At a RP wallkabout in Jurong - from left to right - James Teo (Treasurer), Justin Ong (Youth Chief), Tony Tan (Central ExCo member)
One can be forgiven for believing that there is somewhat a connection between high-flying scholars and the ruling party. This can be attributed to the fact that a number of our cabinet ministers were former scholarship holders themselves. Mr Tony Tan (TT), however, took an alternative path vis-à-vis his other illustrious colleagues.
A recipient of the SAF Merit Scholarship, he earned a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours from the University of Cambridge. He also earned a MBA and Biomedical degrees from the University of Leicester and Central Queensland University respectively. He left SAF to found an educational provider, achieving success that earned him the Spirit of Enterprise award. He has remained within the educational sector ever since.
It is a rarity for former scholars to take the plunge into opposition politics, and Tony is one who took the path off the beaten track. Joining the Reform Party, he became a member of the Central Executive Committee in 2009. The Online Citizen was fortunate to be able to catch up with Tony, soliciting his views on various issues, and even managed to catch a slight glimpse into the upcoming educational seminar organised by the Reform Party.
In this exclusive interview, Tony Tan shares his perspective on the economy, national service and education. To find out more about Tony Tan and the Reform Party, why not pop over at the Reform Party's Seminar on Education? It will be held on 130pm, 23rd January at Berkshire School Pte Ltd, 100 Beach Road #02-19A, Shaw Towers, Singapore 189702. The facebook page for the event is accessible at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?ei...716589&index=1
TOC: Why did you join politics?
TT: Numerous reasons with one purpose: the hope of being able to make a difference to the people in the street however small. My concern is what is the government’s vision for Singapore. Or rather what do you want Singapore to be like for yourself and your future generation? Forty-four years ago, we achieved independence by circumstances. We were then at a crossroad - to be swallowed up by a bigger nation, or to trail blaze and succeed. The latter happened. We made it because the people in the street understood the vision and united with the leaders.
After 44 years, do we still have these successful ingredients in place to ride out the impact of globalisation and increasing competition from regional countries? Do the people and the leaders still share a vision? The vision appears to be developing Singapore to be a world-class city with Swiss standard of living. And the yardstick with which this “standard of living” is to be measured by what seems to be our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Some Singaporeans have started questioning the quality of living standards despite the high GDP growth we have attained. Should we be afraid or excited about the vision of a world-class city with Swiss standards of living?
Being raised by a single mom with 3 brothers and 3 sisters, I understand poverty and the importance of how social mobility and social safety nets can make the society more inclusive and compassionate. According to Ministry of Manpower website and Singapore Statistics 2009 , more than 50% of the labour force earned S$2,000 or less monthly in 2006. Rising cost of living erodes their quality of life substantially. In 2007, the government argues the need for a higher GST to help the poor. Today there are families living in the parks after losing their HDB flats. The government has made a promise to help the poor. Can they convince Singaporeans why they cannot keep their promise?
I disagree that the performance of the ministers and the government should be measured by merely one factor - the percentage increase in GDP of Singapore. If that was the only focus, all issues would be studied with only 1 key consideration: what is the economic cost or value to Singapore? How can we build an inclusive society with such a one-dimensional approach?
The first group of members that formed the PAP many years ago included Union leaders, postmen and teachers. They formed the old guards and they fought hard on issues for the men in the street. Similar to racial representation, we may need people from all strata of the society to be represented in the Parliament. If the issues for common Singaporeans are not given priority and accorded attention in the Parliament, then we need to send in common Singaporeans into Parliament to bring those issues across to the government.
Each of us has 1 vote. Singaporeans are the custodians of this country. Not any political parties. We need to get the message out to as many Singaporeans as possible to support or join any opposition parties.
TOC: You initially carved a career in SAF. Having been there and done that, what kind of reforms do you think our military can implement that will improve the lives of our servicemen?
TT: Many areas come to mind. The one area that will be of significance is the duration of National Service and the number of NSmen (National Servicemen) in-camp training. To continue to enjoy the support from NSmen, the ministry needs to seriously review the operational demands on NSmen. How we can achieve that will be elaborated in the subsequent question.
And during those call-ups, are NS men gainfully employed? Do they feel they have contributed? National Service is the best and the single largest platform to engage our citizens. Are we making the most of this opportunity to make our citizens feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to the nation and be proud of it? Emphasis must be given to engage the NSmen, apart from ensuring that they clock their number of “high key” and pass their IPPTs. In short, win the support and win the “heart” of the NSmen.
Another area the Reform Party believe in is to explicitly target zero deaths from training. From 2001-09, on average, there are 3 deaths per year. Since 2005, the Republic of Singapore Air Force had maintained an outstanding record of zero fatality for pilots. Why can’t the SAF as a whole strive for zero death? This should be one of the Key Performance Indicators for a peacetime armed force. Any loss of life is one too many.
TOC: Your party colleagues have advocated a decrease in defense budget. Based on your experience, how can our military reduce its spending?
TT: According to military and strategic analysts, such as Tim Huxley in Defending the Lion City, Singapore is known to be using a forward-defence military doctrine . Our current investments in new weapons systems and technologies are to develop 3G SAF to be able to dominate terrain by precision strikes, unmanned warfare and integrated knowledge command and control. In the long run, the SAF should enable be relying on Navy, Airforce and selected Army troops, while focusing the bulk of NSmen for defense.
When that happens, there would be significantly fewer operational skills for NS men to be trained and honed. The duration of full-time NS can be reduced to 12 months. Duration of in-camp training may be over the weekends with minimum or no disruption to their jobs.
To put in simple terms, this change may mean that instead of putting 5 people on the ground supported by 1 who uses high-end technologies to achieve the military objective, we may just need 1 on the ground supported by 2. Though the spending on technologies and its enablers will increase, a sizeable saving in defence budget can be achieved by reshaping the Army. The need for a strong defence to protect our independence and sovereignty must still be maintained.
We need to start thinking about this, and how we can achieve this. In subsequent seminars of the Reform Party that will focus on defence and security threats, we will discuss this in greater detail.