SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (June 24) unveiled the ruling People's Action Party's first slate of new candidates for the upcoming election.
Mr Heng, who is the party's first assistant secretary-general, said Covid-19 has placed incredible stresses on societies, shocking economies deeply and accelerating structural changes, and Singapore needed to build its adaptive capacities in order to emerge stronger.
There are many critical decisions to be made, and the coming months will profoundly shape Singapore's future, he said at a press conference unveiling the party's first slate of four candidates.
The PAP is bringing in "more new faces from different segments of our society, so that they can represent different segments of society and can bring different interests for discussion", he added, describing the coming slate of candidates as "very interesting and diverse".
Among the first slate of candidates are:
- Former People's Association chief executive director Desmond Tan Kok Ming, 50
For Mr Desmond Tan, securing a government scholarship in his teens was the only way he could afford his university education.
But such social mobility among children from low-income families has become “quite challenging” in recent years, he told reporters on Wednesday.
It is a cause that the father of three plans to champion if he is elected under the banner of the ruling People’s Action Party.
“I would like to be able to continue to make sure that national-level policies look after this group of people... to level the playing field in terms of their education and growing-up needs,” he said.
“The second thing I would like to do is help to make sure that the implementation – the last-mile delivery to households – is also done well in the community.”
Mr Tan grew up in a three-room Bukit Ho Swee flat which at one point housed 12 people – his own family of six, his uncle’s family of four, his grandmother, and another uncle.
His father was a taxi driver, while his mother took on various jobs to supplement the family’s income. These included working in a factory, as a baby-sitter, and selling satay and nasi lemak on the streets.
“I learnt at a very young age that we should take nothing for granted,” he said. “Whether it was the roof over my head, the three meals on the table, or the hand-me-down books and uniforms that I got, my parents and my loved ones worked very hard to provide.”
Mr Tan was from Queenstown Secondary Technical School – now renamed Queenstown Secondary School – and later went to Raffles Junior College.
After serving his national service, he was awarded the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship. In 1994, he graduated with first class honours in aeronautical engineering from the Victoria University of Manchester.
During his 28 years there, he was deployed to Afghanistan and helped coordinate the organisation’s disaster relief efforts in the Philippines, Nepal and Kota Kinabalu. He also organised several National Day Parades.
Mr Tan rose to the rank of brigadier-general before leaving to helm the People’s Association (PA) in January 2017. There, he introduced Residents’ Networks and Youth Networks to encourage social mixing.
He said he is passionate about social mobility, partly because he benefited from the system. “But also, I do see that in the last few years, this is becoming quite challenging even as our society progresses. I think to sustain social mobility is going to be a big challenge going forward.”
During the press conference, Mr Tan was also asked for his thoughts on speculation that he has been earmarked for a Cabinet position.
“I think I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” he replied. “We should not take for granted that we will be elected.”
- Mr Edward Chia Bing Hui, 36, the co-founder and managing director of lifestyle company Timbre Group
One of Mr Edward Chia’s top priorities – if he is elected to Parliament – is helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) transform and ride out the Covid-19 crisis.
The entrepreneur knows first hand the challenges businesses have faced during the past few months, when safe distancing restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus kept customers home.
His own business, Timbre Group, which runs food and beverage venues including Timbre+ and Yishun Park Hawker Centre, has also had to deal with common challenges SMEs have had to grapple with – coping with high rentals, insufficient manpower, and staying ahead of digital disruption.
“I go through this on a daily basis,” he says. “I can truly empathise with SMEs and I hope to be an effective voice for SMEs in Parliament.”
He has had to think of ways to ensure livelihoods of his employees were not overly affected by Covid-19 during the circuit breaker period, pointing out that Timbre had held livestreamed performances on Facebook to help musicians who perform at the company’s various venues.
“As a business owner that’s my fundamental responsibility, which is to protect our livelihoods of our people... because every one of them has a family,” said Mr Chia, the father of a six-year-old boy.
He was one of eight prospective candidates for the PAP unveiled on Wednesday (June 24), and is expected to be fielded in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
Mr Heng, who introduced him, said he had first met Mr Chia at a lunch function by the National Youth Achievement Advisory Council, where the latter was making a presentation.
He had been so intrigued by what Mr Chia said, he invited him to speak to Ministry of Education officials, as the ministry then had an initiative to encourage students to take different paths to success.
Mr Chia, who went to National Junior College and studied economics and political science at the National University of Singapore, had started Timbre at 21 when he was an undergraduate.
He is also the co-chair of the Youth Action Plan, and helped craft a youth vision for Singapore.
Said Mr Chia: “We must redouble our efforts to support our SMEs, not just to survive, but to emerge stronger. In essence, stronger SMEs means better jobs for Singaporeans.”
- Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, 30, associate director at TSMP Law Corporation
Half of Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin’s life has revolved around giving back to the community, starting when she was 15 years old.
At the time, she volunteered with the South East Community Development Council, moving on to focus on causes helping vulnerable women and children.
The lawyer, who is married but does not have children, recounted how she once received a call from a child she was mentoring. The girl, whose parents were in prison, had to go to school to take a test. However, her Ez-link card was out of money.
That incident prompted Ms Nadia to set up the Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud Top-up Fund to make sure such children have enough money for transport.
Ms Nadia, the youngest of the new faces that will be unveiled by the PAP, went to Victoria Junior College and read law at the Singapore Management University.
Apart from her community work, she also serves as a panel advisor for the Youth Court, where her role is to advise judges on the appropriate orders to pass in cases involving children and young persons.
“What means a lot to me is being a safe space for those who may not have many other options to turn to,” she said. “I have worked with elderly who have no family to call, and young women in difficult circumstances – teenage mums, girls who have both parents in prison. Being able to gain their trust, that they will call me before things get really bad, I am grateful.”
Ms Nadia, a recreational diver, has also seen first-hand the havoc wrought by climate change on the natural environment and hopes to champion this cause.
“I hope to be a voice for my generation,” she said. “We value sustainability, and not just in the traditional sense, but also thinking about sustainable economic growth, that is, equitable, first and foremost, while preserving the environment and upholding the values of Singapore.”
Apart from speaking in English and Malay during Wednesday’s press conference, Ms Nadia also spoke a few words in Mandarin. She decided to take Chinese lessons for two years as a child, after several incidents where people would address her in the language, assuming she was Chinese.
This skill has come in handy over the years, she said.
“I think it’s really about that personal connection and being able to say a few things so that people know that you understand where they’re coming from.”
- Mr Ivan Lim Shaw Chuan, 42, general manager (specialised vessels) of Keppel Offshore & Marine
At the age of 16, Mr Ivan Lim had gone to work at Keppel Shipyard after his ‘O’ Levels in 1994, instead of furthering his studies.
“I remember on my first day, the shipyard uncles were asking me, ‘What are you doing here in the shipyard, you should be studying’,” he said.
But for Mr Lim, who was then living in a rental flat in Henderson with his family, circumstances were such that he had “no choice but to start working”.
He worked hard and was awarded a scholarship by Keppel to study for a diploma at Singapore Polytechnic, after which he continued to pursue his degree in Marine Engineering, graduating with first class honours at University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Rising through the ranks, the 42-year-old is now general manager at Keppel Offshore & Marine.
“Thinking back. I’m grateful to all my mentors who have helped me along the way,” said Mr Lim, who was introduced to the media by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as one of the PAP’s new candidates at the upcoming GE.
For Mr Lim, who had a fishmonger father and a mother who worked as a babysitter to supplement the family’s income, his humble beginnings have taught him to treasure opportunities and not take things for granted.
“I chose to serve with PAP, because the party values and attributes are close to my heart. In particular, being compassionate, and also being self reliant,” said the father of four.
The prospective candidate also said he has been volunteering in various capacities since his teens, but over the past year has been active in constituency work at the Henderson-Dawson constituency in Tanjong Pagar GRC.
Now he wants to pay it forward to others who are in need of assistance, saying: “I’m concerned about elderly residents and children who require social assistance, especially those with special needs.”
He is expected to be fielded in Jurong GRC, and said he joined politics because he saw how MPs mobilised resources to help people.
“I’ve learned that in order to help more and extend outreach to benefit more residents, it is important to be able to come up with programmes, work with the people, listen carefully to what people need and then mobilise the necessary resources,” he said.