Don’t turn my country into an administrative state

I strongly reject PAP MP Hri Kumar’s suggestion in Parliament that the Prime Minister should be given the option to appoint individuals from outside the rank of elected MPs to his cabinet. He had argued that the pool of talent available to the PM will “increase substantially” and he can draw on the experience of many “capable individuals”.

This is a dangerous line of thinking which is not just undemocratic, but foolish as well.

What Mr Kumar is asking for is to insulate ministers from the rough and tumble of elections, so that there is no need for them to shake the hands of “commoners” and appeal for their support at the polls. He is saying that a cabinet minister should not need to be directly accountable to the voters, so as to free him up to make decisions however he deems fit, with little regard for the views of the people. He is saying that the definition of a “capable individual” does not necessarily include having the ability and EQ to relate with those less intelligent or successful than himself.

Most glaringly, Mr Kumar is saying that what we need are technocratic managers, not politicians, to lead our country.

This reflects the view of the right wing of the PAP, but if accepted, will take our already struggling democracy down a path that many will live to regret.

Singapore will be worse off if we are led only by scholar-technocrats without the common touch. We need ministers who can emphathise with ordinary Singaporeans. Who see themselves as ordinary Singaporeans who had extraordinary opportunities.

I am not saying that it is impossible for an unelected official to have the common touch. But if we open the doors to this segment of society to lead us politically, we will be fishing from the wrong pond. We will, in the long run, attract the wrong sort of people to lead our country — people with a different set of values and motivations. Our country will then really turn into an “administrative state”.

In any case, it’s not as if we aren’t already led by technocratic managers, given that many of our scholar-ministers have never had to face an election fight to get into office. Many of those that did were shielded by heavyweight ministers in GRCs. Mr Kumar himself entered Parliament without a fight.

We need more inspirational leaders, not corporate managers. The cabinet should not be an extension of the Civil Service or the corporate boardroom.

I don’t know why the PAP hasn’t figured out why it is so hard to convince intelligent and principled men and women to join the party. Surely having a chequered history of jailing and abusing well-meaning social activists and sacrificing their principles by allowing in casinos should not be that big a barrier to joining the party? Or is it?

Some may argue that this is the system in the US and it seems to have worked there. There is a big difference between the US system and the Westminster system: The US President is directly voted in (for all intents and purposes) by the people, whereas in Singapore the Prime Minister is simply the MP who has the most support in Parliament. In the US, cabinet members are an extension of the President, who is accountable to voters for their successes and failures.

All said, having a US-style cabinet without a US-style presidency will erode our democracy.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

6 thoughts on “Don’t turn my country into an administrative state”

  1. Hi Gerald,
    I don’t think it is a totally bad idea:
    1.Certain positions require technocratic minds eg Finance/Technology
    2.If ministers do not have to be chosen only from elected MP’s, the PAP can no longer threaten that if the people votes out this Candidate X which is helming GRC Y, Sg loses a potential Minister of ABC etc. If PAP Candidate X is no longer indispensable, then people will then vote more freely without this threat hanging over their head.

    For this reason, I don’t think PAP will take this route cos it would be advantageous for non-PAP parties ( irrespective of whether it is good for Sg – as argued by your goodself)

  2. Hi Dr Huang,

    My arguments against Hri Kumar’s proposals did not factor in whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous to the Opposition.

    Yes I think that technocratic minds are important to ALL ministries, not just some. But that’s what the highly paid civil servants are there for. To BE those technocratic minds, free of having to manage constituents. They make the recommendations to the ministers, who need to weigh not just the technical aspects, but how it will affect those on the ground. Without the sound “grounding” that is supposed to be provided by an elected MP-Minister, you’ll have a whole ministry full of technocrats and no ground feel. This is dangerous.

    William – Thanks. I didn’t know he even had a blog.

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