Thursday, May 10, 2018

Opinion piece: 4th Generation Prime Minister and ministers need to stay closely connected to the ground

A proposal to the Cabinet of the Singapore Government

I agree with many of the views expressed candidly by Editor-at large Han Fook Kwang in his insightful commentary (What qualities should a PM have; last Sunday, May 6, 2018, The Sunday Times).

Have empathy and compassion

Besides being totally honest and one who has much integrity, a good politician must exercise compassion and empathy to understand the hardships citizens are facing, and then take concreate measure to alleviate the suffering of those in need.  Singapore is blessed because we have corrupt-free leaders.

Stay constantly in touch with the ground

To be able to do this, the next Prime Minister and his team must stay closely connected to the ground, listen carefully to feedback where they are able to not only hear arguments from the people, but to learn what it will take on behalf of all parties involved, including  the various government agencies, to reach a consensus.

Be receptive to useful feedback, ideas and suggestions

This characteristic allows political leaders to recognise setbacks, view constructive criticism positively, and then be willing to accept useful suggestions that can benefit the nation. 

Improved teamwork across all ministries

In relation to Fook Kwang’s observation of each ministry taking care of its own tasks and priorities, it is very true that if every ministry works in silo, then many of the todays’ complex problems that have, and, are coming on-stream will not be resolved.  I remember clearly reading a press report on DPM Teo Chee Hean who is also currently the minister in charge of the civil service echoing what Fook Kwang has rightly pointed out.

To this end, I propose that a high-level Work Improvement Team (WIT) be formed at the Prime Minister’s office or Head of the Civil Service office whereby one or two executives from the 16 ministries together executives from PMO or the head of civil services’ office who can meet monthly or bi-monthly to identify and analyze issues faced by each ministry and then propose constructive solutions. 

With the proposed WIT in place, there will be far better teamwork across the public sector, and Singaporeans will benefit tremendously –bearing in mind that a united civil service paves the way for a united country.  
Promote active citizenry, keep the communication lines open and be humble in victory

Given that technology has enhanced our way of living and is here to stay, it is crucial for our leaders to respond positively to suggestions and feedback, even if it is just an interim reply.

The press must also play a supporting role and publish letters and opinions that are valued-added, and not be skeptical to put out the articles that can help in nation-building or reject them because they may be afraid of incurring the wrath of the authorities.

Active citizenry must be promoted at all levels and at all ages – within the civil service and outside the public sector.    We do not want a situation where active citizens step forward with constructive feedback and useful ideas and no one bothers to reply. Because when such a scenario develops, people will stop contributing.

We must encourage innovation and creativity, not stifle it.  To think creatively, we need to stop thinking, "What it is..." and instead think, "What could it be?"

The 4 G leaders must also heed ESM Goh Chok Tong’s wise words when at one of the press conferences after the PAP won decisively at one of the General Elections, he called on all elected MPs to remain humble in victory.

Today’s society is totally different from that of the early Singapore years.  People are now more vocal and if there is much unhappiness in the nation, we will become a divided country.

Emulate the good work of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew

As a pioneer citizen, I vividly remember how PAP’s founding father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) managed to rally the people of Singapore through his regular walkabouts in 1963, despite having to brave harsh weather conditions and poor conditions in rural areas that lacked in adequate street lighting, direct water and electricity supplies and other essential amenities.


The senior Lee did not limit his outreach to the people to just his Meet-The-People’s session to understand sentiments on the ground and to get the constituents to understand the various government policies but took it one step further by reaching out to the masses through his many walkabouts and that was why the people gave their unflagging support to the PAP.  


LKY also visited my former school in St Andrew’s at Potong Pasir during the 60s to show staunch support for education.


Another important factor that contributed to nation loyalty was that it was not only the old guard that brought about Singapore’s success story, but the hard work of the older generation of ordinary Singaporeans that made a BIG difference.

Leaders who possess this rare quality of always wanting to stay connected with the people inspire others – drawing on a level of trust which sparks the motivation to get others on board and get the job done.


Results of Malaysia General Elections bound to have a ripple effect on Singapore


Undoubtedly, the win which the opposition – led by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sucessfully secured is bound to have a ripple effect on Singapore.   He is a visionary champion who managed through sheer determination and tenacity managed to get the Malaysians to make change with the long-term goal of improving the lives of the people.   As I read the comments on social media from netizens – both Malaysians and Singaporeans, it is abundantly clear that all of them are pleased with the results.

On all accounts BN's historic downfall in Malaysia after 60 years is a clear and timely signal for the PAP to reach out to the ground and ensure that they will do more to help our citizens.  When my house almost caught fire, I raised this matter to the whole cabinet – including my MP and Mayor, but sadly, none showed any concern whatsoever, and they are fully aware that I am a widower who live all alone.  Are not MPs elected to serve the people?  Must I live in fear all the time?

Given that Dr Mahathir has had several run-ins with Singapore leaders, it is crucial that Singapore’s next PM and the 4th generation leaders possess the dynamic charisma and diplomacy to ensure that bi-lateral relations continue to grow as many of the projects and investments like the rail system are costly.


At the end of the day, both our future leaders and the media must keep the communication lines open, encourage active citizenry and harness that drive to improve the lives of all our people – locals and foreigners alike so that everyone has ‘A Place in the Sun’.  For to do anything less is doing a big disservice to the country.


The choice is there, seize it!

Raymond Anthony Fernando

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