Tan Kin Lian plans a process to feed people’s views into government

Presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian pre-empted my question the day before I had a chance to meet up with him. Wanting to query his campaign slogan “Voice of the people”, I had intended to ask: How are you going to know which of many voices to hear?

What followed was a rather in-depth discussion about how he might collect feedback from the ground, sift through them and bring them up with the cabinet. It struck me that his was not just a catchy slogan, but that he intended to realise it by giving it structure. I will come to this a little further on.

In the short time that I had — understandable because he was in the heat of a campaign — I also covered two other areas, both where Singapore’s constitution gives the President some discretion: detention without trial and the reserves.

Kin Lian, in his first television broadcast, told Singaporeans about his humble childhood and youth, starting work when he was 18, and how he “had nurtured an insurance company for 30 years, looking after the savings of over one million people and managing assets of $17 billion.”

He also fleshed out his “voice of the people” slogan, saying that if elected, he will “form a President’s  Personal Council comprising people from many segments of our society. They will help me identify the important issues that affect many Singaporeans.”

In our conversation, we walked through how this might work in practice. First, he said, ideas had to go through a process of validation. Are the facts correct? Are all the facts there?

“We will also need to identify individuals or groups who have the resources to frame the problem better; people or NGOs who have tried in the past to deal with the issues.”

Other aspects like practicality of an idea, the true need and cost will also have to be assessed.

Ideas or issues that pass this stage will probably go to a consultative panel that will help him decide on priority. While it may be too early to speak about who he would include in such a  panel, Kin Lian thinks that it is best to have experts in different fields. This panel is needed because, to be realistic, the president can only bring up about one concern a month to ministers.

“But given the cabinet’s strict understanding of the division of power, will they be amenable to such discussions?” I asked.

“I want to be optimistic,” he said. “If the president’s proposals are well thought out, I’m confident they’ll hear him out. Of course, there may be inputs that the government has that the president’s process did not pick up, for example we may be bound by external treaties, but if so, I’m sure the president will respect that additional input, and both sides together can arrive at a consensus.”

I told Kin Lian that by my observation, ministers and their civil servants can get defensive about existing policy.

“If so,” he responded, “quite likely it’s a matter of mindset. There’s this fear . . .  they don’t want to be wrong. But as Lee Kuan Yew, I think, once said, a minister needs to be wrong before he becomes right.”

* * * * *

This carefulness about facts came up again when we discussed detention without trial. Under the constitution’s Article 151(4), when an advisory board, which must be formed within three months of a person’s preventive detention, recommends the release of that person, then that person cannot be further detained without the concurrence of the president.

“How do you envisage going about making your decision?” I asked. “Would you want to hear the other side too?”

“I’m sure the Internal Security Department will be presenting their facts, but I would expect other sources of information, for example, from detainees’ families, or one can research the internet.

“If there are opposing allegations about the ISD, I would expect ISD officers to give their answers to them. I would want it in writing, because from my experience dealing with insurance claims, people generally do not want to state in writing any blatant untruths,” he noted.

“Would you think it necessary to speak with the detainees themselves for their side of the story?” was my next question.

“I would get somebody to talk to them.”

Continuing, he said, “When you have facts from both sides, honestly and fairly presented, I think it should be possible to come to a fair judgement.”

However, I still wanted to know what his underlying perspective is on detention without trial. To that, he said, “To have indefinite detention, you will need very strong reasons. You have to be very convinced.”

* * * * *

Next, we spoke a little about reserves. Under the constitution, if any government wishes to spend reserves accumulated by a previous administration, it must get the concurrent approval of the president. Much of the debate so far in this presidential campaign is about who has the experience in economics and managing funds, but frankly, that is almost beside the point. The president is certainly not going to be in charge of investing the reserves. Nor is he there to manage economic policy though he needs some understanding of it in order to judge when dipping into reserves might be called for.

But crucial to forming any judgement must be some idea about what the reserves are for, and how much is enough?

Tan Kin Lian: “Reserves should be adequate for the government to take care of its future uncertainties, just like individuals need savings for a rainy day. These uncertainties may arise from an economic downturn. The reserves are also needed to protect the Singapore Dollar from attack.”

The problem, from the public debate perspective, is that we do not know how much we have in reserves. Whoever is elected will of course be informed accordingly, and then he’ll need to make a judgement.  “We do not need to accumulate beyond what is needed. We don’t want people to suffer the cost of that, of pouring in reserves to an excessive degree.”

* * * * *

As a final question, I asked what he thought people were looking for in a president, as so far seen in this contest. He felt it’s a mixed scene. Some are very clear what they’re looking for, others are not.

“Some want someone independent of the government, and some even prefer a person as confrontational as possible. Others prefer someone who would not rock the boat.”

I guess the big unknown at this time is the relative sizes of these camps.

“I think a large number will want a candidate to be their voice,” he said, reprising his campaign slogan. “Going forward, we may need a new process involving the voice of the people,” giving by way of example, the Baby Bonus policy which came up in a face-to-face forum Thursday night, and again at the press conference an hour before I was scheduled to meet him. His intention was not to meddle in it but was only citing it as an example of a policy that is not working as effectively as had been hoped for.

Referring to how the Baby Bonus policy was crafted in a top-down way, Kin Lian argued: “We can carry on the old way, but is it effective? Or for example, take a look at the Feedback Unit — there are structural issues with it. The old way, or we can have a new process?”

19 Responses to “Tan Kin Lian plans a process to feed people’s views into government”

  1. 1 Singa 19 August 2011 at 19:59

    Ask the following questions before you place a tick next to one of the 4 boxes on 27 August 2011:
    1. Is he truly independent of PAP?
    2. Is his emotional baggage with PAP too deep?
    3. Has he the moral courage to question the power-that-be?
    4. Will he speak-up & “fight” re. issues that benefits
    a) the poorer working-class S’poreans?
    b) majority of S’poreans, instead of foreign workers/PRs?

    TT looks dignified, has the maturity/stature & strong economic experience, BUT he fails miserably in #1 & #2. The logo “PAP” is virtually tatooed on his forehead! And if there is a “P” (pap) blood group, he has it 100% pure.
    He will be another Nathan.. having “no issue” with the govt for 12 long years!

    Tan CB can articulate well and seems to have the moral courage and a heart for S’poreans. BUT his ties with PAP was far too long for comfort.

    Although Tan KL has never stood on a PAP ticket, he was its supporter for more than 2 decades. He only became visible/vocal after he left the PAP-controlled NTUC Income ..(on a sour note?).

    The only candidate who passes #1 & #2 with flying colours is TAN JEE SAY.
    Apart from his strong financial & economic experience, his moral courage was well manifested in GE2011. He speaks well and does not hesistate to ask relevant questions and give viable, alternative suggestions to the govt.

    Vote wisely and lets not split the votes. Lets unite and make sure that TT does not win the post of EP.

  2. 2 jem 19 August 2011 at 21:06

    Thank you Alex, for conducting and publishing these interviews. They are certainly interesting to read.

    I do hope that you will interview the other two candidates as well. (That is, if TT agrees to be interviewed, which is highly unlikely). While I have no love for TT and dream of him losing in a crushingly humiliating defeat, I would love to see you ask him the questions that the SPH typists do not dare to.

  3. 3 Ben 19 August 2011 at 21:11

    I would very much like to vote for Mr Tan Kin Lian. He is neutral. He is willing to donate half his salary if elected. This shows that he is selfless and really wants to serve Singaporeans. He also did public service by helping people during the mini-bond sega few years ago.

    He has the experience handling billions in investments. He also has the track record of building up NTUC income to an organisation with 17 billion in assets and investments.

    However, I am a bit worried that he seems to be the least popular in online polls. I may have to vote for Mr Tan Jee Say in order not to split votes.

  4. 4 Poker Player 19 August 2011 at 21:18

    “Tan CB can articulate well and seems to have the moral courage”

    There is a video of him rationalizing his behaviour during our very own Marxist conspiracy. Watch it and decide again if you still think this is true.

    • 5 Robox 20 August 2011 at 11:07

      “There is a video of [Tan Cheng Bock] rationalizing his behaviour during our very own Marxist conspiracy.”

      And he did that pretending that Operation Spectrum was the first time that the PAP government had used the ISA against their political opponents, and not as Tony Tan is now claiming, only against terrorists.

  5. 6 JS 19 August 2011 at 23:01


    Thank you for running the article. I am sure the mainstream media is less inclined to air TKL’s thoughts on the President’s feedback channel. His interpretation of the president’s role is unprecedented and frankly quite exciting. I like his ideas on reserve management, for I would like to know whether citizens are over-contributing to the state coffers. I think our situation is the opposite of the US today, which had been borrowing and spending excessively leaving the next generation with a large debt. It may be a question without a clear answer, but I would vote for an EP to attempt doing that.

    It looks as though the implementation of the feedback unit require some fine-tuning. It would be splendid if the elected president could also act a scorekeeper for the ruling government’s programs, maybe not for Baby Bonuses but more for critical areas such as Workfare, Transportation, Housing etc that may not be adequately addressed. A popularly elected presidential would have legitimacy in compiling such a scorecard for the people and have more credibility than a survey commissioned by a Minister or the ministries in question.

    These are the roles which I want the SG President to play – an impartial scorekeeper of policies, a responsible custodian of the states’ reserves and an ombudsmen to the executive branch of the government. Mr Tan Kin Lian, I hope you are reading this!

    (Apologies, I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself!)

  6. 7 justin.tan@hotmail.sg 19 August 2011 at 23:02

    I will not vote for Tony Tan because his links to the PAP are too clear.

    Having said that – it is between Kin Lian and Cheng Bock for me.

    Jee Say is a very capable, bright and dedicated person for Singapore. It is our gain to have him as a citizen. But I disagree with his choice of platform to push for his economic policies. Rightly or wrongly, the people in his GRC have chosen not to support him. He had a fair chance to convince the citizens of the merits of his case, but was unable to garner the necessary support.

    As a president, I feel that the role should not be to confront a government on economic policies, as the government clearly have won the mandate with their policies (again, I do not agree with the PAP’s policies), but more on issues stated in the constitution (ie – the reserves) AND issues not within the government’s mandate – ie social, national issues.

    If Jee Say wants to change the economic course, my take is that he should use the parliamentary elections and not the presidential role.

    • 8 Ben 20 August 2011 at 02:23

      I don’t see the opposition making any impact on our economic policies within the next ten years.

      The main thrust in Tan Jee Say’s campaign is to provide check and balances on the government.

      You must have been misled by the mainstream media which obviously focused on his economic plans, to come out with such thinking.

      Tan Jee Say is outspoken and he is definitely able to speak out for the people without fear of intimidation.

  7. 9 fpc 19 August 2011 at 23:10

    I miss TKL in income.

    His insurance policies are really good.

    You cannot buy them anymore.

  8. 10 Only 1 winner 19 August 2011 at 23:31

    There will be 3 losers and only one winner in the Presidential election. Take a cue from the last general election outcome, in case you are still daft about who will be the most probable winner.

    So does it really matter what the 3 likely losers think or what they intend to do? Or how good, radical, clever or even stupid about their ideas?

  9. 11 Samantha 20 August 2011 at 10:01


    I respectfully disagree that Tan CB has too close a tie with PAP.

    It’s actually a good thing that CB was in PAP before in the sense that he will be familiar with the inner workings of the ruling party. The fact that he was able to speak up while IN the party says a lot about his moral courage and his priorities. Even back then, he was working for the people and not a yes man.

    • 12 Poker Player 20 August 2011 at 19:28

      “Moral courage”? He was midpoint in the government filtered Parliamentary spectrum that starts at one end with Ministers and ends at the other end the very “vocal” Messrs LTK and CST.

  10. 13 ape 20 August 2011 at 11:57

    “Voice of the people”
    Consider placing Grassroots organisations under President? Afterall, President is non-partisan, a uniting figure across multi-cultures, race and religion.

  11. 14 Leong 20 August 2011 at 12:06

    For a start, give me anyone except this roTTen egg to begin with.

    He can’t even answer that question pertaining to our past ISA detention without trial with complete honesty. We owe these past ISA detainees an explanation and a sincere apology for closure if they are wronged ? The question at hand is were they ever wrongly accused of something which they never did ? Where is the evidence that they were “Marxists conspirators” and why has this never surfaced or been presented ?

    And what has all this do to with the Official Secrets Act or that nutcase in Norway ? Why does he need to smokescreen us using the real fear of terrorists again ? Is it true that without the ISA, we can’t deal with terrorists effectively ?

    In the same token, can we also regard LKY as a ‘communist’ considering the fact that he now treats Communist China as a good friend of Singapore ? All we need is just an answer, maybe from LKY himself.

    • 15 yawningbread 20 August 2011 at 12:12

      The above is one of those off-topic comments that might normally be disallowed. It is off-topic because the comment (which is actually about Tony Tan) is being appended to an article about Tan Kin Lian. I think I am being extremely flexible to allow this comment for now.

      Readers, please observe comment rules.

  12. 16 Alan Ng 20 August 2011 at 14:31

    Someone whom bothers to think n thought through before one speaks… you are a quality candidate and I wish you well Mr. Tan Kin Lian

  13. 17 Murlee 22 August 2011 at 13:21

    20 August 2011 at 10:01

    I respectfully disagree that Tan CB has too close a tie with PAP.

    It’s actually a good thing that CB was in PAP before in the sense that he will be familiar with the inner workings of the ruling party. The fact that he was able to speak up while IN the party says a lot about his moral courage and his priorities. Even back then, he was working for the people and not a yes man.


    I disagree with U saying that TCB does not have close ties with PAP. In fact, no PAP MP’s during the reign of LKY and GCT has ever voted against their party on any important issues affecting S’porean, raised by the then opposition MP- Chiam See Tong & JB Jeyaretnam.

    I remember very clearly whenever voting were required in the parlimentary seatings, out of the then 81 constituencies, 79 (PAP MP’s) ALWAYS voted supporting their parties on such issues. ONLY 2 opposition MP’s voted against it. This show that PAP MP’s don’t have the guts to stand by their belief, even though in their hearts they knew it was right! They just feared of LKY wrath, willingly or not, sacrifying the PEOPLE’s interest.

    Is this the person U wanted to vote as your President? TCB himself also also mentioned that his past affiliation with PAP may affects his chances (in +ve or -ve manner, U know it).

    So, S’porean vote for a person who will SPEAK the RIGHT things, DO the RIGHT things for S’porean, without any fear of the Government!!! Tan Jee Say is that person!

    • 18 yawningbread 22 August 2011 at 13:36

      I doubt if parliamentary bills, in the great majority of cases, are passed by counted votes in the legislature. Because the PAP commands such a huge majority, bills are usually passed by a voice vote. Furthermore, with the party whip system, MPs are required to vote along party lines. So, if one looks at the record, the only meaningful way to discern a PAP backbencher’s position is the substance of the speech he makes. By that measure, Tan Cheng Bock was hardly the only PAP backbencher who took government policy to task.

      • 19 Observer 24 August 2011 at 14:34

        Hi Alex,

        Generally agree with this comment but in some cases they do list the MPs who voted for or against – I believe in the GRC bill for instance, Dr. Tan Cheng Bock was listed as having abstained. Those will only be for the controversial bills of course, where the whip is lifted.

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