Democracy held but at a price

Dear Straits Times,

The 10th May 2011 forum letter by Mr Tang Kum Cheong expresses a heartfelt sentiment amongst some Singaporeans – grief over the loss of a respected minister, Mr George Yeo.

But according to the 11th May 2011 Straits Times report “Business as usual at Foreign Ministry”, Mr George Yeo reportedly gave the assurance that it will be business as usual at the foreign ministry because it is an institution, they have officials, they have processes, so he is not worried.

We should all heed Mr Yeo’s words. If even he is not worried, why should voters worry? Voters should recognise that the minister is just one man out of thousands in a ministry. Even if he leaves, the thousands he leaves behind will continue to function properly in accordance to existing processes and collective institutional experience. The permanent secretary will continue to be around to lead the way and to ensure that things run smoothly. That is why a country like Belgium can function properly for a year without a parliament.

A friend of mine recently shared why she voted for the PAP. The country is well run, roads in her home area are being widened in anticipation of heavier traffic loads. But is the transport minister personally invested in looking after the widening of every single road in the country? Most probably not. Again, it is the civil servants or employees in government linked companies that are looking after the wellbeing of our society day in day out. So my friend ended up voting for the civil service instead even though the civil service didn’t contest in the elections. Many Singaporeans actually voted for the civil service which Mr George Yeo has acknowledged will function normally even when individual ministers get changed. There is no reason why another minister, even if he comes from the opposition camp, will change the smooth functioning of the civil service as long as he is a reasonable, conscientious person.

But if the ministry can function on its own, what is the purpose of the minister? The minister is an elected member of the parliament. Putting an elected person in charge of the ministry ensures that the ministry is answerable to the people. But if the minister sings his own party tunes instead of echoing the voice of the people, then the minister becomes as good as useless.

The minister’s head is never too high a price to pay for democracy that will ensure fairness and well being for all Singaporeans.


2 Responses to “Democracy held but at a price”

  1. alistairchew Says:

    Hi Mr Ng, part of the system is also that the Minister is elected as an MP to serve the people, and selected by his party to be in charge of setting policy goals for the civil service. Mr Yeo did a good job in general of our foreign policy goals but, as he pointed out, the MFA can continue to carry out policy without him. The loss is that a lot of diplomacy relies on personal relationships, and Mr Yeo was good at that. That said, I suspect Mr Yeo would agree with you that a ‘democracy that will ensure fairness and well being’ for us all is truly a worthy goal. Cheers!

  2. defennder Says:

    Huh? Mr Yeo did a good job? Really? Ok he’s an approachable and humble man, who’s not arrogant unlike most of colleagues. But wasn’t it he who let Silviu Ionescue flee the country, and who also said that the sham Burmese elections which resulted in the NLD being banned was a major step forward for the country?

    This was the same minister who in the 1990s stuck by a hard cap on medical student intake and refused to increase admission numbers even as the population swelled. Now Singapore has one of the poorest doctors per capita ratio in developed countries. What was Minister Yeo’s recommendation then in the 1990s? Bring in more foreign doctors, he said. Better that than to increase intake. If you have had to wait in line for a long time to see a doctor, please bear in mind that this hard cap which George Yeo stuck by certainly had something to do with it.

    On the foreign policy front, was it not George Yeo who let slipped a chance to build better ties with Indonesia. How exactly did he screw it up? See:

    I’m beginning to wonder. Can someone name a single major George Yeo accomplishment most Singaporeans can be proud of? He was, I remember the same person who spearheaded the Esplanade and the Casinos. How many Singaporeans are proud of that?

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