Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong speaking to Channel NewsAsia at the Istana on Nov 26, 2018. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

ESM Goh’s CNA interview reveals rather telling of seemingly prevalent attitude within the ruling establishment

The various answers that Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (ESM Goh) gave at an interview for Channel News Asia (CNA) are rather telling of the seemingly prevalent attitude within the ruling establishment in Singapore.

While ESM Goh was comfortable waxing lyrical on the “negatives” of others in politics, he was rather light on detail for himself. He had opinions on opposition politicians such as Mr Chiam See Tong, Mr Low Thia Kiang, Mr Francis Seow and Mr Tang Liang Hong and implied that they had certain “negatives”.

In so doing, he also appeared to don the image of “benevolent leader” when he said: “I think it’s part of me, it’s part of my overall leadership style. I generally see positives in people, I know there are negatives in some people. I mean, I’m not blind. I take a balanced view towards people.” For me, I take this to mean that although these people had bad points, Goh was the bigger person and was able to see past their “negatives”.

What about Goh’s negatives? Surely, if you are able to point out the faults of others, you should be able to see faults in yourself? After all, no one is perfect.

However, when asked in a very diplomatic manner by CNA’s Mr Jaime Ho, if he had any regrets, Goh only said: “In politics, always there could have been things that I could have done better.” This makes me wonder if Goh’s memoir “Behind a tall order” is more of a romanticised ideal of PAP rule and less of an honest analysis of his life and career? Could the timing of the publication of his memoir be linked to the rumoured general elections next year?

Also, could the interview highlight the prevalent attitude among our leaders of “admit no flaws but give in to self praise”?

At the end of the day, no one realistically expects their leaders to be perfect. Perfection does not exist. What I suspect people would appreciate however, is a candid and honest appraisal of themselves. Do not attempt to whitewash every criticism or mistake. Take some ownership. Instead of being so quick to point out the weaknesses of opposition politicians, take an honest look at your own weaknesses.

Goh had a long career. If he had no real regrets, I would be seriously concerned. In his time in power, he had in the palm of his hand, the livelihoods of Singaporeans. Was every decision he made right? If not, how could he not have had any serious regrets? This kind of answer makes me think that he is at best callous and at worst a psychopath. Neither is very reassuring.