Does Tan Chuan-Jin’s demotion reflect poor leadership management?

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By Howard Lee

Let’s not mince words here. Tan Chuan-Jin was demoted from Minister to Speaker of Parliament. Call it a different stage of his development, or call it everyone heading the same direction to make Singapore better, nothing can hide the fact that Tan has been left unceremoniously in the People’s Action Party’s naughty corner.

The question, however, is why. It took Mothership.sg a crew of three just to line up the many questions about his departure from the 4G leadership – all with no answers in view. This move in Singapore politics is clearly baffling enough to warrant the queries, and the slew of articles since the announcement did little to provide answers.

By all counts, Tan does a reasonably good enough job. Some may balk and exclaim that, for his pay, reasonably good is really not good enough. But compared to some other Coordinating Minister who basically asked reporters to run a train system – come on, let’s have some perspective on this.

In fact, Tan’s work at the Ministry for Social and Family Development, while not necessarily all hunky-dory, has been recognised by the community and civil society MSF works with. Baring the snafu over the “consultation” attempt with the Bukit Brown activists and the “exercising carboard collectors” gaffe, Tan has made no major misstep that requires him to step down from the PAP top leadership, let alone his current portfolio.

I personally remembered his “keep calm and carry on posting” jibe during the FreeMyInternet protest, which led to a few chuckles and a social media flooded with “keep calm” memes. He even fielded a live television interview, which proves that he had no qualms about taking the fall heat for his colleagues.

All good form for a team player. So why kick him out?

And let’s not be coy about it. Tan’s own statement says as much: “Throughout my life, I have never bargained or negotiated on where I get posted to. I embrace the opportunities and put in my very best.”

That’s easily said when your boss is the head of the nation – what choice do you really have? But clearly, his departure was pregnant with reluctance. He didn’t ask to be Speaker, but didn’t protest when given marching orders.

And therein lies the puzzling question. Why would PM Lee demote a full Minister, when there are heaps of other potential candidates to pick from?

We might never know the answer, but we can agree that it is a bad call. In the wake of Heng Swee Keat’s stroke (and wishing him good health) the PAP should have learnt the lesson that what little talent they have needs to be valued. Even if the PM was to deem Tan unsuitable to be PM, surely there are worse options to fill his shoes as Minister?

In fact, kicking out Tan in still-early days of the premiership horse race demonstrates a lack of contingency planning – very uncharacteristic of the PAP. For sure, the 2015 General Elections have brought in Ong Ye Kung and Ng Chee Meng, essentially bolstering the options for leadership succession. But you don’t throw away a jack just because you draw a king.

Moreover, Tan’s current performance and the eventual experience he would eventually have mustered would provide a new PM much-needed stability for his first team. It is hardly wise to throw all of that away. So strange it is, that we might even be fooled into falsely speculating that the PAP top leadership is full of petty dictator-wannabes who are uncomfortable with even the slightest threat to their grasp on power.

The situation as it is now would mean that PM Lee would now need to build it up the team again by the next General Election. He might not be able to retire as early as he had wished, and might need to stay on as PM for another term to continue the team-building exercise. By PAP standards, that usually takes a while, and an increasingly diverse political environment would only make talent spotting and development even more difficult.

Strange times ahead, and very little clarity to guide us.

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56 comments

  1. This is the problem with people and the cause for more votes for them in each GE. Senseless pity and acclaiming just because he is demoted. And all of a sudden his lackluster work as a cabinet minister is forgotten, not to mention how he got in under the coat tail.

  2. Jason Lee says:

    Without their million dollar salary doing on a part-time basis, none of them will ever step up as a civil servant. Any human that can referred our old folk in their twilight yrs collecting cardboard as a form of exercising! U know what sort of human and type of character this govt are after!
    And not forgetting their trustworthy & morally upright depend on these dollars and cents!! So what good job are u refering at???
    What amused me most is these ppl are called themselves Civil Servants! LOOL

  3. Alan Wong says:

    I really wonder (if it’s true) how one can take a 50% pay cut ! It’s humiliation and honestly there are better career opportunities out there than staying on as speaker. On the other hand as a “boss” how can he force it down on a staff to take 50% pay cut.

    1. Willy Kou says:

      The boss can even force his own brother and nephew into exile. What more can be said about his staff . Then what more can it be said on what the boss can do to us ?

    2. Losheah He says:

      Maybe he is persuaded and convinced by the Emperor to take up PS position with Ministerial pay check just to prove that he is not demoted. This is why he is still licking happily.

  4. they already made millions will big cars and houses all their kids education paid for and they can even retire in luxury if they choose to. So they can go shaft it. Common people still have to slog and work till die cannot retire. They can go kill themselves whatever. No time for their nonsense.

    1. That’s what ‘elitism’ come about. Huge discrepancy in remunerations widens between the haves and the have-nots naturally gonna cause a lot of dissension.

  5. Colin Chan says:

    He should have do a recourse on wayang at media cock academy to hone his half past six skill at the moment…

    Just look at the others, they knew how to wayang accordingly….

  6. Does it matter to him? He will be still smiling with his bank acct full n telling poor n old to exercise by collecting empty cans n cardboard. Imagine with such mind set , he was looking after social welfare.

  7. Walter Tan says:

    Just because he is asked to be speaker of the house, people starts to sing praises for him. He will still be taken care of for the shortfall in income. Give him time and the system to kick in.

  8. Thats why perhaps another “effective” minister shd take up the “speaker” post… since he’s so effective = every time he speak = we kena more this fault, that fault, this delay, that breakdown…

    1. Willy Kou says:

      That effective minister can be more effective if he goes to other countries and start speaking about their transport system. Specially japan , HK and taiwan. Pull down their standard , so to make it on par with ours

    1. Paul Leong says:

      Can’t even keep classify information then how to go to war and lead the nation in time of social, economic,political instability or danger to the country?????……….. ..!!!!

  9. Being Speaker of Parliament is in fact a promotion.
    All Members of Parliament, including the PM have to address him as Sir.
    It is the same as Union or Party leadership. Speaker of Parliament is like the Secretary-General.
    In a Union or Party, the Secretary is more powerful than the Chairman.
    It is usual that a Prime Minister holds the post of a Secretary within the Party.
    Example: Back in the old days,
    Mr LKY was the Secretary of the PAP whilst Dr Toh Chin Chye was the Chairman.
    You should know or recall, who you think had had the power!

  10. Edwin Kwan says:

    To think that it is a demotion is simplistic. CCS said he knew TCJ from school, army and cabinet. Suggest you look at the school and job of those in the race. It is preparation for the ground for the PM after these so call 4th generation. Just like LKY, there are far sighted thoughts and actions beyond what most people can see. He prepared the ground not for GCT but after that. But the group led by GCT are amenable to the choice of the 3rd generation leaders. Likewise, the ground is being prepared for the 5th generation with a team that would agree and support each other. Because they knew each other from long way back, not only school, job and cabinet. And in China parlance, some knew each other as princeling of the CCP. Sama sama for PAP.

  11. If a leader in a company is paid massive wages, I’d expect the leader to be a consistent and outstanding leader and contributor. These sort of salaries are paid to the most consistent performers that exhibit nothing less than outstanding year on year. But how was this Ex-Man selected and assessed? What criterion referencing index in the methods of selection was used? This isn’t a f56kin game. It’s taxpayers’ monies; it’s the nation at stake. Who was the dumb ass that identified this Ex-Man? And who identified Dim Sing? He is a fool of a took!

  12. Come on dumdum, u literally taking a dumpster to incinerator for your ownself. How many times we hear your lame excuses, that it becomes a lame template of bullshit. Didn’t know education educate dumdum driver to drive a ferrari that literally crashes whenever they stir the wheel.

  13. Hey who pay you to write and publish such bullshit. You better get your bloody perspective right if not quit your job and stop writing anything here , you stupid a-hole. Don’t push such skewed news to the Singapore public .

  14. It is a good day to die ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “He might not be able to retire as early as he had wished, and might need to stay on as PM for another term to continue the team-building exercise. ” ==> Power is addictive. Why would he want to retire?

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