During a debate on the President’s address on Monday (14 May), Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore’s government will aim to find the best people to lead the country across the areas of political leadership, public service and the business community. He added that after identifying these individuals, they would be moulded into the best team possible.
The former army general added that “agreeing with [them was] not a pre-requisite” but a desire to “put Singapore first and foremost is the pre-requisite”. The leadership traits that are required are instead “commitment, teamwork, courage to evolve, a sense of mission”. Even as Singapore is already successful, peaceful and prosperous, this was a continuous process and they needed to continue trying.
Building on the achievements of past generation PAP leaders, the 4G Minister said that there is “absolutely no reason why our generation, which has so much more, cannot leave behind an even better Singapore for the next generation”. To do so, “diverse skillsets and perspectives” are needed so that the government could combine skills to “tackle challenges together, when circumstances change”.
The country also needed to keep up its “vitality and verve” and it was “our ambition and drive will determine how we progress as a nation in the next 50 years”. He added that it is “one thing to beat others in a competition, it is another to beat our own standards, even when we are at the top, so that Singaporeans have even better opportunities.”
Although Chan may be the Minister in charge of the civil service, it is otherwise unclear why a Minister for Trade would be speaking about attracting diversity into the government.
Inderjit Singh: Elite civil servants are parachuted into places and are out of touch with the ground
In a 2014 Facebook post, then PAP MP, Inderjit Singh, criticised the government scholars of today and said that they were out of touch with the ground.
While Mr. Singh acknowledged that the government had done a good job in certain areas, not all Singaporeans have benefitted from the system. This was because of a “decade long series of policy misjudgement” arising from the government’s ‘growth at all cost’ economic strategy.
He recalled that a 1967 interview that Dr. Goh Keng Swee had with the Straits Times where he mentioned that if the intelligentsia wanted “to make a contribution to society, they must first understand what kind of society they live in”. Yet he “has heard increasing complains… about a growing disconnect between them and the elite policy makers”.
He elaborated on how under LKY, the government “was well known for its long-term scenario planning” and would “considered all potential problems and would ensure that such problems are avoided”. Today, “complacency that has crept into the system” and cited examples such as the MCE fiasco, Little India riots, and the corruption cases “in the many government agencies”.
He attributed this to top civil servants were “hand-picked scholars who were chosen primarily on their academic achievements” and are “parachuted into high positions at a young age”. As a result, they “may lack the experience or understanding of the ground sentiment to effectively craft and implement policies that affect the majority of the population”
One of the policies that Mr. Singh took issue with was that of promoting medical tourism despite the hospital bed crunch. The MP said that he was shocked that “all our government restructured hospitals are involved in promoting medical tourism around the region” and said that these places should be “for Singaporeans and residents first”.
He also asked if “all the amenities and entertainment places we built in the last 10 years being enjoyed by mainly Singaporeans or by new arrivals and foreigners?” and if this is what we really want as a nation. He then urged the government “to remove this elitism from the policy-making process” and “encourage for policy inputs from all segments of society”.
Given Mr. Singh’s hard-hitting speech against the government’s practices of picking only those who are academically inclined, do you think anything has changed? Are Chan’s words mere rhetoric without any real substance?