by Hwang Jin Pyng
Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong is one interesting man. Why do I say so?
First, it was during his premiership that our first elected President, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, passed away in 2002 and the Government accorded him a state-assisted funeral. Other former leaders who passed on in recent years, such as founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, former DPM Goh Keng Swee and former presidents Wee Kim Wee and S R Nathan, received state funerals. To date, the reasons for not according the late President Ong a state funeral are not made known publicly. It’s baffling considering the contributions made by Mr Ong – not to mention the reportedly close ties between the two.
Speaking of friendship, Goh is known to be close to former Ayer Rajah SMC Member of Parliament Tan Cheng Bock. Yet, following Tan’s declaration in 2016 that he would contest the 2017 Presidential Election, Goh told the media: “In the past, we would have spoken to one another. But after the last presidential election, he was and will be on his own.”
What did he mean by that? Was it a case of Tan Cheng Bock defying party orders and proceeded to contest the 2011 Presidential Election? That cannot be – at least not officially as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong never openly endorsed any of the four candidates in the 2011 race. So what did Goh mean? Was it a case of him telling Tan not to run as he (Goh) supported Dr Tony Tan – only for Tan Cheng Bock to defy him? Why is there a need to publicly make a statement that suggested Tan Cheng Bock is “on his own” after the 2011 Presidential Election?
Goh’s subsequent comments about Tang Liang Hong not being his “brother” and the exchange with PM Lee over “who is watching who” episode are not worth repeating. Likewise, his attempt to play up Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s electoral victory on May 9 – such as “Age is just a number, as Mahathir has proven” and “My grand-children have a stouter heart than mine. I sat this out because I want to be around at 92” are strange on paper but perhaps not to those who probably know his intent.
In fact, on 9 August, he posted a photo of ex-Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang with the caption “We are together. We are Singapore. — gct”. Perhaps he was trying to send a unifying message.
But why only on Aug 9? Did he forget the term “political sophistry” he used in parliament against Low a year ago?
But it’s his FaceBook post about Senior Minister of State Edwin Tong taking a paycut to join the front bench (albeit as a junior minister) that deserves some attention.
On paper, he seems to be supporting Tong’s decision but look at his remarks closely and two things stand out.
One – he is basically telling everyone that Tong was not convinced by PM Lee’s call to take political office and hence he consulted Goh. If so, this speaks poorly about Lee’s persuasion powers.
And it was clear from Goh’s posting that Tong was “convinced” to take up the post after just a simple question from Goh on what he was in politics for. (Truth be told, Goh and all of us know that Tong is no Davinder Singh, Michael Hwang, Phillip Jeyaretnam, Alvin Yeo, Cavinder Bull – just to name a few. Like many of his political colleagues who were in the legal field, Tong obtained the Senior Counsel title only after joining politics. No one knows if he would have obtained the title had he remained outside of politics – like how Hwang, Jeyaretnam and Bull did so purely on merit. In any case, apart from the City Harvest case, which other high-profile case did Tong ever work on? Moreover, for Tong to highlight that he had to think of his parents, in-laws, house etc before making a decision clearly shows you his level of priorities. Imagine a soldier being asked in wartime if he would cross the battle line anytime and he replies: “Oh, I must first think of my girlfriend, my kitten, my car etc.” What does it say about one’s loyalty and priority? Anyway, that’s for another article another time.)
Two – Goh should be aware that raising the issue of ministerial pay at a time when we are probably less than 2 years away from the General Election is foolish from the strategic viewpoint. As much as most of us disagree with the self-professed claim that we need to pay top dollars to attract top talent (just look at how many in the current Parliament are that top class!), it is an issue we have already “accepted” as this government will never make a U-turn on this policy. The upcoming hike in GST and declining value of HDB flats reaching the end of the 99-year lease are key issues which have already created much ripples and unhappiness among voters. So why is Goh adding fuel to the fire by using Tong as a case to remind Singaporeans that while many elderly folks have turned to suicide to end their suffering, “top” leaders like Tong need to be paid much more?
Make no mistake: Goh’s postings on ministerial pay only make PM Lee and Tong look bad, and real bad. Question is: Why then make such a statement?
I can only conclude that Goh is sending a series of messages to PM Lee – with the intent of reminding the latter that he is still in a position to “spoil the party for the party in white” anytime. But what for? Could it be a case of seeking a deal somewhere, somehow for his own benefit?
Time will tell if Goh is indeed as pro-Singapore as some of us seem to believe.