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Manufactured political leadership is a serious malice to Singapore

by Joseph Nathan

For some strange reasons, Singapore had been plagued with endless breaches, lapses & failures, one after another over these past years, further adding to our national embarrassments. This is unprecedented because as Singaporeans, we had always pride ourselves to be the best in whatever we do, and to always get it right, and that had gotten us to where we are – as a First World Country.

When I read that the latest recommendations by the Public Account Committee (PAC) and realized that many of these failures were repeated cases, I seriously wonder if Singapore is already in a state of unravelling itself or are we delusionally working to degenerate back into a Third World Country?

As I recalled the handling by Ministry of Defence of the recent death of Aloysius Pang, it is obvious to anyone who has engineering or Occupational safety and health (OSH) background to see the accident as one that is highly preventable. I see the panel of generals fronting the media as simply fronting another media brief except for the Chief of Army, Major-General Goh Si Hou.

He did come across as someone who is sincere and from watching the various video playback and also feedbacks from people who know him; he is indeed sincere and dedicated. Here lies one of the major root-causes of our problem – manufactured leadership.

When good & competent individuals, however dedicated or competent, are “selected” for fast-track career in defence, their rapid promotion do not allow them to acquire the required deep skill-sets, be grounded and make any real strategic review & changes. Before the dust could settle, they are off to their next promotion. The “system” obviously does not allow any exception.

When they are parachuted into the private sector, with our Government Linked Companies or labour union, NTUC, they again underwent another fast-track endorsement of credentials but missed the opportunities to acquire the essentials required for the private sector. Once “white-washed” and stamped with a faultless list of credentials, like a shining star, they are parachuted into politics.

Such manufacturing of political-leadership renewal process equipped these individuals with very shallow skill-sets & ungrounded with how the real world works. This could just explain why Singapore is unravelling. It is very unfair to these individuals as they will certainly face serious failures, and the subsequent anger & insults of Singaporeans. It is also very unfair for anyone to be blaming Singaporeans for their frustrations against these paper-generals as they have the rights to be. So who is really responsible for all these undue tensions and who should we blame?

When they are further parachuted into ministries & agencies, their rotation are again fast-tracked. The people working in these ministries & agencies also suffered as there is no real leadership to guide or manage them strategically. We no longer have the dynamic “Mandarins” of old.

When the leaderships at these ministries or agencies messed up, the “sandwiched” public servants not just had to endure the humiliation of our national embarrassments and also had to take the anger & frustration of fellow Singaporeans. But the real faults do not lies with them as they are equally helpless and sandwiched, and many of them are just trying to earn a fair day living, just like any other fellow Singaporeans.

We have precedent where a couple of these generals, upon reflection, acted with integrity by stepping down. But such honourable acts are too few as many continue to hold on to their dear career and self-interests as what can they really do outside of these glass-castles?

If they are truly so dynamic & desirable as PM had suggested, Singapore would had profited massively by exporting them. Alas, there are no takers for our paper-generals and we cannot realistically monetize them away either.

In this latest report by the PAC, I hope Singaporeans will be kind and not direct their anger wrongly at fellow Singaporeans working in the public sectors but be kind to them. They too are victims, just like us. Question is – who is or should be responsible for all these malice?

Singapore has to stop manufacturing its political-leadership in such a manner if we truly want to reduce the tension between the citizens & our public servants, between Singaporeans & its leaders. We should not deprive other competent leaders who are sidelined by these paper-generals the opportunities to make SG better. We need to stop these endless national embarrassments and we definitely cannot afford to watch the many economic opportunities pass us by, before it is too late.

Singapore deserves better.

This was first published on Joseph Nathan’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.