Ex-defence chief to focus on meritocracy

Ex-defence chief to focus on meritocracy
New PAP candidate for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, former defence chief Ng Chee Meng.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Meritocracy is a key policy that potential fourth-generation leader Ng Chee Meng wants to champion, but without it being "taken to the extremes or too narrowly defined".

The former defence chief, the People's Action Party's (PAP) highest-profile new candidate for the next general election, said without meritocracy here, he and his brothers from "an average family without networks" would not have had the opportunities they had.

Two of his brothers are top public servants and former military leaders. Mr Ng, a three-star general, is the highest-ranking military officer the PAP has inducted into politics. But Singapore's current stage of development requires a refining of the workings of meritocracy, said Mr Ng, adding that "there's no easy solution that we can just put on the table".

He said: "But we must come together to do our different parts... so we can provide this support to make a more equal starting platform for our kids."

He told reporters after his introduction in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC that he wants to champion the issue of social mobility if elected.

National debate over how elitism may undermine meritocracy was ignited in recent weeks, after Raffles Institution principal Chan Poh Meng said the school has become a middle-class one that largely caters to the affluent. All eyes were on Mr Ng, 47, yesterday as the PAP introduced more candidates for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Tampines GRC and Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

At these sessions, party leaders argued that political stability and the PAP Government's ability to plan for the long term were the most effective bulwark against the excesses of meritocracy.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who anchors Tampines GRC, said "our education system seeks to bring out the best in every child, regardless of their starting point, regardless of their financial background". The Government's commitment to broadening the pathways of excellence and ensuring that no child is deprived due to financial disadvantage is "something we've built up over many, many years".

"This is in sharp contrast to many education systems around the world where there is no sense of the long term and no strategic direction," Mr Heng said.

In Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, where Mr Ng and Temasek Holdings investment director Sun Xueling were introduced, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said young Singaporeans want an environment where they can maximise their potential.

"The way to achieve this really is to have a good, strong, stable team to take Singapore to the future, work together and build a brighter future for all of us," he said.

"I think you don't have to look very far around the region and even in developed democracies where continual conflict in the political arena actually brings paralysis, a lack of ability to plan for the long term and multiple U-turns and changes of course. That actually creates many problems for young people who wish to have a society in which they can grow."

The PAP has introduced all its candidates, except those for four group representation constituencies - Aljunied, East Coast, Marine Parade and Nee Soon - and two single-member constituencies of Fengshan and Punggol East.

These are all constituencies either facing a contest from, or which are held by, the Workers' Party. When asked about this, Mr Teo said: "All will be made known in good time."

rchang@sph.com.sg

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