Too smart to use the ‘off’ button

One of my kid’s biggest gripes with me is that I don’t make much use of the off button on my iPhone. She constantly reminds me that I need to turn off my phone when I’m not using it. She tells me that turning off my phone when not using it allows me to avoid unpleasant accidents.

I’m bringing this topic up because it seems that I’m part of an elite group of people who are too smart to use the off button on their devices. Our foreign minister, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan was recently forced to apologies to non-constituency member of parliament (NCMP), Mr. Leong Mun Wai during a parliamentary debate. Dr. Balakrishnan was caught on camera making remarks about Mr. Leong being “illiterate,” and how he was surprise that Mr. Leong made it to “RI” (Raffles Institution – one of Singapore’s elite schools) to his colleagues during the debate on CECA (the free trade agreement with India).

The result of this has been an online storm. It’s been pointed out that Dr. Balakrishnan had exposed himself and the party of being what everyone else has been accusing it of being for the last two decades – elitist and out of touch. Dr. Balakrishnan had to issue an apology to Mr. Leong.

Taken from the Facebook page of Mr. Leong Mun Wai

Unfortunately for Dr. Balakrishnan, his apology to Mr. Leong will not end things. His “private” remarks about “lousy schools,” runs contrary to the government’s recent efforts to down play the need for great academics.

I will leave the discussion on what Dr. Balakrishnan said, as this is something that everyone else is discussing. His remarks were troubling. This was a prominent minister proving the opposition party’s point that the government is out of touch. However, the fact that this mistake was made was also troubling because it showed something even worse – government complacency.

Sure, there’s an argument that Dr. Balakrishnan is only human and bound to make mistakes. However, this isn’t a mistake you’d expect of a politician of Dr. Balakrishnan’s standing. As far as non-politicians are concerned, we believe that politicians generally play things up for an audience. As such, we expect politicians to be very aware of their situation.

Politics, as much as most communication ministries might like to deny, is a game played in the public eye. Politicians who intend to hang onto power are painfully aware that they are always under the spotlight and they actually need to become the public image. People who are aware that they are being scrutinized do not make mistakes like ensuring that the microphones are off.

Politicians who make this basic mistake lose elections. In the UK, two former Prime Ministers were killed by this. There was John Major who described his cabinet colleagues as “bastards” for live radio when he thought the radio was off. He was crushed in a landslide in the 1997 election. Then there was Gordon Brown who talked about a “bigoted old woman” while his microphone was still on. Mr. Brown promptly lost the 2010 election. Both Mr. Major and Mr. Brown had taken over charismatic predecessors and their respective political parties had reached the end of their respective lifespans. Getting caught making uncalled for remarks on air only confirmed what voters suspected – it was time for someone else.

Dr. Balakrishnan and his colleagues are lucky in as much as this incident happened a year after the election. Unlike the UK, Singapore’s government is an unenviable position in as much as the opposition parties have yet to form any credible challenge. Singapore’s opposition parties’ campaign on the need for more opposition rather than on being an alternative government. So, on this level, it’s unlikely that the ruling party is in any danger of being turfed out in the immediate future.

However, a mistake that is usually made by politicians at the end of their political life was made. This also happened a year after the ruling party had lost more seats. You would imagine that the ruling party that is known for planning decades in advance, would have become even more sensitive to things that would offend voters. This mistake by a senior politician would indicate that the ruling party has taken its position as its position as the champion of a one-horse race is a divine right. This is usually an indication to voters that change is necessary. If the ruling party insist that these signs are to be covered up by laws restricting information, it will be a sign to voters that there is a need to give the vote to a party that is hungry for votes.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




16 Responses to “Too smart to use the ‘off’ button”

  • Real idiotic millister:

    A so-called highly literate $m millister turns out to be imbecile.

    The hard truth is that he is supposed to lead Sg to become a Smart Nation.

    Eh, not a very smart chap to have to do the job!

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  • Absurdity:

    They allowed elitism to get away with a simple apology.
    They allowed the manpower minister to escape unscathed without uttering a word.
    They allowed the speaker to play dumb. THAT PARTY is hypocritical. Time to remove people without moral grounds and backbones.

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  • Pride goes before a fall:

    Bala, Bala, why like that?

    You were in a venerable place called parliament, not some kopi tiam or ktv room.

    Wake up, OK?

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  • illiterate lousy school:

    S$m move mountains, especially in pap regime.

    that is why pap parleeement approved the S$m they ownself justified ownself and ownself paid ownself schemes.

    in any truly honest government, what pap parleeement legislated is illegal, no difference from najib and wife 1mdb.

    same as 1mdb? YES. goal is to churi S$m.

    the reason why pap folks like bala and snakemugam talk haughtily is because they have S$m in their bank accounts, giving them the thought they are far better than the cotton sheep who voted them into their S$m ownself pay ownself roles.

    pap PA paid IBs no end saying, pap bala is just a human who said lousy school without meaning it.


    out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

    it is because pap bala, and also pap snakemugam, and all the ah nehs, are forked tongue worse than cobras, that he, and they, so speak. nothing on human plane can justify what they hoard in their cobra hearts. they so spoke and therefore they so thought.

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  • xoxo:


    KARMA AT WORK here.
    In other words,GOD IS WATCHING you * FROM A DISTANCE*( song from Bette Midler).


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  • opposition dude:

    Being out of touch and complacent is one thing, beig bloody ARROGANT and thinking that you are above everyone else is another. And the poster boy for arrogance is, not surprisingly, from their dead forever founder Kayu. He said plenty of stuff in the time he was PM but we all remember his repent comment to Aljunied a decade ago. The sheer audacity of it all eh? Here we have a politician on taxpayers’ money having the guts to warn/frighten voters of repenting indeed ha ha ha.

    It’s now a changed environment for the turkeys liao, more people disagree with their lousy half arsed policies since they aren’t very good. And this endemic pandemic has shown us more than once just how useless the vaunted 4G are supposed to be. Now that one of the 4G has been kicked out by Sengkang and the other is out of the running for PMship it shows just how bad their planning is and how very complacent they have become.

    Sure, they might not be voted out in the next 2 to 3 elections but hey, we can always vote in more opposition into parliament and have even more vigorous debates right? We currently have 10 now so let’s make PAP lose both East and West Coast GRCs in the next round and send them yet another clear signal.

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  • Realistically:

    The problem with the commentaries I hv read is that none has acknowledge the fundamental flaw of the emperor without clothes regime’s incompetence and short comings………..the emperor without clothes, and I must say, most sinkies think that those not described as “elites” and not earning at least $500k per annum are just mediocre.

    Coincidentally, the 160th ranked ST highlighted that SINKaPOOR’s 3rd richest man, Goh Cheng Liang of the Nippon paint, only had primary 3 education………I also remember that HK’s richest man Li KaShing lamented his lack of formal education.

    Based on the standards of the emperor without clothes himself, having been a Cambridge University ‘wrangler’, he would hv done SINKaPOOR a huge favour if he had never been in a position of power………and so for his maverick wife who studied at Stanford U.

    As for Balakrishnan as the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative at the material time, his failure to ask Li Hongyi about the justification for the implementation of the useless Trace-Together token in accordance with the ICNIRP protocols clearly showed his incompetence as a Minister……………which I believe also applies to many other Ministers and some of those so-called “elites” in both the Cabinet & Civil Service………….which is why I use the term SINaPOOR.

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  • Asd:

    I think ba lan Chris nah shows behind the party”$ curtain type of conversatiin unless the party comes out in public to say ba lan Chris nah is no representatuve of it’s party as a whole

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  • sad:

    Sad incident.
    Need more EQ…

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  • NotMyProblem:

    Ever since the PM used two days of Parliament time to exonerate himself, this parliament begins to turn into a circus.

    Speaker is not doing his job. MPs and Ministers having private cock talking at the back. Some even use it as a place for a siesta.

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  • Not so smart leh:

    Seem not so smart ,Smart Minister…
    Time to change.

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  • xoxo:

    This confirms PAP as the Petty And Arrogant Party.
    Petty as they nitpick on the smallest matter.Arrogant as we all know.


    But despite $100 Billion to rescue jobs ,many more sgs were retrenched.

    Yet,govt boasts about MNCs bringing their senior executive posts into Sg during Covid .
    Sure,if the G pours sgs’ money to rescue these intra-company FT JOB$?

    ANYWAY,TSL NEEDS TO FURNISH DETAILS OF SUCH ICTs’ $ALARIES as they receive furlough paid with sgs’ reserves???

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  • Heaven has eyes:

    Our country is in deep schitt.

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  • Fire:

    Heaven has eyes:
    Our country is in deep schitt.


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  • Oops !:

    Is that – AristoCATs
    “foot in the mouth”?
    Or, “pants down”?
    Or, just being real?
    More than 39% should try the Power of the Ballot Box !

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  • Trust only myself:

    How we ended up with so many lousy politicians coming from RI is indeed sad.
    Thanks to those voters who accepted drum sticks…….

    Can anyone remember who over spent hundreds of millions in Youth Olympics……?

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