A Leadership Crisis?

An article by guest writer Ng Seng Leong. Refer to “About the Writer” at the end of the post.


This year 2009, Singapore celebrates half a century of self-government. In 1959, other than foreign affairs, defence and internal security, Singaporeans can truly be said to rule its own destiny with a fully elected legislative assembly and its own prime minister.

Singapore has come a long way since to transform itself from a perilous island colony state then, to a First World global city today. The achievements and accolades it receives are well known and documented.

The government that has made this possible has been the PAP, which has ruled since 1959 when it won 37 of the 51 seats in the election. It has not lost any national election since. Born just after the war, I have personally observed Singapore’s growth and transformation with pride. As the son of a Chinese migrant I have often remarked how fortunate I have been that my father had decided to come to Singapore and not elsewhere to eke out a living. Without a doubt, most of us owe our well being today to this continuous good government of the last fifty years. Though not flawless, it has ruled remarkably well, thanks to its leadership and selfless policies by and large.

Not every policy it dished out is well accepted or effectively implemented. It has, however, managed to persuade the people of its benefits and necessity or made changes to smooth out the rough edges over time. Most importantly they have been meted out for the well being of most people and the state generally.

There is, however, one bug bear that has refused to go away even though the policy has been implemented many years though not without much debate and contention. The policy of the excessively high ministers’ pay is today no longer an issue on the surface as people have gone quite tired and fed up as they have seemingly fallen on deaf ears! Yet surprisingly each time it was mentioned it immediately stirred up lots of outpouring and slurs that have been quite consistent ever since. For once, the government’s arguments seem wanting and self-serving. My regret is that it is not a bad policy but it has been overdone. Perhaps, too, the top leaders who believe so passionately about this policy should have denied themselves the benefits. This would have convinced the people of its sincerity and its good intention. Is the policy already cast in stone? I hope not as ironically, the adverse consequence now is that it makes the respect and worth of the ministers less than what they deserved! Even in a materialistic society, there is still a belief in honour and respect, this much more so when it comes to our national leaders. To believe that today our leaders will only serve and lead if they are enriched sufficiently, albeit above board, is a castigation on their dedicated public service and respect. In fact, for this reason a well meaning candidate may even shy away for fear that the public will perceive them wrongly. Finally, if we send the signal that only money talks at the highest level of our government this expectation will invariably cascade downwards to all levels of the society. Can we become a more caring society without money as an incentive?

The government deserves better respect for all that it has done but this blemish will not go away. In the midst of this economic downturn, one regrettably hears too often such unkind remarks like “where are our million dollar ministers when so many of our people are now out of jobs!” or when a minister makes a big boo boo “do you think he deserves the million that he is getting?” One could go on but enough is said and needs no belabouring. I am proud to be a Singaporean and I appreciate the good government we have got up to now. I will like to see an even better  group of leaders in the future for the sake of Singapore and our future generations. The sacrifices of our old guards, meaning the first generation stalwarts, would be in vain if their efforts with little rewards in return, go down the drain in the future because this policy actually attracts the wrong kind of people to the government whether it is the PAP in power or not! It would be an irony indeed if the results run contrary to the arguments put forth by the government that the policy is intended to attract people of the right calibre. Should we not ponder for a moment as we celebrate with gusto the success of the last fifty years? Some moderation would go a long way to make this policy more palatable and acceptable, perhaps?

About the Writer

The writer is a retired business executive.

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2 thoughts on “A Leadership Crisis?

  1. well thought out. and what a contrast with the first generation stalwart who wouldn’t spend 1 cents more to buy his supporter a drink or repair his “low pok kar” car.

  2. Hi John

    Well written and very fair comments.

    I like the way you have balanced the accolades with the need for dealing with the “blemish”.

    Best regards

    Desmond Chan

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