Why are our two ministers merged in silence?

The news of the impending junior college mergers led to plenty of public debate throughout the weekend. Regardless of your position on the matter, there is one thing we can agree on: none of our two Ministers of Education have spoken out about the matter, and this is a cause for concern.

When the issue came to light, it turned out that it was the civil service who took most of the heat. Not not too long ago, Minister of Education Ng Chee Meng urged students to dare to ‘choing’. It must therefore have been a surprise that when the Ministry was experiencing a PR crisis, it was Ms Liew Wei Li, MOE Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools) and Director of Schools, who was really doing the MOE’s ‘chionging’. Perhaps as a former military general, this is his style of leadership – to lead from behind. (or as my army encik used to say – “act blur live longer”). If so, I don’t think I can agree with it.

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Silence is golden

Recently, PAP MPs criticized the civil service, saying that the civil service has lost its heart. What I find heartless, however, is for leaders not to stand up and defend their followers when they are in trouble, or under attack.

Recently as well, our other Minister of Education, Ong Ye Kung, gave a speech telling civil servants to “think big, start small, act fast”, and that “for Singapore to succeed, we must not be afraid to try.” Yet, when the civil service did think big, and did act fast, and did try to implement what it believed was a good policy, and ended up facing public criticism, Mr Ong decided it was best to keep quiet about the matter, at least for the weekend. Imagine if your boss told you to be daring and try something new, and you listened to him and tried something new with the best intentions, and it fails, and instead of defending you, he lets you take the fall – how would you feel?

I understand that it is the weekend, and that the government is putting efforts towards adopting a 5-day work week. However, I think that this issue is serious enough to warrant at least a comment, if not, a press conference.

Perhaps my friend put it best when he said over lunch earlier today:

“Wah these ministers now suddenly so quiet. They keep saying teach less, learn more. More like – talk less, earn more”

On the other hand, I do hope that they do not think that by remaining silent, the issue will simply resolve itself, or that public anger will run out once the weekend is over. That would be a very unfortunate way of thinking.

During good times, our ministers are unafraid to appear in the public eye to give grand speeches about the future of our education system, and the efforts that they are putting into make it better. Yet, in times of crisis, they appear satisfied with letting their civil servants bear the brunt of public backlash. In some way, their silence speaks more about them than anything they could possibly say.

Maybe our two Ministers have very good reasons not to speak up. If so, I would hope that they would share those reasons when they eventually do speak up. However, in light of how things have turned out so far this weekend, I wish they had done a better job in speaking up for their civil servants the moment things went bad for them. They cannot take the credit when things go well, but become slow at taking responsibility when things go sour – that to me is heartless.

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Photo credit: The Straits Times; Channelnews Asia

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Author: Rio Hoe

Rio is the chief editor and co-founder of Consensus SG. He is a recent law graduate from the University of Oxford. His interests include politics, sociology, legal theory and political philosophy.

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