Lui Tuck Yew on comments in support of him: 'Like obituaries, eulogies without the flowers'

SINGAPORE - In the 36 hours since it was announced that Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew would not stand for re-election, he has received a flood of e-mail from Singaporeans thanking him for his work.

But about one in five writers, he shares in an interview with the Straits Times on Thursday (Aug 13), expressed regret for not speaking up more against negative comments online, or regret that they were too critical of him.

Mr Lui thanked Singaporeans, including opposition MP Low Thia Khiang, for their comments in support of the work he had done at the ministry.

"It's almost like obituaries and eulogies without the flowers," he says of the comments and media reports on his decision to leave.

But Mr Lui steadfastly declined to offer further insight on what might have triggered his decision to step down at the general election, which many expect will take place next month.

Hinting that he was however not affected by the criticisms directed his way in recent years, Mr Lui said: "In politics, you need a tender heart and a thick skin, not a hard heart and thin skin. I think my heart, my skin, like all my body parts, are fine."

On Tuesday, Mr Lui wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to confirm his decision to stand down, and PM Lee replied to say he reluctantly accepted his decision although he was disappointed he did not succeed in changing Mr Lui's mind.

Today, Mr Lui said he did not want his stepping down to be a distraction from more important issues ahead of the general election.

"I would hate for it to take away from the attention - especially now that GE seems to be coming nearer and nearer - from looking at the new candidates: What can they contribute? What are the plans by the different parties? What have they done? What have they said? Have they delivered?" he said.

"That's far more important. I mean, I'm not going to say that I will revisit this at some point in time in the distant future but I say that look, this is not the time to spend even more effort and time trying to further explore this."

In the interview, Mr Lui also outlined various improvements that have been made to the transport sector under his watch, including improving connectivity, affordability as well as reliability - even as he acknowledged that more prolonged disruptions "are still at an unacceptably high level."

"We really need to step up our maintenance," he added.

But he rejected the suggestion that the structure of Singapore's transport system had made it difficult to improve public transport services.

On Wednesday, Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang noted that Mr Lui's predecessor, Mr Raymond Lim, had also left the Cabinet after helming the Transport Ministry, and questioned whether the Government needed to fundamentally rethink Singapore's transport model.

Said Mr Lui of the relationship between the Land Transport Authority and the public transport operators: "Is it a cosy relationship? I would be very worried if it's cosy. Are they at loggerheads with each other all the time? Certainly not, because I will also be very worried if they can't work together.. So there is a certain healthy tension and that's what we need to have, which is why I require them to come and meet me every quarter."

"Is it a good model? I think it's a good model, can be improved but fundamentally a sound one because to me, you know, this all talk about privatisation, nationalisation and whatever, frankly, I'm quite agnostic to whatever you term it," he added.

"What do I want? I want an outcome that is affordable for commuters and I want an outcome that is a reasonably reliable one, more than what we have today."