Will unrestrained controversies undermine the future of Singapore?

When PMO announces the retirement of Auditor-General Willie Tan Yoke Meng (who is only 63 years old) and replaced him with Goh Soon Poh (who is the wife of Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How) it rightly drew flaks and anger from many Singaporeans. Why is our government retiring a highly capable and highly functional civil head when it itself is advocating for a higher retirement age?

AG Willie Tan has been flagging Government Ministries, Agencies and Town Councils over the years for many of their repeated financial and accounting lapses. For the younger Singaporeans, he is the reflection of what our no-nonsense Permanent Secretary or “Mandarins” used to be – competent yet fearless leaders who dare to do what is right. It is because of the sincere dedication and commitment of such individuals to do what is right for Singapore that had contributed to the collective success of our civil service.

Our civil service was highly admired by many other advanced economies and even our immediate neighbours were always lamenting aloud about how they could make their civil service like ours.

But as politics begin to transcend deeper into our civil service, clueless political appointees were appointed. In turn, they in turn bring in their own pool of “yes-sir” senior executives and the quality of our civil service had clearly deteriorated tremendously over these past years.

Look at the many lapses, failures and breaches that had taken place and the growing anger of Singaporeans about how our civil service could no longer get some simple things done right. This issue has yet again reflects the valid concern that all is not well with the way our government is politicalizing our civil service.

The only positive thing about this is, like a blessing from above, is that our younger Singaporeans finally get to see with their own eyes, in a more explicit manner, how politics had been eroding away our civil service, and what a real “Mandarin” is all about.

Our government must act with greater restraint in appointing related individuals or their “manufactured” political leaders and their army of “yes-sir” executives into strategic ministries, agencies or our GLCs. We ought to be encouraging and empowering highly functional and capable ones, and allowing them to recommend their shortlisted successors whom they must have been grooming over the years.

If our leaders value these no-nonsense Mandarins or our working class for their vital contributions to our Nation Building, they ought to be equally comfortable and appreciative of their hard responses when things are not well. That is what our ex-AG Willie Tan and his team are being perceived to be doing.

Surely our ex-AG would have groomed some equally fearless and competent successors, who dare to put the interest of the country ahead of theirs, for serious consideration. Is our government telling us that there is no such competent successors from within the AGO? Are we inadvertently also “sandwiching” or “sidelining” competent senior executives within our civil service?

Opposition MP Sylvia Lim was right in questioning parliament about such a controversial appointment but what is even more troubling is the response by Minister-in-Charge of the Civil Service Chan Chun Sing. His reply not only echo-chambered the narrative of his political party but ended up not answering the question: Is this the type of PM-leadership Singaporeans aspire?

But what can Chan really be expected to do? There are already a few husband and wife teams in our public sector where one of them is politically aligned. For Chan to dictate otherwise, he would also have to question these other controversies. Can he be expected to take on his superior and question them about their potential conflict of interest?

If he cannot adequately deal with such Hard Truths and address the concern of Singaporeans, I think many of our ex-Mandarins or even our ex-AG has much to offer him on how to do what is right fearlessly. The boy has much to learn.

No one is against the new AGO or her 30 years of experience. If she has good conscience and the foresight to understand how controversial her appointment really is, she would have excused herself in the first place. Personal character and discipline are traits of good leadership.

No smart leaders will ever put themselves into a position of controversy. In the eyes of the public, this is akin to selling off their souls. Can she be expected to tell her husband off publicly for the failures within his Town Council or in MINDEF, or will she be accused of tipping him off prematurely? Point is – why subject herself to hell when the controversy can be avoided?

Singaporeans finally get to witness how such a controversial appointment can pass through the many layers of check and balance that our government had “diligently” put in place – from the evaluation and recommendation of the Civil Service Commission to the PMO, then from the Council of Presidential Advisors to the selected President, and finally the parliament.

If our check and balance cannot filter out this controversy, we ought to be concerned as more of such controversies would get pass these “cracks” effortlessly. Do we have sufficient opposition in parliament to demand greater accountability?

I remain clueless about which part of the controversy is our government unable to see or understand? An online poll with some 2,400 votes shows that 96% sees a conflict of interest while 4% thinks otherwise. Surely our government and the civil service would have done their own preliminary sampling in some form but why did they still proceed with such a questionable appointment? Are they even aware of the various negative messages this controversy is sending out to the public and our investors, or how it contradicted our policy to increase retirement age?

What I really feel concerned about is the future of individuals like Willie Tan who are still working diligently in our civil service and the many more good ex-Mandarins who had spoken out or acted fearlessly in doing what is good for the country but somehow are being sidelined prematurely or ignored.

Take for example Philip Yeo, former head of EDB and A-STAR, who warned the government against ending up like an imperial court where useless eunuchs propagate their self-interests and create trouble to make themselves useful. I am beginning to wonder if our government truly value serious feedbacks or the many highly competent leaders who dare to disagree or act differently from them. Will Singapore end up horribly like those dysfunctional imperial dynasties?

I am equally concern about the many good souls within our civil service who still aspire to do what is right. If they are ever sidelined or disadvantaged in any way for their sincere effort to do what is right, just like our fearless Mandarins, then they may at some point, end up being politically-victimized by our present system. As part of our working class, we ought to be in good conscience also empathize with them, find ways to support and empower these future Mandarins and their senior executives, and start acting to reverse the politicalizing of our civil service before it starts to destroy itself from within.

We need to push for the return of our fearless and highly competent Mandarins and reject all other mediocre propositions as our civil service is the backbone of our economy. If our civil service ever ruptured from within, our economy will suffer, and all our years of effort in Nation Building to build our socio-economic dreams will vanish like a shattered dream. It is time we act decisively and engage our government factually and constructively.

It is looking to be a wasted endeavor when it comes to our so called 4G leaders. With each incident, they are starting to look more like an echo-chamber or seat-warmers for their superiors, concerned only about keeping themselves commercially viable. If they show no real concern when Singaporeans raise their concerns, then I think our future is indeed very bleak.

The few good opposition leaders in parliament are currently out-numbered by the incumbent to be doing anything effective. We need to bring into parliament more credible opposition leaders who dare to question and champion the protection of our working class and our civil service. They have to put Singapore and the interests of Singaporeans ahead of themselves and their parties. Competent opposition leaders must get their acts together and show better public-character, articulation-skill and commitment than the incumbent, and start winning the hearts and minds of the voters decisively.

The time-tested DNAs of our working class and that of our civil service are worth protecting. These are what that had make us great as a nation, and we must be proud and honoured to be protecting them. Our government must stop overly-politicalize, trade or trivialize these vital assets. Time for Singaporeans to get really serious about the state of affairs of our government because as Singaporeans, we all deserve better.


Joseph Nathan



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14 Responses to “Will unrestrained controversies undermine the future of Singapore?”

  • raise retirement age to 108:

    //Why is our government retiring a highly capable and highly functional civil head when it itself is advocating for a higher retirement age?//

    yar lor. but never mind.

    please raise retirement age to 108 year old but please hor don’t pretend pretend then start to raise cpf withdrawal age and min sum hor.

    GD Star Rating
  • Mike:

    There is no innocent people in politics.

    If your boss is doing the bad things, being quiet or supportive is equally morally wrong.

    Anyone who Toe the Line is as guilty as the one doing it.

    Trust no one who claims innocent.

    VTO if any of us still have a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.

    GD Star Rating
  • can we report CI to police?:

    Will unrestrained controversies undermine the future of Singapore?

    no need controversies already Spore is undermined.

    remember during haste how clown pap bala was rebuffed by Indonesian minister as a small kid. we agree with Indonesian minister.

    remember in recent days how clown pap bala tried to BS about water agreement. no sane person ever write a CONTRACT that says price review on 25th year and nothing else thereafter. it is impossible. which means bala is lying. because the truth is, probably the intent was, review anytime from 25th year.

    so with aa kid like bala in clown pap upsetting Indonesia and Msia, no need controversies already Spore is undermined.

    do we care? HELL no. since it is 70% sheep who suffers. don’t we suffer at the same time? WELL, we are old and jobless with only HDB rental unit so not much to look forward to anyway so no ffff care.

    let 70% sheep suffer for its folly. we sleep easy. since nothing much to defend and nothing much to look forward to, it is easy to ffff care.

    GD Star Rating
  • Apek:

    Both dont have accountancy degree la.

    GD Star Rating
  • The Steep Decline Continues:

    Need more yesmen to cover up or turn a blind eye to all the failures and any misdeeds.
    A few more of straight talker no nonsense Philip yeo types will shake up the slacking admin service.

    GD Star Rating
  • LIONS:

    Will unrestrained controversies undermine the future of Singapore?


    ALREADY,so MANY ordinary sgs have been undermined by the controversial remarks of bloke$ like kee-chiu minister and others like him!

    calling sgs DAFT has had caused foreigners to show disregard for their sg hosts,for instance.

    saying sgs have not enough talent and therefore dumping more fake FTs here has also been affecting sgs negatively.

    want to name more?

    no need lah!

    these BLOKE$,they know WTF they have said and done to UNDERMINE us and SG’s FUTURE as undermining our future is undermin ing SG’s future for,ultimately,WE ARE SINGAPORE,not some economic opportunist who do not truly care if SG survives tomorrow,ya???

    GD Star Rating
  • Wayang Coming:

    Expect few session of pre-arranged Wayang/Stage-show to boost integrity image. 70% sinkies easily fooled.

    Just see the MiloIndianCumMalay Manipulation and what they cannot do to you.

    Now already forced all the compulsory payment from you [careshield life for example], soon it will be worse.

    GD Star Rating
  • evil rules on earth:

    like the famous saying goes, ” the good ‘die’ young”.
    in this new age era evil rules..all around the world..

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  • rukidding:

    It goes to show that “they” have many “things” to “hide” !

    Period !

    Only those dafts 70% believes in them !

    Fiack the shit to them

    GD Star Rating
  • last chance:

    our once perfect clean and beautiful country is losing its steam together with its integrity…all bcuz of the inept and childish gov we have who’s running our country to the ground.
    the citizens are in virtual shackles..
    cant do zilch except to use our vote…but that system too is ‘rigged’ to their advantage.

    GD Star Rating
  • Bobo:

    What is Singaporeans’ top priority after 2015? Vote for change, vote for justice, vote to free all Singaporeans who are subjects of PAP, vote to return your CPF money at 55yo. Vote for subsidized Uni for only Singapore borned children etc. But please DO NOT vote for “YES” MPs who looked after their own interests.

    GD Star Rating
  • Boh Kia See:

    Nepotism is like incest–it results in deformities. We are already seeing those deformities in the HIV+ leak, the computer hacking etc. These acts are well known but in this case, we are talking about what the people did when they discovered those acts. They have problems in judgement–that is the deformity.

    You get the same issue with the CFC Pang’s demise as well–what did the Minister do–what was their response? Nothing–absolutely –nothing. The first time the Minister spoke about the incident publicly is during Parliament addressing a row of blinking chairs.

    The PAP will tout their “transparency”, “accountability”–concepts they have no intention of implementing. The actions of Ministers in Eygpt and Ethiopia puts our Minister to shame.

    Time to VTO—for the betterment of Singapore.

    GD Star Rating
  • greed and grand ideas:

    //our once perfect clean and beautiful country is losing its steam together with its integrity//

    because of uncontrolled greed and grand ideas which do not pen out too nicely due to global changes which sinkie land is subject to – local power / long term plans is subject to the bigger scheme of global power / shorter-and-shorter change cycles – especially a good chunk of sinkies resources are also invested outside the country – e.g be it sovereign funds or human culture (import of different cultures due to open leg policy).

    GD Star Rating
  • Demoncratic Country:

    Indirectly warn all the civil heads, comicsional, jugs, lawnsociety to comply to the famiLEE demand or be replaced.

    Soon all will be the MiloIndianCumMalays or similar variants….

    Demoncratic Cuntry.

    GD Star Rating
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