore - Credibility is the most precious asset that a central bank and financial regulator can have - and one the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has earned, Deputy Prime Minister and MAS chairman Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Tuesday.

"MAS is now one of the best regarded central banks and financial regulators in the world. And it is because of our people. Our people are very well regarded internationally and as an organisation we punch above our weight."

Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, was speaking at the launch of the MAS Gallery, a new permanent exhibition that explores MAS's role in Singapore's economy and financial sector; it was opened as part of the MAS's 45th anniversary celebrations.

In his 10-minute speech, he detailed MAS's transformation. For this, he paid particular tribute to MAS's pioneer leaders and staff, including its first chairman Hon Sui Sen and managing director Michael Wong Pak-Shong. "The MAS's credibility was founded in its early years," said Mr Tharman, noting that nine different offices and functions in government had to be moulded into one organisation.

Beyond the foundational years, he noted two other phases of MAS's evolution: the reorienting of monetary policy to one centred on the exchange rate, and the liberalising of the financial sector as it developed resilience.

He said of the 1980s and 1990s: "We were one of the few central banks that managed monetary policy by focusing exclusively on the exchange rate. It was not conventional, but it has worked."

The next phase, he said, involved the opening up of Singapore's financial sector, while also developing resilience.

"This seemed a contradiction in terms to many countries - liberalising and opening up but at the same time developing resilience in the financial centre. But we have achieved both. We have managed the tension between liberalisation and developing resilience. I think we've managed it rather well. If you look at what happened during the Asian Financial Crisis and subsequently, the Global Financial Crisis, we have come out as one of the safest financial systems in the world."

Apart from acknowledging the top-level leadership at MAS, the minister also commended its employees at all levels and stressed the need to continue the development of professional expertise. "MAS is a little different from some other parts of the government because it requires greater depth of expertise. We need serious specialists - people who spend years developing expertise and in particular fields of our responsibility. That too is behind our credibility, because you need some expertise to have credibility."

He noted that over the years, MAS has developed outstanding professionals, including its present managing director Ravi Menon and Foo-Yap Siew Hong, who has served for 39 years.

Of the more than 200 people who were at the MAS Gallery launch, about half were MAS pioneers - those who joined MAS between 1970 and 1980 and stayed 10 years or more.

Former top civil servant JY Pillay, who was MAS managing director from April 1985 to October 1989, told reporters that the exhibition would prove educational for Singaporeans young and old, in that it showcases how MAS conducts monetary policy, manages the official foreign reserves, issues currency notes and coins, supervises the financial sector and promotes Singapore as a financial centre.

The gallery occupies 480 square metres, and is located on level one of the MAS Building. Admission is free and visitors take self-guided tours of the exhibits.

This article was first published on Feb 17, 2016.
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