Picking up where Ong Teng Cheong left off

Ravi Philemon /

I said on my Facebook page a few days ago that “I am one of the many Singaporeans who urged him (Dr Tan Cheng Bock) to stand for the upcoming Presidential Election.”

I think that it is important to say why I support Dr Tan’s bid for the elected presidency.

Let me start by saying that I am not very young (neither am I that old), so I have followed Dr Tan’s work as a backbencher in Parliament and he has always struck me as an MP who speaks from his heart.

For example, in 1988, Dr Tan who then headed the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, suggested that the government consider extending CPF’s Extended Investment scheme to include education. He argued that education should be considered an investment in human resources which would result in a better educated, better skilled and better quality workforce.

Then Minister for Labour, Dr Lee Yock Suan, opposed it because he feared that CPF savings of members may be squandered in expensive studies at unknown foreign universities. The then MP for Kebun Baru, Mr Lim Boon Heng, objected to Dr Tan’s proposal on the basis that it was a populist move.

Dr Tan rebutted Mr Lim then by saying, “The MP for Kebun Baru called this a popular move, a popular issue.  Is it because you think it is popular, you think it is wrong to bring it up? Or are popular decisions wrong decisions?”

Dr Tan also spoke up against Singapore hospitals becoming more profit-oriented.  This he believes will alter the practice of medicine and the values of some doctors, leaving the door open to abuse. Noting that the 1993 White Paper on Affordable Health Care used the term ‘industry’ to describe medicine, Dr Tan lamented, “Medicine is (now) treated less as a profession and more as an industry.”

In 2005, during the re-emergence of dengue in Singapore, Dr Tan spoke up against the shortage of hospital beds.  He said, “If you say you have no choice but to turn away patients because of lack of beds and other resources, you haven’t planned enough.”

In 1993, when the government of Singapore, went on an overdrive on upgrading, Dr Tan urged restraint in basic areas like housing, education and health.  The government, he said, must continue to provide three-room apartments and ensure that there are sufficient ‘C’ class and ‘B2’ beds in public hospitals.

As far back as 1999, Dr Tan highlighted the growing resentment of Singaporeans towards ‘foreign talent’ in Parliament.  He urged the Government to tone down its insistence on the value of attracting foreign talent, “in order to protect our citizens and give them a better chance”.

In July 2002, when the Minister for Transport decided to hike public transportation fares, Dr Tan was one of the few in Parliament who urged a review of the price hike.

Yes, in 1987 Dr Tan seemed to have supported the detention of the alleged ‘Marxist conspirators’, but I believe that like most Singaporeans (including me) at that time, he believed the misinformation that was fed to him by the government of Singapore.  But what’s notable is that even then, Dr Tan did not brush aside those that detracted from his views (and the views of most Singaporeans at that time) by labelling them ‘Marxist sympathisers’, but instead acknowledged them as “solid citizens”.

More importantly, I urged Dr Tan to consider standing for the Presidential Election and intend to support him in his bid because as MP Inderjit Singh rightly said, “For Presidential Elections, there’s always been a candidate that the Government supports … it’s quite clear that we will be fully behind this person so it will be very awkward (to have Dr Tan in the contest).” This makes it even more important for ordinary Singaporeans like me to support Dr Tan in the contest.

In a culture where it is natural for any backbencher not to criticise the policies of their bosses aggressively (perhaps with an eye on the front bench and their own career path), Dr Tan is a rarity. His ears are on the ground, he is intellectual, he speaks his mind and he has won the respect of many Singaporeans.

The late President Ong Teng Cheong said in an interview, “Even in my last year as president, I was still not being informed about some ministerial procedures.”  I hope that Dr Tan, if elected, will finish this unfinished job of President Ong.

Why I support Dr Tan’s bid to be the Elected President of Singapore is because I believe what Dr Tan recently said, that he will be a “unifying figure for all Singaporeans of whatever political affiliation, race or religion.”


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