Additional reporting by: Aretha Chinnaphongse, AJ Jennevieve, Misaki Tan
Singapore — The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) held its first press conference on June 18, officially introducing its first slate of candidates for the upcoming elections. Known to many already, Dr Tan Cheng Bock is currently the secretary-general of the party. Former secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party Ms Hazel Poa and Former People’s Action Party (PAP) Brad Bowyer were also introduced in the press conference. Alongside familiar faces, several new faces to politics were introduced such as Mr Taufik Supian, Ms Gigene Wong, Mr S Nallakaruppan and Mr Francis Yuen.
Mr Taufik Supian is an IT professional, and was introduced as someone who had graduated from the “university of hardknocks”, who understands the struggles of the average Singaporean. He shared his dreams as a candidate, saying that he wanted “not just to represent PSP, but also my community and the nation”. His area of concern is the widening income gap between social classes and how Singaporeans are “citizens of a first-world country but many feel like they are second-class citizens”. He stressed his stance that Singaporeans should be prioritised, saying there is a need for change, to “serve the people, not just the economy”.
During the question-and-answer session with the media, Mr Supian answered a question regarding the arrangements for members who are newer to politics within the party. He highlighted that the party was like “one big family”, where there are proper information channels and platforms that will help members get connected. He also adds that the party is extremely well organised.
Furthermore, Mr Supian also added that the members in PSP are different, coming from different backgrounds and different walks of life. Thus he stresses that within the party, the members learn in synergy and leverage on each others’ strengths.
When answering a separate question regarding Singapore’s economy and on holding the elections in the midst of a pandemic, he declares that “this is not the ideal time to hold elections”, and highlights that holding an election now is a rash decision. With regards to Singapore’s economy, Mr Supian agreed with his fellow member Mr Francis Yuen that there is a need to encourage SMEs and local entrepreneurship.
“I am just like every Singaporean”. This was how Ms Gigene Wong introduced herself, by cementing herself as yet another local, who is trying to do good for the country. Prior to joining Singapore’s political landscape, she was heavily involved in several senior management roles in China Multinational Corporations for the past 20 years. In addition to this, she was also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Gulf Oil China in the Shendong province and Chief Finance Officer (CFO) of Foshan Electrical & Lighting Co. Ltd listed on the China Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
During the press meet, she raised her concerns over the government’s pandemic handling amidst the COVID-19 crisis. She felt strongly that our government had glossed over several pressing issues and had all in all, handled the effects of the pandemic in a worrying manner. An example she highlighted was the mask shortage we experienced when the virus was first starting to spread in Asia and the unwillingness of the government to admit to it. She concluded by reasserting her point that the pandemic had thrown major government weaknesses into the public limelight and that change was necessary to improve.
Ms Wong went on to reiterate that the timing for the 2020 General Elections was hardly ideal because we had not seen the end of the COVID-19 pandemic as of yet. Moreover, with Singapore’s rapidly ageing population, there were many members of the older generation who had to vote, and by holding the elections in such a poorly timed manner showed the government’s lack of consideration for the lives of the elderly. She warned that if the government proceeded with its plans for the elections, the lives of our elderly would be endangered, or worse, sacrificed.
S Nallakaruppan (Nalla)
Graduating with a bachelor in Accountancy from NUS and being a Chartered Accountant registered with the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, Sri Nallakaruppan is one of the founding members of PSP and is currently the treasurer. He is working as an Investment Specialist in the capital markets and has since accumulated 25 years of experience. He feels that by tapping on his honest and sincere nature, he is willing to work hard to uplift the lives of fellow Singaporeans. Similarly, from having understanding of the stock industry, he sees that the “market is not confident”.
He feels that the government has to have the courage to be honest about failed policies and admit to their mistakes. An example he gave is on the issue of the masks, where initially the government promoted not having to wear masks, he said that it could possibly be because there weren’t enough masks, but shifted to making masks compulsory and imposing a penalty.
When asked about whether the decision to have the elections now is justified, Mr Nalla responded by saying that the “safety of Singaporeans is paramount”. He calls the government to put the “welfare of the people first” instead of “just wanting to win the elections”. He reiterated that the government “has to have the heart of the people” and “not the elections”.
PSP vouches for helping to uplift SMEs and to put lesser importance on the role and influence of MNCs in Singapore. Mr Nalla hopes that SMEs can become the “backbone” of Singapore’s economy as “70 percent of employment comes from SMEs”. He urges that Singapore focuses on SMEs and aid them in operating their funding and on building an economy where start-ups have the ability to take risks. Saying how Singapore is “relatively small” and how countries have started to become more “protectionist” in recent years, SMEs have to take the lead. Hence, he proposes that adequate policies have to be enacted in order to “become the next Ali Baba of the world”.
Mr Francis Yuen is an SAF scholarship recipient, who then got into the private sector after he left the force. After leaving the SAF, he joined companies like ST Aerospace, Honeywell and Ingersoll Rand, and subsequently became the Chief Executive Officer of Hong Leong Asia. This is his first time delving into the realm of politics.
Mr Yuen was asked how he can apply his experience in the SAF and in the private sector to his political life. He explained that from the SAF, he learnt organisational skills and it was where he first got honed to be a leader. His experience in the private sector, however, especially taught him how to listen to stakeholders and customers. Mr Yuen said that this is crucial for any political leader, whose goal is to serve the people. To be an effective “listening ear” and to create effective solutions is key, according to him.
Several questions were posed about the economy as well, which Mr Yuen answered. For instance, Mr Yuen felt that Singapore is “in dire need for economic reform”, which the PSP hopes to spearhead. He mentioned that with covid-19, the pandemic exposed several fault lines in our economic structure, for instance, how over-reliant Singapore is on industries such as the Aviation industry which is one major victim of the pandemic. He argues that there is a need to “diversify” away from vulnerable industries, to sustainable industries to offset the dangers and swings of economic cycles.
He especially highlighted the importance of focusing on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), who should be developed further given that they are the major employers in the country. SMEs especially have been pushed into the spotlight because of the pandemic, because they have suffered a lot from the economic repercussions of covid-19. Mr Yuen argued that the party will look into ways SMEs can be restructured to encourage growth so that in the long run, they can be bigger players in the economy and continue being key players in job creation for locals. In the immediate future, GLCs are crucial to creating more markets overseas, which can aid the local economy. Singapore’s GLCs, should follow the footsteps of other countries like Japan, who have been successful in creating successful global markets.