Good governance eroding, says Tan Cheng Bock

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who founded the Progress Singapore Party, pledged that the party would bring change to the political landscape. He hopes to create a space "where people can come forward to share and debate policies, opinions and ideas".
Progress Singapore Party secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock (centre) with (from left) assistant treasurer Hazel Poa, Central Executive Committee (CEC) member Abdul Rahman, chairman Wang Swee Chuang, assistant secretary-general Lee Yung Hwee, treasurer
Progress Singapore Party secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock (centre) with (from left) assistant treasurer Hazel Poa, Central Executive Committee (CEC) member Abdul Rahman, chairman Wang Swee Chuang, assistant secretary-general Lee Yung Hwee, treasurer S. Nallakaruppan, and CEC member Michelle Lee.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Ex-PAP legislator says that is why he started Progress S'pore Party, spells out aim for GE

Former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock says he decided to form a party after concluding that the fundamentals of good governance in Singapore are being eroded.

Speaking to the media at a news conference, the 79-year-old secretary-general of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) said there had been an erosion of transparency, independence and accountability.

And he hopes his new party will help deprive the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) of a two-thirds majority in Parliament at the next General Election due by April 2021.

In a speech before taking questions, he said he thought he should retire from politics after contesting the 2011 Presidential Election, given that he had served in Parliament for 26 years as an MP.

"I have spent a great deal of my life in public office. But as I sat back and watched what has been going on in Parliament and in our political system, I am concerned. I believe the processes of good governance have gone astray. I worry because I see the foundations of good governance eroding."

The retired doctor, who left politics in 2006, had contested the four-way Presidential Election in 2011 and lost narrowly to former deputy prime minister Tony Tan Keng Yam. Many had urged him "not to go quietly into the night", he said. "They asked me to step up again and rally those who want to serve Singapore."

Asked to elaborate on his criticisms of the Government, he cited three issues: Appointment of ministers' spouses to top roles; the changes to the Elected Presidency in 2016 to ensure minority representation, which led to the 2017 Presidential Election being reserved for Malay candidates; and the 2017 parliamentary debate on the fate of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38 Oxley Road.

He said the appointment of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife, Ms Ho Ching, as chief executive of Temasek had left many "wondering why", alluding to a lack of transparency. "As you all know, Temasek is part of our reserves. We want to know how that selection process was made," he added.

 

Soon after Ms Ho became executive director in 2002, then Temasek chairman S. Dhanabalan said she was appointed on merit and not family connections.

He also said PM Lee, who was then Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, agreed to the appointment after Mr Dhanabalan ensured Ms Ho would not report directly to the Finance Ministry.

On changes to the Elected Presidency to ensure minority representation, Dr Tan said that questions by opposition MPs on the issue had not been answered in Parliament.

The debate on the fate of the Oxley Road home showed how Parliament was used inappropriately, Dr Tan said. "Parliament is to set laws and rules for the country, and make changes for the country, but when you use Parliament as a place where you debate your family issues, to me that is not correct."

He repeatedly declined to answer questions on his party's policies, saying he would disclose more at its official launch next Saturday. But he said the PSP would put Singapore and Singaporeans at its core.

"We want to offer the people of Singapore... an alternative party they can put their confidence in, a party that brings positive politics to the political landscape."

Dr Tan, who entered politics in 1980 and was a six-term MP for the former single-seat Ayer Rajah, said positive politics is having a space where people with differing views can share and debate policies, opinions and ideas with respect, without fear of being judged or shamed or of other consequences.

His aim for now is to work with other opposition parties to get one-third of the seats in Parliament and block constitutional changes.

"If in this General Election, we still fail to win one-third of the seats... I don't see much change can happen," he added.

He fielded all questions from reporters, although he was flanked by key party members, including former National Solidarity Party secretary-general Hazel Poa and former Singapore Democratic Party candidate Michelle Lee.

He also acknowledged there is a perception that the PSP is a one-man party.

But he said: "I don't want to be prime minister, I want to... build a good team, provide an alternative for Singaporeans to see that there is another party, apart from the PAP, that can give you the compassionate society we want to build."

• Additional reporting by Fabian Koh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2019, with the headline 'Good governance eroding, says Tan Cheng Bock'. Print Edition | Subscribe