Chan Chun Sing: Leaders can only be effective if there’s a deep sense of trust between the Government and its people

Minister Chan Chun Sing gave the inaugural Oxford and Cambridge Society’s S R Nathan Hard Seats Lecture.

Minister Chan Chun Sing at the inaugural S R Nathan Hard Seats Lecture on 11th January 2018 (Source: Straits Times)

In it, he spoke about challenges that Singapore face, and how we might meet them. A lot of people picked up on the point he made about the need for Singapore to forge a committed leadership team that engenders deep trust amongst Singaporeans.

As expected, the speech attracted cynical comments on social media. Comments such as this:

And this:


 

Recent events making people skeptical of government

Indeed, given some of the events that have happened recently, it’s easy to understand why some Singaporeans are skeptical when anyone talks about the government working to win the trust of Singaporeans.

For example, people perceived the government to have opened the floodgates to foreigners, which they blamed to have taken away jobs and depressed wages. Worse, they think that the government didn’t plan far enough for the infrastructure to keep pace with the increased population. They saw this as one of the ways that the government has betrayed the trust of Singaporeans.

Another example is our train system.For years now, the government has talked about fixing it. Yet, it seems that breakdowns have not become any less frequent. Worse, we now have tunnels flooding because of negligence. And, to some Singaporeans, that’s a major issue.

Some even think that fixing the MRT system is a prerequisite for being PM:


 

Apart from these, there is also the concerns that many Singaporeans have about job security and cost of living. That makes it difficult for people to believe that our government is committed to building the broad middle that Minister Chan talked about.

Even as we seek to transform the economy, we must also guard against a widening gap between the “winners” – those who are able to reap benefits from the new economy, and those who are lagging behind. We need to have a broad middle ground that enables us to stay cohesive. This would require us to keep up social mobility and, at the same time, grow our common spaces.

The focus on social mobility is key to our social compact. That so long as one is capable and committed, one’s opportunities and accomplishments in life should not be defined only by his connections and ancestry.

 

Will we really be able to keep up social mobility? Will we really be able to “guard against a widening gap between the “winners” – those who are able to reap benefits from the new economy, and those who are lagging behind.”

With these issues weighing on the minds of Singaporeans, it is not surprising that some Singaporeans are skeptical about what Minister Chan said.

Leaders can only be effective if there’s a deep sense of trust between the Government and its people.

Firstly, leaders must be upfront with the people on the challenges and options.

Secondly, leaders must continue to find new ways to communicate and connect with different generations.

Thirdly, leaders must be accountable and responsible.

Apart from trust, each generation of leaders would also have to keep the country united to tackle challenges together.

 

And those who are cynical would have even less trust in our political leaders. And it’s no wonder. Our political leaders are paid so highly. The lives they lead are far more comfortable than the majority of Singaporeans. Many wonder if they can truly empathise with most Singaporeans. Do and can they really understand the problems of the “common man”? Will they really go through thick and thin with Singaporeans? Will they truly go through “life and death” with Singaporeans?

Which makes governing harder

If the group of Singaporeans who don’t trust our political leaders grows larger, then the task of governing Singapore would be even harder.

If more Singaporeans don’t trust our political leaders, it won’t be easy, if at all possible, for the Government to make the hard decisions that would hurt in the short term, but are necessary for our long term survival. If more Singaporeans don’t trust our political leaders, then they might end up making populist policies to keep Singaporeans happy in the short term, at the cost of our long term survival.

This was probably why Minister Chan Chun Sing said what he had said last Thursday at the lecture. Whether you like the guy or not, or whether you agree with his usual antics or not, the points raised in his speech are valid and important.


 

That’s why our political leaders have their work cut out for them. Each and every one of them need to work hard to win the trust of Singaporeans.

It’s not just the Prime Minister, or the future Prime Minister, whoever he may be. The entire team has to work together to win the trust of Singaporeans.
 

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