Thursday, 7 September 2017

Tan Chuan-Jin to be Speaker of Parliament from 11 Sep 2017

Tan Chuan-Jin elected as Singapore's 10th Speaker of Parliament

Tan Chuan-Jin to become new Speaker of Parliament, Desmond Lee to helm Ministry of Social and Family Development
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2017

A member at the core of the fourth-generation political leadership, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, 48, will be the new Speaker of Parliament.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will nominate him for the post when the House sits on Monday (11 Sep).

The decision, PM Lee said yesterday in a Facebook post, was a very difficult one as it meant "losing an effective and activist minister".

But he said Mr Tan stood out as the best choice for the post vacated by Madam Halimah Yacob, 63, who resigned on Aug 7 to contest this month's presidential election.

"It was not easy to find a suitable replacement," PM Lee said. "As Speaker, Chuan-Jin will have to preside over parliamentary debates and ensure fair and full discussion of national issues. Chuan-Jin has the temperament and personality for this role." He added: "Chuan-Jin remains an important member of my team, though in a different role."

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement: "PM Lee has briefed PAP MPs on his nomination and received their full support."

Many Singaporeans were surprised by the move, and Dr Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies noted that many expected a senior backbencher to fill the post.

Mr Tan will resign as Minister for Social and Family Development, as the Speaker cannot be elected from among MPs who are office holders.

Taking over the ministry's helm from Monday is Mr Desmond Lee, 41, who will remain Second Minister for National Development.

Mr Tan said he was glad to accept PM Lee's nomination and hoped fellow MPs would support it. He said: "Good ideas can come from both sides of the House, as does good intent. In fact, they abound throughout the length and breadth of our society. Our duty must be to harness these for the common good."

PM Lee also singled out Mr Tan's deep interest in social issues and helping the disadvantaged. He will continue to oversee SG Cares, the movement to build a caring society.

Mr Lee said Mr Tan has left him "very big shoes to fill". Mr Lee will no longer be Minister in the PMO and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

Minister in the PMO Josephine Teo, 49, will take over as Second Minister for Home Affairs. She will remain Second Manpower Minister, but will no longer be Second Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Tan Chuan-Jin 'always had a heart for the less privileged'
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2017

Ask observers what Mr Tan Chuan-Jin has achieved as Minister for Social and Family Development in the past two years, and the replies come thick and fast.

He started KidStart to help children from disadvantaged families level up. He helped push for unwed mothers to get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, like married mothers, instead of eight weeks. He also worked to raise the profile of pre-school teachers.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, said: "He is very passionate about social causes. It will be a waste if that passion and conviction cannot be put to good use.

"Chuan-Jin has always had a heart for the less privileged, which includes the poor and elderly, but also people from broken families and single mothers."

Yesterday's announcement that Mr Tan would resign from his ministerial post took observers in the social service sector by surprise, but they said they were glad he would still be involved in the sector in other ways. Mr Tan, 48, will be nominated as Speaker of Parliament by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when the House sits on Monday.

But he will continue to oversee SG Cares, a national movement that encourages volunteerism, and be appointed adviser to the National Council of Social Service, where he is currently its patron. He will also continue to lead Marine Parade GRC.

Chiltern House principal Iris Lim said she appreciated Mr Tan's efforts to raise the profile of pre- school teachers. For instance, from this year, childcare centres could close for an extra half-day. Last week, he joined pre-schoolers in performing the song, You Are My Sunshine, to pay tribute to pre-school teachers. The video was posted on his Facebook page on Teachers' Day.

Ms Lim said: "I think that allowed teachers to know that he appreciates all of them, and it narrowed the distance between the teachers and the Government. He is quite a down-to-earth person."

Other people in the social service sector also said he was approachable, and has engaged the community.

Mr Keh Eng Song, former chief executive of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore, said Mr Tan's Facebook posts can attest to how well he engages the public. "Detractors aside, it does come across that he continues to engage regardless," said Mr Keh.

Mr Tan has written on Facebook on topics ranging from the cinnamon buns his daughter baked to why some working adults still need financial aid.

Disabled People's Association president Nicholas Aw said: "Mr Tan shared with me his experience of trying to navigate pavements using a wheelchair. His frank sharing about how difficult it is in some areas showed me that he is willing to admit when there is more work to be done."

Despite the progress, some work remains to be done, said others.

Mr Desmond Lee, 41, now Second Minister for National Development, will take over from Mr Tan at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Ms Jolene Tan, the Association of Women for Action and Research's head of advocacy and research, said: "Mr Tan's tenure at MSF saw important movement towards achieving inclusion for single-parent families.

"We hope Mr Lee will build on this to tackle the challenge of housing for single-parent families, which he is well placed to do given his experience in the Ministry of National Development."

Tan Chuan-Jin well qualified for Speaker role, say colleagues
Tan Chuan-Jin has right temperament and instincts: Chan Chun Sing
By Charissa Yong and Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2017

Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday said outgoing Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has the qualities to be the new Speaker of Parliament.

"The Speaker's role is a critical one. Going forward, we have many complex challenges to overcome as a nation. We expect more vigorous debate in a House with more diverse views. We need someone with the stature, temperament and the right instincts to conduct parliamentary proceedings," Mr Chan said in a Facebook post.

He also wrote: "I have known Chuan-Jin for over 30 years. We were schoolmates, army mates and then Cabinet colleagues. I know his temperament well and I am confident he will do his best as Speaker."

Mr Chan is the Government Whip in Parliament and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

Both he and Mr Tan are among the next generation of core leaders.

As the Speaker would not have a direct role in policymaking, Mr Chan was asked whether Mr Tan's appointment was a step down.

His reply: "We have never considered it in that perspective. We have always considered ourselves as a team, and each of us has different strengths and weaknesses, and each of us will be required to play different roles at different stages of our development."

Mr Chan was also asked if the move meant Mr Tan was no longer part of the next generation of core leaders. He said: "All of us in Government do different things, perform different roles, each according to our strengths.

"Regardless of our position, our common aim is to serve Singapore to the best of our abilities. From what I know of Chuan-Jin... he will continue to serve to the best of his abilities."

Mr Tan stressed similar points when asked the same questions at a community event last night. He said: "There are many different roles and many different pathways that we all have to take. (But) I would say we are all running in the same race. And the end outcome we are all working towards is... you have to make things better for Singaporeans."

Later, he added in an e-mail to The Straits Times: "I have always taken the approach that any job or responsibility is meaningful. It is how we approach it and how we make the most of it.

"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."

Mr Tan is the second Cabinet minister to be nominated Speaker.

In March 2002, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi resigned as Minister for Community Development and Sports to be nominated to the post. He was then 57 years old and had been a minister for nine years.

He was Speaker for nine years until he retired from politics in 2011.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday lauded Mr Tan's contributions at the ministries he helmed.

He pinpointed Mr Tan's deep interest in social issues, like helping the needy and disadvantaged families, when he led the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and championing the cause of low-income workers while at the Manpower Ministry.

At the Ministry of National Development (MND), "Chuan-Jin built good rapport with the heritage, nature, environmental and animal welfare groups", said PM Lee.

"I am glad he has agreed to continue advising MND on these issues, and to oversee SG Cares, after he becomes Speaker," he added.

Mr Tan is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council.

This is an elected post, not a government appointment, PM Lee added, and expressed the hope that "he will keep on leading and inspiring our sporting fraternity, as he did recently at the SEA Games".

Shuffles towards Singapore's fourth prime minister
By Gillian Koh, Published The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2017

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a Cabinet reshuffle. This is the third since the start of this parliamentary term in January last year.

The first was in October last year when the notable shifts were the promotion of Mr Ong Ye Kung and Mr Ng Chee Meng to full ministers.

The second, at the end of April, or four months ago, saw Mrs Josephine Teo and Mr Desmond Lee become full ministers and Dr Lam Pin Min, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Dr Koh Poh Koon and Mr Chee Hong Tat promoted to senior ministers of state. Mr Teo Ser Luck, a mayor and senior minister of state, it was announced, would step out of public office.

What we have just learnt is that PM Lee has nominated Mr Tan Chuan-Jin to be the next Speaker of Parliament. Replacing him at the helm of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will be Mr Desmond Lee.

In explaining his decision, PM Lee emphasised that Mr Tan remains an "important member" of his team though in a different role, which means that the switch-out is intentional, rather than one of expediency - it is not to fill a gap temporarily.

In fact, PM Lee's statement that Mr Tan has the "temperament and personality" for the role of Speaker strengthened the impression that his decision was very much based on considerations of Mr Tan's intrinsic qualities. Mr Tan was acknowledged for having strong networks in the social and sports sectors that remain valuable to that governing team.

Those who have been studying the process of leadership renewal will conclude that Mr Tan is out of the running to be Singapore's fourth prime minister, leaving the main contenders to be Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Mr Ong and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. While the role of Speaker is an important institutional and ceremonial one, it does not involve taking the lead in giving strategic input on policymaking in government.

Many would have thought that the position of Speaker, vacated now by Madam Halimah Yacob stepping down to make a bid for the presidency, would be filled by a senior backbencher, so this is indeed a surprising move.

This is the second such surprising move with regard to those who have been identified as candidates for the position of Singapore's fourth prime minister - those who are in their 40s and were pulled out of leadership positions elsewhere and quickly placed into ministerial positions soon after a general election.

The first was when it was announced that Mr Chan would move from being minister at the MSF to become deputy secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and a Minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office in January 2015.

However the difference is that at the same time that Mr Chan became secretary-general , his predecessor, Mr Lim Swee Say, moved from NTUC to head up a "mainboard" ministry - the Ministry of Manpower, thereby setting the precedent for the reverse move.

Does anyone think that the same reverse move could happen to Mr Tan - from Speaker back to Cabinet?

Another key development from yesterday's announcement was that Mr Desmond Lee and Mrs Josephine Teo have been firmly installed among the corps of fourth generation (4G) Cabinet leaders.

These moves signal progress in the leadership renewal process. Some personalities move up, others move out.

These whet public appetite for further clarity on who will be the next premier - the hot topic at many a lunch and dinner conversation since the General Election in 2011, the first election when it was declared that the hunt was on for the 4G leaders.

Indeed, bigger moves are due - the serious candidates for premiership are likely to be shifted into the position of deputy prime minister by the end of this parliamentary term.

However, these conversations tend to revolve around who "they" will choose, as if no one else has a say in the matter apart from the tightest inner circle of leaders of the ruling People's Action Party. Is that true? What might be the considerations that feed into that choice, and who decides?

In this age of great uncertainty where the consensus on how the global economy, international governance and geostrategic politics should work is fraying, the notions of who is a good leader for a small state like Singapore are also being redefined. Our leaders' steady and skilful management of Singapore's relationships with key powers will become increasingly critical.

While it is often said that all politics is local, in recent months, from discussions on Singapore-China relations, we know that that dictum may not be quite so true in Singapore. Singaporeans are judging our leaders, fairly or unfairly, by how they think our government handles that.

While the Cabinet is always a team and therefore a composite of different strengths and qualities, the question is who will be that leader of leaders. That will be defined by what are the present and future challenges we face as a country, and who can win the confidence of Singaporeans to lead us through to that future - this is where the public comes in.

Will Singaporeans prioritise our external interactions and prefer someone with strategic acuity and international standing or is a visionary innovator and risk-taker who leads the country in new directions?

Or will they prioritise a domestic focus and prefer someone who is more deeply embedded in local networks, delivers excellent public services and empowers Singaporean changemakers in industry and society to be the world-beaters?

A frequently asked question is: Will it matter what race this person is? Who can forget that our founding prime minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, said that he set aside his preferred successor because of his race? And we will be reminded that the current Prime Minister justified the upcoming reserved presidential election by saying that politics in Singapore is not post-racial. This, too, is an issue that lies at the doorstep of ordinary Singaporeans to resolve.

Our conceptions of governance and political leadership shape the decision on who that fourth PM will be. We cannot dodge that responsibility. But if we recognise it, it also means we have that further responsibility of seeking to grasp what our national interests are before we judge who best represents those and who we can have confidence in.

In October last year, PM Lee said that building a leadership team is one of his top priorities. To what extent will those choices be just his; his potential successors'; or ours as ordinary Singaporeans?

The writer is deputy director (research) at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.


Chuan-Jin's fairness and compassion will serve him well: MPs
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Former army general with gravitas and a heart of gold. Jogging partner. Champion of fair play.

As Mr Tan Chuan-Jin took the Speaker's chair yesterday, six MPs recounted their experiences working alongside the newly elected head of Parliament.

They lauded the fairness and compassion he displayed in his constituency and at the ministries of National Development, Manpower, and Social and Family Development - values they felt would continue to serve him well.

Leader of the House Grace Fu said that members would miss Mr Tan's contributions in Government. She added that they had full confidence in his ability to conduct parliamentary debate and proceedings with fairness.

"Everyone who has interacted with you can attest to your patience and willingness to listen to both sides of a debate," she said.

"In the years ahead, the many complex and multifaceted challenges facing Singapore will need fair, frank and honest debate."

Over the years, Ms Fu added, Mr Tan's sincerity and affable demeanour have helped him connect with people, from foreign worker advocates to those in social service organisations. His ability to earn the trust of people with different views and to encourage civil dialogue will be "central in ensuring we continue to have productive and healthy debates in this House".

His exposure to a range of issues will also stand him in good stead as he oversees debates on a wide array of legislation and policies, she said.

And, quipped Ms Fu, she had a personal request to make of Mr Tan, her jogging partner.

"Now that you are leading this institution, and have an office here, I hope we will have more opportunities to run together, and look forward to a refreshed gym in Parliament," she said to laughter.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) hoped Mr Tan would give room for "independent thought and innovative suggestions" to flourish during debates.

MPs also mined their experiences working with Mr Tan.

His former colleague at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim, called him a "champion of fair play" who would bring impartiality and boundless energy to the role.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) spoke fondly of Mr Tan's "heart of gold" in ensuring that no one is left behind, his ability to manage issues in a balanced manner, and his gravitas. These qualities make him best-placed to be Speaker, she said.

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong addressed talk that in moving to his new post, he had been "demoted".

She questioned whether a person's value should be limited to the position he holds and the salary he earns.

She said of public servants: "We all serve... No office can limit the passion to serve. No office can limit the talent to make an impact. And any office can be one for exemplary service."

MPs pay tribute to Halimah Yacob for being fair guiding hand
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob spent an eventful four years as Speaker of Parliament, steering the House through a period of national mourning after the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and intense debates on public order, population policy and changes to the political system.

As Mr Tan Chuan-Jin was elected yesterday to fill the post she vacated, MPs paid tribute to Madam Halimah for being a fair guiding hand even during the most contentious of debates.

The 63-year-old, who quit her party and political posts last month to contest the presidential election, was seated with her husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee in the chamber.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) said Madam Halimah had, during her term, ensured that the voices representing different interests and Singaporeans were heard.

Leader of the House Grace Fu, too, praised her impartiality.

"She has exemplified the principles of fairness and equality, giving everyone the opportunity to make their case to ensure a robust yet civilised debate," she said, adding: " Madam Halimah leaves behind a stronger institution."

She noted that Madam Halimah had presided over intense debates that spanned the spectrum, including those on public order and security after the Little India riot, and the controversial Population White Paper that projected Singapore's population to be between 6.5 million and 6.9 million by 2030.

Madam Halimah moved proceedings without "fear or favour", giving all members the opportunity to speak, said Ms Fu.

She also opened up Parliament House to Singaporeans from all walks of life in the days after the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his lying-in-state in March 2015.

Ms Fu - who in 2015 became the country's first woman minister with her own portfolio - noted that Madam Halimah had advanced gender equality by being the first woman Speaker and was now "taking strides towards the highest office of the country".

Hours later, it emerged that Madam Halimah was the only presidential hopeful issued a certificate of eligibility, indicating that she will be declared the country's eighth president shortly after nominations close at noon tomorrow.

Some MPs, like Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), said that while her presidential bid will be a loss to the House, "it will hopefully be a gain for Singapore".

"I look forward to having our first female head of state - a great way to mark the next 50 years of Singapore's journey."

New Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin urges lawmakers to remain accessible, relevant and real
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Newly elected Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday called on MPs to work with him to make Parliament the institution that "reflects the voices of the people so that we can query, answer and debate in a manner that provides hope and clarity''.

He also urged them to be accessible and relevant as they play an important role in upholding parliamentary democracy.

Giving his first speech as Speaker, Mr Tan pledged that he will be impartial and fair as well as firm. "I want to facilitate good, free-flowing debate where the desired outcome is better policies and laws," he said, reminding MPs to debate vigorously and maintain mutual respect.

Mr Tan was elected Singapore's 10th Speaker, a week since his name was put forth by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after Madam Halimah Yacob resigned to stand in the presidential election.

His first sitting as Speaker was marked by light-hearted moments that drew chuckles, such as when he gave MPs a short, 10-minute break and when Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam pleaded for more time to answer several questions.

Leader of the House Grace Fu, who nominated him, said that in his time as Manpower Minister and later, as Social and Family Development Minister, Mr Tan earned the trust of people who had different views and convictions. This quality will be valuable in ensuring productive debates in the House.

Five other MPs spoke of his fairness and sincerity, saying the traits would serve him well as Speaker.

Mr Tan, in thanking his former Cabinet colleagues and fellow MPs, noted the crucial role of Parliament in a parliamentary democracy.

He said: "The legitimacy of the laws we enact rests on the scrupulous attention we - on both sides of this House - pay to the reasoned debate which accompanies the passing of each law.

"No one doubts that our goal in these sittings must be to advance the interests of all Singaporeans."

He also said the presence of opposition colleagues in the House is "a strength and positive step towards constructive contestation of ideas".

With such contestation set to be more complex, and the proliferation of new ways for people to get across their views, MPs also need to "engage beyond this House, to tap the collective wisdom that lies without", said Mr Tan. "We need to present the voices and needs of our individual constituents, but we need also to stand for a united Singapore, to speak with one voice in a fissiparous world."

Sharing Mr Tan's speech in a Facebook post after the sitting, PM Lee said: "I am confident Chuan-Jin will be an outstanding Speaker, and more. I wish him all the best!"

Mr Tan had also addressed questions of whether or not he was "demoted" as his new position required him to resign as Minister for Social and Family Development.

He said it was "not a bad thing" that this sparked discussion, adding: "We do need fellow Singaporeans to be involved, and to gain a deeper understanding of not just the Speaker's role, but also that of Parliament, its proceedings and how all of us contribute to making Singapore a better home for our people."

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