Labour chief Chan Chun Sing speaks at the Temasek Polytechnic graduation ceremony (Source: The Straits Times).

Spotlight on Singapore’s 4th generation ‘leaders’: How effective is Chan Chun Sing?

by Kwok Fangjie

When it comes to Singapore’s 4th generation of political leaders, one of the more prominent faces is that of Minister Chan Chun Sing. A former Chief of Army, he has held a number of key positions across various ministries:

2015 – Present: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office
2015 – Present: Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress
2015 – Present: Deputy Chairman of the People's Association
2013 – 2015: Minister for Social and Family Development
2013 – 2015: Second Minister for Defence
2011 – 2012: Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports
2011 – 2012: Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts

While he has been in the spotlight recently for delivering some brilliant speeches at both the S R Nathan Hard Seats lecture and the World Economic Forum, little light has been cast on his performance as a politician since achievements in his current appointment remains inaccessible to public eye.

Nonetheless, we are able to draw from his past portfolio as the Minister of Social and Family Development to get a glimpse into his effectiveness as a political leader.

How effective was he Minister of Social and Family Development?

As the Minister of Social and Family Development, Minister Chan has maintained in parliament that there would be no change to an effectively discriminatory policy where single mothers only get half the paid maternity leave of married mothers. After much backlash against his remarks, this policy only later revised by his predecessor Tan Chuan-Jin in 2016.

From his Wikipedia profile, Minister Chan’s key accomplishments include launching 23 social offices to “bring social assistance touch points closer to the populace”. Despite this, a ‘mere’ $84.07 million was disbursed via Comcare to 28,409 unique households and 65,910 unique individuals according to the latest available annual report, a tiny drop in the overall Ministry’s budget.

Minister Chan has also revised the tender evaluation process for childcare centres in HDB estates in the aim of keeping rental costs in HDB estates affordable. Despite this, childcare centres have increased their fees by 5 to 10% per annum for both 2017 and 2018, much higher than the general inflation rate.

While the Minister of Family and Social Development is a role that is not as prominent as that of the Defence or Finance Minister, much remains to be done for Singapore’s lesser well-off. Our Gini co-efficient remains high while the poor are struggling to get by, according to a widely shared article by the BBC. That Minister Chan had 2 years at the helm but did not deliver anything substantial is something that we should consider.

A more recent ‘contradiction’?

After a woman convicted of reckless driving was told off by a judge for asking her MP to write a letter to the courts, Minister Chan – acting as the party whip – said it was the “MP's duty to help his residents whenever possible” and letters may be director to the Attorney-General if charges have not been brought against a person.

An contrary view was then presented by retired district judge Low Wee Ping, who wrote to the Straits Times’ forum saying that the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew told all MPs that they should not be writing letters to the courts. To this, Minister Chan changed his view and said that “PAP MPs have as a norm refrained from writing to the Courts on behalf of their constituents”.

How will things develop moving forward?

While criticisms are not specially targeted at Chan, academics question the quality of Singapore’s future leaders as the concept of political succession gains traction.

Political science academic and researcher Bridget Welsh commented that “none of the younger leaders have their own base of legitimacy” while Professor Michael Barr from the Flinders University believes that the 4th Prime Minister would be hard pressed to “have an original idea between them”.

What do you think?

Editor's note - Despite the lacklustre achievements by Chan, I still think Chan is the better off choice compared to the other cabinet members (other than Tharman). From what I have been hearing, Chan has better human relationship skills and have a good relationship with his grassroots. He is also able to listen to ideas proposed by his subordinates on how to resolve issues and not someone who simply do the things the way he wants. One example is how he managed to outwit his competitor, Tan Chuan Jin during the army days in the wargaming to determine who is chief. I will not state how he managed to do so but the idea came from the tech team assisting him. This is collaborated by two separate sources who were involved in that incident.