A lengthy Facebook post criticising Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat over his dismal performance in Parliament last week is trending online.
DPM Heng, who is expected to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and become Singapore’s fourth head of government after the next election, is widely considered the head of the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) slate of leaders. Last week, he introduced a motion in Parliament to get Workers’ Party (WP) politicians Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim to recuse themselves from the financial matters of their Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).
Instead of scoring a win for his party, Mr Heng fumbled. Multiple parties who were present in the House and those who watched the proceedings online noted that Mr Heng struggled to defend his motion when confronted with the WP’s position that they will be appealing the High Court decision in the apex court.
A visibly flustered Mr Heng eventually called for an abrupt time-out in the middle of the proceedings. His hour-long speech introducing his motion was also called “rambling” and his closing remarks were considered “garbled” by those who were in the gallery. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was also seen looking exasperated as he coached Mr Heng on what to say.
Facebook user Gerard Ong has joined the chorus of criticism against the DPM with a critique that has garnered over 400 reactions and more than 300 shares on social media. In a post published last Thursday (7 Nov), Mr Ong noted that this is not the first time Mr Heng has faced a roadblock during a parliamentary clash with WP chairman Sylvia Lim:
“In March 2018, it was the trial balloon saga where Heng Swee Keat (HSK) asked Sylvia Lim to apologise and withdraw her allegation on the timing of the GST hike. Now he is asking her and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from the town council’s financial matters.
“Being a legal practitioner, Sylvia knew the motion was not legally binding and refused to do so. Besides if she did, it would clearly indicate to some degree that they were dishonest and untruthful in safeguarding public funds that were entrusted to them.
“In both incidents HSK went head-on into two roadblocks when it was totally unnecessary for him to do so. Under parliamentary rules he did not breach any rules. But HSK should have known that Sylvia was not going to budge as she knew where she stood by the rules of the house as well.
“What HSK must understand is when one apologises it really means one has done wrong. If Sylvia feels that she has done no wrong and has not profited from it why should she make statements or carry out actions to indicate her wrong doing?
“In this case the courts have decided but the ruling will only be absolute when the appeal is heard and the final ruling given. This is called due process of law which in essence prohibits the government from taking any action against its citizens or agents of the government until a final verdict is delivered by the apex court.”
Asserting that Mr Heng has shown once again that “he is still an amateur at the game,” Mr Ong wondered why he chose this course of action and speculated about whether Mr Heng was trying to prove himself to his party members.
Pointing out that neither the current PM or the immediate past PM were very good examples of strong leaders, the netizen asserted that one who is high-handed is not necessarily a good leader:
“HSK has again shown his hand that he is still an amateur at the game. I fail to understand why he adopted this latest course of action. I wonder who was his audience? Was it the Prime Minister, the cabinet and fellow PAP MPs? Was he trying to show them that as heir to the PAP throne, he is indeed a worthy successor to LHL?
“What he should realise is LHL and GCT are not very good examples of strong and decisive PMs. The only reason GCT survived was because LKY was Senior Minister and Minister Mentor from 1990 to 2011, he provided the backbone to these two PMs.
“Well we know why LHL became PM and how he has performed. But at least LHL has pretty decent oratorical skills and is articulate.
“HSK must now realise that being high-handed does not mean you are a good leader. Look at what people are saying on the internet of his recent spat with Sylvia. A good leader knows when to open up and when to take decisive action.”
Opining that Mr Heng, who also serves as Finance Minister, may be good with numbers but may not be a good leader for the people, Mr Ong added:
“Good leaders always take calculated risks and aim to win. Poor leaders always stumble because they have not thought through their intended decisions and its ramifications. HSK is in essence a numbers man but not a good leader of people.
“Richard Hu who was Finance Minister from 1985 to 2001 was a classic example of a behind the scenes numbers man. Although he was eloquent, he was not a leader in the true sense of the word.
“Goh Keng Swee was a brilliant economist and blue-skies man but was inept as a public speaker. They were in reality good planners and visionary political leaders. Men like them knew they were never good PM material.”
Calling Mr Heng an “uninspiring leader who is unable to galvanise his followers,” Mr Ong said that the DPM’s “lack of presence” and poor communication skills worry him given the geo-political situation in the region:
“HSK from his recent showings is an uninspiring leader who is unable to galvanise his followers. He lacks presence and his communicative skills are below par. This worries me as the world has become a dangerous place.
“The geopolitical situation in the Asia Pacific has become less stable. The rise of China and its military prowess is a cause of worry as China knows that whatever we may say or do, we are still in the American camp.
“The wheels are still churning up north as well. If you have watched recent political developments you will see alliances being struck between old enemies. As yet we still do not know who will succeed Mahathir.
“In Indonesia, Joko Widodo has appointed his political rival, Prabowo Subianto as his Defence Minister as well as others who were against the President in the hustings. These developments could affect the immediate political relationship over areas such as airspace management, defence arrangements, border controls and the like.
“At a time like this we need a decisive leader who is smart at navigating and taking on the challenges which will surely come our way. A leader who is also compassionate and one who puts his country, his people and party (in that order) before himself.
“In this day and age of electronic media broadcasts and TV, a leader must have excellent communicative skills. This is definitely a veto quality in my books.
“Why Singapore did well from 1965 onwards was because we had LKY and a very able cabinet in our formative years. When LKY spoke, you can’t help but listen. Not only was he bright but he was street- smart and competent as well. His cabinet comprised able and selfless men who were up to the job.
“They knew how the game was played. In the past there was no internet and social media in existence, so we all pulled the oars together. But those days are gone. Singaporeans are better educated, and more vocal. We are better informed and more exposed to the world at large.
“Many of us have become “critical lovers” of Singapore. Our political leaders must remember that when we criticise our leaders it does not mean we are disloyal to our country or ungrateful for what the PAP has done for Singapore.”
Pointing out that the times have changed and the people want more of a say in how the country is run, Mr Ong said that it may be good for Singapore in the long-term to elect an capable opposition in Parliament so that the ruling party will also rely on capable and decisive leaders:
“But times have changed, the world has changed and our leaders must go with the change. Being high-handed in governance is passé We all want to have a better say in how our country is run.
“In the next election, if members of the opposition are voted in, they will also be held accountable for their words and deeds. Perhaps it may be good for us in the long run to have a capable opposition in parliament as it will make for a better PAP with capable and decisive leaders who will understand that a one-party state is a thing of the past!”
In March 2018, it was the trial balloon saga where Heng Swee Keat (HSK) asked Sylvia Lim to apologise and withdraw her…