SINGAPORE - Mr Khaw Boon Wan, 68, has a proven track record for taking on difficult issues and is held in high standing in Singapore, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran on Monday (May 10).
This is why the former minister was picked to chair the new not-for-profit entity that will be set up after Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) restructures its media operations in a move to put it on a more sustainable financial footing.
"What you need is someone at the leadership level who has the gravitas, has the strategic vision and the experience in undertaking these sorts of major tasks," Mr Iswaran said. "And make no mistake about it - this is a major undertaking, and it is one that is of national importance."
He was responding in Parliament to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who had questioned the choice of Mr Khaw for the post, given that he is former chairman of the ruling People's Action Party and former coordinating minister for infrastructure.
She had also asked if any other candidates were considered, and said the restructure was a "missed opportunity" to pick a chairman less closely linked to the Government.
Ms Lim said she welcomed Mr Iswaran's statements that the Government and media will not see eye to eye on every matter, adding that this is "as it should be if the newspapers are to be credible to readers".
"At the same time, he has acknowledged that due to the proposed change in funding, there are some concerns about the implications of government funding on the editorial direction of the newspaper," she noted.
The not-for-profit entity will be a company limited by guarantee (CLG) and SPH's media business will come under its charge. Such CLGs are typically formed to carry out non-profit-making activities that have some public or national interest.
Mr Iswaran said the decision to appoint Mr Khaw has been discussed with SPH's current management shareholders - which include OCBC Bank, Great Eastern and Singtel - who have agreed that he is the right choice.
He made the point that the position is not one for which there is a very long shortlist, or where a global search is needed. "In the end, you have to decide on the basis of what is needed, what are the attributes we seek, and how do we go forward? And that's what happened here."
He added: "I think what would be a missed opportunity is if we allow political considerations to prevent us from making the right decision, in terms of the right person for the job, to get it done.
The minister added that the nub of Ms Lim's question was whether or not the appointment of Mr Khaw would create problems for editorial independence.
He pointed out that the current SPH chairman - Dr Lee Boon Yang - is a former Cabinet minister, and that the company has had other chairmen who have held similar posts or been former senior civil servants.
"And yet, we are where we are today... in terms of the credibility of our media, the trust that Singaporeans have in our media, through this array of leadership," Mr Iswaran said. "And I think we should therefore be very clear that what matters is not a perceived political hue in the appointments, but rather, the substance of the character and capability of the people who are involved."