Thoughts on GE2015: the past, the present, our future

ESM Goh Chok Tong is the senior politician running in my constituency and I’ve been pondering over some comments he made in a recent mainstream media interview (26 August 2015, CNA):

“If the Government doesn’t get good support, you’re repudiating what they’re doing. It’s very important that you give them a very clear signal and support their agenda.

“I’ve travelled all over the world as PM. I know the impact of politics on people’s lives … I came to the conclusion that we can categorise government into three categories: The good, the bad, the ugly.. As you can see now, in many countries in the world, there are ugly governments. We are lucky that we have a good Government. So I look at this election as a mandate for the Lee Hsien Loong Government.

“Opposition parties come and go like nomads. Nomads will not have an interest in the people’s welfare. A new tribe is coming – do they really have interest in Marine Parade’s welfare?… The opposition will be there just throwing all kinds of distractions.”

I also watched a rally speech by WP’s He Ting Ru, a Cambridge educated lawyer with international, corporate and legal experience – one of the “nomads” contesting in my constituency for the opposition. Since returning to Singapore in 2011, she’s been learning the ropes of constituency work by volunteering in Chen Sho Mao’s meet-the-people sessions and doing party level work (which includes policy research and drafting parliamentary papers, part of the process for proposing and questioning policies when parliament sits).

Some of her points during her first rally speech (3 September 2015, Jalan Besar Stadium):

“There is much for us Singaporeans to be proud of despite the worries we sometimes feel about our future. When I decided to run for member of parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried… about the impact on my family, my career, about whether I will get fixed… I had the exact same thoughts myself. But then I asked myself, three questions:

1) Do I believe that it is healthy for Singapore to have a handful of people from the same political party, deciding what is best for our country?

2) Do I want a future for my country, where my children dare not responsibly disagree and speak their mind, because they are afraid of being fixed?

3) Do I think that our current policies and policy making processes are perfect, that there is no need for improvement, that nothing more needs to be done for Singaporeans, especially vulnerable Singaporeans?

The answer for each one of them, was no. As a young Singaporean I have my idea about what should be my nation’s path… I want a future where we see more citizens involved in deciding our own future, a future where we pay close attention to vulnerable groups and a destiny where we promote access to opportunities for all…

There is no more direct way of effecting that change for Singapore than running for parliament…The government’s job is not to fix the opposition. The government’s job is to do it’s job well… I decided to run for parliament because I think the government can do better, and all of us can and must help them do so…

When in the polling booth come 11th September 2015, I would like each one of us to ask these three questions:

1) Do we want more different voices to be heard in parliament, voices representing what you want to say?

2) Do we want our children to be able to speak out responsibly without fear because they disagree with the government?

3) Do we want to live in a country which empowers our citizens to create a society, which looks out for the vulnerable, where our elders are active, healthy, and our children are not weighed down by the pressure to succeed at all costs?

I hope the answer is yes to all of these questions and that you would want more voices, no more fear in speaking out, and a compassionate society for all Singaporeans.”

Not surprisingly a lot of what was expressed by the opposition candidate echoed my own thoughts, which are, that Ting Ru and her WP colleagues ask the questions I want to ask and in fact, many Singaporeans have wanted to ask, but those who have asked out loud in the past have been persecuted, prosecuted, sidelined or even exiled.

Since 1984, when Chiam See Tong first won a seat in parliament, we progressed as a nation. Despite clear hurdles placed in his path and, by extension, the path of the residents he served for 26 years, they proved that Singaporeans are not all about freshly painted HDB walls and early Starhub cabling. Despite these deficiencies, Potong Pasir did not fall apart or become destitute.

Again from 2011, this progress accelerated with the WP’s first GRC win. Apart from Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East not being any closer to becoming a slum, this slightly larger opposition in parliament has also created more dialogue. Now there are questions in parliament, about ministerial salaries and about the 6.9 million white paper, for example, and votes against it (none from within the PAP), which are essentially saying, “there are merits to your plan, but it is not yet good enough, it’s too narrow. There will be other ramifications and many Singaporeans will suffer because of it. We must keep looking for possibilities. Let us contribute”.

Unfortunately, this questioning voice is still small and, almost unheard, within the single-party government’s highly protected inner chamber, where all the big plans are made and decided upon.

Over 50 years and even during the past 10, the current government has shown an undying need to protect the seat of power fiercely, and to discredit, discipline and often punish dissenting voices from within or without the party ranks. This is an outdated mode of government – a relic from World War II and an unnecessary hegemony borrowed from the armed forces.

As can be seen from the past decade of gaffes and shape-shifts, gerrymanders and U-turns within the current administration, they too, seem to be scrambling to keep up with the world and are chasing the money trail like every other developed country, albeit with the help of expensive consultants and an insanely rich reserve, happily amassed from relatively good governance (apart from a number of major, superficially investigated, lapses) and handsomely helped by our small geographic size, topography and location, willing population and dense per-capita contribution to the coffers.

What this means, as signs have started to show is, if we continue on this path unabated as the current administration is ordering us to do, the country will increasingly become corporate-like, where the strongest and most connected survive and the weak are eventually weeded out and replaced, even if the weak laid the foundations for current success. That is not a vision of a country for the next 50 years and it is certainly not the country I want.

Singaporeans are no longer servile employees of a corporate nation looking to our leaders for all direction, while waiting for the carrot and the stick to egg us on. We, too need to move out of that mindspace, become our own people and know our own true worth. I feel that a lot of us need our egos re-calibrated, our skills need updating and our world-views need to be consistently expanded and deepened. In short, we need to get our inspiration back. We can’t do that by taking the, “look back on the past 50 years, do you want to lose that?” path.

Consider also that many Singaporeans have established themselves as top learners all over the world and many have consistently produced work in the real-world that is recognized outside of our tiny shores, while not being part of the state-funded and protected machinery. These are the real-world entrepreneurs that are talked so much about by the ruling party, but, for the most part, are lacking in said party because of their (also outdated) recruitment and progression structure that sacrifices diversity for a narrow view of success and “suitability to rule”.

I think the entrepreneurs whom ESM Goh calls “nomads” and “arrogant” exhibit a toughhness and humility that is lacking in many of his own cohort, who can be verbose, but tend to gravitate to reductive binary arguments and put-downs when challenged outside of their comfort zone. ESM Goh’s “good vs ugly” statement is an example of such. At best, it is a simplistic statement unbecoming of an experienced elder statesman; at worst, an oppressive method of sowing fear, in case we don’t do as we’re told.

But back to the nomads in the opposition. I think Singaporeans should bring some of this valuable nomadic expertise and chutzpah back home and allow them to be a conduit between our current government and us; Singaporeans who have smarts and problem-solving abilities of our own to contribute; Singaporeans who have a love for our country that has seen us through decades past. In contrast, if ESM Goh keeps pushing away these nomads, he risks living out the twilight of his illustrious career as a big goldfish in a very small bowl.

Of course, as I pen my thoughts, I don’t expect that anyone from the establishment will read it. Many more illustrious, skilled and accomplished people have written letters to people in our power space asking for change. Very few of them get read and even fewer get more than a cursory consideration.

But I do hope that other Singaporeans will read this and ask of themselves the questions that the nomads ask and that I ask too. It doesn’t matter to me what your individual answer is. We are all entitled to our opinion and our vote. That is the point. But at least, take the time to consider the various alternatives. The unknown is not as scary as we might think.

Sincerely, for our future.

Timothy Nga

#ge2015 #gohchoktong #hetingru #pap #wp #timeforchange #forourfuturesg

The Little Thing(s)

Likes small spaces

Likes small spaces

As I was preparing to feed the cats today, the skies opened up outside and a darkness exploded upon the flat in a crack of thunder. I realised that Wilma, my tiny black cat with white socks, who normally hides around the corner waiting for her turn and comes when she’s called, had disappeared. I called, but no Wilma responded.

Leaving the two boys and Zoe waiting in their usual spots below me and on top of the fridge, I went in search of the little black one and found her huddled under the bed. As I called her name, she whispered tinily. I placed her food bowl on the floor next to the bed. She crawled out to take a sniff, but the sky let out another angry cry and she retreated back to her hiding place under the bed. I closed all the doors to the bedroom, left with a promise to be back and went to feed the others.  Regular feeding in the kitchen resumed without drama and after washing up the food bowls and clearing the litter trays in anticipation of post-meal deposits, I went back into the bedroom to find Wilma’s food bowl still untouched and her position unchanged.

The sky had cleared by this time. Our local thunder god in the east has a pre-disposition towards deafening, but short-lived explosions. We might’ve had a similar upbringing.  I sat down on the floor and called to the little one. With a small sound, she slinked out from under the bed and settled down tentatively in front of me. I cradled her in my arms and as she relaxed, I showed her the window and how the world was beautiful outside with a bit of light and a layer of wetness that meant life had just been refreshed and renewed. I then placed her on the floor in front of her food bowl and watched as she took a sniff and then proceeded to slurp quietly at her meal in peace.

That was when I realised, that after all is said and done, through the battles lost and won, these are the moments that I truly live for.

Wilma's fan

Wilma’s fan

Early Morning Hubbub


7.30am. Full flight back to Singapore. Rousing orchestral music playing on the PA accompanied by visuals of the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra in full swing, interspersed with (mostly old) people triumphantly trekking Taiwanese mountain ranges.

Man in seat B holds an android device in his left hand, scrolling through an endless email list, while his accompanying right hand nonchalantly alternates between picking hairs off his chin and dropping successfully pulled hairs on the floor between his legs.

Last minute boarders with shopping struggle for space.

In seat A, man’s wife lies unconscious, head slumped on his left shoulder, oblivious to the hubbub around her.

We push back and stewardesses remind us to put our devices away.

Man’s left hand deftly turns off device and holds it calmly against his left thigh. Eyes close, right hand falls neatly as he slips into inner space.

We gather speed for take-off. See you on the other side.

Hoi An Happening


I’m sitting by the river reading and, occasionally, looking up to glance at this sampan moored by the pier among the larger boats.

Out of the blue, the manager of the nearby massage and manicure place, strolls over, cigarette in mouth, boards his craft and casually inspects it, before heading back to work when his cigarette expires.

So cool to pilot a sampan to work everyday! The good life. :-)

The Best Part of Going Away is Coming Home

My week was spent in Manila, filled with 4 very intense and fulfilling days of training, facilitation and coaching via Potential Squared’s exciting Executive Presence program for a leading global consulting client.


Over the 4 days, myself and a small team of facilitators worked with 51 highly motivated and talented leaders, in exploring and practicing the skills and behaviours that define and increase their effectiveness as leaders.  I was extremely moved by the level of hunger and engagement towards us and the material and, having run this program a number of times now, I can still say that the end of each run makes me want to do the whole thing all over again.  Preferably with a small break in between to recharge, as introverts go.  :-)


At the end of day 3, we were warned by our wonderful co-ordinators that our following day’s trip to the airport would take longer than usual because it was the week when year-end bonuses were paid out.  Thus the end of day 4 began a mad rush to pack our gear and head to the airport for a 2-hour crawl in traffic, which involved watching motorcyclists and pedestrians with trolley bags rolling by us on the pavement.  You know you’re in trouble when the vehicle you’re in struggles to overtake a lamppost.


Anyways, no stress over what cannot be controlled, I arrived just 5 minutes before the counter at the airport closed, got my boarding pass and gate, and proceeded to clear immigration and airport security.  My brain and body needed a boost so I grabbed a quick hotdog and bottle of water as I made my way to the gate, only to realize upon almost reaching it that, since my check-in, the gate had been shifted to, not so close by. Somehow, when you’re at the end of a tiring week, carrying luggage and in danger of missing your flight for the second time in an hour, a 10-gate distance is no small thing.


My adventure then involved me chasing after, and jumping on the back of, an airport buggy normally used to ferry the elderly and disabled, to take me back across the terminal, and the buggy stopping twice more along the way to attempt to take on board other passengers who were in the same predicament. At one point we were looking more like a public bus in India than an airline buggy at NAIA Terminal 3.


I thankfully made it to the gate and onto the plane not long before the doors closed and, despite a mildly evil look from a passenger with a hyperactive infant in the row behind me, and a ruckus from another late passenger who was almost not allowed to board – I heard him say something about a moving gate – I was finally safe, seatbelt buckled, ready to go.


Then, just as we taxied onto the runway, master hyperactive threw up in his seat.  Joy!  The attendants were about to strap in and barely had time to chuck Mr EL and his wife a large packet of paper towels as the plane threw itself noisily up the runway and into thin air.  So, as we climbed to cruising altitude, the EL family cleaned up as best they could while those in the immediate vicinity lived with the smell of puke and the fear that said puke would start migrating as gravity did its thing.  Talk about the mile-high cleaning club.


Not the funnest of times, but still loads of fun, and I would not exchange this experience for anything.


After a week away, this is the welcome home that I got from Dudley.


My welcome home

Caveat Emptor

Recently upgraded my fibre connection to 1GBPs via MyRepublic. A guy from NUCLEUS CONNECT (company who owns the network) comes to collect my old modem. He doesn’t give me a new modem, doesn’t test or set-up anything (all handled by MyRepublic guys separately).

Before he leaves, he gives me a form and says I have to sign it. I ask him to explain what it is I’m signing and why, since all he did was collect something from me. He can’t/won’t tell me. I ask for a copy of the form. He starts huffing and puffing and doesn’t want to give it to me, so I say, “if you don’t give me the acknowledgement, I’m not returning you the modem.”

Finally he gets angry, hands me the form and leaves in a huff. After he leaves, I read the fine print where I was asked to sign. It has nothing to do with the modem or service, but is instead:


#‎NUCLEUSCONNECT‬ your personal data protection policies are a joke.  Shame on you.




Going Up

She slowly leaned forward to hold the door open for us, as a spritely old gentleman carrying a large plastic bag, entered just ahead of me.

“Thank you”, I said, and in silence, we pressed the buttons that would transport us to our floors. The doors closed.

“Perchah ah?” (“broken” in Malay), I heard her ask purposefully.

“那个门” (“that door” in Mandarin), he replied, and then stopped.

My back was to them so I could not see their expressions. In the awkward silence I heard a happy desire to share, frustrated only by a lack of common vocabulary.

I exited the lift with a smile as I greeted them both with a goodbye. Perhaps the keys to our future harmony lie in our past.