This article originally appeared on Vulcan Post.
8 years ago, I came to Singapore to pursue my undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS), a decision that would later lead me to continue working — and more importantly, living — in Singapore.
During my time at NUS, all undergraduates had to take up Singapore Studies, a compulsory module for students to gain a deeper understanding of Singapore’s history, as well as her nation building efforts. It was through this module that I first came to know about the political background of Singapore, its governing structure, the concept of gerrymandering, and of course, the elections.
Like many of my peers, I am somewhat apolitical: we read what the media says about certain ministers, and we allow the media to shape our perceptions of ministers in Singapore. Most of us will probably never get the chance to meet any ministers up close anyway.
So when NTUC invited me to an intimate media session with labour chief and NTUC’s Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing, there was no reason for me to say no. It was probably the only time that I would get to meet with a minister in a relaxed setting, I figured.
As soon as Minister Chan entered the room, the chatter faded; he went around introducing himself to each of us, and assured us that this would be similar to his regular meet-the-people sessions. All of us were free to voice our concerns and to ask him work-related or personal questions.
While I came prepared with some casual questions, the tone of the conversation was geared towards a more intellectual discussion about the various policies that had been implemented by the government over the past few years. I did not manage to ask the minister anything (“What was the hardest decision you had to make?”), but I did listen attentively to how Minister Chan responded to the various questions raised by other media representatives.
It dawned on me, then, just how much more fortunate and blessed Singapore (and Singaporeans) were in comparison to my fellow Malaysians.
You see, I used to enjoy being asked about Malaysia when I first came to Singapore. Sadly, I realised recently that that’s no longer the case, especially with the recent 1MDB scandal, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s alleged misappropriation of funds, the Low Yat riot, the tumble of the Ringgit, and the series of Johore car thefts, among other incidents.
Something that Minister Chan raised, and which I remember clearly from our session with him, was that being in politics (or any leadership role, for that matter), you need to be able to make the best and right decisions, even if they may be unpopular. Case in point: fuel prices. The easy decision to win the hearts of citizens and many in the Cabinet would be to subsidise fuel costs; logic would make it seem as though everyone would enjoy savings and benefit from this.
But this is hardly the case: in actual fact, the rich would benefit more (because they consume more fuel), while the poor would not enjoy much — if any — savings at all since they cannot afford to drive. The tough but right decision would be to increase fuel prices through taxes, and transfer the tax revenue to everyone.
Here’s a great illustration on the matter from My 15 Hour Work Week, who was also there for the session:
Minister Chan himself has a humble background; he admitted that coming from a single-parent family made him who he is. “My mother is a machine-operator. I do not stay with my father because my parents are divorced. I think my poor background has made me more determined to succeed.”
But while his family wasn’t that well off, Minister Chan studied hard and graduated as one of the top four scorers from Raffles Junior College. He was awarded a President’s Scholarship and Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship, which he used to pursue an economics degree at Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge. He graduated with First Class Honours.
Prior to entering the Parliament, Minister Chan also served as Chief of Army at 40, and subsequently became one of the youngest Cabinet ministers at 42.
Other issues discussed included the issuance of work permits and foreign talents, all of which Minister Chan answered eloquently. He shared with us that the government takes into account all possible solutions, and adopts only the most equitable one for Singapore citizens.
It was through the session that I realised that Singaporeans and Singapore are blessed with great talents in the Cabinet who truly put the interests of Singaporeans above all else. Most of us do not follow Parliamentary debates or dwell on how policies are made; we often complain about policies only after they have been introduced. However, the conversation with Minister Chan convinced me that policies in Singapore have all been properly thought through, and we can be assured that the government has got the backs of all Singaporeans — no one will be left out.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I feel the same for Malaysia. I am not confident that all members of Malaysia’s Cabinet put the interests of its people first, or at least strive to do the right thing for the nation, instead of making popular decisions just to win the hearts of certain races in order to stay in the Cabinet. I’m not sure if they are even trying.
Unpatrotic, I know.
And as I walked out of the building where we met Minister Chan, I couldn’t help but mumble to myself, “Singaporeans are so much more fortunate than Malaysians.” Pretty sure a lot of my fellow Malaysians feel the same too.
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