Singapore has been lately rocked by unprecedented happenings within the ruling party – first there were the resignations of two of our ex-PMs and now we knew that three ministers were retired in a massive cabinet shake out – Mr Wong Kan Seng, Mr Raymond Lim and Mr Mah Bow Tan.
Some people I spoke to frankly questioned whether our Prime Minister should resign too…
Of the three PMs that we knew of, the current Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsein Loong seemed to be the weakest – both in terms of leadership and forward strategic planning. He is often seen as clueless and lacking in ideas.
He may have also over depend on his ministers to do the job and often went missing when the chips were down.
The fact that he required two ex-PMs roving around in cabinet for the past few years did not augured well for his confidence. Many also speculated that MM Lee Kuan Yew still holds much power within the cabinet when he is around.
PM Lee should instead retire both of them one year after been elected into power in GE 2006 so that the population could clearly see that he is the man in charge. For all the talk about retaining and harnessing the two ex-PMs because of their expertise and ability, it does not work well for the current PM to have these two political icons sharing the limelight with him.
The population does not really see much of the PM during the past few years as the two ex-PMs continued to hog the limelight on many occasions. Some even questioned who is the actual PM now? PM Lee was also often silent on many occasions which required his leadership to steady the ship e.g the global financial crisis and sudden huge influx of foreign workers in our country.
On a scale of one to ten, his past few years’ performance as a PM hovered on the just-passed mark of five. Many have also speculated that Tharman may have make a better PM as he communicates well, seems connected to the ground and most importantly exudes confidence to soothe the raw nerves of a population that is hit hard by the recent influx of foreigners.
It is also clear that PM Lee preferred a leadership style that is very decentralized i.e he will throw the full ministry to you and expect you to take off on your own.
This is probably why the worst performing ministers with the most hiccups were let go. Hopefully, this major shake-up invariably will push many ministers to be on their toes from now on. They will have to be held accountable for whatever that happens within their ministries…
For the people, they suddenly found themselves voting out two ex-PMs and three ministers. Ironically, many of them could be voting only for the first time!
We all knew that the three retired ministers unfortunately carried portfolios that were the hardest to impress – transport, home affairs and housing development all screwed up big time almost immediately after the 2006 GE.
They were mostly hampered by the sudden decision to pump up our population by more than 500, 000 foreigners over the past five years to push up our GDP growth. There is no way that HDB can build so many flats given this huge phenomenal growth of our foreigner population. Our transport system was also pushed to the max.
Many have also speculated that if the PM was to take action then and apologized on the behalf of the ailing ministers, the protest votes in this GE would not be so serious.
Granted that he seldom publicly chastise his ministers even though they performed badly in their appointed ministries, he also didn’t provide enough confidence to the voters that he is staying very much on top of the situation. His silence on many issues is also deafeningly loud…
He also strangely allowed his ailing ministers to escape public scrutiny by denying responsibility and even communicating pointless rhetoria – much to the frustration of the population.
I remembered clearly a few days before this GE how Mr Mah suggested that our BTO flats are still affordable when the whole country is raising in arms about the sky high housing cost.
It is also surprising that the PM allowed him the platform to raise such foolish rhetoria which was printed front page in the mass media – few days before polling day.
Moreover, even though the public housing cost has reached sky-high proportions for the past twelve months prior to the recent GE, our PM didn’t really came out to pacify the population relying instead on Hosing Development Minister Mr Mah Bow Tan to defend the housing affordability issue on his own.
The same thing happened when terrorist Mas Selamat escaped and DPM Mr Wong Kan Seng was in the thick of action – our PM was ominously silent on the matter for a long time.
It was as if he is trying to distance himself from the blame game.
He only later came out to defend DPM Wong when the dust had settled…and the damage was already done.
I hope to see a more vibrant and active PM after this election as he has the caliber and ability to connect with the people. He should also be more visionary and try to motivate the people when they are going through a tough time viz a viz the past global financial crisis.
He has taken the necessary bold steps to kick out three incompetent ailing ministers and should follow up with some strong leadership in the near future.
If need to, he should stand next to his minister who is facing the line of fire if there is any misstep and explained in his usual crispy clear style on why that certain policy has failed. Ministers should also be made to apologise for their own mistakes and not to wait for the PM to apologise on their behalf a few days prior to polling day.
People do not expect no-mistake perfect governance but what they don’t cordon is a government that does not acknowledge its short comings and worse still tried to explain away its failings.
There is no shame in making mistakes and owing up to them but please if possible, do not repeat the same mistake again.
Our ministers have all along clearly carried too much load on their shoulder and our PM is also too long in the shadow all this while.
I have seen how Mr Mah and Mr Wong turned very uncomfortable and clearly alone when they have to defend unpopular decisions or failings all on their own the past few years.
PM Lee is a good communicator and together with the newly-promoted popular DPM Tharman, they should try to persuade and convince a highly-antagonised public why certain unpopular policies are being carried out.
Our PM could not afford to be carrying out his duties the way he did the past five years – silently and very much in the background.
He has to show to the voters that he will call the shots and even chastise his under performing ministers if necessary.
Many people were softened when he apologized on behalf of his ailing ministers few days prior to pollig day. For his profound humility shown, he may have save at least another GRC from falling to the opposition camp.
PM Lee has much to offer and he should not be afraid to take charge from now on…we all want to see clear leadership from him.
If not, the next cabinet minister to step down should be him…
Written By: Gilbert Goh