GE 2015 – The Importance Of Competent Leaders In Singapore


Devadas Krishnadas

The National Solidarity Party’s (NSP) Hazel Poa recently made the extraordinary comment that members of parliaments should consider themselves lawmakers rather than managers of town councils. She is making a self-serving but dangerous distinction between the governing and managing.

It is self-serving as, having observed the problems plaguing the Worker’s Party (WP) run Town Council, she obviously wishes to manage expectations given that NSP, like the WP before its electoral victory, has no proven managerial experience.

It is dangerous, because in de-linking parliamentary performance from operational performance she is breaking a cardinal principle of Singaporean politics. This is that the premise for legitimacy in law making must remain the competency to manage and administrate responsibly.

While the opposition struggles to prove it is competent the challenge for the PAP is to widen the interpretation of what its proof of competence beyond the insular realms of the civil service and uniformed organisations. The failure to date to attract top talent from the corporate management and entrepreneurial sectors into the first rank is worrying as it may lead to group think.

Equally, worrying is the need to retain capable leaders to deal with the hardest tasks. The disinclination by Mr Lui Tuck Yew to continue in political life could be seen as a harbinger of a future where it becomes increasingly difficult to persuade competent leaders to take up challenging political appointments.

This is the flip side of situation where it becomes increasingly easy to persuade the political minded to give the impression that they can lead competently. Competent leaders deal with at the level of the problem. As already experienced in other countries, professional politicians have a tendency to deal at the level of perception.

The public unhappiness over recent public transport failures is at once emotionally understandable and requires more mental understanding. Public transport, as with health, education, housing and other national policies is a complex system.

Single point failures can and do occur in complex systems. What is important is that they are identified and rectified. Avoiding them completely is wishful thinking. We must not accept as normal the expectation of a 100 percent effectiveness, 100 percent of the time.

The public must reconcile itself to the occasional experience of such failures and be self-reliant to work around the problem, as many did during the most recent episode.

It should also put matters into perspective. Whereas in other countries, failures in complex systems have resulted in death or damage, ours have only resulted in temporary frustration and inconvenience.

Changing leaders does not change the problem. It just changes the focus from one to the other.


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