Was Ngiam Tong Dow’s comments “fair”?

TR Emeritus

October 14th, 2013

I refer to the articles “PNgiam Tong Dow says his recent comments on ministers unfair and illogical” and “PM Lee welcomes Ngiam Tong Dow’s clarification of comments on ministers” (Straits Times, Oct 11).

Interesting questions from a statistical perspective?

The former states that “I also realise that my claim that Ministers may not speak up because they earn high salaries is illogical. I know that some Ministers have given up high-flying and well-paid careers in the private sector in order to serve the public at a fraction of their original or potential income.

The above remarks may have raised some rather interesting questions from a statistical perspective.

% of Ministers who earned more?

How many and what percentage of Ministers were earning a higher income before they quit the private sector to join the Government?

Since as I understand it – that the breakdown of what each and every Minister’s total remuneration in a year, over the years, has never been disclosed – how do Singaporeans, or for that matter Mr Ngiam – know with any certainty that they were making a sacrifice from an income perspective to be in Government?

And by the same token, since as I understand it – it was not the norm for people who join Government to disclose their private sector income either at the point of joining or subsequently – how do we know with any statistical certainty too?

As to “Others could have gone to the private sector to make more money but have chosen to be in the public service” – how many Ministers have left Government on their own accord for the private sector, other than those who left after losing in the last elections or were “retired” (stepped down?)?

Also, the risks of being in Government (particularly Singapore’s from a historical perspective) and in the private sector are very different.

Historical criticism of Government?

Also, given the circumstances surrounding the rare member of Government who have criticised the Government, like our late President, Mr Ong Teng Cheong – wouldn’t it be fair comment to say that Singapore has historically been in relatively a climate of “very little” criticism from members in Government?

Got such thing as “robust” or “not robust”?

In the final analysis, perhaps the best indictment may be that isn’t “discussions are robust – as robust as they were when I attended cabinet meetings as PS (PMO), when Mr Goh Chok Tong was PM, and Mr Lee Hsien Loong DPM” – a matter of subjectivity of the degree of robustness in discussions?

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. So, perhaps the fact that the subject clarification (“retracted his earlier charge”) has to be made publicly may be the best indication – that perhaps “fair comment” from members of Government has been “unrobustly” rare.

Unless we want to count the relatively rare retired senior civil servant who criticises the Government like Mr Ngiam Tong Dow and MrTan Jee Say, or the relatively rare former Member of Parliament (MP) from the ruling party like Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

If we can count the number of Ministers or former Ministers who criticise the Government – I believe we may be ranked number 2 in the world, after another Asian country.

Retraction makes the news, but not the interview?

By the way, I do not recall the Straits Times reporting on Mr Ngiam’s interview. If this is indeed the case – I can’t help but be somewhat amused by the widespread media reporting on Mr Ngiam’s retraction (the Straits Times’ journalist’s words) now.

Can Singaporeans expect to continue to receive the “robust” criticisms that Mr Ngiam Tong Dow is noted for?

If “speak up robustly” – why spend $0 on healthcare, CPF & HDB?

With regard to “They have no reason not to speak their minds when they are convinced that they are doing right by Singaporeans” – how then could we have ended up and still continue to, in a sense, literally not spend a single cent on healthcare, CPF and HDB, for all these years? – Watch the video and read the article on this.

Leong Sze Hian

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.