This is the speech by Progress Singapore Party Secretary-General Dr Tan Cheng Bock at the party’s launch this afternoon (Aug 3, 2019)

As I stand before you, I cannot but feel honoured and humbled that so many Singaporeans want me to lead a political party. At my age, my friends urged me to retire and enjoy life. But I am happy and glad I did not heed their advice. I chose this option because I believe I am able to do something for the country. So it is indeed an honour.

The task ahead is a challenging one, but I love this country, like many of you. So to shy away from doing something, especially when I am aware that something isn’t right, will not be true to myself. That is not my style.

When I know something is wrong, I want to make it right.

Over the years we have witnessed many changes, some good and some not so good. Most worryingly, there seems to be an erosion of trust between the people and the government. l say it because l lived through the 1970s & 80s and witnessed many happenings. We went from kampong to HDB flat, from an uneducated population, to an educated one.

Coming through all the hardships, we were then proud to be Singaporeans. But this time round, from the many conversations, meetings and interactions with Singaporeans, l recognise that there has been an erosion of our national pride.

If you look around, you may marvel at the vast infrastructure of offices, buildings, hospitals, shopping centers and malls. You would have thought that this is a great country with happy Singaporeans. Then if that is the case, why are we here sitting in this room, with Singaporeans looking at me and hoping to hear an alternative to a better way of life? Something is not right.
Beneath this beautiful facade is an underlying tale of disquiet.

A Reuters Institute Report (for the study of Journalism’s 2018 Digital News, Pg 13) notes that as many as 63% of Singaporeans fear expressing their political opinions openly, even on the internet “because this could get me in trouble with the authorities”. In this survey of 30+ countries, we are second from the bottom only to Turkey. Fear is very much present.

How has this affected our Singaporean lifestyle? When we study the extent and depth of this Fear Factor, it affects so many of us. We do not even realise how much of our behaviour it alters. People fear for their jobs, their promotions, their grants, their rental premises, and getting sued.

Singaporeans complain in whispers, they look around to see who is listening before talking, and hesitate to discuss government policies openly.

But we should not behave like ostriches, burying our heads in the sand and pretending nothing is wrong. If we act like ostriches, ask yourself – is that really loyalty or patriotism? Speaking up is not ingratitude or betrayal. Lee Kuan Yew made it clear when he asked me to join his party. “I don’t want Yes Men!’ he said. So I joined him.

And I did not hesitate to speak up when I disagreed. Singapore is not best served by our silence.
So what is it that has gotten so many people upset? What has created doubt about the future of Singapore?

I spoke of this in my recent press conference last week and I want to emphasize it again. The style of government has changed. The processes of government have gone astray because there has been an erosion of the 3 pillars of good governance, namely

1) transparency,
2) independence and
3) accountability.

I have already given the example of appointments to top government jobs. Should these top appointments be to people related to the Cabinet for example? It’s never a question of “are they able to do the job”. It’s always a question of “Should they be appointed?” Seeds of doubt are sown and mistrust and resentment breeds. The government has chosen to respond to these grumbles with simple denials. Ask yourself if any of your PAP MPs have spoken up in Parliament on this?

They. Are. Not. Listening.

Because of this, people have doubts about the government, and their ability to trust the government is badly shaken.

Singaporeans feel anxious and concerned for our jobs, our health, our children, our retirement, even our homes. We cannot allow this current style of managing the country to go unchallenged. Let us step up to ensure we do not continue this way when there are alternatives to serve Singapore and Singaporeans better.

So what is the Singapore that we want to see?

For the younger generation

We want to see our young people filled with hope, purpose and well-connected to a country they feel rooted to. There is much they can give to Singapore. They must feel that they belong here, a sense of home. If you feel a stranger in your own home, or unwelcome, you will take your talent, your dreams – elsewhere. How can we engage our youth and show them they are valued, our precious resource?

To begin with, we must include them in our plan for progress, allow those 18 and above to vote in our general elections!

At 18, they are old enough to drive, the girls enter university and the boys enter into National Service. Since they have a duty to defend our country, these 18 year olds should also have the right to elect their leaders. They are mature enough to take on the responsibility of active citizenry, to understand policies and vote for the government they want. This is the voting age of most countries around the world, in all of the other ASEAN countries. We have heard it said that the young are apolitical, not interested. I have Not found this to be true, but of course it will mean more to them if they are a part of our democratic process.

For the working adults

For our working population, we need to ensure job priority for Singaporeans. PSP will call for a review of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). This agreement was negotiated by our current DPM Heng Swee Keat and signed in 2005. Among the terms, CECA, allowed the free movement of professionals in 127 sectors to enter and work in Singapore.

This has brought a lot of unhappiness with Singaporean PMETs who feel vulnerable in their jobs and are anxious for the future.

We need the government to publish a balance sheet for CECA, to show how Singapore and Singaporeans have benefitted from this agreement, how many local jobs have gone to Indian Professionals and how many Singaporeans have gone to India? We need accountability.

How can the government help Singaporeans feel a greater sense of job security to face the challenges of the future? Besides reconsidering the current Foreign Worker policies, we suggest that more in-depth training be linked to jobs, so that after completing the training programs, trainees are matched with secure job offers. For vocational workers, their wages must reflect their skills and difficulty of labour. To be skilled at a craft should be accepted as an alternative path of success.

The government should not just be focused on growing the GDP. We must also create a good, workable business environment for investor confidence, and support our SMEs to do business well. Their successes contribute greatly to the economy. We should do more to support our SMEs and home-grown companies. For example, preference must be given to our local companies when awarding government contracts.

Well established Government-Linked Companies should focus more on overseas expansion, and less on competing with our SMEs domestically. In addition, Singapore companies must help one another as Team Singapore, instead of competing when overseas. This is the nationalistic spirit we must adopt when we go overseas.

For our families

Another issue that troubles me greatly is our fertility rate, now at a low of 1.16. This is a serious issue. We have tried addressing this with money and it has not worked. The fertility rate continues to fall. We need to study this with a new mindset and have the political will to do what is necessary. It entails an all-round look at all aspects of our lives – from housing cost and design, to childcare support infrastructure, to education and jobs.

How do we make sure that marriage and parenthood is a satisfying experience, and a source of happiness and strength, instead of stress? It is a very challenging issue, but too important to put on the back burner just because we have failed before.

Elderly

One of our main concerns is our aging population. Based on a United Nations projection (TODAY 06 Dec 2017 “Elderly to make up almost half of Singapore population by 2050: United Nations”), our population size will reach 6.58 million by 2050. Of this 6.58million, a staggering 47% of our population will be 65 years and above. We must start planning for this.

We must make sure that as our population ages, we are still as healthy as possible. But Healthcare costs are a real concern for everyone.

We need to take a hard honest look at our current healthcare delivery system. We cannot treat aging in isolation. It is part of a total healthcare plan. Currently, our healthcare is primarily hospital based. We need to move away from this and manage our aging population outside the hospital system. We need to move towards a Preventive Primary healthcare model. This requires a shift in funding from hospital based healthcare funding to Preventive Primary care funding. Hospital based healthcare is very expensive – primary care is more affordable and will have a deeper reach into the community.

This however, will require mindset change and strong political will to make this important change.

Good Governance

At the end of the day, people want to build a good Singapore with a trusted political system. This involves grounding our processes of governance on the 3 pillars of TRANSPARENCY, INDEPENDENCE and ACCOUNTABILITY. These are fundamental. If these 3 pillars are in place, we will have a government that we can trust. It will not be personality-based. It will be a robust and resilient system of governance. We need to rebuild trust and increase confidence – that people and country matter most in our policy decisions.

I want at this point, to clarify something I said at the Press Conference last week, in reply to a reporter who asked about my succession plan. I said that my greatest fear was that if I were no longer around, PSP would collapse. This fear was one of the considerations that held me back from forming a political party.

But what has since happened – is that many men and women came forward to join me. They wanted to build a stronger Singapore. Their presence gave me the hope and confidence I needed to go ahead and start up PSP. It is their commitment and courage that made it possible for this launch to take place today. I realised that I do not fear it anymore.

This courageous band of men and women decided to come out and do the right thing. They are people of courage. Many have been criticised and ridiculed as old fighters, OR untrained and raw.
But these are brave and courageous people! I call them champions of courage for the next generation. Their hearts are in the right place. They want to serve the country and people. Ordinary people with right motives.

Many expect me to have the same slate of scholars and civil servants in my party. They want me to apply the same PAP mode that has led us to this point. We have had an endless supply of scholars and intellectuals. Yet why are we here now? We trusted them to do the right thing. Yet, the outcome has led to a deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction. We need to have a mindset change.

Government needs to include a wide variety of people from all walks of life to represent all of us! We have to look beyond paper qualifications and look at the heart. Don’t let others tell you that because you don’t have paper qualifications and scholarships that you can’t do it. I am telling you today – You CAN do it! You can make a difference!

My team will work hard, perhaps lose some personal opportunities for themselves, take the knocks, learn from their mistakes but they are Not Afraid. The PSP will nurture a generation of Singaporeans to stand up for what they believe in, without fear or favour. We are starting an evolution of change, not a revolution. I hope many of you here today will come and join us.

New Political Climate / Positive Politics

DPM Heng Swee Keat says that we should avoid adversarial politics. That is very interesting. Because saying and doing are 2 different things. Our PM Lee Hsien Loong said in 2008, that if there was more opposition in Parliament, he would have to spend all his time thinking how to “fix” the opposition. That sounds like adversarial politics to me! So I am glad to note that DPM Heng is taking a different approach.

DPM Heng also said I contradicted myself when I cited the example of the debate in Parliament of 38 Oxley Rise as an example of lack of transparency. His idea of transparency is to have it debated in Parliament surrounded by an overwhelming majority of his own party members with no right of reply from the other parties. Lee Hsien Yang was not in the house to explain his position. Was this even the right place for this debate? Where is the transparency and accountability? It shows that his very understanding of transparency is deeply flawed. This is very troubling.

Let me tell you about the areas that PSP will be championing in broad terms. Details will be given at a later stage.

We will work to:
• Call for Accountability
• And the Independence of Key Institutions
• Require Transparency
• Reduce Income Inequality
• Ensure Retirement Adequacy (eg CPF)
• Lower Cost of Living (eg GST)
• Educate our People for the Future Economy
• Make Public Housing Affordable

PSP is fully aware of the many issues worrying Singaporeans like good paying jobs, contradicting policies on CPF and Housing, income inequality, rising healthcare costs and costs of living among many others. We want to review these issues extensively with all available data and we will call for policy change if need be. We will announce these more comprehensively in our GE manifesto.

Singaporeans know that currently, the economy is uncertain. We may have to swallow bitter medicine and tighten our belts. Our history demonstrates that we are a tough people. We put our trust in our previous leaders, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Keng Swee among them, and they pressed on and brought us forward. Not so our current leaders. Singaporeans were made promises in relation to their HDB flats, their CPF.

But the markers keep moving and shifting. We are worried and frustrated. We want to know that our future and our children’s futures are secure. We need clarity and certainty.

Policies need to be formulated for the greater good of society. And if change is needed to better a system, then PSP will call for it.

Thankfully, our nation is blessed with a reliable and efficient civil service. The civil service is meant to be independent of the government and their first priority to take care of their citizens and make sure things run very well. So do not worry, as they will continue to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

However, in this present climate, where trust is slipping and suspicion is growing – we need to relook at how things are being done and especially at how important appointments are made. The system must not only be independent, but must also be seen to be independent. It will only stay strong and be the better for it.

Let me end with the continuation of my story of how Lee Kuan Yew persuaded me to join him. When I was a young doctor, content in my rural practice in Ama Keng, I was called by him to join in the work of nation building. We spoke for some time. I told him I was not enamoured with the party. He told me – I need You to come forward to take Singapore to the next level of growth. He impressed me with his passion for the country and desire to build it up. He said, “If you don’t come up, don’t blame me if I take second rate people to take your place.”

His call was for good people to join him to bring the country forward. Today, that is my call to Singaporeans. I have a good team in place. Young and old – passionate to do something for the nation. But this is still a huge task!

There is still a need for more good people to come forward and join me in making a difference to Singapore.

Ask yourself – are you satisfied with the levels of transparency, independence and accountability in Singapore? If not, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to ignore it and pass on the problem to your children? Your grandchildren?

My friends, we need to take responsibility for it – Today!

I invite you to come and join me! Come, take courage and let’s work together to take on the many challenges ahead.

For the progress of Singapore!

For country and for people!

 

Click here to sign up as a Volunteer with the PSP

Click here to sign up as a PSP Member