Posted by Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报 on Sunday, 14 October 2018
It does the country no good if leaders are not forthright in their public views and, at the same time do not deal honestly with controversial statements or allegations of great importance to the nation. Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam made this point recently in an exclusive interview with Lianhe Zaobao.
So it becomes even more necessary for leaders to challenge the premise of false allegations made not just to the public but also as a submission of facts to Parliament, the law making body of the country. Mr Shanmugam was asked about his sharp question and answer session with Dr Thum Ping Tjin who had made an allegation in his submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehood that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP were the only purveyor of fake news in the entire history of Singapore
Mr Shanmugam, who is the MP for Nee Soon GRC, was interviewed by correspondents Ho Sheo Be and Elyn Hoi to commemorate his 30 years in politics. Mr Shanmugam was first elected to Parliament in 1988 and became a Minister in 2008.
During the extensive conversation, the minister looked back at how Singapore’s system made him who he is today, his 30 years of serving Nee Soon residents, and even responded to some sharp questions on about some public impression that he was too lawyerly and direct in his interlocution in Parliament.
Conceding that his probing style in Parliament may make him appear tough and some people uncomfortable, Mr Shanmugam said what is more important is that Parliament is a serious policy platform where honesty in debate is paramount.
“There’s value in speaking your mind and being what you are. And I don’t want to pretend to be otherwise. If I think something is wrong I want to call it out. And I think it’s better for democracy.”
On the ground, his willingness to speak up on various different issues has also earned him the moniker “Minister of all Ministries”. Some call him the engager in chief.
He explained that he doesn’t want to stay silent about what he feels passionate about. However, he does not give trouble to other Ministers and usually don’t discuss the technical issues of other Ministries. He also pointed out he is not the only Minister speaking up matters outside his ministry.
On how this may make one think he is ambitious, Shanmugam laughed before answering, “If you work to fulfil your ambition, you will never be happy.”
“If you have ambition, you are looking for something external to make yourself happy. In schools of thought like Taoism and Buddhism, it’s all about finding the happiness within yourself. If you search for external happiness, you’re doomed, because it can slip away anytime.”
When asked if he is happy right now. He answered immediately, “Yes. Not because of external factors, but because of the satisfaction from the work. I am happy about my situation, what I can do, and that I am still myself. All these are from inside.”
But residents and those who have worked closely with him also saw the softer side in him. When he is in Chong Pang where he has served for 30 years, he shows his easy-going side. Even though he doesn’t speak Mandarin or dialects, he has never had communication difficulties in the Chinese-majority area. Shopkeepers would see him from afar and would say “he’s here, he’s here” and be ready to welcome him. According to the report, many stalls in the hawker centre also have pictures of the stall-owners with him and his signature broad smile.
Minister Shanmugam also talked about how he has benefitted from Singapore’s system.
Click here to read the second part of the interview