Retiring Ministers praised for good work by PM, but remembered by people for their unforgettable quotes

Speaking at the appreciation dinner for Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Mr Lim Swee Say and Mr Lim Hng Kiang on Wednesday(30 May), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that political renewal has always been a key priority for the People’s Action Party (PAP).

The premier said that it was “particularly difficult” for his Cabinet to lose “70 years of solid, battle-tested experience” with leaders who “still have much to contribute”. Nonetheless, he appreciated that they have “graciously agreed to retire” so that there can be progress in leadership renewal.

“We cannot wait until our generation runs out of steam before handing over the reins to the next generation”. The Prime Minister said.

He stressed that it was crucial for politicians to identify with the current generation, earn the trust those they serve, respond to their needs and to help them achieve their aspirations. “Only then can the leaders and the people work together to set new directions for Singapore, and create new possibilities for the future”.

Yet – for all his talk – there seems to be a difference between rhetoric and reality.

PM first thanked Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim for making “a big difference” to the lives of Singaporeans during different stints with various ministries. Despite this, Yacob has admitted to some serious failures during his stints as the Minister for Communications and Information & Minister for Environment and Water Resources.

In an interview with Channel News Asia last month, Dr Yaacob expressed his regrets for a 2013 fire that took place at Singtel’s Bukit Panjang Internet exchange which broadband services for eight days. There were procedural lapses found, while the Minister himself conceded that the “system [was] vulnerable” with him at the helm.

Dr. Ibrahim also regretted making a statement in 2010 after the massive flooding of Orchid Road that such flooding occurs “once in 50 years”. Later, he explained that that was a “concept for hydrology” and refers to “a probability that this event can occur. But it doesn’t mean that it cannot happen tomorrow”.

On the controversial regulation introduced in 2013 which required websites to pay a $50,000 bond to the government,  Dr Yaacob said during an interview with BBC that the MDA regulations are crafted in “the interest of ordinary Singaporeans”, to enable them to “read the right thing” when they log on.

PM Lee then went on to say that Mr. Lim Swee Say was “practical, persuasive and effective”. Given that the latter spent 11 years as a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office from 2004 to 2015, there was no concrete policy for him to be judged upon. Nonetheless, his public comments do not appear to identify well with the ground.

Mr Lim raised eyebrows from netizens in 2013 when he confessed in taking half a box of Din Tai Fung toothpicks everytime he visits its restaurants because the toothpicks are so good that he “can never resist”,

As the NTUC secretary-general, he caused a considerable backlash at the height of the financial crisis when he famously said that “Every month, when I receive my CPF statement, I feel so rich and the best part is, I know the CPF money won’t run away. CPF will still be around for a long, long time to come… Not only is it earning good interest, my capital is protected.”

And who can forget his quotes, such as “Better, Betterer and Betterest” and “Cheaper, Better and Faster” economy.

Later in the 2015 General Elections, he drew flak for belittling other countries’ economic progress when he said that he was fortunate not to be a Chinese or Malaysian citizen. “If my father had not taken that boat to Singapore, today I might be a Chinese citizen. Heng ah!” before adding that “So I am thinking, if we didn’t separate in 1965, today you and I would be Malaysians, Heng ah,”

PM Lee finally praised Mr. Lim Hng Kiang as someone whose point of view is always rational and incisive, and that his proposals are always pragmatic and with a human touch.

Yet, back in 2001, Dr. Lily Neo asked if it would be monies in women’s Medisave accounts that could be used for breast cancer screening as it was the “most frequent killer of Singapore women”. Mr. Lim replied that there were subsidized mammograms at polyclinics where women had to co-pay a $50 fee.

After further debate, the then Minister for Health responded that his usual reply was “save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening”. This resulted in such a heavy backlash that he took on a low profile and conceded that the memory “still lingers… I’m not a good communicator as you know by now. To get around it, I turn to Cabinet colleagues and MPs with better communication skills.”