Friday, March 27, 2009

Singapore Cabinet Version 3.3 -- same old, same old?

As most of you all should already be aware by now, another set of changes have been made to Singapore's government line-up.

If I am not wrong, this is the third time since he took over as Prime Minister (PM) that PM Lee Hsien Loong has made collective changes to Singapore's government line-up; by collective changes, I mean that numerous changes are being made and not just one or two changes. Hence, I would see the latest set of changes as ushering in "Singapore Cabinet Version 3.3" ("Version 3.3" because PM Lee is independent Singapore's third PM and because the previous configurations of Singapore's government line-up would be "Version 3.0"and so on).

So what are my thoughts about "Singapore Cabinet Version 3.3"?

Well, I suppose that besides the somewhat noteworthy promotions of Mr. Teo Chee Hean to become Deputy PM and Mrs. Lim Hwee Hua to become Singapore's first woman minister, the rest of the announced changes were not all that significant.

The rest of the changes, e.g. the appointment of Mr. Gan Kim Yong to become Minister for Manpower and RADM(NS) Lui Tuck Yew's taking over of Dr. Lee Boon Yang as Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts, were perhaps, in my opinion, expected by people, in that there have already been talk/speculation about those promoted being earmarked for higher office.

In fact, I would contend that even the promotions of Mr. Teo to Deputy PM and Mrs. Lim to a full ministerial position are not all that unexpected. This is firstly considering that even as far back as when PM Lee was about to take over as PM, people were already expecting that he would be appointing Mr. Teo and/or Mr. George Yeo as Deputy PMs; I guess people were somewhat surprised that he did not do so but instead opted to have Dr. Tony Tan (whose position was later taken over Mr. Wong Kan Seng) and Professor S. Jayakumar as his first two Deputy PMs. Secondly, people have perhaps known that, sooner or later, there will be a woman minister and the list of potential candidates for becoming Singapore's first woman minister was not really that long.

Of course, as many observers have pointed out, PM Lee's strategy towards the renewal of Singapore's government leadership seems to one of preferring incremental and gradual change over radical overhauls. This strategy of PM Lee was perhaps evident as far back as his choice of line-up for his first Cabinet team (i.e. "Singapore Cabinet Version 3.0"), which, as pointed out in an earlier essay of mine, consisted "mainly, if not entirely, of ministers who have served under the leadership of his predecessors".

This strategy of incremental changes, rather than radical and sudden changes, is a prudent one which perhaps inspire confidence in Singapore's political stability in not only the eyes of locals but also that of foreign observers. Just imagine how upsetting it will be if Singapore's Cabinet suddenly jumped from "Version 3.0" to "Version 3.99"; it will be akin to suddenly changing from Windows XP to Windows Vista (or Windows 7, I suppose). [aside: I suppose a change in ruling party would then be akin to switching to Linux and/or Leopard from Windows; whether this would be a good switch, I would leave that discussion for perhaps another time]

However, while this strategy of incremental change is a prudent one, I cannot help but wonder if the current pace of change is adequate enough. I mean, to continue using my analogy about computer operating systems, even if "Windows 7" may be an improvement from "Windows Vista", the changes made in "Windows 7" would not be adequate if the outside world and how consumers use technology have changed dramatically; by then, people may have already jumped ship to "Linux" and/or "Leopard" because they got tired of waiting for "Windows" to update itself.

Hence, a pertinent question to ask would be: can we see "Singapore Cabinet Version 4.0" taking shape in "Singapore Cabinet Version 3.3"? Or would there be more iterations of "Version 3.X" before we start to see the genesis of "Version 4.0"?

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