Home News Featured News Thank you, Low Thia Khiang, no thanks, Singapore’s transport mess-uppers

Thank you, Low Thia Khiang, no thanks, Singapore’s transport mess-uppers

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah




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Remember that Corrs hit  – “Breathless”?

The daylight’s fading slowly
The time with you is standing still…
And I’m losing the will to try
Can’t hide it (can’t hide it), can’t fight it (can’t fight it)

Go on go on
Leave me breathless

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Well, it has been a breathless week.

Prince Charles and Camilla were here. And what did we do? We sent them to Tiong Bahru, of all places. Wrong move. What a massive missed photo op for the Istana, the Foreign Ministry and the National Heritage Board people!

Prince Charles visiting Prince Charles Crescent in Queenstown would have made a memorable picture for the history book. Well, what to do, when you have groupthinkers who cannot think out of the box. So stuck as they are in their own I scratch your back you scratch mine universe of playsafe creative and innovative stagnation. Stale. As. Dead. Fish.

And just as when train commuters thought things could not get any worse for the MRT, they got frighteningly awry.  We learnt that the staff in charge of the pump system which failed to work at the Bishan tunnel may have falsified documents by signing off on work that they had not done!

I am sure many Singaporeans, including me, would have much to say about this. But let’s get back to it later in another article. This is huge breaking news. It is developing – with big implications for even the way Singapore has been administered the last 50 years.

Questions have been tabled in Parliament about the flooding. Will we get the whole picture, beyond just the flooding issue? Will we all get proper accountability? Will we see a thorough overhaul of our transport system? Will we see heads roll – with no exceptions? I may be wrong but I seriously doubt we are going to see a serious attempt to stop the rot. But we have to clean up – if we want to move forward. There seems no other way.

No one or group is bigger than the community or the country.

That is why I take my hat off to Low Thia Khiang who has just announced he would step down as secretary-general of the Workers Party next year. No party leader is bigger than the party he heads.

Low said he has achieved two goals he has set for himself and for the WP –  making sure the party progresses and that the party always renews itself. He has done both. The WP is the only elected party, with a fairly sizeable presence in Parliament. And new blood has been brought in and tested and seems ready to move the party forward.

And so the stepping down timing is almost impeccable.

But, as I said, no leader, however iconic or visionary, is larger than the organisation he leads. Steve Jobs is no more with Apple and Apple thrives. Disney, the entertainment that Walt founded, has survived its founder.

Lee Kuan Yew is no longer with the People’s Action Party and the PAP is still around.

It appears to be saying the obvious. But, sometimes, the obvious eludes us.

Is there a strategic shrewdness to Low’s move? After all, he is only 61. PM Lee Hsien Loong is 65.  Low has been in politics since 1988 (meaning by next year 30 years). PM Lee entered politics in 1984 (by next year 34).  Relative close timelines.

I believe Low has decided he has done as much as he could with and for the WP which has gone through two other strong leaders  – founder and Singapore’s first Chief Minister David Marshall and then the indomitable J. B. Jeyaretnam who was elected MP for Anson in 1981 and broke the PAP’s post-1965 monopoly in Parliament.

Yes, others must step up and take over or the party will not progress and be out of touch with younger, better educated voters whom the WP cannot quite reach out to through an oldestyle Hammer publication and brochures.

It is not only a leadership change that is urgently needed. The WP needs a total  millennial-centred image makeover. Don’t worry about the aunties and uncles and heartlanders (Teochew-speaking ones and others), they will not go away. There will be more than enough weddings and void deck funerals to attend and babies to carry for selfies.

Perhaps, too, Low is smart enough to realise young leaders cannot grow under the so-called banyan tree shadow of a leader who has developed a God-syndrome.  They have to fight their own battles and be toughened and not be protected and certainly not spout buck-shirking nonsense – like saying “We must not have a blame culture”.

Kudos, Low Thia Khiang.

If you have to make way for others who can do a better job, you make way. History will honour you – or dishonour you, if you overstay.

If you have to go, Go. In any organisation  – whether WP or MRT.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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