Khairulanwar Zaini / Andrew Loh
The last time Dr Chee Soon Juan crossed swords with Mr George Yeo was in 1996. The two had met at a Select Committee hearing specially convened to ascertain the Singapore Democratic Party’s assertions about healthcare costs in Singapore. Mr Yeo was then Minister for Health.
13 years on, the two men are again exchanging words – this time, in cyberspace.
On 8 August, Dr Chee posted an invitation on Mr Yeo’s Facebook page inviting the minister to an online debate, according to a report on the SDP's website. “I would like to extend to you the same invitation… to a debate on the key issues affecting Singaporeans,” Dr Chee said in his note.updates his Facebook daily, replied, “I am happy to engage as and when issues arise, but I do so as an individual without getting the PAP or MFA involved. Short responses, not long exchanges if possible. So far it has been fun for me and I hope to keep it that way. Hope you understand.”
Mr Yeo suggested Dr Chee wrote to the People’s Action Party if he wanted a formal debate. To this, Dr Chee asked Mr Yeo to pass on his request for a debate to the PAP secretary general at its next Central Executive Committee meeting. He also said he would write to Mr Lee Hsien Loong separately. Mr Lee is the Prime Minister and also the secretary general of the PAP.
Dr Chee, who addressed the minister by his name – “George” - then raised three concerns regarding ministerial salary, the Public Order Act and the operations of Temasek and the GIC.
To this, Mr Yeo referred to the “extensive debates in Parliament” over the issues and said that he did not think he could add much to, or subtract from. The minister added, “I am a little puzzled over this exercise. I fully associate myself with the responses given by ministers in Parliament on salaries and the Public Order Act. I hope you were not thinking that I would privately to you say otherwise.”
Dr Chee was however more interested in Mr Yeo’s “personal views” and asked whether Mr Yeo’s ministerial pay was “morally and economically defensible”. “Do you think you deserve the amount (it's nearly $3 million at last count, I believe) and are you comfortable with this knowing that the poorest of our poor whom you and your colleagues rule over are paid as little as $400 a month?” Dr Chee asked. “Economically is this just? Morally is it sustainable?”
He also raised the issue of public assembly. He pointed out that “PAP supporters (are allowed) to hold processions and assemblies while supporters of the opposition are not.” Dr Chee also sought Mr Yeo’s opinon on Ho Ching’s continued tenure in Temasek despite her presiding over a $40 billion loss.
Dr Chee said he was looking for Mr Yeo’s ‘thoughts and views, not those of (his) colleagues in Parliament’, instead of ‘non-answers’.
In Mr Yeo’s third reply, he affirmed that he “fully associate … with the responses given by ministers in Parliament on salaries and the Public Order Act”.
He assured Dr Chee that “there are many programmes” for Singaporeans facing hardship, adding that “as an MP, (he) address(es) their needs directly.”
He also defended Temasek’s performance. “On foreign visits, I often receive favourable comments about how Temasek is run. A number of countries actually hold Temasek up as a model to follow,” he said. He added, however, that with Charles Goodyear’s departure, Temasek “will have to go head hunting again.”
Minimum wage, Constitutional fairness & Transparency
To this, Dr Chee lamented the “many Singaporeans currently taking on full-time jobs who are paid so poorly that they cannot pay their bills, send their children to school, or live decent lives”.
He said that in light of the salaries that ministers draw, Singapore should “introduce Minimum Wage”.
Dr Chee also asked about the disparity of treatment when the so-called Tak Boleh Tahan protestors were arrested, compared to the protests held by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
He also reiterated that Temasek and the GIC were not transparent, and that Temasek’s statement on Chip Goodyear’s resignation left much to be desired.
“The transition failure between Ho Ching and Chip Goodyear exemplifies what I mean about the non-transparency issue,” Dr Chee said. “Other than a brief and general statement from Temasek, little else is known about why Chip did not continue as CEO. Can the Government be more forthcoming with information on this?”
The exchange continues.