In Acting Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s maiden speech in Parliament today (Jan 25), MPs and media reporters are left scratching their head what the Minister was trying to say. First, the Minister said that scores and rankings are just numeric and do not matter, seemingly suggesting that Singaporeans are too focused on academic gradings:

“There is a risk in Singapore that we excessively view ourselves in numerical terms, whether it is in scores or rankings – when what the nation needs is a “clear focus on what truly matters”

The Education Minister then digressed from his opening on paper-chase to disbursement of social assistance and awarding of public tender projects:

“Who is to say a person earning S$2,500 but supporting two handicapped parents is less deserving of help than someone living alone earning S$1,500?

Public tenders, too, are not just focused on pricing, but how compelling and attractive the proposals are.

The contest is less like basketball, more like gymnastics. Such contests can be decided only by judgment.”

The newbie Minister then lost track of what he wanted to say and ended off with an ambiguous statement saying that “human judgment is more superior” and “life is too complex to be fair”.

“But relying on one number to make decisions when life is so complex cannot be fair, cannot be just. A well-calibrated, greater exercise of judgment must permeate throughout our system over time.

Exercising human judgment does not mean we simply use our gut, or to bend rules willy-nilly. Good judgment is exercised through training, years of experience, and assumption of responsibility. This is far more difficult – but far superior – than simply sticking to rules and numbers.”

This is Minister Ong Ye Kung’s maiden speech, he was voted in as a first-term MP through the GRC system and was instantly promoted to Acting Minister for Education, an “easy” position which he shared with another newbie MP, Ng Chee Meng, the former Chief of Defence. Minister Ong Ye Kung was the former private principal secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.