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Ministerial Promotions: What Lee Kuan Yew Preached vs How Lee Hsien Loong Practises


I never cease to be amazed at how fast novice PAP MPs are appointed ministers and their promotions confirmed. A whatsapp message sums it up, ‘Do nothing and can get promotion. I oso want .’

PAP’s leadership renewal is conspicuously planned so ‘that Singapore…continue to have honest and capable leaders’ (Lee Hsien Loong) or ‘the best people in government’ (Goh Chok Tong). Or leaders who will not ‘succumb to corruption’ (LKY).

Carrie Gracie, BBC, reports, ‘to steel its…members against temptation‘ or corruption, Xi JinPing (by LKY’s assessment, ‘a man of great breathe…in the Nelson Mandela class of persons‘) started revolutionary tours for its key cadres. The PAP, however, prefer a shortcut, paying the highest salaries of any government worldwide.

Here’s how LKY sold to Singaporeans the key intent for the high salaries:

So it was an unending quest for the right man to put in the job. It takes years for a person to be tried and tested as a minister, and to develop the judgement and touch……

Let me point out how long it takes to get a MP to learn to be a minister and have the public recognise him as such, especially when he is not a natural crowd puller or a mobiliser. There are two kinds…of ministers in Singapore – the doer and the mobiliser…..

People need time to gauge and assess who has what qualities and is best suited for what jobs that can make Singapore grow and thrive…..LKY, 30/6/2000, Parliament

How do fresh-face Ong & Ng along with Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-Jin – all entered parliament under the coattails GRC system, without ever having to fight man-to-man for their seats, let alone suitability for high office – measure up under LKY’s need for developing time-tested, ‘people-gauged/assessed’ ministers?

Well, someone who had a ringside view already drew a conclusion about the effectiveness of high pay policy.

“…it started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries, not even pegging them to the national salary but aligning them with the top 10…” Ngiam Tong Dow, ex-civil servant.

Let’s not take Ngiam’s word for it. Let’s look closer at the evidence before us.

Chan Chun Sing
Can anyone name one policy that Chan enacted in all the 4 ministries he helmed since May 2011, namely; Community Development, Youth & Sports, Defence (2nd minister), Social and Family Development, sec-gen of NTUC & minister in PMO that has had a measurable positive impact on our lives?

To be fair, my search into the current article making the rounds about ‘105,000 households get little food’ finds no such study. The ‘105,000 households earning S$1500/month’ is taken from Singstats’ ‘Key Household Income Trends 2012’ but not linked to they ‘getting little food’.

Be that as it may, Chan’s catchy ‘kuih lapis’ policy of tackling poverty has been 3 years in its execution (since Nov 2013).

The result? No one knows. No one knows because despite the government’s complete access to data plain refuses to publicly engage us, feigning ignorance. Or is it because the results do not measure up to expectations?

Truth is, Chan’s boss set no quantifiable goals to speak of in the first place.

Nonetheless, Chan keeps ascending the cabinet ladder – without any measurable achievements to show for.

Tan Chuan-Jin
Same question. What’s one policy that Tan enacted or helped implement since making minister at MOM and, currently, Ministry of Social & Family Development?

As manpower minister, Tan gave us the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) (公平考量框架). Anyone remember what the FCF is about? If you have the time, read link.

Any quantifiable outcomes since implementing FCF and JobsBank in Aug 2014 with much fanfare? Yes! an increase in PMETs unemployed and for longer periods, too – while evermore foreigners slipped through on EP & S-Passes!

It’s gotten so bad that in a recent 3-4 days, 4 ministers, PM Lee included, came out to loud-speak that there are 70,000 vacancies with 30,000 more in healthcare alone in the next 5 years. And PM’s lame ‘we are pursuing all the right strategies, and I am confident that, given time, they will work’.

Similarly, Tan’s boss set no numbers for him to be gauged/assessed under the FCF. After spending 369 days at MOM and pocketing S$1.3mil, he moves to a new ministry – all without having any measurable achievements to show for.

Ong Ye Kung
Same question, any policy or change he enacted as education minister since 1 Oct 2015 to show for?

The man makes grand-sounding speeches. His maiden parliamentary speech is about ‘faster legs, stronger hearts, wiser minds‘. He secured that speaking opportunity only because he couldn’t get into parliament against the Workers’ Party in Aljunied and had to be sundered therefrom to another safer PAP GRC. Ong slipped into parliament under Shanmugan’s coattail.

How does his speech meet LKY’s “do not try to impress by big words – impress by the clarity of your ideas. Then I am impressed”?

His speech is long on the big markets of China, India and Africa but short on originality and practicality. He proclaims, ‘Today China drives the value chain. We must look at China now as a tremendous business and consumer market, and learn to tap into it.’

Yeah, sure.

I knew that from visiting China in 1996. Tried to interest my Swiss bosses, subsequently, my Dutch ones to invest in a production plant (both no go), then ‘downgraded’ to a more palatable central warehouse (succeeded). Workable, specific ideas. Not the hifalutin strategy spout by a still wet-behind-the-ear acting minister. Judging by the wrath we now face from China re the South China Sea, was his boss listening?

So, what did Ong achieve (not merely do) in measurable KPIs the 395 days he ‘acted’ as education minister (high edu & skills) with his S$1.3mil pay?

Ng Chee Meng
Final same question, any single policy or change he enacted as education minister (schools) since 1 Oct 2015?


As a father of 2 sons, I couldn’t fathom the pathetic parliamentary statement he made to explain young Benjamin Lim’s death after his police interrogation. What if it had happened to one of his own daughters?

Ng took the same chicken parliamentary route as all his other ministerial-material 4G colleagues, behind the coattail of another minister. I often wonder what other ASEAN ministers and MPs think about him – and of Singapore. Here, Singapore’s Chief of Defence Force, a lieutenant-general who boasted about the SAF’s ‘one-shot-one-kill’ capability but too chicken to battle one-on-one with an opposition candidate! Then after 395 days of speeches, his boss made him full minister!

But Singaporeans should be even more worried: Ng batted not an eyelid when he claimed his entering politics is ‘giving back to society’, paying back his ‘indebtedness’.

Yeah, sure.

Giving back to society = giving up S$300k-S$400k SAF job and taking up PAP-guaranteed’s 3-4X higher S$1.3 mil minister’s salary apid by taxpayers? Perhaps, we peasants understand not the math behind the brains of a president scholar and top general. But he’s setting a fine example on how to give back to society for our youth, indeed.

So, what did Ng achieve (not merely do) in measurable KPIs the 395 days he ‘acted’ as education minister (schools) on his S$1.3mil pay (excl bonus)?

Have Singaporeans been given the time to gauge, assess Ah Chan, Ah Tan, Ah Ong & Ah Ng against LKY’s time-testing aim, ‘it takes years for a person to be tried and tested as a minister…people need time to gauge and assess who has what qualities and is best suited for what jobs that can make Singapore grow and thrive’?

Did PM Lee do a thorough job assessing, gauging them – against LKY’s timeline and standards?

Rather obvious, isn’t it?

Sadly, we observe a pattern of leadership behaviour, a habit; the love for shortcuts, taking the easy, fastest way out. Refusing to grow our own timber. With GDP, PM Lee is addicted to the shortcut of importing Foreign Talents (carrying on from Goh Chok Tong’s legacy) and adding labour instead of being a doer or a mobilizer to convince, coerce our local SMEs – and our GLCs+TLCs – to increase productivity the last 20, 30 years.

Likewise, instead of fulfilling his promise of ‘leadership succession will be one of my top priorities‘ when swearing in as PM#3 on 13/8/2004, he’s rushing a shortcut to give the false impression of offering enough candidates to succeed him. He’s denied others even half the 20-year apprenticeship he enjoyed.

But even more worrisome is a trend shaping up underneath the surface of these fast-track, undeserved promotions. If the 4 ministers’ career trajectories are an indication, then Singaporeans must begin to be afraid. Be very afraid.

It may mean that the high salary system that LKY has instituted are attracting unproven politicians who are guaranteed salary increases of up to 4 times or more of their last drawn salary. Singaporeans already have a taste of something similar at NOL, SMRT, Singapore Police, LTA, Temasek Holdings etc.

Beside the salary, it’s a surefire career choice where your promotion is guaranteed without the need to show measurable KPIs.

Even more, it’s an iron-rice-bowl job – doesn’t matter if a world’s most dangerous terrorist escape or 8 Singaporeans die illegally of Hep C infection under your watch, your job is secured and salary intact!

All you need is unfailing party loyalty.

Is Samuel Huntington right after all, “The honesty and efficiency that Senior Minister Lee has brought to Singapore are likely to follow him to his grave“? We may not perceive that yet, being too close to the unfolding but very subtle deterioration.

Or will LKY have the last word?

Time will prove that I am right that Ministers should be paid 2/3 of their private sector counterparts’ salaries of two years ago. This is the way to ensure that our government and system stay clean and honest, with able and dedicated men, who can stay in office for several terms…..

If salaries pegged to the market do not work, then not much will be lost, except a few million dollars. Singapore can always go back to the old system of paying Ministers much lower than the market rate, and hoping for the best.” LKY. 19 July 96

…but only if Singaporeans heed his advice to jettison the system. Regardless, don’t hold your breath. 69.9% voters (now, minus Dr Lee Wei Lin) think things are honky dory under PAP & Lee Hsien Loong.


If you happen to be one of the children of any of the 4 ministers reading this, please ask your pa if he ever search his heart as each day departs.

Law Kim Hwee


15 thoughts on “Ministerial Promotions: What Lee Kuan Yew Preached vs How Lee Hsien Loong Practises

  1. Reblogged this on Jentrified Citizen and commented:
    The PAP-style of meritocronyism is not only continuing but has become a huge joke and a global embarressment with it’s promotion of paper generals and unproven persons into top posts of great responsibility. How do these PAP leaders live with themselves? How do they not feel at least some shame from the disgusting hypocrisy practised by them and their leader the PM? How can they preach meritocracy and urge us to be a cheaper and more productive workforce while they are getting promotions and sky high salaries without having proven themselves? As a Singaporean you should be concerned and you should be disgusted if you are not. These people are being paid using taxpayers money and these people are being groomed as our future leaders. Open those eyes and think about it.


    • Personally, at the upper layers, I do not yet observe and wouldn’t characterize what’s happening to involve any ‘cronyism’ where, strictly speaking, “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications”. Most come with ‘qualifications’, mostly academic, military and in the civil service.

      Perhaps, it’s more like “merito-guanxi” – some merit, but loads of ‘guanxi’. In other words, within their own network or ‘kaki’. To be fair and realistic, that is part of human relationships.

      However, the worrisome thing is that there is hardly any need to justify and/or show measurable credible results. And their rice bowls are unbreakable – no accountability or transparency, or both.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I disagree with your assessment. There are a lot of similarities between the Lee family and the Clinton family in the US. Clintons run a ‘foundation’ for the benefit of their cronies and families. Lees run a GLC/Temasek. The Clintons will be held accountable by the people in the next administration. The Lees will never face such a challenge under the fundamentally ‘rigged’ Singapore system.


      • I do disagree somewhat with you here. Calling it guanxi is just a nicer eastern way of referring to cronyism. It is a fact that many of those jettisoned into minister jobs and even some senior GLC posts (like at SMRT) do not have the relevant working experience. Having academic and/or military experience is not the same thing as have good work qualifications. People like that would not even be shortlisted for jobs as CEOs at private MNCs. Our government – or rather the PAP – thrives on cronyism as one of the ways to fortify its network and to ensure its continuity and dominance in Singapore.


  2. There are two kinds…of ministers in Singapore – the doer and the mobiliser….. best sums up the criteria for selecting Ministers. I hope the 4th gen leaders don’t treat their promotion to Ministers as just another step up the civil service ladder. It is not. Ministers need to behave differently from top civil servants. They need to meet people and engage them at the ground level instead of sitting behind a desk and making policies and pretty speeches.


    • A lady, one of SPP’s own polling agent I met during GE2015 at Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, pointed to me the kempt green and clean areas around the station below a block of flat and how her MP walkabouts increased, worked overtime during met-the-MP sessions and turned up for prize-giving and other ceremonies/celebrations after the shock GE2011 results.

      They learned the lesson from the loss of Aljunied to WP – walk the ground often.

      You see the impact from the Aljunied results and GE2015 in general. In fact, she told me that she has few reasons to vote Opposition vs 2011!

      So, yeah, the ministers are not short on showing up. But the questions remain;
      – Are they sincere in their desire to serve citizens were they not paid the high salaries?
      – More importantly as observed in this blog, what have they to show for in the ministries?


  3. The Singapore system is a failed system. It simply does not allow revival and change to take place. Twice this year, we witnessed tectonic changes in the western world – Brexit and Trump. Singapore needs to rewrite the constitution to make change possible. No leader is perfect. No single party will be best for the country forever. Insiders and establishments will never allow change. (Unfortunately the last statement basically says that there is no hope for change in the current system.)


  4. People do not have their choice of government! Even someone as brilliant as Trump and as favorable as Obama could not have succeeded in Singapore.


  5. Are high-level appointees who fall short on deliverables yet continue to receive their remuneration obligated to feel ashamed? That’s only for them to decide. However, clearly, individuals with mismatched skill set are being placed in positions of authority. We should instead focus on how this has come to be. How were they able to be appointed in the first place?

    Rather than rushing to denounce the system as corrupt, we have to recognize the system of government. In a nutshell, ours is modeled on the Westminster system (For details, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_system and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Singapore). Below is an excerpt:

    “Westminster governments usually do not have a very strong tradition of separation of powers, in practice (apart from the separation between the executive/legislature and the judiciary). Though the head of state, be it governor-general, monarch, or president, will have nominal powers to “check” those of the prime minister, in practice these individuals are usually regarded as little more than figureheads who are expected not to actively intervene in day-to-day politics. Prime ministers under any Westminster system have ample freedom to appoint a large variety of individuals, such as judges, cabinet ministers, and other senior bureaucrats.”

    Sounds familiar, does it? It should then come as no surprise why appointees are not up to the task. Having this understanding and within the context of Singapore, one has to treat meritocracy as code for political patronage. Ethically, I find such practice unacceptable and wrong. Is it considered criminal under the law? Certainly not.

    Hopefully moving forward, we can make a more informed decision.


    • Hi, Alvin.

      The Westminister model, whilst not or near perfect, has its strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, the Presidential system whether practised by the US or France.

      Relevant to our discussion on ministerial appointments, one feature of the W system is probably a more semblance of continuity it affords in the form of the permanent secretary within a ministry. The perm sec helps to bridge and guide the (new) minister. While it is not impossible to secure the services of a minister who is qualified or, better yet, possess “domain knowledge” of his ministry’s remit under the W model, the US Presidential system is probably more suit to today’s world as the elected or sitting President can pick from an open field anyone with proven records or deep knowledge in a particular dept, unconstrained by having the latter to stand for and be elected first.

      Regardless, what’s disconcerting is that in SG a) no KPIs are apparently set on a new minister’s performance, it’s all arbitrary and b) without clear and present proven performance, the minister not only gets promoted but also moves to helm other ministries, guaranteed to continue for life or as long as he likes.

      Such precedents are not helpful for accountability and transparency and will likely fail the electorate one day.

      I agree with you, hopefully, voters will make more informed a decision in the next GE.


      • Hi,

        Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses. In this case, an inherent characteristic wherein appointments are at the Prime Minister’s discretion, encourages an active interest in promoting members from one’s own party. And despite the fact appointees are elected, it is done so collectively rather than on the individual’s merits. These in conjunction with your statement where there are no clear process of review nor consequences for failure, it is only reasonable to expect that accountability would be low on the priority list.

        At the other end of the spectrum, change in attitude and mindset has got to come about from the people. Beyond that, there also must be a stronger call for a re-think about the design of the system itself. Doing nothing would be to our own detriment.


      • Thx for yr further response.

        ‘Doing nothing would be to our own detriment.’

        Yes. We all get the government we deserve.


      • It is true that the 70% had made their decisions. We are free to exercise our decisions. Our decisions making process was affected by what was available at that specific point in time with the options available then.

        I felt that those concerned needs more actions than words. By sending out loud heats, noises and vibrations, we are just kidding ourselves. Where and what are the concrete actions that we need to do to be more proactive and positive.

        Let us review the choices year after year at that specific point in time. Where are those who made the most noises wanting to aspire to be elected as our parliamentary representatives in our daily lives? Did they surface and made their stances over the past few months with so many pressing issues facing the tough lives of our citizens in our own land. Where are they???

        When we have so many critical issues that plighted the nation and its citizens, they are nowhere to be found, except during those election times expounding their statements. The point is not that these points are not valid, how to take them for their words seriously when they are only active during election times. Are these characters truly serious about wanting to help its electorates and citizens in their respective constituencies? Each time, they simply evaporated once the elections were over and it is obvious that they will never be elected with such characteristic peekaboo appearances.

        Next, they cannot even get their acts together to form a more united team to exert more credibility. Every single party chief wants to be the Red Indian Chief for the oppositions. With so many Red Indian Chiefs but not many Red Indians, how can we rely on these many Red Indian Chiefs wanting to champion so many disparate missions? Where are their hidden agendas? Even if they are elected in isolations, what can they do for the nations? Then this is just being so for personal glory and nothing else.

        There were times I felt sorry for these opposition candidates. They were presented with false hopes. These were vast multitudes that attended their rallies, cheered them on and made a mockery of them. When the ‘tires hit the road’, they are often dumped and disappointed. What a letdown. Where are the true blue supporters? All these rallies are nothing but just wayangs only. What happened?

        In my humble opinion, this leaves the 70% with no choice. They rather vote for the ‘people’ they know than the ‘people’ whom they do not know. These clowning circle acts will recurs each time election fever is on, just to present itself for a good jest for the boring public. This will go on endlessly and for the next few centuries. I cannot fathom what our land and the citizens are like in future? Does this augurs well for the descendants of our children and great grandchildren?

        Let’s get real. The important thing now is for those 30%, who truly are concerns, to step up or exert pressure on serious and credit worthy oppositions to arise in the future. We must support them as long as they present their missions with clear articulations. No hidden agenda and not opposing for the sake of opposition. Let us the remaining 30% step up and convinced the middle ground of these characters’ worthy oppositions, their stances, their convictions and explains why we should support them. Help these future credit worthy candidates being identified, then provide them visibilities to show that they are here to stay and will truly rise to the occasions when they are given the mandates.

        Do we have the gumptions to assert our stances and walk-the-talk to help find promising candidates who can fairly represents us, the remaining 30% with its growing tendencies?

        If we continue to talk and talk and talk about the 30%, nothing is going to happen and nothing is going to change in future. Let’s take the first step ourselves to help create changes. Let’s not be NATO ourselves. NATO stands for No Actions Talk Only.

        Anyone worth their salts should highlight their own strength and merits. Hence it is the 30% who should win over the hearts and minds of the 70% eventually. Even winning half of the 70% is good enough. We should of course, win over much more of the 70% so that we have a comfortable win.


  6. So, as I’ve ALWAYS believed, lky was fallible & was never always right when he was PM. I could never understand why ppl everywhere & around the world think otherwise, with some even hero worshipping him, if not actually worshipping him… I’ve known since the day in the 1990s when he forced his way through in Parliament to grab a piece of the booming economic pie for himself by grossly increasing his & party members’ salaries that Singapore was going to go downwards. Nobody dared to oppose him, much less speak up against him. Im not even sure if anybody even knew he was wrong.
    So, what we are today, is a direct result of this same man’s doing. Yes, he built Singapore up. But he is also the man who actually started to bring Singapore down. He planted the seeds and his son has been propagating the growth of decay…
    Until and unless the rest of Singapore wakes up & take courage to see this decline & enforce a change through the vote, we will find ourselves falling further & further behind our neighbours, which has already been happening for years now…
    I’m pessimistic, yes. We ARE already falling behind our neighbours. The latest govt data show that. And our economic growth potential vis-a-vis neighbouring countries also look gloomy…
    C’mon Singapore! Wake up. Stop blindly trusting & believing. Even if you fear for yourself, think about your kids. And for their future too!


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