Earlier this month (2 Jan), Singapore’s second Chief of Defence Force (CDF), retired Lieutenant-General Ng Jui Ping, passed away at the age of 71 due to pancreatic cancer.
LG Ng became Chief of Army in 1990 before serving as Chief of Defence Force from 1992 to 1995, taking over from Winston Choo.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong went to the wake to pay his respect.
On Facebook, PM Lee said that LG Ng was among the inaugural batch of commissioned officers trained locally after answering an advertisement in 1966 to be one of Singapore’s pioneer career soldiers.
“I will remember him most from my own time in the army, when he was first my Commanding Officer, and later when I worked beside him – I learnt much from him as a leader and a colleague,” PM Lee wrote. “He was a valued comrade and friend, who always led by example, and gave his all to serve the nation.”
In a condolence letter to LG Ng’s wife, PM Lee also outlined his close relationship with LG Ng which continued after the latter’s retirement from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1995. “I am deeply saddened today, not just because Singapore has lost one of its true sons, but also because I have lost a dear friend,” said PM Lee.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) also issued a statement saying LG Ng had emphasized “leadership by example” where commanders at various levels personally led and executed training. In 1990, he established a Warrant Officer Corps to train, groom and appoint non-commissioned officers to command positions, similar to the officer corps, MINDEF said. He also redefined SAF’s strategies and capabilities to enable an integrated and more effective armed forces, MINDEF added.
LG Ng was accorded a military-assisted funeral.
Media interview in 2019
The late LG Ng gave an interview to the media last April when he was still alive. He shared his thoughts on career succession and post-career within the SAF.
He revealed that he was one of the key architects behind the decision to retire military officers by the age of 50, so as to create career progression in the SAF.
He explained, “If you are 35, it’s your mid-career. You look at your career potential and you assess: Do you stay, or do you move? At that point, you look up and you say, wow, this guy up there is only 48. If they are all going to retire at 65, or 70, I’m going to be stuck here for 20 years. Then, if I truly believe in myself, I quit. Of course, I will quit. Why should I wait 20 years?”
“So now, every three years, you are either among those who move on to the next level, or you retire. And then the 35-year-old is not at all concerned about the ages of all those above him. Because it’s for him to establish that he deserves his promotion to the next tier in three years. As long as he believes he can do that, he stays,” he added.
Lg Ng went on to explain that the SAF doesn’t guarantee anyone a second career after retirement at 50. He said, “You look for it yourself. To a certain extent, people who are scholars would find a second career easier, because the good scholars are also attracted into the Administrative Service.”
“Of course, they can do something else. Some of them go into politics, and so politics becomes their second career – Teo Chee Hean, George Yeo, you know. And some of them, on their own effort, find jobs with Temasek companies. But it’s up to Temasek to accept them… Mindef does not have such powers. It’s between the individual and Temasek,” he emphasized. “The decision-maker is the employer. Mindef has no power to insist. Mindef may recommend, but Mindef cannot insist.”
LG Ng rejects PM Lee’s offer to stay in establishment after retirement
In the media interview, LG Ng also disclosed that he had a meeting with then-DPM Lee Hsien Loong one year before his retirement from SAF.
LG Ng recalled, “Of course, he asked me what I wanted to do next. Was I thinking of a permanent secretary position, a statutory board, ambassadorship?”
“If I had decided that I wanted to become an ambassador, I’m sure the Defence Minister would have called the Foreign Minister and said, our CDF is retiring and wants to be an ambassador, could you consider him?” he continued.
“In any case, I said no, I think it’s fair and ethical that I will look after myself. I said, we’ve just started this system. I’m the first case. So as principal architect, I surely cannot be seen in my second career to be living off the Government.”
“The basis of the second career is that the SAF has trained and groomed a person who is of this calibre, and a person of this calibre should be able to hold his own outside of the SAF,” he explained.
“In my case, I said, I would apply a stricter standard – outside of the Government and Temasek. I think then DPM (Lee) was a bit surprised, but he agreed that if that’s what I wanted, why not. That’s why on my first day of retirement, I was in my own company, August Asia Consulting. And I have never looked back. Since then, I’ve always been in the private sector doing my own projects, putting my own money at risk for capital, and taking the good and the bad that come with that.”
LG Ng thought that it was the right thing for him to do. And when his family asked him why he was on his own and not followed others to join the establishment, he simply replied, “I said I made my own bed, so I must lie in it, surely.”
LG Desmond Kuek and LG Ng Yat Chung choose to stay inside establishment earning millions
Socio-political commentator Simon Lim applauded the late LG for his decision. Lim said in his Facebook post, “We have seen so many former SAF generals parachuted into cushy senior positions in government linked companies, statutory boards, stood for election and ambassadorial position etc. In those wise words of the late LG Ng, I ask why are so many of our former SAF generals not seen to be able to hold their own outside of the SAF, the Government or Temasek?”
“In fact, we need not look too far when big titled generals such as LG Desmond Kuek screwed up big time at SMRT again and again and again. LG Ng Yat Chung couldn’t turn NOL around and sold it off, only for the new French owners CMA CGM to turn it around with a modest profits the very second year. And over at Singapore Press Holdings, staff were retrenched under the leadership of LG Ng Yat Chung but he gets to keep his plum job and his fat salary.”
So, we have 3 LGs. But the late LG Ng who didn’t study at OxBridge chose to forge his own path, unlike LG Desmond Kuek and LG Ng Yat Chung, both with prestigious OxBridge degrees, who chose to remain in the establishment immediately after their retirement from SAF.
After his SAF career, Desmond Kuek served as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources for 2 years before being appointed Group CEO of SMRT. He earned millions of dollars in salary from SMRT before leaving in 2018. He is currently the divisional vice-chairman for global wealth management in UBS.
Ng Yat Chung joined Temasek for 4 years after his retirement from SAF. Thereafter he became CEO of NOL for 6 years from 2011 to 2017. Currently he is the CEO of SPH. He has also earned millions of dollars in salary from those organizations linked to the establishment he joined.