GE2020: PSP's Tan Cheng Bock recalls how Lee Kuan Yew shot down his wish to put Singaporeans first

PHOTO: Facebook/progresssingaporepartyofficia, Singapore Press Holdings

Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock may have been shot down by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew but he's still standing his ground and touting his "Singaporeans first" approach.

Dr Tan, who was formerly a member of the People's Action Party (PAP) and served as MP for Ayer Rajah SMC from 1980 to 2006, reminisced his days in Parliament during a PSP e-rally on July 6, recalling what he described as a "difficult period".

He had first floated the "Singaporeans first" idea in 1999 in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, but it was not well-received.

"I insisted that we should think Singaporeans first when getting jobs. We were in that state, when the professionals and the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) were all losing their jobs to foreigners," Dr Tan said.

"So I went to the House. And I remember when I first said that we should think Singaporeans first, I was actually taken to task.

"It was a very difficult period for me because my belief was shot down by none other than Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was very cross with me because he felt that I am not following the party line."

George Yeo, who was then Minister for Trade and Industry, had also debated with him on the issue in Parliament and told him that he was sending the wrong signals to foreigners, Dr Tan said.

"But I said, 'No, you are sending the wrong signal to our people.'

"I continued to champion this 'think Singaporeans first' until the day I left Parliament, I stood my ground."

The "Singaporeans first" approach remains a key focus in the policies put forth by PSP, such as their push for job priority for Singaporeans and for a quota on the number of Employment Passes introduced by the government.

kimberlylim@asiaone.com