Parliament Sidelights: Tiger parable runs wild in the House

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say spun a fable of two men and a tiger to drive home his point about how Singapore can stay ahead of the curve in an age of technological disruption.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say spun a fable of two men and a tiger to drive home his point about how Singapore can stay ahead of the curve in an age of technological disruption.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has built up a reputation for weaving colourful anecdotes and suspenseful fables into his speeches to convey serious policy messages in his three decades or so in politics.

Monday's (Mar 5) debate in Parliament on his ministry's budget was no exception, as Mr Lim spun a fable of two men and a tiger to drive home his point about how Singapore can stay ahead of the curve in an age of technological disruption.

Mr Lim's story begins like this: Two men were taking a walk in the jungle, when they realised that a tiger was approaching from behind, and beginning to catch up with them.

One of them stooped down to tighten his shoelace, while his companion incredulously asked: "The tiger is coming after us, still got time to tighten your shoelace?"

The first man nonchalantly said, "Yeah, because I am getting ready to run," which prompted the other to question him again: "You mean you can run faster than a tiger?"

No, of course not, the man replied.

"But all I need to do is run faster than you," he told his companion, meaning that the the slower man left in the lurch will be the one that will be consumed by the tiger, while the faster one could escape without worry.

In this case, explained Mr Lim, the looming shadow of the tiger refers to the global trend of technological disruption.

"In a global village, it is not possible to out-run technology. But we can out-run the competition. Those running slower will see more jobs being destroyed by technology, while thosewho run faster can create new jobs with technology (at a pace that outstrips) the loss of existing jobs to technology," he quipped, drawing smiles from members of the House.

But his tiger parable ran amok in the debate later, when Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) helpfully reminded members of the House that Mr Lim's striking parable should not be taken literally.

The passionate animal activist and chief executive of the wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) dished out this piece of practical advice after making a few clarifications on MOM's policies:

"If you do see a wild animal, it's best not to run. Best to stay still."

This drew laughter from his parliamentary colleagues.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin subsequently chimed in as he got ready to wrap up the Budget debate: "Well, animal or no animal, some of us still need to run."

But in his haste to close the debate, which had stretched on for five hours, he forgot one crucial thing: to give time for Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) to withdraw the token $100 cut in the estimates for the MOM's expenditure, and for himself to then read out the MOM's estimated expenditure.

"Too fast at running," apologised Mr Tan, an avid runner himself who had memorably ran from house to house while canvassing the ground in Marine Parade during the 2015 general election hustings.

Parliament Sidelights is an occasional blog on what goes on in the House.