Meritocracy of skills?

Tharman budget 2014

By A Singaporean in Australia

“We must become a meritocracy of skills, not a hierarchy of grades earned early in life.” – Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Feb 2015

When a Deputy Prime Minister set a vision and does not fulfil it later, should he be regarded as a liar or an incompetent leader?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not laughing at the DPM’s quote. Not at all. Tharman seems to be a good man so let’s give him the benefit of doubt.

I am hoping that when the DPM is talking about balancing between life long skill sets and early head starts, he recognises the fact that the entire Cabinet is actually a hierarchy of grades earned early in life but not necessarily a meritocracy of skills, unless you consider the likes of pinching of fine quality tooth picks from restaurants as a skill.

In an ideal Tharman world, it will be nice that dexterous eye surgeons contribute to society by honing their impressive skills in operation rooms instead of busting a Youth Olympic Games budget elsewhere by three times, or close to S$200 million, enough to feed a legion of needy Singaporeans with hawker centre meals for years with just interest rates on that lump sum alone.

It will be nice that ex-generals in the army remain where they were and fight a war for Singapore if it eventually happens, instead of turning up as not so inspirational public leaders churning up one blooper after another. The same goes for individuals whom the public is unsure about how they cemented their places.

In an ideal Tharman world, he would be working in the position he is deputising for, since he has a better skill set for the role. Too bad, he lost it to a “hierarchy of grades earned early in life.”

This note first appeared on A Singaporean in Australia’s blog.