Cheng Bock fiasco: Where is the CPR?

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By Mary Lee

The People’s Association needs CPR. Not cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but credible public relations. The recent brouhaha arising from Dr Tan Cheng Bock shows it has none. The PA is chaired by PM Lee Hsien Loong. The decision to withdraw the invitation to Dr Tan Cheng Bock, the former PAP MP for the annual Istana gathering for grassroots leaders, fell on PA’s deputy chairman and Minister without Portfolio Lim Swee Say, who is also head of the National Trades Union Congress. Too many hats for one man?

Apparently, no one in PA even considered the absolute zero credibility and public relations fallout from uninviting Dr Tan. Dr Tan wasn’t just an ex-PAP MP. He lost the 2012 Presidential elections by 0.4 per cent of the vote to Dr Tony Tan. Had the anti-PAP vote not been split by two other candidates who succeeded only in drawing votes away from Tan Cheng Bock, Singapore would have had another President.

(At the polls on Aug 27 2011, Dr Tan garnered 34.8 per cent of the vote, a whisker away from Tony Tan who won the election with 35.2 per cent of the votes. Some 25 per cent of the voters picked Tan Jee Say while Tan Kin Lian skimmed off only 4.9 per cent of the votes.)

Imagine this conversation between Lim and his PA staff:

PA staff member: Sir, Tan Cheng Bock has replied that he is coming to the Istana’s gathering.

Lim: How come? Who invited him?

Staff: Er… we did.

Lim: How come?

Staff: Sorry, sir, we used the 2012 guest list.

Lim: Aiyoh. What a mistake!

Staff: So how? Since there are only a few of them, can’t we just let him and his wife attend this Sunday afternoon? No harm, right?

Lim:  But the policy is only grassroots leaders after 2006. Tony Tan may be embarrassed by his presence. I’ll call TCB and explain the mistake.

Staff: You sure? What if he tells the media?

Lim: I don’t think so. I think he’ll be embarrassed and will want to keep it quiet. Anyway, I will personally apologise to him.

Staff: OK sir, if you say so.

The rest we all know.  Dr Tan Cheng Bock was not embarrassed and thought — like we all did — that it was a basic lesson in political cluelessness which should be made known. The PAP and its main propaganda establishment, the People’s Association, places great importance on a bureaucratic policy that serves no one except bean counters. Makes one question Lim’s political nous. So much for the PAP going on about its quality of leaders… Bad public relations can really make the proverbial hit the fan, like it did this time. Let’s see how the PA(P) wipes its face clean.