Comrades, this is the second time I speak at our Party Convention. I remember having a culture shock when I first spoke in November 2005. I had never seen so many people gathered in one venue, all donned in white; shouting ‘Majulah Singapura’ and ‘Majulah PAP’, addressing each other as ‘comrades’.
6 years and 2 elections later, I feel more comfortable addressing you as comrades. And today I wish to humbly share my political journey and observations with you, my comrades.
I will touch on 3 key areas:
- Looking Back – the lessons I learnt as a PAP MP;
- Taking Stock – the observations I made of the last General Elections; and
- Moving Forward – some suggested steps on how we can together shape our Party for the future.
LOOKING BACK – LESSONS I LEARNT AS A PAP MP
Amongst the many lessons I learnt, there are 2 key lessons which stood out. They are to do with (1) Perception; and (2) Pushing the Boundary.
First, on perception. I learnt that what I see or read may not tell the full story; and I owe it to myself to find out the truth. I also learnt that whether a perception is true or not, perception is reality. If it is to do with something important, I need to address it – correct the perception if it is untrue; and do something to improve things if there is an element of truth.
Perception is especially important when it comes to the General Elections. Some politicians (and both the PAP and the opposition have their share) enjoy what I call the halo effect. To many Singaporeans, they can do no wrong.
Other politicians eg Ms Tin Pei Ling, may not be as fortunate. I am not here to defend Pei Ling. I only had a few personal encounters with her. I saw how she respects and treats her elderly parents behind the scene. I also heard from comrades like Satwant Singh who had the opportunity to serve with her and have positive things to say of Pei Ling.
My point about Pei Ling is related to this first lesson I learnt in politics – which is to pay attention to the ‘perception’ syndrome – to gather more data points before I assume that perceptions are truths; and to respond to perceptions appropriately so that I can be better guided and become more effective in my decisions and judgments.
Comrades, I encourage you to do the same.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARY WHEREVER I AM IN THE PARTY PECKING ORDER
Another lesson I learnt in politics is to do with having the courage to push the boundary wherever I am placed in the party’s pecking order – top, bottom or in-between.
I learnt that it pays to take the time to build the arguments for the causes we believe in and take the courage to address them, even if we are not ministers or CEC members. I found that there are good people in PAP and in the public sector who are willing to look objectively at the merits of issues I put forward; and change precedent practices to do the right thing.
This happened in Kampong Glam where I served and where many legacy problems arise due to the negative aspects of city living. Several ‘firsts’ were achieved resulting in a better quality of life for the residents.
The traffic congestion at Bencoolen Link which serves some of Singapore’s biggest Buddhist and Hindu temples has been there for more than 20 years. My team and I held many long meetings and HDB and LTA officers worked with me patiently – reversed the directions of that road and others around; installed an EPS gantry; persuaded all the stakeholders; changed all the roadsigns – and the 20-year-old legacy problem was solved!
Another example. For many years at Rochor, residents who drove waited for hours behind non-resident drivers before they can enter their car parks and return to their families. After much negotiation, HDB worked with me to install the first double-entrance to carparks, giving priority to residents to enter the car parks. They now go home earlier to their families.
Those were 2 local examples with payoffs when boundaries were pushed.
At national level, where my co-volunteers and I tried hard to push for Singapore to include the special-needs community – many significant changes also occurred. Political leaders who head the ministries listened and several important milestones were achieved.
The Ministry of Education has now taken a much more active leadership in the education of special needs students in mainstream and special schools. The MCYS under then Minister Vivian accepted one of my bolder recommendations to provide a flat grant of $300/- per Singaporean special-needs toddler first before kicking in means-testing to further help the poor. This is a significant departure from the tradition of a purely means-testing mode of subisiding expensive early intervention.
These achievements had not been highlighted before because none of us were politically attuned to perceive them as political achievements. We just served. From hindsight, I learnt that many of these achievements are indeed achievements of the PAP Government.
But these positive experiences reaffirmed my hunch that there is merit to joining the ruling party and changing things from within, and we should encourage others to join our party as change can be influenced from within.
I learnt from my political journey that if I truly care, I must be willing to do the home work and hard work to push the boundary. It does not matter where I am in party hierarchy.
Comrades, I encourage you to do the same.
TAKING STOCK: OBSERVATIONS OF THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND OTHERS
I want to move next to my observations of the 2011 General Elections and offer a brief analysis.
First, I want to be honest to say that some of us backbencher MPs who had diligently walked the ground had expected better results at the poll for ourselves. For instance, residents I know who live in the Canberra constituency had been sharing with me Comrade Lim Wee Kiak’s newsletter and about the good work he has done there. During the last GE campaign, Wee Kiak told me about a resident who apologized to him for voting for the opposition instead of for him. The appetite for more opposition voices was too strong in the last GE. I am glad that good MPs like Wee Kiak and my other colleagues are still in Parliament despite this voting pattern.
These observations have led me to developing the following simple formula. I believe that:
Success at the Poll is a function of 3 key components:
- Appeal and Track Record of the CANDIDATES
- Appeal and Track Record of the PAP
- Appeal and Track Record of the CONTESTING OPPOSITION PARTY
There is little we can do to impact the 3rd factor – the appeal and track record of the contesting opposition party. But we can work hard to raise the appeal of our candidates and our party and to improve and highlight the positive track record of our candidates and party.
More than 60% voted for the PAP in the last GE. We have been given a great opportunity to serve in the many constituencies we won and we should do our best to ensure that each “Touch Point” – the moments at which we make contacts with our voters and other Singaporeans – is as positive as possible.
Moving forward, I believe that the best way to predict the future is to create it. To do this, I would like to suggest a 4-D process to go about creating our future together, both at our own branches and at party HQ. The 4 Ds are to (1) Discover (2) Dream (3) Design (4) Deliver.
First, discover. Much work has been done by Party HQ to discover what could be done better at the last GE. Although I too contributed to the ideas, I wish to add one more perspective to this soul-searching exercise. And that is, besides discovering what the gaps are, let us also rediscover what the PAP’s strengths are.
You see, comrades, every organization and that includes the PAP has something that works right ; something that pulls people to serve, some for so long and so hard; something that stops most of us from abandoning the ship and walking away when there is a setback.
I think of Moulmein’s Comrade Chua Lai Teck who walked with his then-MP candidate Lui Tuck Yew, 50 kilometres a day, around the private estates of Bukit Timah; who got bitten by the dog in a rich neighbourhood; and who today still serve so diligently and passionately at the Moulmein.
I am deeply grateful to my branch activists at Kampong Glam, week after week, writing appeals till midnight; organizing fundraising for the PCF kindergartens we operate at way-below-market rate. I appreciate our young comrades who took the path less travelled and less comfortable, and graciously worked with our elderly veteran comrades, forging partnerships using their less than proficient Mandarin or dialect.
This is a photo of my fellow comrades after midnight, in good spirit even after the evening MPS. The clock in the photo shows the time.
They say the activist is not the person who says the river is dirty; but he is the one who joins in cleaning the river. Our many sincere, loyal and diligent activists form an important component of the PAP’s DNA and strength.
In this first step of Discovering, the PAP has no shortage of inputs on how it is not good enough (pages of them I saw) and we must never ignore these inputs. But the process of soul-searching must also uncover our areas of strengths such as our activists. And the outcome of our discovering must highlight the strengths we have and build them into our change efforts.
Next, dream. American poet Carl Sandburg said, “Nothing happens unless it is first a dream”.
The new narrative Chairman Khaw spoke about is essential to the PAP but it must be crafted not by just a few appointed members. Just as our Party is going to respond to its voters’ desire for greater involvement and engagement, so must our Party involve and engage our own Party members to formulate that dream and narrative.
For myself, I aspire for the PAP to help build a country of people who would care and be involved not only for their own survival and success; but also those of others. I aspire for the PAP to help Singapore become a significant and respected global player that does well economically but also do good and make an impact on peoples of other nations who are not as blessed and especially those who are living below survival level.
DESIGN AND DELIVER
The final 2 steps of the 4-D Change process concern Designing and Delivering. Comrades, unless we follow through with the Design and Delivery after we Discover and Dream, the exercise would be just a “feel good” experience and we will return to our old habits.
Someone once said, there are 3 types of people in this world: (a) those who make things happen; (b) those who watch things happen; and (c) those who wonder what happened. Designing and especially Delivering are the stuff that people who make things happen do. Let us not be team members who watch things happen or who are so blur and only wonder what happened.
The 4-Ds of discovering, dreaming, designing and delivering for change can happen not just at PAP party level; it can happen too at the Branch level. And that is what I intend to do at my constituency.
In conclusion, comrades, I want to leave you with a quote by ex-American President, Theodore Roosevelt. He said this,
It is not the critic who counts:
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles
not the man who points out where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena;
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
…..the man who does actually try to do the deed;
who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion
and spends himself in a worthy cause;
who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Comrades, credit goes to those of us who stayed on to fight; who actually do the deed; and who walk the extra mile even when the person you are trying to help curses you.
Singapore would not be the success it is today if PAP stalwarts like Mr Lee Kwan Yew and Mr S Rajaratnam were content to just criticize the ruling government of the day.
Comrades, at least 60% of Singaporeans voted for us. Let us not disappoint them. Let us serve in dignity. Let us dream, design and deliver a First World Country, not just a First World Parliament, together with our fellow Singaporeans.
May we all find Delight in both days of disappointment and victory, as we build a First World Country for and with all Singaporeans, whether they voted for us or not.
Majulah Singapura. Majulah PAP.
27 November 2011
(FINAL DELIVERED VERSION)