Monday, May 2, 2011

What the GE means for me and why I want to vote Ngiam Tong Dow as President

It's GE time!! I'm sure you're as excited as I am. I feel sorry for those in the Tanjong Pagar GRC because I think more than ever, I sense that people want to have a voice in how our country is being run. This is a good thing for the obvious reason that apathy never did anyone any favours. It means there is no motivation to get things right because nobody cares if things go wrong.

The widespread awakening across the ground also signified something else - that people have been feeling unheard. The frustration resonates with me, personally, I have gotten terribly indignant over certain policies but no matter how much (or how many ordinary citizens) might rant about them, we can do absolutely nothing about it. It's like seeing a bulldozer slowly heading towards your car, but no matter how long and how loudly you yell at the driver to stop, he doesn't. All he does is tell you why your car HAS to go and why it's good for you somehow.

Like many others, I've been following the coverage online since it appears to be the more credible source of news these days. While there is lots of fiery debate, some of it is almost akin to emotional blackmail (on both sides).

So it was extremely refreshing to read this interview with Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, the ex Head of Civil Service. Even though the interview was done way back in 2003, almost a decade ago, it's uncanny how relevant it is today... and how he predicted the way we're heading. It's sensible, without the usual dreary rhetoric and dare I say, visionary.

What really blew my mind was that he managed to crystallise my thoughts about our political system - thoughts that were previously an incoherent jumble. After I'd read the interview, it all instantly clicked, "yes! of course!" If more of our civil servants had even half this guy's intelligence, ethic and guts to speak his mind, I'd say Singapore's future is bright.

He also talked about education in his interview and then, I understood that the way our education system is run, is a mini model of the way our country is run. He briefly mentioned the problem he finds with our education system:

"Each year, the PSLE creams off all the top boys and girls and dispatches them to only two schools, Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School. However good these schools are, the problem is you are educating your elite in only two institutions, with only two sets of mentors, and casting them in more or less the same mould."
...and its parallel in our political administrative system:

"So far, the People's Action Party's tactic is to put all the scholars into the civil service because it believes the way to retain political power forever is to have a monopoly on talent. But in my view, that's a very short term view... You have to allow some of your best and brightest to remain outside your reach and let them grow spontaneously. How do you know their leadership will not be as good as yours? But if you monopolise all the talent, there will never be an alternative leadership. And alternatives are good for Singapore."
Herein lies the problem, our leaders have become so entrenched in their dominance and ingrained in their ideology that they are unable to consider an alternative universe. No wonder some leaders have resorted to threats. When they say "Singapore will suffer", what they really mean is "PAP will suffer". The sad part is I think some of the leaders truly believe this because they have, maybe without realising it, come to equate the two. It would explain why they feel it is perfectly justified to have the entire civil service, stat boards and PA serve party interests.

And that's why my favourite sentence in Mr Ngiam's interview is this: "I think our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP."

At the end of the interview, Mr Ngiam gave this analogy of the Greek systems:

"Singapore is like Sparta, where the top students are taken away from their parents as children and educated... When I first read Plato's Republic, I was totally dazzled by the great logic of this organisational model where the best selects the best. But when I reached the end of the book, it dawned on me that though the starting point was meritocracy, the end result was dictatorship and elitism. In the end, that was how Sparta crumbled. Yet, Athens, a city of philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived."
I now realise that with my vote, I'm signalling more than just my like or dislike for a particular party/candidate/policy. I'm making my view heard on how I want the country to be run, not in an abstract way, but the manner in which our education, housing, healthcare, transport, etc is approached. All of which affects us directly (on an infinitely larger scale than the short-term upgrading of my estate, which incidentally may not have as big an impact as you might think, according to this writeup).

I no longer believe that Singapore will fall without the PAP, like I was brought up to believe. I believe that our citizens are savvier, more resilient and care more about Singapore than the leading party wants us to think. Ultimately, I believe that Singapore is larger than the PAP... and the sooner the ruling party recognises this, the more respect I will have for them.

I encourage you to read Mr Ngiam's interview in full before polling day. It might give you pause to re-think what Singapore really needs to thrive. For years, the PAP has told Singaporeans that change and competition are good for us. Perhaps it's time for them to lead by example.


Lilian said...

Good on you for taking a stand. No one should need to fear making his or her political leaning known to others. I think in that sense, Singapore is definitely maturing, many people are no longer afraid, this can only be good for the nation. Happy Voting!

Bernard said...

Hi, I've been a silent reader of your blog. I really enjoy it. :) I've got to speak up now because I would really like to repost this article on FB. With your permission of course. :)

monlim said...

Bernard: Sure. Thanks for making yourself known!

Anonymous said...

Mon, I am not pro PAP neither am I pro opposition. I am pro issues. LOL

I read the linked article and perhaps I am not understanding it properly. I don't understand the point about PAP keeping the talent pool to themselves. I don't see it the same way. Scholarships are free for people to apply...there are just as many private sector scholarships as PSC scholarships so it really depends on the applicants' choice, isn't it? In any case, I do not see PSC's talent pool as the best talent pool. There are too many foul up policies to be listed here. I lament pretty often why certain policies are made in those how can PSC be having the best talent pool? I wonder???


monlim said...

QX: I think what he means is that the pple they attract under govt scholarships, they try to keep all of them within civil service (certainly a decade or two ago, I think there are more civil service/stat bd/armed forces scholarships than private sector ones, not sure abt now).

Whether or not they are really the best talents, the fact is the PAP view them as the best talents, so they end up going back to and heading the civil service/stat bds/armed forces. So same problem as education - same mould, same path, same mindsets --> same problems. Notice how when someone runs for opposition, suddenly that person is considered of no talent.

Anonymous said...

Ah I see...talent in their definition's more like closed door to other talents as long as not in their definition, not so much as in keeping in talents to themselves and not those talents even if released to me, I may not want them....cos some suffers poor "myopia". LOL :p

I think he should make that clearer in his interview...

Thanks for clarifying.


Anonymous said...

... When they say "Singapore will suffer", what they really mean is "PAP will suffer"... how true!

I've heard this in every election since the 80s... PAP has really low regard to the intelligence of the majority voters. I thought with the calibre of opposition candidates today, we're finally able to have constructive alternative voice in the parliament for the good of Singapore. Instead we're threatened that we've to live to repent for voting the opposition!

I'm in Mountbatten and I'm voting for Jeannette of NSP!


Anonymous said...

What irked me is that Goh Chok Tok said that NSP is 'No Substance Party'. That is not very nice of him to say that.

If PAP thinks it has alot of substance, why would they make the mistakes in the first place.

Anyway, we will see when the judgement day arrives which is on May 7!! Good luck, PAP & Opposition Parties!! I'm neither pro-PAP or pro-Opposition. I am still deciding who should I vote, hahaha.. So shiok to know the future of Singapore depends on my vote. In this regards, I must seriously consider what is the future for my children too. Read this

~ my

monlim said...

MY: I was discussing this issue with Lilian and our conclusion is it all boils down to the ridiculous Minister salaries (which GCT was quick to dismiss as irrelevant). I think if the Ministers earned reasonable amounts, pple would be quicker to forgive mistakes because they're doing a public service. But since they persist in paying themselves exorbitant sums, giving themselves 30% pay raises and 8 mth bonuses a year, then we have to treat them as impassionately as a company CEO. Show results or you're fired. Don't expect gratitude when you're paid very well to do a job.

This high salary also erodes their moral authority and totally disconnects them with the ground. As Ngiam says, they've started to believe their own hype and acting like little LKYs but without the substance.

If they will address this issue of the high salaries, I believe much of the unhappiness on the ground will be alleviated. Afterall, Singaporeans are not an unreasonable lot. Most of us would give the PAP a second chance if they're come down their ivory towers and live like regular folks for a bit.

MrsCheng said...

Agree on the salaries part. They cannot compare themselves with private sector and if they want to be paid like them, they have to produce results. But wondering how much should the salary be to satisfy S'poreans? I'm still in two minds on who to vote. Really in dilemma as I'm voting in the hottest GRC!

monlim said...

Mrs Cheng: I think Singaporeans are reasonable, they don't disagree that Ministers need to be paid well. But when the SG PM is paid 6x more than the US President, people are gonna start scratching their heads. The 30 highest paid politicians in the world are all from Singapore. Strange no? Personally, I think anything with 7 digits is too much! I think 6 digits is fair.

I hope you will vote to make a difference! Majulah Singapura!

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