Answering to a question from the audience about what he feels about the difference between the new and old generation of leaders of People’s Action Party (PAP), Dr Tan Cheng Bock shared that the leadership of current Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong is unlike his father, late Lee Kuan Yew in many ways.
Dr Tan was sharing his views on the elected presidency and what it means for Singapore forward at the Kent Ridge Guild House, in a forum by Future of Singapore (FOSG) on Sunday (16 Dec).
FOSG is a local registered company which aims to spur discussions among Singaporeans on how to move the country forward by sharing views and information from subject matter experts and influential figures.
Dr Tan, a former PAP MP and near-winner in the Presidential Election 2011 shared that he had not been a compliant MP for the party who does not toe the party line and will always air his views.
The only thing that was keeping him there was that the PAP leaders did not expect him, the only backbencher to be elected by the PAP cadre to go into the Central Executive Committee, something which should not be possible in the PAP system as members are told who they should vote for. In that particular year that he was elected, the nomination was left open for nomination from the floor, he was nominated and won very big.
Dr Tan shared that many times the PAP leaders told that they will be sacking him but never did so because they knew that he has no hidden agenda and that his agenda is very clear, which is the country comes first.
“When I always stand up, they are very shocked why I vote against.” Citing the Nominated Members of Parliament(NMPs) which he voted against, saying that the people do not want these NMPs to speak on their hobby subjects.
He then turned to state that he also publicly objected the appointment of Ho Ching as the head of Temasek Holdings.
“The wife of the Prime Minister should be an important position, there must be no element of conflict, should be someone who is very neutral but we put her in charge of a government institution like Temasek. Very very dangerous, I see it but they don’t.”
He said that he feels that there will be a lot of conflict of interest and he thinks history has shown that there have been conflicts of interest.
Worried leadership because all of the same mold
Dr Tan commented that the current leadership is worried, worried because their radar is out of place.
“There is a lot of difference between here. Leadership very stable during Lee Kuan Yew. He had many scouts, they are all not from the same mold, all from the grounds, later on, they had a lot of academics from the civl service.”
“Lee Kuan Yew took the trouble to get someone to come and find , not only me but a group of us.”
They all think very all together, because they came from the same mold. Told many of my friends, if they are all one kind, they are going to die.
But when you have not many options to take, that will be disastrous, the current leadership is very different from the time I was.
Dr Tan recalls being told by LKY, that he doesn’t want Yes man. “So that’s why I went in, although I have a very checked history from the days of army.”
Dr Tan also shared that he got a shock of his life when the Oxley saga was debated in parliament.
He said that the Parliament is not the right place, “why did you allow it? Should go to court to settle it.”
“What does it indicate for the leadership, if many of us were in parliament, we would have objected to it. Things have changed.”
LKY will never run away from a fight
Citing the debates in the amendments to the elected presidency, Dr Tan said, “Lee Kuan Yew will never run away from any fight. Even if he was in the wrong he will challenge you.”
He noted that in the first debate on the matter, PM Lee said something about taking an advice from the Attorney General, however, when the matter of advice was questioned by Member of Parliament, Sylvia Lim, it was Deputy Teo Chee Hean who answered on his behalf. And when DPM Teo was questioned on the matter by Ms Lim, Minister Chan Chun Sing answered on his behalf. And when Minister Chan was questioned by Ms Lim, it was Minister of Law and Home Affairs who answered on his behalf.
Dr Tan said, “To me this is ridiculous, you make a stand, you answer for it, you don’t run away from it.”
Dr Tan also recalled another experience during his days in Parliament being walloped as a defiant PAP MP.
At one of the parliamentary sessions, Dr Tan took issue with the primary school text books produced by the Ministry of Education. Producing the textbooks at parliament, Dr Tan took out a page from the primary school textbook and asked the Ministers and MPs if they knew what “Vegetative Propagation”, and questioned the ministry on its concept of teaching.
After his speech, Dr Goh Keng Swee who was then Minister of Education, chased him around the house and reprimanded him, “Young man, you did a wrong thing, don’t scold me in public. But you did the right thing, I will get it changed.”
“This is the quality of our old leader, prepared to accept that they are wrong and ready to change.” said Dr Tan.