The appointment of cabinet ministers by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raises some troubling questions about the way the Government continues to operate.
These questions centre around the stepping down of former ministers Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan, and Raymond Lim which came as a bolt from out of the blue. There was no hint before or during the elections that these men would not continue to be in the cabinet line-up.
It is not so much their exclusion from the cabinet rather than the way their sackings/resignations was conducted that should concern Singaporeans.
At a press conference on Monday, PM Lee told the country that Messrs Wong, Mah and Lim (hereafter referred to as the “three ministers”) had indicated that they had wanted to step down from their cabinet posts even before the elections but were told (presumably by Mr Lee himself) to stay on until after the general elections. This would strengthen the PAP’s hand at the polls.
And so after the elections, their desire to relinquish their ministerial positions was respected by the Prime Minister.
But was this really the case? Mr Lim Boon Heng, also a minister, was allowed to retire before the elections. Mr Lim was no lightweight – he was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and was the secretary-general of the NTUC. He is also the chairman of the PAP.
If PM Lee really wanted heavyweight ministers to help anchor the PAP team and win the elections, why did he not keep Mr Lim as he did the other three ministers during the hustings?
Then there is also the Goh Chok Tong factor. The former Senior Minister launched a jaw-dropping broadside against Wong, Mah and Lim in what seemed like a desperate attempt to save Mr George Yeo from electoral defeat.
He said: “What mistake has he (George Yeo) made? You can take a minister and criticise him for not delivering on perhaps housing (Mah Bow Tan) and transport (Raymond Lim). Like Wong Kan Seng you can say he let Mas Selamat escape. George Yeo, what has he done to deserve this? And he is a core member.”
(Mr Goh’s quote in the Today newspaper was cleaned up. Mr Goh’s actual words were: “Like Wong Kan Seng you can say ‘Put him out’ because he let Mas Selamat escape.” Watch the video. This is another instance of how the media distorts the record.)
This is the first time such a schism has been so publicly displayed by PAP leaders. Mr Goh could have given the electorate at Aljunied all the reasons they needed to vote for Mr Yeo and stopped there.
But he didn’t. He turned on his three fellow ministers, demonstrating his frustration and displeasure at the situation. He named Mr Yeo as a “core member” of the PAP together with the PM and DPM Mr Teo Chee Hean, and left everybody else out.
Significantly, no such endorsement came from Mr Lee Hsien Loong. And when Mr Yeo thanked his party for the support, he mentioned only Mr Goh.
Mr Wong Kan Seng was not taking all this lying down. He fired back at the Senior Minister, saying: “Well, that is just SM Goh’s personal opinion.”
In the video, the former DPM betrayed no sign that he was going to step down. If anything his defensiveness told viewers that he was determined to stay on as a minister.
He added that, “And if you heard the Prime Minister three years’ ago, his views are very clear as to what needs to be done and I don’t need to repeat what the Prime Minister had said of me. If he didn’t think I could contribute, I wouldn’t be here.” (Italics added)
Obviously, Mr Wong was referring to PM Lee’s confidence in him to continue serving as DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security after the elections, a post he was appointed to just before the elections.
Why would Mr Lee promote Mr Wong to national security coordinator (a post now given to DPM Teo Chee Hean) if Mr Wong had indicated that he wanted to resign from the cabinet after the elections?
Two camps, five resignations and more questions
Clearly two camps had emerged: One was with the Lees which included the three ministers and the other Mr Goh and (at least one other) Mr Yeo.
Then came the post-election bombshell: Mr Lee announced the resignation of the three ministers. To add to the intrigue, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh himself also tendered their resignations from the cabinet.
Given all the unhappiness and back-biting, did PM Lee have to do the necessary to placate all sides: Let the three ministers go, and ask SM to step down?
As readers can see there are many troubling questions about what went on before, during and after the GE: Why wasn’t Lim Boon Heng asked to stay on like Wong Kan Seng, Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim? Were the two camps the reason that led to the stepping down of the five ministers at one go? Did SM Goh also know that the three had indicated that they had wanted to step down before the elections?
If we accept that the three ministers did indeed indicate that they had wanted to step down as ministers after the GE, it still leaves the all-important question: Why did PM Lee not inform the voters before the elections?
Elections are based on informed choices, or at least they should. Given certain information, voters may or may not choose to vote for a particular candidate or party. This was not the case for Singaporeans going to the polls on 7 May. Choosing not to tell voters the intention of the three ministers led voters to think that they would be voting for the trio to continue in their posts.
This is not the way a government should operate. The people of Singapore deserve better, they deserve transparency from this Government. Keeping secret till after the elections the intention of ministers wishing to step down is not what the people deserve.
The goings-on within the PAP and the Government throw up many questions that scream for answers and Singaporeans have the right to know what is going on. These happenings do not inspire confidence – and in a government that is only two weeks old.