Parliamentary Speech by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah on 28th Jan 2016
Video of full speech
1. Madam Speaker, it is indeed a privilege to listen to the President’s address in the House. I thank him for his encouraging and illuminating words which will certainly continue to echo in this House throughout the sessions of this Parliament.
President Tan said in his address that “good policies and good politics go together”. We are known around the world for having an effective and honest government that comes up with good policies, but there are also areas in which we did not do well enough. I would like to point out three common factors that lead to less-than-ideal results.
Three common pitfalls for government
2. The first one is not planning for the long-term. For example, in 2015 we saw a spate of MRT disruptions in February and March, as well as the worst disruption in the history of the MRT in July. Many of the commuters, including my residents at Khatib MRT Station, were greatly inconvenienced.
Scene opposite Khatib MRT station during a breakdown in November
The problem lies in engineering issues which were not properly addressed from the early days of the MRT system. We didn’t train a pool of engineers and technicians to specialize in maintaining the rail system. Having in-house expertise is very different from using sub-contractors. We cannot be always using economic benefit as the sole yardstick in making decision. Now Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his team have the unenviable task of completing a major overhaul while maintaining normal services.
3. Then we have the grass pitch issue at the Sports Hub. The pitch was not ready for many sports, the roof leaked and even the sound system got complaints from many concert-goers.
We have to accept that the government could have done better, experts from our National Parks Board could have anticipated the problems and exercised more oversight over the project execution, especially with all the public money invested in the project. Perhaps Government had drawn the line too fine, too clearly and washed their hands (off the matter) too early.
4. The second is not keeping in mind how things are for the man on the street. One example is MOE’s naming of a new JC – Eunoia (pronounce as: yoo-noh-iea) JC. The word was chosen for its meaning, but did anybody think whether the man on the street can pronounce it easily? Would an English, Chinese, Malay or even Tamil word have been easier for the common man on the street to pronounce and relate to? Now, MOE is faced with unnecessary flak and even petitions to change the name.
5. Another example is Hawker centres: for the man on the street, a hawker centre is the place to get good food at reasonable prices.
But how can the price be reasonable if hawkers have to pay up to $6,000 per stall? To be exact, I was told by the taxi drivers who live in Nee Soon South, it is $5000 rental plus $1680 for cleaning services. And this is charged in a new hawker centre. In Chinese we say, 羊毛长在羊身上.
I certainly hope that the new hawker centre in Yishun will not have this kind of rental for the stall. Yishun residents not only hope to have good food at reasonable prices, many also hope to get a stall to provide them with employment.
Therefore, I hope that NEA is open to the idea of working with the community, perhaps with a social enterprise, to operate the new hawker centre in Yishun.
6. The last area is coordination between ministries.
Recently I was involved in trying to provide a covered linkway from the nearest HDB block to the bus stop in one of my new BTOs, Acacia Breeze. For months, the differences between HDB and LTA cannot be resolved. I asked for a meeting to seek a solution.
Guess what? The relevant persons from LTA refuse to meet. Why? I don’t know.
7. In fact, even our DPMs have pointed out these issues recently. DPM Tharman said at a public service leadership dinner that we need to develop the habit of looking at issues through the eyes of ordinary citizens, and bringing policies from different agencies together to serve their needs. DPM Teo Chee Hean also said at a civil service award ceremony that the public service needs to stay connected with the people they serve. I quote: “…to listen deeply and better understand aspirations and concerns, and to work together with Singaporeans to make Singapore a better home for all of us”.
8. I must emphasize that I am NOT here to point fingers or to make anyone uncomfortable. I am bringing this up because I hope that the government can do even better than before. To do this, we need to look beyond the near term, beyond our individual agency responsibilities, at how we can maximize benefits for the man on the street.
9. We need people at all levels to be more than just carrying out the formulation and execution of policies. We need people who are committed, trustworthy and who serve with their hearts. I know that in many instances, the civil servants are doing their best, but they are stretched as the public gets more vocal, and they have to balance different demands. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the quality of the officers, their career path, training and the motivation for them to excel, innovate and give their best.
Three areas government needs to do even better
10. There are three areas in which we need even more dedication and foresight from the government. They are the environment, housing and the economy. I would like to expand in Chinese.
Dr Lee joining residents in litter-picking
14. 议长女士，过去50年，我国做得很好，希望将来50年，我国会做得更好。 让新加坡精神继续发扬光大。 我支持感谢总统国会开幕献词的动议。