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Former CDF dispels concerns over group-think in PAP

SINGAPORE — With almost a third of the Cabinet members hailing from the military, former Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Ng Chee Meng – who was today (Aug 22) formally unveiled as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency - dispelled concerns of “group think” among the country’s political leaders.

Former CDF dispels concerns over group-think in PAP

Mr Ng Chee Meng joins the PAP's slate of candidates for the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. Photo: PAP

SINGAPORE — With almost a third of the Cabinet members hailing from the military, former Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Ng Chee Meng – who was today (Aug 22) formally unveiled as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency - dispelled concerns of “group think” among the country’s political leaders.

Speaking at press conference helmed by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, himself a former Navy chief, Mr Ng was the focus of the media’s attention, with most of the questions directed at him.

Among other things, he was asked for his thoughts on the fact that he could be adding to the growing ranks of former military leaders in the Cabinet.

“All of us have unique life experiences... we all bring unique perspectives. Even while we were in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), we speak our mind, we share our views – and the only common thing that drives us is the common desire to serve and achieve the best outcomes,” said Mr Ng, 47, who stood down as CDF earlier this week to enter the political fray.

He added: “The best way to look at group think is to first, be aware of such probabilities and possibilities, and thereafter make sure that we listen actively to differing views, consult widely from the different sectors so that we can seek out the best ideas to answer or design any solutions.”

Among the 19 current members of the Cabinet, six rose to become high ranking officers in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), with a seventh – Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say – awarded a SAF scholarship before going on to helm the Economic Development Board as managing director.

In the 2011 General Election, the PAP fielded Mr Chan Chun Sing and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, shortly after they retired from the SAF as Chief of Army and Chief of the Training and Doctrine Command, respectively. Mr Chan, who attained the rank of Major-General, is now labour chief, while Mr Tan – who was a Brigadier-General (BG) - is Social and Family Development Minister.

Before them, outgoing Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, left the Navy, where he was Rear-Admiral and served as chief from 1999 to 2003, to take up top positions in the Civil Service, such as chief executive officer of the Maritime and Port Authority and, subsequently, the Housing and Development Board, before he was elected to Parliament in 2006. Mr Teo was also a former Rear-Admiral in the Navy and served as Chief of Navy before leaving to contest in the 1992 by-election in Marine Parade.

In 1984, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong left the army as its youngest BG and was elected as an MP. Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel before he joined politics in 1991.

Mr Ng, who was a Lieutenant-General, is to date the highest ranked SAF officer to stand for elections.

PAP A BROAD-BASED PARTY: DPM TEO

Apart from the SAF, the public service, as a whole, has been a fertile ground for the PAP, and Mr Teo said this was a source for good candidates as they would have shown their capability.

He said: “When they come in to serve, they bring together certain values and this is where I think (the values) are the same - the commitment to public service, loyalty, integrity and understanding what are the constraints and yet what are the opportunities for Singapore.”

Nevertheless, he pointed out that the party draws its candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. Adding that candidates from the private sector are also an asset as they bring their knowledge with them into governance, Mr Teo pointed out that there are also PAP Members of Parliament from the social sector. “This continues the tradition and practice of the party being a broad-based party, which seeks to represent all Singaporeans in as an inclusive way as possible,” he said.

He added: “Each of us comes in and we are all quite different. I think many of you don’t realise, for example, that Swee Say and I were together – we grew up in the crucible of the SAF, but he has a very different personality to myself. To quote Swee Say, I would say, ‘we are same-same but different’.”

Apart from Mr Ng, the PAP’s Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC team will have another new face: Temasek Holdings investment director Sun Xueling. They replace Ms Penny Low – who is leaving politics – and Mr Gan Thiam Poh who has been redeployed to Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Mr Teo anchors the team, and Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Teo Ser Luck, and Mr Zainal Sapari and Dr Janil Puthucheary round up the six-member slate.

Growing up in what he calls an average family with four brothers, Mr Ng said he learnt the value of handwork from his parents, especially when his father was retrenched and his mother had to stretch every dollar to make ends meet.

“My parents showed me the value and importance of hardwork, and if I am given the honour to serve here, I will bring these same values to serve the residents of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC,” he said.

Asked about the transition from being the top dog in the army to serving residents, Mr Ng drew comparisons to his work in the Committee to Strengthen National Service (CNSN) where he listened to concerns and feedback of full-time national servicemen and NSmen.

In an earlier interview on Tuesday to mark his last day in the SAF, Nr Ng said he joined politics because of his belief that “good politics and good leadership” were what underpinned Singapore’s success, and he wanted to give back to society by ensuring opportunities are available for others to succeed.

Referring to the SkillsFuture movement, Mr Ng said today: “I would also like to see that meritocracy is not taken to extremes and not too narrowly defined … (and) how we can find different avenues for people to succeed.”

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