I still fail to understand why there cannot be 2 quality teams


Once again, PM Lee has said that Singapore will not have 2 quality teams (Straits Times, 22 April 2011). He cited that even with their access to all the talents in the country, the PAP has difficulties in finding people for certain jobs.

Perhaps PM Lee has not noticed that quality people are coming out of late in increasing numbers on the alternative camps, both formerly from the government service and from the private sector. He also discussed about former government scholars who have been nurtured by the system and are now opposition candidates. While it is their right to do so, he sort of implied that they should have been grateful to the government for having nurtured them. It is time for a reality check by PAP as to why they are missing out on these talents and why many talents, even those formerly from the government service and grassroots are appearing on the opposing team.

The system has run for too long as an elite group that they have lost touch with the commoners. Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, former Permanent Secretary in various ministries cited the example of Sparta and Athens, two city states in Greek history. Singapore is like Sparta, where the top students are taken away from their parents as children and educated. Cohort by cohort, they each select their own leadership, ultimately electing their own Philosopher King. Mr Ngiam felt that though the starting point was meritocracy, the end result was dictatorship and elitism. In the end, that was how Sparta crumbled. He observed that Athens, a city of philosophers known for its different schools of thought, survived. Sparta was a well-organised martial society, but in the end, very brittle. Athens survived because of its diversity of thinking and was a city worth fighting for.

It can be quite delusionary when one is amongst elites for a long time. You will start to think that only you are the best, that only you have the solutions to everything. Singapore is in danger of being a Sparta now, promoting only one way of thinking, recruiting people from the same mould as that of previous generations of elites.

I have greater confidence than PM Lee that Singapore has a bigger diversity of talents to have more than one team. I was educated entirely by the Singapore system and was politically apathetic until I started working and travelling. Somehow, our very meritocratic education system is guilty of making talents disinterested in politics. People are driven to pursue career success and some prefer to achieve personal success and then wait for the ruling party to invite them to join their tea parties.

I did not consider to be part of the PAP as I felt there should be room for divergent voices and an alternative team. Some talents may feel choked in the PAP system and prefer to stay out. Some have chosen to join in opposing teams.  Unless PAP loosens itself up, it will increasingly find talents avoiding it and joining the opposite camp.

Written by Yee Jenn Jong. Jenn Jong is a WP member. This blog is written in his personal capacity.

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3 comments on “I still fail to understand why there cannot be 2 quality teams

  1. Hopefully, the various opposition parties with their capable A teams can overcome idealogical and personality divides to form a strong united challenge to the ruling party. The ability to avoid 3-corner battles is a positive start but do beware of divide-and-conquer tactics by the PAP, something they have learned well from their colonial masters.

  2. How true! Indeed the so-called elites in the government actually think they are the best and they have the best solutions. It is the way they are wired up when they were junior civil servants. And scholars will, not surprisingly, protect and defend the system that brought them success. How often do we actually see non scholars rising above non scholars? Very rarely. Even scholars have their classes. The President’s and SAF Overseas Scholarship holders are often guaranteed quicker promotion over other scholars of lesser SAF scholarships. Those in SAF in know this: you may top some courses and do better than the SAF Overseas Scholar in your course but he will still get his promotion earlier than you. Is this really meritocracy? Surely meritocracy is about rewarding those who does best at any given time, not to reward the person who happened to have the right credentials after his A-levels. But since the entire civil service system is run by mostly beneficiaries of the system who have come up the system in this way, I do not have faith that the system will change unless the administrators change or if the administrators rise above their own personal interest and really place merits above scholarship credentials. In this regard, I agree that Singapore will eventually go the Sparta way or should I use Chan Chun Sing’s misplaced example, the Lanfang way (inward looking state).

    But can I say something that myself and many Singaporeans have started their raise their voices about? There are actually a lot of talents in Singapore. They are simply not the talent mould that PAP recognises. I see this everyday in the business world and on the internet. Many times I see and hear a lot more creative ideas and visions and optimism than I hear from the civil servants and the government. The people who express the same don’t even need to be the first class honours type and frequently are not. The talent that the PAP ignores is like water flowing out of the rivers into the seas. But seeing these Singaporeans at work and hearing what they have to say, I take heart that we will still be fine if we have to live without the PAP one day and their elitist fans. We will be fine because the rest of Singapore will take ownership of our country’s destiny when PAP falls and we know we cannot let our country fall. And of course we do not need to make the kind of tradeoffs that PAP has been shoving on us in the past.

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