Year in and year out, paper generals emerge to infiltrate the government, civil service and government-linked corporations.
If paper generals enter politics, they are invariably earmarked for a ministerial post and considered assets that must be shielded from a fierce contest – the usual route is through the GRC or Group Representation Constituency.
Which is such an anomaly because given their background and fighting prowess, paper generals still need to be mollycoddled. Shouldn’t they at least be put through a baptism of fire, of fighting an election on their own two feet in a single-member constituency? Shouldn’t they undergo the scrutiny of a more rigorous process so they can prove their mettle for high political office?
This gives even greater credence to the term “paper general” which has been coined to refer to those who achieve the highest ranking “on paper” with stellar academic credentials but with no real combat experience.
Yet another paper general for the general election
At every general election, there is a likelihood of paper generals contesting. The one that is being talked about now is former Republic of Singapore Air Force Brigadier-General Gan Siow Huang, who is expected to be fielded as a People’s Action Party candidate in the upcoming GE.
Singapore’s first female general, Gan resigned from the RSAF in March. Like other paper generals before her, she is set to contest in a GRC. Gan has been spotted on walkabouts in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, alongside Minister Ng Eng Hen who helms the GRC.
It seems that after all these years, no paper general can be entrusted to fight an election without hanging on to the coattails of a Minister in a GRC.
Paper generals currently in the cabinet include Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Ministers Chan Chun Sing and Ng Chee Meng. Minister turned Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin is another one.
The one thing we can be sure of is that paper generals are destined to be top dogs in whatever second careers they pursue.
Out goes one paper general, in comes another
The SMRT is a good example of how indispensable paper generals are in this country. When Desmonk Kuek left as SMRT CEO after six years, the SMRT engaged a global executive search firm to find a new CEO.
But in the end, Desmond was succeeded by Neo Kian Hong. Replace one paper general with another – it’s as easy as that. Even a global search could not yield a better candidate than a paper general.
It makes us wonder how Singapore made it in the past without paper generals being feted and having a path to glory paved out for them.
The foundations of Singapore’s defence forces and defence technology were masterfully built up by Dr Goh Keng Swee, one of Singapore’s founding fathers. He was also instrumental in the early economic success of Singapore.
The great irony is that Dr Goh only served as a humble corporal in the British-led Singapore Volunteer Corps.
Is it an exaggeration to say that today, all our paper generals combined cannot even measure up to the brilliance and accomplishments of Dr Goh the corporal?