Singapore GE2020: PAP new faces come from humble beginnings, took unconventional routes to success

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli (centre) with new PAP candidates (from left) Yip Hon Weng, Mohd Fahmi Aliman, Hany Soh Hui Bin and Don Wee Boon Hong at the party's New Upper Changi Road headquarters on June 24, 2020.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli (centre) with new PAP candidates (from left) Yip Hon Weng, Mohd Fahmi Aliman, Hany Soh Hui Bin and Don Wee Boon Hong at the party's New Upper Changi Road headquarters on June 24, 2020.PHOTO: PAP

SINGAPORE - The PAP on Wednesday morning (June 24) rolled out a second batch of new candidates to contest the election on July 10.

The line-up this time included two former civil servants and two candidates from the private sector.

In a virtual press conference streamed from the PAP headquarters in New Upper Changi Road, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli highlighted how two of them - Ms Hany Soh Hui Bin, a director at MSC Law Corporation, and Mr Don Wee Boon Hong, a senior vice-president at UOB - have taken unconventional educational paths before establishing successful careers.

Ms Soh, 33, said she came from the Normal (Academic) stream at Bendemeer Secondary School. She later obtained a diploma in law and management from a polytechnic, and worked as a paralegal before saving enough money to pursue a law degree overseas.

She said her secondary school teacher advised her that if she became a lawyer someday, she should serve "the lost, the least and the last".

This, she said, became her ethos in life and inspired her to get involved in grassroots work. For the last nine years, she has volunteered in Bukit Panjang, helping Bukit Panjang MP Teo Ho Pin.

Ms Soh, who has a 16-month-old daughter, set up the first community legal clinic in a Residents' Committee centre in the area. She said she hopes to increase community awareness of legal issues, like the importance of lasting power of attorney, and make legal help more accessible, such as to those who are physically disabled.

Mr Wee, 43, grew up in a rental flat and made the cut to enter junior college after finishing his O levels at Nan Hua High School. However, money was tight so he decided to enrol in a diploma programme in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, so that he could start work early and help his family with the bills.

After completing his National Service, Mr Wee joined a local bank as a non-executive staff member, and earned an accounting degree after some years of part-time study.

He later qualified as a chartered accountant and completed two Masters' programmes, including a Master in Public Administration from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Speaking in Mandarin, he said: "I'm grateful to have grown up in a meritocratic society - no matter what our individual background or starting point may be, if we have a positive attitude and a willingness to learn, we can ourselves shape our future.

Mr Wee, who has two children, is also a member of the Institute of Mental Health's Visitors' Board. He said he hopes to help the less-privileged, as well as those with mental health problems.

His experience in the banking sector, he said, has also given him more insight into the tremendous challenges small- and medium-sized enterprises face amid the Covid-19 situation. He added that he hopes to help this group of businesses as well.

Said Mr Wee: "I hope that...politics (can be) an extension of my volunteerism, and a platform for me to raise (residents') concerns and needs to the policymakers."

Mr Masagos said: "Don, to me, like Hany, epitomises what I call SkillsFuture now - the journey they've gone through in their school life... does not define where they are and where they can be."

Mr Wee has been a grassroots leader in West Coast for sixteen years. Both Mr Wee and Ms Soh are fluent in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese.

Mr Masagos also introduced former army colonel Mohd Fahmi Aliman, 48, who stepped down as deputy chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore in March. He helped to form and steer the M³@Bedok initiative, launched last year to help the Malay/Muslim community in Bedok Town.

 
 
 

Mr Fahmi, a father of four, joined the National Trades Union Congress' Administration and Research Unit in April. Before that, he spent 26 years in the Singapore Armed Forces.

His late father was a gas checker, while his late mother worked as a cleaner. When he was in primary school, he would help her clear rubbish, he said. She later upgraded her skills to become a cook in a factory.

That is why, said Mr Fahmi, the welfare of low-wage workers in essential services is close to his heart. "I hope to become the conduit for my residents to learn new skills, understand what is the training available out there and continue to upskill themselves."

The fourth candidate at the session was Mr Yip Hon Weng, 43, the former group chief of the Silver Generation Office under the Agency for Integrated Care.

Mr Yip, who is married with five children, received the Public Service Commission Overseas Specialist Award and started his civil service career as a physical education and mathematics teacher.

He later took on roles in policy and management in the education, manpower and defence ministries in the 2000s. He also helped to set up and run the Municipal Services Office - work that involved working closely with various government agencies.

Mr Yip said his stint as a teacher taught him of the need to have empathy for others, and he plans to focus on things like helping to improve aged care services in Singapore.

One incident he remembers vividly, he said, was when he disciplined a student who repeatedly failed to hand in his homework in his first few weeks as a teacher.

However, he later found out that the student came from a poor family, and had to work part-time after school. That is why he did not have the time nor energy to focus on his school work, but he was too embarrassed to tell anyone.

Mr Yip said: "That day, I learnt that it is very important to always ask and seek to understand the situation before we come to any conclusions about how others behave."

This sense of empathy has helped him in his career as a teacher and civil servant, he added. "This is how I will also continue to listen to the concerns of residents as a candidate."


(Clockwise from top left) Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman, 48; Mr Don Wee Boon Hong and Mr Yip Hon Weng, both 43; and Ms Hany Soh Hui Bin, 33. PHOTOS: PAP

Mr Masagos said one common quality among PAP candidates is that they never stop learning, and that they have the desire to give back to society. Their actions give an insight into how committed they are in working for the community.

He said: "Do not just light your own candle - light a thousand candles before your light goes out," he said.

DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS, REPRESENTING DIFFERENT SEGMENTS OF SOCIETY

At an earlier event on Wednesday (June 24), Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat introduced the party's first four candidates for next month's polls.

He said the latest crop of new PAP candidates are a "very interesting and diverse" group who have taken multiple pathways to achieve success.

He added that party renewal is part of the process through which the PAP improves its ability to better serve Singaporeans and take the country forward.

Speaking at a virtual press meeting, Mr Heng said: "What has been very encouraging for us is that we have now seen many Singaporeans who have taken the opportunity of embarking on very different pathways, whether it is education or in their career aspirations, or in the courses they are interested in, and being able to make headway to develop themselves fully in this process.

"What is even more encouraging is that many of them have decided to step forward, so that they can share these experiences, they can continue this process of enabling more Singaporeans to succeed in the coming years."

 
 

Mr Heng said the party's new faces represent different segments of society, and therefore bring with them different issues and concerns to raise in Parliament.

On Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's decision to hold the election now, Mr Heng said Singapore will face many external challenges in the years ahead. Many critical decisions have to be made, and the strategy and action Singapore takes in the coming months will profoundly shape its future, he added.

This is why the decision was taken to hold the election on July 10, he said.

Mr Heng added that the PAP will contest all 93 seats in the polls. For this election, there are a total of 17 GRCs and 14 single-member constituencies.

He said: "We need to build the adaptive capacity of our society to overcome this crisis and to emerge stronger, so that we can have the ideas and creative energies of all our people to work together on a common purpose."