Thursday, April 03, 2008

Another Look at Talent

Mas Selamat aside, one of the biggest topics in Singapore these days is the fact that our PM is on the look out for a successor. Limping dwarf's aside, leadership or the lack of it is back on the national agenda, and one of the most pressing issues about leadership is - "Succession Planning."

I'm often reminded of PN Balji's favourite theme - the idea that a good leader will leave the place he or she left stronger than when she started. I'm also reminded of a former platoon sergant who told us that, "The battery must be able to run without me." These are words that I think most of us who climb up in life tend to forget. Climbling is bloody difficult, and I guess those of us who climb up successfully depend on having strong egos. However, while a strong ego helps one survive the trials and tribulations of being on top, it is often an impediment in clouding our purpose. We get to tied up with the idea that it's all about the person - we think of "I did this, I did that and I'm so great that the rest of them will die without me," when we are in positions of leadership. As a result we end up making ourselves the centre of the world instead of concentrating one of the most basic fundimentals of leadership - making sure that our people are up to the job when we're not around.

In the Singapore we've been fairly lucky. Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister stepped aside in 1990 while, in his words, the "mental facilities were still in order." Goh Chok Tong, his successor did something similar in 2004 and handed over to Lee Hsien Loong. Of course both Mr Lee and Mr Goh managed to retain high-level consultancy positions in the shape of being Minister Mentor and Senior Minister respectively but unlike many of their contemporaries in the region, they made it a point to step aside rather than get pushed and they've played a somewhat constructive role in contributing their experience to government rather than snipe at their successor.

However, the elder Mr Lee and Mr Goh had something that the current Mr Lee does not seem to have - an obvious team of successors. Unlike his predecessors, nobody seems to have an idea who the next Prime Minister is or even who the next group of Ministers are. The last cabinate was something of a game of musical chairs that told us utterly nothing.

So, since there is an obvious lack of political talent at home - the talk is about resorting to a traditional Singapore solution - get the talent from elsewhere. Well, actually it's an integral of being a Singaporean, especially when you think that most Singaporeans came from elsewhere once upon a time.

Leaving aside the regular grumbling, Singaporeans are quite used to working for foreigners. Just as in Lee Kuan Yew's youth, "The supperiority of the White men is acceptend" (Well if you call talentless barrow boys - talented) and these days we're even swallowing initial racial prejudices and comming to accept that the supperior men from abroad may even be Indian. Then there are the Banladeshi, Philipinos and Thais we can spit on whenever we feel that we've been spat on by the Hillbillys....ooppps, I mean talents.

But when it comes to politics, things are slightly different. The story is, we need Singaporeans to lead Singaporeans. One of the great and good mentioned that being a Minister requires passion, the type of passion that only a real Singaporean can provide.

Well, I guess they have a point there. Look to the number of barrow boys crawling round the streets these days and you'd think that we've become a third world city - London. The thought is so scary that I end cheering on the government everytime some Expat kid shits his pants when he gets canned for doing such savoury things like vandalising cars. - It's especially fun when Americans get into trouble with the law - "I'm an American dude, you can't do that....I'll call ma lawyer, write my Congressman etc etc" - Yea, right - I think. The more you say that the more inclined I am make sure you get wacked our way...infront of your congressman, lawyer etc etc. Seriously, many of the American, British and Australian expats should stick to being useful to the local economy.......getting ripped off by the imported prostitutes as well as the local bar scene.

Leaving aside my little rant, I don't think it's such a bad idea to have a non-Singaporean run for Parliament. I mean, Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Raja and the gang were not Singaporeans to begin with - they were British subjects who became Malaysians and today nobody doubts their passion to Singapore. It's even been pointed out that our much respected Health Minister, Khaw Boon Wan was actually born in Malaysia.

Singapore has a proud tradition of welcoming useful expats. I think of Hans Hofer, one of my earliest shinning lights. The man fell in love with this part of the world, built a business empire based in Singapore, cashed out and continues offer his hyperactive brain to the world. Mr Hofer is German but has come to accept Singapore and Asia as his home. Once you meet Mr Hofer, you'll ask yourself - why isn't he being invited to run a Ministry. Let's leave Defense aside, if we are so keen about having "Global Talent" I don't see a logical reason why we need a Singaporean citizen to be running any of our Ministrys.

Besides, there are government departments who don't seem too worried about wether certain positions are filled by Singaporeans or not. Philip Yeo, former Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has even declared that he would stop giving out schoolarships to Singaporean Men (bunch of Whinney Losers) and only give them to the girls and foreigners (People who can tollerate him....oopps, I mean nice people.)

So there it is. A prominent member of the government has come out and declared that it's not always good to give things to Singaporeans. So, I wonder....If a prominent government figure can make such a statement without being made to issue a public appology...........what does it say about the government's view of Singaporean citizens?

I mean, as a Singaporean citizen, why should I care? I need to accept the need to compete with the best the world has to offer. It's good to let competition mould you. I ask myself, is it more important to have the most qualified man or woman for the job or whether you want to limit your talent pool to Singapore?

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