by Augustine Low
On Friday, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran took issue with Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai for expressing his disappointment on DBS Bank not having a “homegrown” chief executive officer.
The Minister said he was “troubled” by the NCMP’s comments and warned fellow MPs about going down the path of clamouring for “homegrown” talent to head companies here.
And then came a most surprising statement by Minister Iswaran: “I am not sure what you mean by “homegrown.”
Any one of us would know the meaning of “homegrown”.
If not, look up the Cambridge English Dictionary which says: “If someone or something is homegrown, he, she, or it belongs to or was developed in your own country.”
DBS CEO Piyush Gupta was born in India and became a Singapore citizen in 2009, the same year he was appointed CEO.
Clearly, foreigners-turned-new citizens are not homegrown Singaporeans – an irrefutable fact.
NCMP Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party, stood by his comments on DBS, saying: “I still hold on to my disappointment, I still keep to that.”
He queried how was it that 22 years after former JP Morgan executive John
Olds was made DBS CEO, “why didn’t the government, in the process, put in certain safeguards or certain other rules to ensure that we have these skills transfer . . . at least to ensure that Singaporeans will be groomed to take over the job?”
Minister Iswaran made one significant point – he told parliamentarians to be careful about their choice of words: “Because what we say cannot be unsaid . . . and everyone – Singaporeans, new citizens, Singapore-born, others who are here – will all be looking at this.”
Did the Minister give the same piece of advice to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who two days earlier labelled Singaporean opposition voters “free riders”?
The Minister is indeed right – what we say cannot be unsaid.