GE SPECIAL

Singapore GE2020: PAP's Tan See Leng wants to reach out to those in need in Marine Parade

Dr Tan See Leng, one of the five PAP candidates for Marine Parade GRC, campaigning in the constituency yesterday. The former head of a healthcare group wants to build a network to support caregivers of the elderly.
Dr Tan See Leng, one of the five PAP candidates for Marine Parade GRC, campaigning in the constituency yesterday. The former head of a healthcare group wants to build a network to support caregivers of the elderly.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Stepping up to fill veterans’ shoes: The Workers’ Party’s Mr Dennis Tan replaces retiring MP Png Eng Huat to stand in Hougang SMC, while Dr Tan See Leng succeeds Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in the People’s Action Party’s Marine Parade GRC line-up. The two men have one thing in common – both are stepping up to fill seats held by stalwarts in their respective parties. The Sunday Times catches up with them.

The People's Action Party's (PAP) oldest new face, Dr Tan See Leng, 55, wants to build a network to support caregivers of the elderly. He will launch such a network in Marine Parade right after the election, and he hopes to extend it islandwide.

One of the five PAP candidates for Marine Parade GRC, he wants the network to support families like Madam Lai Quan Tee's.

The Marine Parade resident is 79 years old, diabetic and needs a wheelchair to move around.

She relies on her 91-year-old husband to take her to the hospital for her medical appointments.

More than 20 per cent of residents in the GRC's Marine Parade ward are above 65, higher than the national average of 15 per cent.

Dr Tan, who is a family physician by training, notes that often, when a loved one falls ill, the responsibility to care for that person is thrust upon either the spouse, the daughter or the daughter-in-law.

"There are many stages a chronically ill and elderly patient goes through before they go into the terminal stage. There are many ups and downs, more downs than there are ups. So we thought that we should start to focus on building this caregiver support network," he said.

His goal is for the network to serve as a one-stop centre that provides respite care for caregivers, helps with transport for medical appointments and financial aid for those in need.

Having spent his career in the private sector, he is keen to try his hand at public service.

Shortly after graduating from medical school, Dr Tan set up Healthway Medical Group - a chain of neighbourhood clinics - with his wife and some friends.

He later sold the business and joined Parkway Holdings, now part of IHH Healthcare, one of the world's largest healthcare groups with a network of 56 hospitals in Asia, including the Mount Elizabeth and Gleneagles hospitals in Singapore.

He stepped down from his last role as managing director and chief executive of the group on Dec 31 last year.

STILL FULL OF ENERGY

Everybody says that I am the oldest, I'm the oldest, I don't get upset. So be it. I feel fine. I've got a lot of energy left.

DR TAN SEE LENG, on being the oldest new PAP candidate.

DEEPER INTO POLITICS

Since Nomination Day last Tuesday, Dr Tan and his four GRC teammates have been out in force to woo voters.

Dr Tan usually heads to 50A Marine Terrace Market or East Coast Beach to meet and greet residents before going around the estate, door-knocking.

The Sunday Times tagged along yesterday and found that some residents at the market recognised him, even with his mask on.

 
 
 
 

Others, like Ms Florence Asha Narayanan, 53, first met Dr Tan at Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's Meet-the-People Session (MPS) last year.

Besides helping her with her request, Dr Tan, whose weight has gone down from 120kg to 89kg, also gave her advice on how to lose weight, said Ms Narayanan, who is obese and weighs 160kg.

She was surprised to see Dr Tan again when he delivered food to her home.

Dr Tan met Mr Goh through the latter's son, who works at Parkway.

Mr Goh, who has been MP for the Marine Parade ward for 44 years, is retiring from politics. Two years ago, he asked Dr Tan to help him out in the ward.

Dr Tan started by trailing Mr Goh on his walkabouts, sitting in during MPS and helping to follow up on residents' requests.

On learning that Dr Tan had retired from his role at IHH last year, Mr Goh asked him to consider serving in a "more active role".

Dr Tan was tasked to identify the needs of the elderly and study the current support structures available to help them. That is when I got "deeper and deeper", Dr Tan said, "and that was the start of my real journey here".

He consulted his wife - whom he met in medical school - and three children before saying yes to being fielded as a candidate.

His two older children are medical officers; his youngest is off to Glasgow to study dentistry.

The Marine Parade residents he has met over the last two years also played a part in his decision.

He recalls a mother who came to ask for help. She looked pale and anaemic, yet her concern was not her own health but her son, who had just been released from prison.

She had unpaid utility bills and worried that if the power supply was cut, the ankle bracelet that he wore as a tracking device would not be able to transmit signals and that would land him in trouble.

Dr Tan, who tried to persuade the woman to see a doctor, was moved by her love for her son. "It strengthened my resolve," he said.

"At the end of the day, even if you just touch and help one person or one family, it's worth the while. This is what we are here for."

PARLIAMENT AND HELP SCHEMES

Through his work with the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, on whose board he sits, Dr Tan has built links with social service organisations and gained an understanding of the many government help schemes available.

He believes more can be done to integrate these schemes and make them more accessible to people.

Once again, he would start with a pilot in Marine Parade ward, where he is due to succeed Mr Goh as chairman of the PAP branch.

"If we are able to... keep telling you that support is always there with you, then whatever you do, you will feel you have renewed confidence and empowerment," he said.

If elected as an MP, he would represent the community and raise residents' needs in Parliament. He hopes to persuade the Government to make changes, so as to help those who do not get the help they need because their circumstances are different from most others.

"When you put a scheme out, when you formulate a policy, you want it to benefit as many people as possible. But there will always be the ones who are a couple of standard deviations who will slip through the cracks," he said.

Dr Tan has Mr Goh's endorsement. He "has the right character, temperament, motivations, values and competence to be your next MP. He is an enterprising and helpful man", Mr Goh wrote in a Facebook post.

As the oldest among the PAP's 27 new candidates, Dr Tan accepts the comments on his age.

"Everybody says that I am the oldest, I'm the oldest, I don't get upset. So be it. I feel fine. I've got a lot of energy left," he said.

Having made good in the private sector, where his last-drawn salary last year including bonuses and benefits was over $10 million, this son of an SBS bus timekeeper and housewife just thinks "it's time for me to contribute back to society".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2020, with the headline 'Tan See Leng wants to reach out to those in need in Marine Parade'. Print Edition | Subscribe