Photo of Lee Hsien Loong from CNA

In the latest dog fight between the old and new PAP members, there was no hold back with each camp baring their fangs and barking at the other between the fence. When former state media Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwan wrote an opinion article cajoling the new “4G” ministers to “speak plainly”, the new secretary of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat hit back at him calling it “unrealistic”. The unexpectedly-rude response from the 4G minister riled up members from the old PAP administration, with PAP MP Inderjit Singh rallying his support behind the former state media editor.

Last Sunday (June 3), former Straits Times editor under Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s administration lambasted the new “4G” Ministers for making too much motherhood statements without substance. Han Fook Kwan accuse the new ministers of “hiding between verbiage” and call for them to be a “model of clarity”. The state media editor for Singapore’s 1990s-government criticised the current PAP’s CPF policy:

“Here again, it is important to speak simply and cast your plans in terms everyone can understand. That real person you were speaking to when addressing his worries is there waiting to listen to what you have in store. So, here goes:

“I promise you that if you have had a full working life in Singapore, in any job, whether you are a cleaner, a security guard, a taxi driver or a waiter, when you retire at 65, you will have enough to live a good and decent life. We will make sure it happens – don’t worry about the details or how we will do it. The only thing we ask is that you must do your part and be serious about your job. We would have failed in our job if Singapore is a country where a person can work his entire life and still not have enough when he retires.”

I think Singapore leaders should make such a promise to the people. It is unacceptable for a country with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world to have too many people retire after working all their lives without adequate retirement security.”

The letter caught Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s attention and, barely a day after, the leading Prime Minister-candidate slammed Han Fook Kwan for making irresponsible promises like “free lunches”. Minister Heng Swee Keat warned that the former state media editor “risk losing his credibility”:

“Mr Han begins by urging ministers to speak plainly – to use simple language. His column then morphs into a dare to ministers to make sweeping promises. For example, he wants ministers to assure people that if they had “a full working life in Singapore, in any job… when you retire at 65, you will have enough to live a good and decent life”. “We will make sure it happens,” Mr Han urges ministers to say, “don’t worry about the details or how we will do it.”
But plain speaking about adequate retirement would also entail telling people some “hard truths”. For example, the Central Provident Fund scheme is adequate for most Singaporeans, and Silver Support will help top up for those who did not earn much while working. However, as people live longer, their needs in old age will go up. Then, we will have to work longer, save more while working, or have less to spend in retirement.Voters in many countries, developed and developing, have learnt through bitter experience what happens when unrealistic election promises are broken. Politicians and journalists who advocate simplistic policies lose credibility, faith in democracy is undermined, and ultimately, voters or their children bear the cost. The easiest five words to utter in politics are: “I promise you free lunches.” But that’s not plain speech. That’s pandering and populism.”

Like a beaten old dog, Han Fook Kwan became silent and did not aggravate his new master. However, other members of the former PAP administration felt indignant for him and slammed the new 4G Minister. The response from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was said to be “high-handed”, and fellow state media TodayOnline wrote that the letter “do not reflect humility”.

With state media TodayOnline, former PAP MP Inderjit Singh fronted the assault against Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat telling the new 4G government to “listen with humility”:

“In my opinion, there is this thinking in government that the views expressed by Mr Han and Ms Chua are from a vocal minority. I agree that the responses from the government unfortunately does not reflect humility, as the mindset probably is that a silent majority don’t feel the same. This is why it is useful for more people to speak up sincerely so everyone knows what the real issues Singaporeans are concerned with. Listening with true humility and sincerity is critical if we want a meaningful Singapore conversation. So speak up Singaporeans.”

In recent years, there have been increasing conflicts between the old PAP administration under Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and the new PAP administration under Lee Hsien Loong. Several former civil servants and members of the ruling party elites like former LKY School dean Donald Low and Kishore Mahbubani, openly criticised the Lee Hsien Loong government. Both were then hit back by the new government and they have since been fired from their positions with the government university.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is well aware of the deepening cracks in his party, and in his 2017 National Day Rally, he called for unity in his speech.