Lawrence Wong: Nothing that's worth doing is ever easy

Going by his Facebook posts, Mr Lawrence Wong is always buzzing with activity.

Photos online show the 42-year-old Minister for Culture, Community and Youth in action, shaking hands with festival-goers, raising a toast or mingling with athletes.

But the civil service high-flier and former principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was not always this adept at online sharing.

"It's a learning experience (because) I don't go around every other day sharing something on the Internet," he said.

His work as the Energy Market Authority's ex-chief executive and the Health Ministry's ex-director of healthcare finance required beavering away behind the scenes, securing new gas contracts for Singapore and implementing reforms to Medishield.

Elected into office shortly after the 2011 General Election, the then-Minister of State for Education and Defence started off with just updates on his events.

But then someone messaged him out of the blue, saying he looked like a nice guy based on the pictures and events attended.

But the stranger lamented: "I want to know who you are, how you feel, what you are saying and not just see pictures of events."

Recalling the incident, Mr Wong laughed and said: "I'm still learning. As I do more, it gets more natural. People start to follow, get interested in what you're sharing. Over time, this makes it easier to get your voice heard."

He admitted he's not the best digital native out there - "You should ask (Minister for Social and Family Development Tan) Chuan-Jin, who's really good."

Still, he has no regrets taking a pay cut, giving up his pension and subjecting himself to constant public scrutiny in a demanding environment.

"It's not easy but nothing that's worth doing is ever easy," he said.

The past four years in politics have been extraordinary, whether it's making "an impact on someone's life directly as an MP" or introducing policies that benefit all Singaporeans at the national level, he said.

Satisfaction

Said Mr Wong: "That kind of satisfaction is much more than what I had as a civil servant and... something I find very fulfilling."

While he does not talk work with his family, the younger of two brothers said his parents are supportive.

What words of encouragement do they give?

"That's personal" and off-limits.

But he lets on that living alone means he's quite adept at cooking and gets "a good workout" doing household chores like cleaning.

With this year's South-east Asian Games held on home ground and SG50 celebrations, the sports minister has had a busy couple of months.

No matter, because "we did very well in the end".

Even the much-maligned Sports Hub had a happy ending, despite turf woes that caused Brazil coach Dunga to criticise the pitch for containing more sand than grass last October.

Recalling the ado then, Mr Wong said that like many Singaporeans, he was unhappy.

"If it continues like that and people around the world see a stadium (and) a pitch that is sub-standard, (we) won't be happy.

"Because it's about our reputation. So it's not surprising that Singaporeans are concerned," he said.

But he also gave kudos to the consortium for solving the problem.

Said Mr Wong: "To be fair to them, they acknowledged that they dropped the ball at the start, that things could be better, and to their credit, they put in more investments to rectify the problem...introduced the new pitch and the matter has been resolved."

Politics & policies

Mr Lawrence Wong on...

Why being able to connect is key

During the election, the voter has to choose the best person to take Singapore forward. But voting can also be very personal, with the voter choosing the candidate he or she likes most.

That's why the capable candidate has to connect.

"You can't just have a person who is capable, who is aloof and distant, saying vote for me because I am highly capable.

"Whoever the candidate is, capability is important not only at the national level but also at the local level in running the town council, for example."

In order to be elected "the person must be able to connect, work hard on the ground and connect with residents on the ground".

Helping athletes who wish to defer National Service to compete

Yardsticks used to gauge an athlete's bid include their overall performance, track record and achievements. His proposal and what the coach says will also be taken on board, as well as whether improvements have been made over time.

Have there been suggestions for another round of deferment for swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore's first-ever medal at the Fina World Championships?

"If we think there is merit and a case to be made, we will support that case to Mindef for further deferment. And that applies for any athlete.

"We also did that for (swimmer Quah) Zheng Wen (whose deferment will let him prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil)."

Competition in a democaracy

In an election, there will always be competition and people get to choose.

That's what a democracy is about.

"With different leaders and different people contesting for leadership, may the best man and may the best ideas win."

The challenge is when competition becomes excessive, unhealthy and destructive.

"(Then) you see the electorate becoming divided and polarised and you see paralysis in government."

Having more opposition

He sometimes hears people saying it doesn't matter how the opposition performs as long as there are more of them in Parliament to check the Government.

"If more people feel that way and do not assess candidates on the basis of their integrity, honesty, or capability (and just have) opposition for opposition's sake, then will we end up down that road of destructive politics you see in many mature democracies?

"That is my bigger concern."


This article was first published on September 1, 2015.
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