Attacking Tan Jee Say – why?

Leong Sze Hian /

I refer to the articles “GE: “I didn’t propose closing factories   “, says Tan Jee Say” (Channel News Asia, Apr 28) and  ”SM: Ex- aide’s proposals easier said than done” (ST, Apr 25).

Looking at the onslaught that is being thrown at my Rafflesian schoolmate Tan Jee Say, from no less than more than half a dozen or so Ministers – Goh Chok Tong, Lim Boon Heng, Lim Hng Kiang, Grace Fu, Lee Yi Shyan, etc, I think it may be an understatement to say that to my living memory, I don’t think any opposition candidate has ever garnered such a rare honour of attention by the ruling Government.


Because I think Jee Say is arguably the most qualified and experienced candidate ever fielded by the opposition in the history of Singapore.

In particular, his experience as Principal Private Secretary to former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, heading economic strategy at the Economic Development Board and Secretary to Dr Albert Winsemius, the Dutch economist who has been credited with being the architect of Singapore’s economic development in our early years following independance, in my view, throws to the wind what the ruling
Government has always been saying – that the opposition do not have the experience to form the Government.

The ruling Government has also always said that the opposition is abundant in rhetoric, but lacking in concrete policy solutions and detailed plans.

Well, Jee Say has published a 45-page plan for the future of Singapore, with a focus on the urgent need to change our economic strategies and policies.

Has any ruling Government candidate ever come out with even a 20-page paper?

The fact of the matter is that the ruling Government’s new batch of candidates pales in comparison to the likes of Tan Jee Say and Chen Show Mao.

Jee Say is also perhaps uniquely qualified in diversity, as he has been in Government as well as the private sector, something which few of the ruling Government’s new candidates can boast of.

More significantly, Jee Say is one of their own – a ‘member of the club’, so to speak.

One does not need to be the ruling Government to see the danger of the precedence – that Jee Say may be the catalyst that we have all been waiting for all these years – one who would encourage other scholars, civil servants, Members of Parliament, etc, to stand on the side of the opposition.

This is in my view, a crucial moment in Singapore’s history, as we may be on the verge of taking the first steps towards being a real democracy.

After all, as Singaporeans, aren’t we all on the same side, whichever party we belong to or support?

In my view, all this talk of a ‘freak election’ is utter nonsense, as no democracy can function without allowing the fundamental free vote of the people.

Statistical analysis

At this juncture, some of you who are reading this may be thinking – this is quite unlike my writing style – no ‘statistical’ analysis?

So, her goes …

The attacks on Jee Say’s proposal to gradually shift the focus more to services from manufacturing, may best be described as a “cheap shot in the dark”, as Jee Say does not advocate in his paper, the abandonment of the manufacturing sector or for that matter manufacturing jobs.

In fact, the statistics show that in recent years, the rate of growth of change in contribution to the economy, has come from the services sector, relative to the manufacturing sector.

For example, according to the report “Services sector expected to drive Singapore’s GDP in 2011″ (Channel News Asia, Dec 22):

“Economists have said that next year, the services sector is expected to drive growth in Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP). Economists said the growth baton is expected to pass from manufacturing to services next year”.

The rate of change of growth for jobs growth has also made the services sector the top performer.

According to the MOM’s Labour Market report 2010′ “For the whole of 2010, services contributed the bulk of employment gains (111,000), almost double that in 2009 (55,600). Manufacturing employment declined
by 1,100, but this was much lower than the losses of 43,700 in 2009.

Hence, with reference to Goh Chok Tong’s remarks that “implementation would not be such a breeze” – isn’t Singapore already now implementing the gradual shift to services – thus, confirming Jee Say’s thesis?

Mr Goh says: “There are 420,000 blue collar workers. Change the collar colour to white and put them in education, health, IT, financial sectors? Move to IRs (integrated resorts) perhaps?” Perhaps Mr Goh does not know, but aren’t the bulk of training and re-training under SPUR and CET programmes already now more so in such services sectors, relative to manufacturing?

How many of these 420,000 blue collar workers are amongst the 500,000 workers earning not more than $1,500, according to the 2010 Census?

I am not an expert in economics like Jee Say, but I believe one of the issues he raised in his paper, was that manufacturing’s reliance on low-wage low- skilled foreign labour may have contributed to the low
wage of Singaporeans.

The above should address Minister Lim Boon Heng’s remarks, “Likewise, Mr Lim slammed Mr Tan’s suggestion to drastically reduce foreign workers, noting that their presence in manufacturing has allowed
Singaporeans to get better-paid jobs”.

How does the Minister then explain the declining real wages of the approximately bottom 25 per cent of workers in the last 11 years or so?



About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.