Monday, September 09, 2013

Half Way Bell Check on SG Political Parties - PAP Part I

This is approximately the MID Term point of the present parliamentary term if you believe the next General Election will be held in 2015.

Before I start to write this article, there are three interesting Political News and happening in Singapore:

1) One of the most promising political star in SDP, Dr Vincent Wijeysingha has call it a quit over LGBT issues.

2) PAP has announced its latest promotion of ministers. Chan Chun Sing has been promoted while Tan Chuan Jin has unexpectedly missed out of this promotion exercise.

3) WP has announced the new co-option of three members into its CEC. One of them was a candidate in GE 2011 while the other two are relatively new "elites". One of them is a lawyer while the other is an Associate Professor lecturing in NUS.

4) For NSP, after half a year of neglect of their website (yes, no updates, not even on CEC information), they have started to act. However, some curious things I have observed. The Secretary General Hazel is missing in action for all NSP recent activities, so is her husband Tony Tan. Even for important press statement, it was issued by Nicole Seah, the second aassistant secretary, not Hazel. On the other hand, Apparently, the newly co-opted CEC member cum Head of Media Team is missing from the CEC list as well.

These are the four main political parties (sorry for the exclusion of the others, including SPP, DPP and others) that I am going to examine at this Half Way Point.


The context of present situations is Post-LKY ERA. What will happen or how things will develop with the final phase of POST-LKY ERA in the making? It is clear by the day that the days that Singapore will live without the physical presence of LKY will come soon. Transitions into such era or even into change of ruling power have been discussed openly and intensely recently. The fundamental questions are:

1) Will PAP break with the passing of LKY?
2) Will PAP lose power after LKY pass on?
3) How will the political landscape change with the passing of LKY?

LKY has stepped down right after GE2011 along with Goh Chok Tong. There are common whispers that he did it in order to use his last influence to clear out the main internal challenge posed by the "GCT Camp" to his son's rule. This is just like old kungfu show that the old master uses his last political breathe to save his disciple from the great opponent, killing both the master and the opponent altogether.

The recent promotion exercise is also seen as a bid to look for someone "acceptable" by the Lee camp to take over as Prime Minister once the present PM Lee steps down. Apparently, Chan Chun Sing and Heng Swee Kiat are the front runners while some people think that Lawrence Wong may be the third contender.

Many people say that Heng Swee Kiat is "intelligent" guy and he should be the PM. But I beg to differ. LKY wasn't the smartest (as compared to Dr Goh Keng Swee) among his peers back in the 1960s, neither was he the most charismatic (as compared to Lim Ching Song) but he became the PM. Leadership cannot be built upon intelligence alone. Dr Goh Keng Swee might be the smartest guy among his peers but he lacked the charisma, especially public speaking skills, to be Prime Minister. Intelligence alone is only a necessary but insufficient condition for Prime Minister-ship. As for Chan Chun Sing, I cannot imagine us, Singapore, to have a Kee Chiu General to be our Prime Minister.

In fact, I think Tan Chuan Jin, who has been left out of promotion this time round, has the few critical criteria to become the next Prime Minister. He is a "thinking" minister who can make amends to his positions from time to time to suit changes in various situations. Although it is unfortunate that he has to face a couple of crisis in these couple of years which he may not have handled exceptionally well, but from my observations, he can make necessary reflections and adjustments quite responsively instead of sticking to stagnant stance like former MND Mah BT who kept insisting on his HDB pricing strategy and policy even though many people have shown him that his HDB policy is really screwed.

But nevertheless, whoever tries to become the next Prime Minister under PAP will definitely find himself in the worst position in history. PAP is after all, a "sunset party" and what it has relied heavily upon, the total monopoly of power and assurance of winning elections on every seats have diminished. It will find itself more and more difficult to recruit talented people to join them because they can no longer fulfill their promise easily as there will no longer be a "sure win" elections even under GRC system.

In view of that, it would naturally be a regression down hill development for PAP into mediocrity as it can only attract second or even third rate candidates in subsequent GE. 

PAP: Epoch Change? 

Apart from such development, on numerous occasions, PAP leaders have reiterated that they have changed and will make efforts to revamp their various policies. Most important of all, they are saying they will listen, starting with "National Conversation".

The government controlled (yes, it is a direct physical control via Press Act, giving government management ownership and huge voting rights) SPH and Main Stream Media (MSM) have hailed PM Lee's recent policy announcements made in his National Day Rally as "Epoch" changes made but is that really so?

Well, to continue to work towards 6.9 million population is anything but Epoch change. Having just a tiny tweak to their multi-million dollar ministerial salaries to yet, multi-million dollar ministerial salaries isn't really big change at all.

All these are more like Public Relations exercise rather than any serious game changer kind of policy shifts. Look, calling their tweaks in healthcare policy as "Universal Healthcare Insurance" scheme is just a bad attempt to hoodwink Singaporeans. Giving more HDB grants doesn't change the fact that their pricing mechanism is the key primary problem of spiral prices that have made asset inflation out of tune with normal inflation and salary increments for the middle-lower class. 

The bare truth is, Singaporeans continue to face the fundamental problems caused by PAP's reckless population planning which causes runaway asset inflation, runaway healthcare cost coupled with inadequate hospital beds, break down in public transport system especially for MRT and not to mention the constant flooding due to over-urbanization and Marina Barrage which was created to cope with higher water demand.

Most importantly, apart from the horrendous 6.9m population policy, their tweaks at Housing policy, healthcare and transport policies aren't exactly anything revolutionary at all.

This is especially true for HDB housing policy. Minister Khaw BW has tried his very best to deliver his promise of delivering 13,000 flats or so for this year but what he did not realize that housing problem is a long term stablizing problem. First and foremost, we need a total revamp of the wrong concept of taking HDB flats as an "investment". HDB is a home, not an investment. Secondly, we must make sure that HDB price inflation should not be higher than income increment trend. This will need a total revamp of the pricing mechanism. Third most important point is that HDB land pricing should not be used as a forever input into our Reserves. There is absolutely no reasons to pursue an indefinite growth in Reserves.

Has PAP turned the tide?

How successful is PAP in turning adverse public opinion against it? Some people opined that although PAP didn't really make great changes in these key areas but it has managed to convince and woo middle ground skeptics. I am not so sure that the middle ground could be so easily woo over.

This is especially so when PAP's crisis management skills are rather bad. This is especially so when the HAZE broke out, they couldn't even get their logistics right to deliver the masks on time as promised. Not to say about the weather warning mechanism is totally out of date and serve no purpose in safeguarding citizens' lives. Not for the HAZE warning system, neither for heavy rain and flood warning system.

If PAP cannot get both immediate crisis management, governance and future forward looking policy direction right, I am afraid that it has started to roll down the slippery slope of mediocrity. Pure lack of competency and Vision for the future will be PAP's undoing for the next GE. PAP used to provide basic fundamental competency at daily management and administration of the various systems in Singapore. At least, train doesn't break down that often, flooding doesn't occur that often as well, neither do we have constant crunch on hospital beds as well as public buses and train. I am afraid that all these basic competency has been replaced by complacency.

PAP has never been good at crisis management. I remember during the crisis of Silk Air 185 crash incident back in 1997, the then Transport Minister Mah BT was so stressed up that he actually blew his top on reporters. Now that we have all sorts of small and big crisis from time to time, ministers just acted in a reactive manner. They are just treating problems in isolation instead of taking a more holistic approach. In Chinese, we call that "脚痛医脚,头痛医头“, literally mean when the leg pain, just treat the leg, headache, just treat the head. It seems that their ability of "Helicopter View" has crashed landed.

I suspect PAP has got its priorities all wrong right from the top. Growth at all cost is still the master guiding principle. The push for 6.9m population plan is one glaring example of such "strategic thinking".

To make matter worse for PAP, its GOLDEN MANTRA "Whiter than White" has been put in serious doubt by various incidents. Integrity and Morality are something MORE than legality. What seems to be "legal" may not mean it is done with Morality and Integrity intact. 

Apart from the many big and small scandals on TOP civil servants taking bribes, the AIM saga makes PAP looks even worse, putting doubts aimed directly at its core value of "Whiter than White". Well, some may even put Michael Palmer saga as part of this deterioration and erosion of Core Value of PAP but we should not forget what happens to WP's YSL saga as well.

The most important implication of these scandals is directed at the Core Management Principle of PAP : High Pay = Eliminate Corruptions. Well, some may view that as "legalized corruptions" but it doesn't matter now. It would also mean that alternative system or methods should be explored to upkeep a clean system.

It simply means that we can no longer depend on an authoritarian system which pays its political appointees and civil servants high pay to ensure clean governance. The CORE Values of Democracy, Separation of POWERS should be established to enhance checks and balances on the various organs of governance to enhance clean management.

Apart from that, the concept of "conflict of interests" should be instilled and boundaries of good practices should be established. Due to the authoritarian nature of PAP's rule, the concept of "conflict of interests" has never been institutionalized as part of our Rule of Law, if any. With the empowerment of Internet Era, I think increasing demands on transparency, accountability and good governance will naturally raise expectation on what constitutes "Rule of Law" and "good management practices". But it seems that both PAP and WP failed to realize or understand such a shift on popular expectations.

On the other hand, PAP seems to be confused by its own promise of "light touch" approach to public opinions expressed on the internet by throwing spanners, threats of law suits, criminal persecution etc etc on bloggers, cartoonists and activists at large. It would be seen in a very bad contrasting light whereby PAP is lax towards its own morality and integrity while exercising draconian precision attacks on little errors made by citizens. In Chinese, this amount to "宽己严人", i.e. strict towards others while lax towards its own kind.


If PAP is determined to regain some ground it has lost, it should seriously reflect upon itself on all these grounds:

1) Readjustment to their Philosophy and Ideology of Governance, thus really revamp their various policies towards the new philosophical or ideological directions.

2) Improve their competency at governance, including crisis management.

3) There is a serious need to rethink on the issues of Integrity, Morality, Transparency, Accountability and Good Practices. It would mean to institutionalize Separation of Powers and strengthen the Rule of Law by putting more emphasis on issues of Conflict of Interests.

4) Whether PAP likes it or not, the internet or the New Media has become the important Fourth Institution of emerging Democracy in Singapore and it will replace PAP's controlled MSM totally if PAP still have any fantasy about using MSM as its propaganda tool or mouth piece. If PAP chose to revert to its old dictatorial ways of dealing with dissenting voices, it would end up losing more seats and power even more rapidly than it could imagine. It will have to relearn Public Relationship and Media management instead of relying on obedient, compliant media, editors and reporters to save them from public embarrassment. 

Last but not least, I give PAP an E as a ruling party which failed to evolve and adapt to the new reality on the ground as well as the internet.

Goh Meng Seng


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