Thank you, Mr Goh Chok Tong

Faisal Wali

Thank you, Mr Goh Chok Tong, for portraying me as a fellow human.

Thank you, Mr Goh Chok Tong, for portraying me as a fellow human.

I refer to the Straits Times article titled “Loss of Aljunied team will dent quality of Goverment” written by Cassandra Chew dated 30 April 2011.

Loss of Aljunied team will dent quality of Goverment

THE quality of Singapore’s government will take a hit if Aljunied GRC residents vote out the People’s Action Party (PAP) team, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned on Saturday night.

The five-member PAP team groups Foreign Minister George Yeo, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Transport Lim Hwee Hwa, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Madam Cynthia Phua and new face Ong Ye Kung, who is widely tipped as a potential office holder.

Noting the difficulties that many governments abroad face in recruiting good quality people to become Cabinet Ministers and office holders, Mr Goh warned Singaporeans that they would lose not only a foreign minister who has been able to foster good relations with neighbouring countries, but also Singapore’s first woman minister, Mrs Lim, and a potential Speaker of Parliament, Mr Zainul.

Speaking at the PAP Marine Parade GRC rally at Paya Lebar, he also dismissed the Workers’ Party’s (WP) call for a First World Parliament, describing the opposition party as a ‘koyok man’ selling pills that do not work.

He urged voters not to be seduced or swindled by them. ‘They want quantity but if they can’t sing, it’s not a good choir,’ he said.

In his 35-minute speech, Mr Goh also disclosed that his former principal private secretary Tan Jee Say, who is contesting in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC as a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, left the civil service to join the private sector as Mr Goh did not think he could make it as a permanent secretary.

Source: The Straits Times

Towards the end of the article, Mr Goh Chok Tong gave an assessment of his former subordinate, Mr Tan Jee Say. Mr Goh felt that Tan who left the civil service to join the private sector does not have what it takes to be a permanent secretary.

My fellow colleagues and friends viewed Mr Goh’s remarks as a stinging attack on Tan’s credibility. Some even say it is a beneath the belt attack on Tan. I beg to differ and I see things differently.

I am an ordinary Singaporean, with ordinary achievements in school. I am also an ordinary salaried man. I do not have much achievements to speak about other than my ordinariness.

Honestly, before the General Elections, my colleague mentioned to me the line-up of electoral candidates such as Mr Chen Show Mao from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, Mr Tan Jee Say a former administrative scholar who went to Oxford and others.

My first thought is whether they were from the PAP’s line-up. To my surprise, they were contesting under the opposition banner.

Back to Mr Goh’s remarks, I personally feel that as a former boss, he is well within rights to give his frank assessment of Tan’s ability. No grudges held.

Speaking for myself, I am not too sure if I even have the qualifications to enter the civil service. This means I am not too sure if I will make it to the interview stage, and if I make it, to pass that hoop in order to become an officer within the civil service. So, I can say for an ordinary Singaporean like me that I definitely do not possess the talents to be a Permanent Secretary.

Mr Tan, on the other hand, went quite far, rising within the administrative service to the level of Principal Private secretary to Mr Goh. Now, Mr Goh revealed that Tan does not have what it takes to be Permanent Secretary. I feel that Mr Goh has made Tan look more human.

We have to ask ourselves, how many of us really have the capability to be a Permanent Secretary, a lofty position within the civil service? Only a minority right? Therefore, I am glad that Mr Goh’s revelations meant that Tan belongs to the vast majority of us who make up the “I do not have the ability to be a Permanent Secretary’ club.

Does such a remark affect Tan’s chances? I do not know for sure. But what I do know is that I will take to anyone who can communicate on the same frequency or tune his frequency of connection to mine. I have plenty of intelligent friends with vast knowledge. Within their own clique, they make intelligent conversations.

I admit as an ordinary Singaporean, my intelligence is probably average. That is why most of the time, I couldn’t grasp the gist of what my intelligent friends are saying, and I seem so distant from them.

Intelligence is important, but what I feel is that the more a person has in common with you, the more he can connect. I take public transport, eat at hawker centres or “da bao” from there when I am not free, hang out at void decks, all those things. Most of my good friends do all of the above. Will I mind having a representative as ordinary as me who do the above? Definitely not.

I shared wheal and woe with my former commanders in my national service. They are not the kind of lofty personalities destined for high leadership in SAF. They are ordinary people like me, doing their national service. We eat the same combat rations during exercise. Miss the same meals when called to action. Received the same “tekan” (punishment) when we screw up. And we also shared the same joys when we do well and get “Off” days for reward.

I will unequivocally say that I will be very happy for my former commanders to lead me. And in a similar vein, I will be happy to have the same ordinary representative from the ordinary calibre group with ordinary achievements which I belong to.

Going back to what Mr Goh said about Tan’s inability to rise to the Permanent Secretary position, he could be right that Tan probably does have the ability to lead a ministry.

Will Tan if elected ever get to lead an entire ministry? No. His party, Singapore Democratic Party only has 11 candidates contesting, unlike the Worker’s Party and National Solidarity Party with more than 20 candidates. He is not going to be a minister given the current situation.

Thus, whether Tan can lead a ministry or not is moot to me because we know the answer to that question. What matters is whether Tan is able to connect to voters and articulate their interests, and suggest solutions to their problems. This will be his purpose if elected.

Mr Goh has every right to highlight Tan’s shortcomings as a former boss. Now, we know that Tan belongs to the club made up by majority of us who don’t have the ability to take on the lofty position of a Permanent Secretary. So, thank you, Mr Goh, indeed, for making your former secretary look more human!

Photo courtesy of the Singapore Democratic Party.