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Photo from parliament.gov.sg

Sad and sorry: This generation of Singaporeans do not get to see courage and conviction from the leadership

There are those who maintain that Singapore’s leaders have fine policies in place and are making the right decisions – it’s just that they need to do better at convincing the people through better communication.

This is plain hogwash.

We do not not need our leaders to be better at song and dance, to be the most eloquent of communicators. Just show us courage and conviction so we can be in solidarity with you and we know you do not run away from the issues that matter.

Let’s take one example. The talk of the town, of coffee shops and boardrooms, has been about Ministers’ pay ever since Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong threw a bombshell with his remarks.

The recent National Day rally would have been a perfect platform for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to address the issue. But he said not a word. No courage, no conviction to tackle it head on. Where is leadership by example?

Instead, PM Lee took the easy route and the beaten path of reminding Singaporeans that they are so much better off than the generation of 50 years ago, showing the same old clip of his father which has been shown at previous rallies and National Day parades.

For years, there has also been lingering talk and debate about lack of transparency at Temasek and the salary and role of Ho Ching. To add insult to injury, Singaporeans are now even told that Temasek is not exactly a sovereign wealth fund. Just go and figure that one out!

The Prime Minister has for a long time kept mum on the real concerns of the people – from Ministers' pay to goings-on at Temasek. This sets the tone for the rest of the leadership – if silence and avoidance are rewarded, why would anybody, least of all the 4G leaders, want to step up to the plate and stick their neck out?

It’s a sad and sorry situation. We are grooming a generation of leaders who learn that when confronted with a hot potato and a risky issue, you jolly well run away from it.

It could be argued that communication skills do not set our leaders back – in fact, they are actually masters at distracting and diverting attention.

Last week, PM Lee was emphasising the importance of “intangibles” like commitment to multiculturalism and tripartite co-operation. The Oxford Dictionary defines intangibles as “vague and abstract; difficult or impossible to define or understand.”

Shifting from tangibles to intangibles is an underhanded way of saying let’s not be consumed only with things like housing, healthcare, CPF savings, Ministers’ pay and Temasek – let’s instead focus on the vague and abstract.

In the same vein, PM Lee gave tips on managing cost of living to distract from income gap and rich-poor divide, and he focused on Merdeka Generation Package to distract from Ministers’ pay.

We do not need distraction and diversion, we need to see courage and conviction from our leaders.