The cabinet is adorned with ministers who have been army generals. The Prime Minister himself was brigadier-general (BG) before he shed his green uniform for the all white.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was a rear-admiral in the navy, Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang was also a military personnel, and former foreign minister Mr George Yeo was another BG,
The PAP is continuing this practice: Mr Tan Chuan Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower, and Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, both hold high posts at the Singapore Armed Forces before they entered politics.
Such an approach towards government presents a problem for Singapore. Soldiers are primarily good at two things: Taking orders and giving orders.
Innovative and independent thinking is not their forte. In the military, one learns not to question one’s superior once an order has been passed down and expects all plans to be executed to the letter. Discipline and unquestioned loyalty is the nature of the beast.
These qualities are prized in the army. Unfortunately, they don’t work so well in governmental especially not in today’s Singapore where thinking out of the box is increasingly necessary.
With a changed and changing world, economic and social problems confronting Singapore are mounting. Yet, PAP’s approach, both in substance and style, is simply to carry on with the outdated policies put in place during the PM Lee Kuan Yew era.
For example, labour relations have been exposed as sorely inadequate to cope with worker discontent in the latest strike by SMRT bus drivers. As difficult as our housing problems have become, the cabinet has been singularly inept at coming up with solutions. On the economic front, the government is unable to increase the productivity of our workforce.
The one thing that a military-minded PAP Government is good at is, of course, the militarisation of Singapore. Every year we spend about one-fifth our budget on the military ($12 billion). After Israel, we are the second higherst spending country on the military in the world.
But while Israel is a country engaged in armed conflict since its inception, Singapore is a country that is located among friends.
In the meantime, the PAP is making healthcare unaffordable for many Singaporeans by charging the people for a large amount of the country’s healthcare expenditure.
Rather than spend billions on guns and bullets aimed at no one in particular, would it not make more sense in investing the money in the health of our people? A healthy population would be a big plus to our economy.
Social spending in our country is also paltry. Compared to the Ministry of Defence, we spend a mere $100 million on helping the needy. We need to do more – much more – to take care of those who are not able to help themselves.
Again, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, such investment will result in healthy economic returns in future. For example, in the UK if not from the welfare support of the state Ms J K Rowling would not have been able to pursue her writing of her Harry Potter’s series which has made her one of the richest women in the world and earned her country much revenue.
To address some of these problems, we need a fresh perspective, ministers who can see things differently and are not afraid to challenge outdated policies and institute the necessary reforms.
Unfortunately, with former military personnel at the core of the Government, an innovative approach to governance will not be forthcoming. This is portentous for our country.
The SDP advocates an alternative model of governance, one that is non-militaristic, innovative and responsive to the people’s needs. For the sake of our own future, Singaporeans must look hard into bringing about a new type of government.