By Ariffin Sha
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been granted leave from 13 – 21 June. It is routine for MPs, Ministers and even the Prime Minister to take leave from work but this one has raised some questions.
These questions circled around three areas – the strange selection of acting PM, the timing of the leave and the number of Cabinet members going on hiatus at about the same time.
Mr Lee’s Instagram post says that he will be heading to Hokkaido, Japan, to spend some time with his family. His wife, Ho Ching, is also in the midst of a 3-month sabbatical from her post as Exectuive Director of Temasek Holdings. Her sabbatical began on April 15.
Odd choice of Acting PM
Singapore has 2 Deputy Prime Ministers (DPMs), Mr Teo Chee Hean and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
In the past, when PM Lee went on leave, one of the two DPMs usually take over his duties in his absence.
However, during Mr Lee’s absence this time, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang will act as Prime Minister. He will share the role with Mr Teo at different times during Mr Lee’s trip to Hokkaido.
It is odd that, despite there being no news that DPM Tharman was on leave, the powers of the PM were not conferred on him.
Instead, a non-DPM was made acting Prime Minister.
The choice for Lim Hng Kiang raises critical questions on why Mr Tharman was not preferred to stand in for Mr Lee, as there was no indication that Mr Tharman would be away during that period. Was Mr Lim perhaps expected to close some important international trade deal on 13 June that Mr Tharman could not handle?
More importantly, what does the choice say of PM Lee’s confidence in and correct deployment of his Cabinet? The option to pick a Minister over a DPM should raise more than a few eyebrows.
Timing of absence
Singapore is just 2 days away from ending its duties as host of the 28th SEA Games.
During the Games, leaders from all walks of life – including Members of Parliament – went down to support our athletes. Our athletes too have flown the flag high by surpassing many records – both national and games – and even led in the medal tally at one point.
Mr Lee’s leave comes just 2 days before the end of the SEA Games, where the fight for the medal tally and many finals are held, where the support of public figures will speak volumes.
Also, his leave means that he will not be around for the closing ceremony of the SEA Games. This too reflects badly on the host nation as traditionally the head of state of host nations of international sporting events will be present at opening and closing ceremonies.
Could he not have waited a couple of days more before taking his leave? Granted, PM Lee might have very good reasons for departing so quickly, but these reasons were not given to assure citizens that he is not going away on anything more than a family break, which could have been delayed.
Block leave from Cabinet Members?
A visit to the Government Gazette also reveals that PM Lee was not the only member of his Cabinet to be granted leave at this time. In fact, no less than eight Ministers have been granted leave.
One neitzen even quipped that these Ministers were simply “clearing their leaves before the next GE (General Elections).”
It is perfectly fine to take leave from work, but the timing of the leave, especially at a time where we are playing host to the SEA Games, is very odd.
It’s hard to heed calls from the Cabinet to stay in Singapore during the National Day long holiday when the Ministers and even the PM himself do not lead by example by leaving Singapore during the final stretch of the SEA Games, which Singapore last hosted in 1993.