by Tan Kin Lian
Someone asked for my views about the apparent demotion of Tan Chuan Jin (TCJ) from minister to the Speaker of Parliament.
I do not know TCJ personally. From the views that I read in the internet, he seemed to be someone who is willing to speak his mind, which in his case is writing on his Facebook. He seemed to be well liked by the staff in his ministry as they gave him an unusual farewell by participating in a 6 km run with him.
A commentator wrote an article that seemed to criticize him for doing little to address the challenges faced by his ministry, which was in charge of social and family development.
My own observation was that he did not do much to address the challenges faced in his previous posting as the minister in charge of manpower.
To be fair to TCJ, I would say that the statement of “did not do much” applies to most of the ministers in LHL’s cabinet.
The challenges faced by the people are daunting. Most of the ministers did not seem to understand the real problems, let alone finding the solutions to these problems.
We are all aware about the problems faced in public transport, health, employment, security of jobs, over-population, slowing economy and high cost of living.
Most of the ministers in charge of these areas appear to be in hiding.
My friend told me that TCJ is a minister that does not appear to be “smart”, compared to some other ministers. The friend had met these ministers personally.
I find this comment to be irrelevant. Being “smart” is not the solution to our problems. I have no doubt that the prime minister (LHL) is one of the smartest persons in Singapore. However, he seemed to have made a mess of things during the past decade when he was the prime minister.
I consider the quality of humility to be as important, or perhaps more important than being smart.
A leader should be humble in knowing that he (or she) does cannot find the answers to many difficult problems by himself. He needs to listen to the views of other people, to the real experts in the field, to the staff working for him (who have to face the problems everyday) and to the public who feels the impact of these problems which are caused by his policies.
After getting the inputs, the leader should be “smart” enough to know which are relevant and which are not.
To find the solution to the problems, after they have been identified, the leader needs to know if similar problems have been faced by other countries and cities and how they went about addressing these problems. The leaders needs to be humble to learn from the experience of other countries and “smart” enough to know if the solutions could work in Singapore.
There are a few occasions where challenges faced in Singapore are really unique, and the experience of other countries are not likely to be relevant.
The leader then has to find the solution by trial and error, or what is described as “prototyping” in engineering. This approach requires an open approach, to be willing to tell the public about the uncertainty and to share the results of each trial and to hear inputs from the stakeholders.
On the important quality of being “humble”, I have to declare that most, if not all, of the ministers in Lee Hsien Loong (LHL)’s cabinet, failed miserably. The best word to describe their attitude is “arrogance”. They do not seek to hear the inputs of other people who are familiar with the issues. In fact, they ignore these inputs. They seem to think that they alone know the solutions.
I suspect that they get this attitude from observing the behavior of LHL himself. To be fair to LHL, perhaps their behavior comes from our education system which encouraged the elitist behavior.
Coming back to TCJ, I think he is unfortunate to be singled out for a weakness that seemed to be shared by most ministers. In fact, TCJ probably has a larger share of the quality of humility that is essential for success.
I hope that he will have the chance in the future to prove that humility and smartness are essential for our future success. I wish all the best to TCJ.