by: Jewel Philemon/
For our team, which included youths who are not as familiar with Dr Tan, the interview which we had come to conduct and it’s equally interesting pre-interview conversation proved to be an eye-opener into the man who spoke up for his convictions and dared to stand by them.
Doc, as he is fondly called, regaled us with stories of his “enriching” childhood at the Ama Keng Kampong. He recalls his time as a scoutmaster and says that those were some of his best years in life.
He later named his clinic in Jurong East after his beloved neighbourhood: Ama Keng Clinic. He recalls times when his patients offered him fresh eggs or even pigs in lieu of money for medical fees. He adamantly states that he refuses to let go of his medical practice after all these years as he has too many old friends who insist that he be their doctor.
Dr Tan was full of laughter when we reminded him of a comment made by his childhood friend, Ms Joan Fong, in which she said, “he (Dr Tan) is not an intellectual like George (George Yeo). But he is a medical doctor.” Dr Tan candidly says, “I never said I am an intellectual. But I am a practical man. I can solve problems. If I see a problem, I can zero in on it and solve it. No need intellectual. Just common sense.”
He also shared anecdotes of his time as a Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah constituency. Dr Tan was one of the few PAP members who was considered ‘his own man’ in Parliament. He most notably spoke up against Singaporean hospitals becoming more profit-oriented and the shortage of hospital beds during the re-emergence of dengue in 2005. Dr Tan also famously butted heads with the then Minister for Labour, Dr Lee Yock Suan, when he suggested that the government consider extending CPF’s Extended Investment Scheme to include education, which the latter opposed.
When asked what he thinks were his major contributions to his party, Dr Tan says, “I tried to soften the image of the PAP.” He shared an interesting analogy with us where he compared the PAP with himself and his son, “I remember I took my son to the Botanical Gardens and when we got there, I was so excited to see the flowers that I rushed ahead. When I turned back, there was my son sitting on a rock asking me, ‘Dad, why did you leave me behind?’ This is what I think the PAP is facing now. In their haste to make progress, they are leaving the ordinary citizens behind.”
It is extremely heartening to see that Dr Tan is very much in touch with the sentiments on the ground with his spot-on analogy of the current situation between the government and the people of Singapore. Many Singaporeans will surely agree with his vivid imagery depicting how the Singapore government is on a speeding train which many ordinary Singaporeans fail to catch or simply fall off from.
Despite his many celebrated achievements in Parliament, Dr Tan seem to have recently earned the netizens' ire because he supported the preventive detention of the alleged Marxist conspirators in 1987.
During the interview, he explained why he ‘supported’ the infamous detention, “I believed the information that was given to me from the government at that time. I saw that the people believed that they were conspirators as well. As Feedback Unit Chief, I could not let my own feelings dilute the general consensus, which I presented in Parliament.”
When asked whether he still feels the ‘Marxist conspirators’ are guilty, Dr Tan says with a tone of sincerity, “I really feel they are innocent. They are all social workers and they meant well but unfortunately...(trails off)”
He adds, “I saw the ex-detainees and I really do feel for them. But at that time I believed the information that was given to me.”
So will he continue to be his own man, if elected as President?
Dr Tan says, “I would like to be a unifying figure for all Singaporeans. I think I have that independent streak. You must have checks and balances. If not, Singaporeans will be very unhappy. One thing I see is a hunger for fairness. I can give an assurance that there will be more transparency in government. I refuse to compromise. I won’t compromise on things I don’t believe in.”
Throughout the interview, Dr Tan came across as 'ballsy' man. A 'ballsy' man who is under no illusions about the powers vested on the Elected President.