Minister Shared 3 Things Singapore’s Leaders Have To Do To Earn People’s Trust

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing knows that there is still plenty to do for future crop of PAP leaders.

He was part of the 16 4G Ministers who released a joint statement on 4 January which said that they “settle on a leader from amongst us in good time.”

He is also widely believed to be one of 3 prime candidates to be the next Prime Minister.

Speaking at an exclusive event organised by the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Singapore on 11 Jan, Mr Chan described the qualities that Singapore’s next leader needs to have for the country to survive.

He even name-dropped founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, stating that the late Minister Mentor had called gaining the trust and confidence of the people his team’s “greatest asset”.

Minister. Mentor. Mentalist.
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No doubt a noble goal to aim for. Let’s take a look at the points made by Mr Chan and how they relate to the late Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy.

1. Make difficult decisions

Trust enables effective leaders who do not shirk away from making difficult but necessary decisions.

– Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing

Mr Chan looked back on history and cited the formation of National Service as an example of a tough decision that his predecessors made.

Another example he referred to was the Land Acquisition Act, which purpose was to acquire private land and redevelop it to make Singapore’s first HDB blocks. The act was controversial at the time, as the government obtained land for sub-economic rates, for the purpose of building public housing.

Perhaps the first unpopular decision that the 4G leadership will have to make will be to raise taxes. After all, PM Lee had already hinted at the possibility, but it will be up to Finance Minister and former PM candidate Heng Swee Keat to decide when and how much to raise taxes by.

2. Be upfront and help people understand the issues at stake

Leaders have to first be upfront with people, and help Singaporeans understand the issues at stake and the trade-offs involved in policy considerations.

– Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing

Suggestions made by the Secretary-General of NTUC included working the ground and information-sharing so that people can “trust that each decision was made only after careful consideration.”

Another common perception of Lee Kuan Yew was that he was unafraid to speak his mind.

I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid to speak my mind.

– The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew

This is not to say that he was closed to opinions, though. His son, current PM Lee Hsien Loong once said of his Cabinet meetings: “It was an open, interactive, dynamic process, an unforgettable experience for all those who participated in it.”

Leaders are nothing if they cannot make convince people of the importance of the issues important to them. The late Minister Mentor had no such problems. Remembered by countless accounts as a “fiery orator“, he was able to move crowds and win them over.

A speech delivered with passion that remains hard to match to this day.

Minister Chan still has a way to go before reaching his level, but if his recent activity is any indication, he is getting more confident in his speeches. Remember the disaster that was “kee chiu“?

3. Find new ways to communicate and connect with different generations

In a fast-paced digital age … leaders must keep finding new ways to communicate with different generations.

– Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing

Mr Chan named 3 factors that make finding new ways to communicate difficult in our current time:

  • A more diverse population
  • Differing expectations of the government
  • Fast-paced digital world with “social media influencers”

In that sense, Mr Lee went out of his way to connect with the people.

The OG PM Lee ran unopposed in his chosen ward of Tanjong Pagar for 5 elections in a row. The ward was chosen because be wanted to “represent workers, wage earners and small traders.”

Another move that endeared him to the public at the time was learning Chinese. He famously started learning Chinese at age 33 to support his push for bilingualism in Singapore. Today, many of us can read, write and speak in at least two languages.

Having to manage expectations from vastly different segments of the Singaporean people can be a trying task. It will be up to the 4th generation leaders to juggle these responsibilities.

4. Leaders must be accountable and responsible

The third point is perhaps the most contentious.

When there are problems, we work hard to put things right immediately … [this is] instrumental in ensuring that Singapore does not face a trust deficit, and run the risk of citizens disconnecting with … the Government

– Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing

Stating how “disconnecting with … the Government” has happened in other countries, Mr Chan said that “we can’t take for granted that it won’t happen in Singapore.”

The late Minister Mentor made a rare public apology in 1997. He made comments about Malaysian state Johor being “notorious for shootings, muggings and carjackings.” He later issued a statement that offered an unreserved apology.

And in this aspect, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

14 years later, his son, current PM Lee Hsien Loong, apologised to Singaporean citizens for the harm caused by the very public dispute about 38 Oxley Road. This apology came in the twin forms of a released video and a heartfelt statement in Parliament.

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Trust is given, not earned

Ultimately, actions speak louder than words.

Minister Chan said that people give their trust when they see the Government has been responsible, anticipates and are responsive in meeting their needs.

But one could argue that meeting the people’s needs is just part of responsible governance.

Perhaps that trust has not yet been truly earned. Time is gradually running short for the next PM to win over the trust of Singaporeans. Hopefully, this speech is an indication of shifting priorities.

Featured image from Facebook.