berthahenson

One Cabinet and musical chairs

In News Reports, Politics on April 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm

The problem with reporting on news of a Cabinet reshuffle is that no one wants to say anything bad about anyone. So if someone gets promoted or moved, commentators will try to second-guess the Prime Minister’s intentions, and invariably come up with answers to fit the PM’s choice. No one says, not in public anyway, that he/she botched up the job and so got moved to another. Nor would anyone say that so-and-so’s posting is a sop to a segment of the population or because of intensive lobbying.

That’s what makes reporting Singapore politics so dull – everybody wants to be politically correct. (It really is the best thing to do since acceptable guesswork is better than negative speculation.) Of course, privately, everyone has their own ideas or conspiracy theories about what’s really happening behind the scenes. And because of the general election has to be held soon, everyone makes a link, even though there might be none.

What did the PM say? “These changes are part of continuing leadership renewal, to build a strong ‘A’ team for Singapore.’’ Gosh, I wonder if the PM realizes that the use of an A team means there is a B team, in reserve…If he does have a B team, we should be glad – because there seemed to be so few people we can draw on that the Singapore Cabinet has to play musical chairs and with some people straddling two chairs…

So what’s the big news this time around? MSM went to town with how the Malay/Muslim community now has a second full minister in Mr Masagos Zulkifli, besides Dr Yacob Ibrahim who is Muslim Affairs minister and minister for Communications and Information.

The PM said having two full ministers reflects the “progress of the Malay community’’ and observers have echoed this.

Said former NMP Eugene Tan in a commentary in TODAY: “This demonstrates the coming of age of the role of Malay politicians in our national leadership. And they are handling significant portfolios at the full ministerial level. While numbers should not be the sole measure of political relevance and effectiveness, the fact that Malay ministers are tasked with handling non-traditional and even sensitive portfolios is significant.’’ (I suppose he’s referring to Mr Masagos being second/second minister in Home and Foreign ministries – each now has a truly multi-racial team at the helm. In Home affairs: Mr Teo Chee Hean, Mr S Iswaran and Mr Masagos. In Foreign affairs: Mr K Shanmugam, Ms Grace Fu (female somemore!) and Mr Masagos.)

Then you have ….

Mr Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC: “This would definitely dispel the notion that there is a racial quota with regard to the number of full Cabinet ministers that the Malay community could have.” (There is no quota…this is a meritocracy no?)

National University of Singapore (NUS) political science don Hussin Mutalib: “it helps to soothe the feelings of the community, since the … Indian community, despite being smaller than the Malay community, has always had a larger and disproportionate share of Cabinet appointments”. (So there should be a quota rather than a system based on meritocracy?)

NUS  political science lecturer Bilveer Singh: “It’s good for the country and it’s healthy for democracy, because I think the Malay community has made a lot of progress and this is symptomatic of the progress that the Malay community has (made), and they should be represented at the highest level.” (And what about other communities, like the Eurasians or women? No progress?)

Association of Muslim Professionals chairman Azmoon Ahmad: “It will create impetus for the community and encourage us and give us the confidence that Malays can succeed.” (What are you saying? That Malays lacked confidence in the past about succeeding?)

Before you pounce on me…I want to quickly say that I exaggerated my remarks in the parentheses to make a point: I so dislike this idea of connecting representation to race/community.

I would rather people say that Mr Masagos got promoted because he has all the right qualities for the job. Period. It is not a reflection on his race/community – whether progress or regress. After all, we do not encourage stereotyping by race do we? Like connect certain negative attributes to certain communities? Likewise, I wouldn’t make a big deal if a woman breaks through the glass ceiling of any company or in the Cabinet. She’s a good, capable person – who happens to be a woman. Just like Mr Masagos is a good, capable person – who happens to be Malay.

Now, I had someone tell me that I can’t understand because I am not a member of the community. Correct. But it would distress me to think that the Malay community needed such assurances that a Singaporean. regardless of race, cannot rise to the top of the tree based on pure merit. Or that it needed to be “soothed’’ because other communities have “got ahead’’.

Dr Hussin said something else which puzzled me: That ‘some quarters may look at his Islamic profile with a certain unease’’. Hmmm. What does that mean? I looked up his community credentials for clues. All I got was that he chaired Muslim welfare group Perdaus, and started its humanitarian offshoot Mercy Relief…

Then comes this musical chairs over the NTUC, Manpower ministry and Ministry of Social and Family Development.

So NTUC’s Mr Lim Swee Say who had publicly stated that he would like to retire isn’t about to be allowed to. He’s going to MOM. Only in Singapore can you have someone jump from one side of the fence to the other. In fact, right across the line. In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Lim assured unionists that he will continue to be “pro-worker” while also being “pro-business”. “After all, the two are not necessarily in conflict. They are the two sides of a same coin.” You don’t say!

You have pundits agreeing about this ideal situation – and it really makes me wonder why people just don’t suggest a direct switch – MOM’s Tan Chuan-Jin should go to NTUC then instead of moving to Ministry of Social and Family Development! But of course, people can always make a case for this switch, like how he’s “well-placed” for the job since he had to deal with workers in difficult situations.

But I was most puzzled by this statement in the ST report regarding Mr Chan Chun Sing:

Meanwhile, the labour movement will get a new chief earlier than expected. Mr Chan, 45, who is now NTUC’s deputy secretary- general, will take over as secretary-general on May 4. He was previously expected to be voted in as labour chief during the next NTUC central committee elections in October.

Now, it looks as though it was the PM who decided that Mr Chan should be NTUC sec-gen. Yet much was made about Mr Chan having to get endorsement from the NTUC rank-and-file at its delegates’ conference in October.

Anyway I checked. The NTUC Central Committee promoted Mr Chan from deputy to full sec-gen yesterday morning. (Yup. Well-timed). And he still needs to get through that conference, which is held once every four years, which will vote in the 21 members of the Central Committee. Then the committee needs to decide on the various posts.

As for Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is now also Second Defence Minister. I don’t know what to say… Don’t you think he has enough to do in Transport?

PS. I would like to congratulate Mr Masagos on his promotion and for the rest of the ministers, good luck in your new portfolios!!

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  1. I did not get the same connotation that the presence of an A team would imply a reserve
    B team. It just means that they have got the best candidates who are of a ‘top’ quality.

    I very much agree this would be best as an ideal, but it would be great if you could investigate this actually: “Malay community needed such assurances that a Singaporean. regardless of race, cannot rise to the top of the tree based on pure merit.” [sic] Perceptions of a presence of a glass ceiling might exist, even more troublingly limited to the community and not empathised with by fellow Singaporeans, and if so these should be surfaced and dispelled with proper assurances rather than ignored.

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