[Feature picture: TODAY]
“We need somebody with the stature, who is open-minded, who is fair, balanced, and can command the respect of all parliamentarians,” said Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). “From what I know of Chuan-Jin personally, I think he will do a good job in this aspect,” he added.
Mr Chan, who is also NTUC secretary-general, was referring to the nomination of Tan Chuan-jin for Speaker of Parliament by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which was announced on Tuesday.
But try as he might, Mr Chan’s straight face during the short interview by the media does not hide the strangeness of the appointment.
PM Lee has, in fact, removed a full Cabinet minister from his ministerial responsibilities – and barely 21/2 years after Mr Tan had taken on the role at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). Mr Tan was made Minister of the MSF in 9 April 2015. He will have to resign from his post to become Speaker.
His nomination as Speaker will have to be confirmed by Parliament but that is all but a formality, given that the PAP holds an overwhelming majority of seats in the House.
Mr Tan’s appointment has raised some rather curious question, as Mothership has raised.
One of these was whether the move is a demotion for Mr Tan, who entered politics in 2011, under the coattails of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in Marine Parade GRC.
Mr Chan, when asked, replied that “we have never considered it in that perspective”.
“We have always considered ourselves as a team, and each of us have different strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Each of us will be required to play different roles at different stages of our development.”
In short, yes it is a demotion but you can’t expect Mr Tan’s colleague and friend – the two men have known each other for 30 years – to lay it out bluntly.
It is a demotion for a simple fact: Mr Tan’s new role will pay him half the salary ($550,000) of what he presently takes home as a full Cabinet Minister ($1.1 million).
You don’t post someone to another department and pay him half the salary and expect this to be seen as a promotion.
And as we all know, the higher the salary, the more the responsibilities, because the more the capability.
It is one reason why the Prime Minister is paid more than the President, although the President is Head of State. It is the Prime Minister who holds the heavier responsibilities.
So, come on, Mr Chan.
Another clue on why the move is not a promotion for Mr Tan is the silence from his other Cabinet colleagues since the announcement by PM Lee.
Only one of his Cabinet colleagues, besides Mr Chan, has since spoken about Mr Tan’s new role at all.
That one other minister is Ms Grace Fu.
Posting on her Facebook page shortly after PM Lee released the news, Ms Fu understandably spoke well of Mr Tan whom she hopes “will continue to work with MCCY in the SG Cares movement.” MCCY is Ms Fu’s ministry.
What is notably missing in her post is a congratulatory message.
Her post, in fact, seems to have a hint of sadness, in that there is no effusive celebration of Mr Tan’s “promotion”, as one would expect if it was indeed a promotion.
So, in brief, the silence from Mr Tan’s colleagues, Mr Chan’s strained attempt to put on a brave face, and Ms Fu’s posting lacking anything congratulatory, tells the obvious – Mr Tan’s appointment is not a promotion.
Not a single minister has congratulated him.
Be that as it may, one expects that Mr Tan will do a decent job in his new posting. Although Mr Chan tried to make it seem as though the Speaker’s role and responsibility are onerous, they are not. Even a mere Member of Parliament could do the job, let alone a full Cabinet minister. Mr Tan should, then, have a breeze of a time fulfilling those duties.
A more serious issue, in the aftermath of all the speculations on why Mr Tan was chosen instead of someone of a lesser stature, is how will this affect the next generation of leaders, the so-called 4th generation leadership.
Clearly, as Speaker, Mr Tan will no longer be involved in Cabinet meetings (the heart of government), and in policy making, the bread and butter of ministers and an essential and fundamental skill any Prime Minister should have.
To serious observers, Mr Tan was never a serious contender for the PM role. To put it bluntly, he does not have the heft to fill that role. And neither do several of those so-called frontrunners for the top job, such as Lawrence Wong, or Ng Chee Meng, who had only entered politics in the last election.
That leaves Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung.
Mr Tan’s removal from Cabinet has now narrowed the field, and it is anyone’s guess who the final nominee will be. All will be revealed when PM Lee makes a major Cabinet reshuffle next year, as he has promised.
In the meantime, we wish Mr Tan all the best as Speaker. Whatever one may say of his appointment, the Speaker’s role is no less important.
And that is something you can say with a straight face.