Former SingFirst chief and member of the Singapore Democratic Party Tan Jee Say took to Facebook on Friday (25 September) to highlight a number of ways Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can learn from late Singapore bureaucrat Ngiam Tong Dow’s unfulfilled ideals for Singapore in order to achieve PM Lee’s vision of a fair and equal society.
Mr Tan said that his latest post is a tribute to Mr Ngiam who is a boss, mentor and friend to him. The pioneering Singaporean civil servant who served four decades in the highest levels of the country’s bureaucracy passed away last month at the age of 83.
“How PM Lee can achieve his vision of ‘a fairer, even more just and equal society’ by learning from Ngiam Tong Dow’s unfulfilled ideals for Singapore,” he wrote.
In the post, Mr Tan stated that PM Lee’s legacy would be a Third World economy structure with plenty of inequalities. This means that there will be an elite class of crony capitalists, million-dollar earning ministers, but with a large amount of low wage workforce.
“Lee Hsien Loong’s legacy: a typical Third World economic structure of huge economic inequalities with an elite class of crony capitalists (as defined by The Economist), millionaire ministers, civil servants and managers of GLCs on the one hand and on the other, a large low wage workforce with one third of children going to school without breakfast,” he said.
Mr Tan who served as a member of the Singapore civil service from 1979 to 1990, went on to point out that PM Lee’s “grave mistake” was not exactly in choosing better advisers, but rather repeated “poor judgement of people in his choice of 4G ministers whose absolute incompetence was laid bare to the entire world with their mishandling of the COVID-19 situation”.
As such, the SDP member suggested that the first thing that PM Lee can do to prevent further damage to Singapore is to replace his 4G ministers. Unfortunately, Mr Tan said that there are no other ministers who have proven ability to replace the current 4G ministers as well.
“The next best option is to sidestep them, keeping them as ministers in name only but working directly with civil servants in the ministries,” he suggested.
He added, “In this, he can take a leaf from founding PM LKY who treated ministers as grassroots managers sent out to win public support for issues already discussed and decided upon with civil servants like Sim Kee Boon, JYM Pillay and Ngiam.”
Separately, Mr Tan also noted that in normal circumstances, PM Lee does not have to “intervene and act to establish command and restore confidence”. However, in the current situation with “broken” leadership by 4G ministers in handling COVID-19 pandemic, as well as “rotten” system in the Liew Mun Leong vs Parti Liyani case, such intervention by the Prime Minister is necessary.
Mr Tan added that it is not “disastrous” to change ministers amid the pandemic and a severe economic recession. He cited leaderships of Abraham Lincoln and Xi JinPing in which such change had occurred before.
“The 16th US President was losing the Civil War but turned it around after he replaced his generals and took direct charge, winning key battles and thereby preserving the Union of America. More currently, Chinese President Xi Jinping also replaced the officials in Wuhan for mishandling the coronavirus epidemic and won the fight against COVID-19 early and ahead of most, if not all. PM Lee, like Lincoln and Xi, should not be afraid of changing horses in mid-stream,” Mr Tan explained.
If that’s not all, Mr Tan also noted that changing the country’s Prime Minister should wait until Mr Lee fully restores the “economy back on a sound footing”.
“In these transformational times brought about by COVID-19, he needs the full term of five years to restructure the economy so that it can adequately support his vision of “a fairer, ever more just and equal society” that he stated in Parliament recently.”
Singapore must move into a modern advanced economy with high paying jobs
Mr Tan also went on to point out that in order for PM Lee to achieve his vision, he has to help turn “Singapore into a modern advanced economy of the First World with high paying jobs and a Gini coefficient of below 0.3”.
This figure is in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 0.29.
According to Mr Tan, this can be done in two stages.
“Firstly, reintroduce the high wage policy proposed by Ngiam 40 years ago. High wages will force the pace of economic upgrading and lead to high quality jobs for our people.
“Secondly, make full use of the return on our national reserves to increase state subsidies in essential welfare services, particularly healthcare and education.”
The opposition politician also said that when Singapore founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew claimed that the city-state has changed from Third World to First, he was only half correct.
This is because Singapore was First World in terms of its GDP per capita and modern physical infrastructure, but still not there in fairness, justice and equality in accordance with a Gini coefficient of above 0.4, said Mr Tan.
“We are still behind even now. But thanks to the sacrifices of earlier generations of Singaporeans, we now have the means namely education, skills and financial reserves, to achieve ‘a fairer, ever more just and equal society’ within our lifetime,” he explained.
“Does PM Lee have the ‘iron’ in him to get the right people to help him achieve his vision and complete the journey to First World that founding PM LKY set out for Singapore?” Mr Tan concluded.