Infamous Quotes From Singapore Political Leaders

See a separate page on (In)Famous Quotes From Lee Kuan Yew.

“While they (Singaporeans) do not criticise their parents’ imperfections, when it comes to the Government, they see only warts… and freely criticise it for its slightest mistakes or when we disagree with it”. 

  • Ex-PM Goh Chok Tong used the analogy that the Government is like a parent in a family and warned that the New Normal of criticising the Government may lead to fractiousness, divisiveness and estrangement in the Singapore Family.
  • “The question to ask is what lies at the root of the discontent or the disengagement between the G and the people. I am going to stick my neck out and say that it is ministerial salaries. I consider it the root of all evil. Serious. It reduces what should be a social compact into a business contract. We cannot see the family analogy because we are run like a business.” - Bertha Henson

“They (top civil servants) get paid more, they’re highly educated, and they have bigger egos, bigger than any government employees I’ve met anywhere else in the world. It’s not good or bad, but they consider themselves superior to almost any government employee in the world.”

  • renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith on civil servants’ ego in Singapore.

“if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here… I think Singapore will be better off because they will bring business, they will bring opportunities

“If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless… Can you have a whole country where 100 per cent are graduates?”

  • Khaw Boon Wan responding to a participant who said the Government should set aside more university places for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates.
  • Askmelah wonders why then is the Government has been building more and more polytechnics and universities while lamenting that fertility rate is dropping? The Government’s aim is to get 50% to get into local universities while another 20-30% will get theirs through private, part-time and overseas degrees. We are not that far from the 100% target if you ask me.

“Public housing will always be affordable … I am confident because we are the ones who set the price for new HDB flats….. That is a promise that we can deliver.”

“Headline inflation is expected to remain at 5 per cent for the next few months but the majority of Singaporean households will not be directly affected, this is because inflation is largely driven by imputed rentals from owner-occupied accommodation and car prices, and most Singaporean households own their own homes while new car buyers are in the minority.” -Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang (Source)

  • Really? this sounds like his other infamous quote on health care subsidy;
  • Assume his logic is correct, then these two items should be removed or assigned a lower weightage; The fact is he is trivialising the inflation effect.
  • CIMB-GK Research economist Song Seng Wun pointed out that the average Singaporean will still feel the weight of inflation, as businesses facing spiralling costs pass that on to consumers. The tight labour market has pushed wages up, while rentals for commercial properties have only eased recently, resulting in higher business costs.
“Many people come to me and say, oh but the PAP you know you have the Whip, and so all of you must vote the same way….That’s true. That’s the system we inherited, for party discipline. But nonetheless, you still have PAP MPs giving different views in Parliament.” (Source)
  • PAP MP Hri Kumar said at a forum in April 2014. What is the point of offering different views or even opposing controversial bills such as the Casino, Population White Paper, Elected President and yet can not vote to reflect the voters’ discontent with the damaging policies. What is the difference then between these ruling party’s MPs from the opposition MPs? Can only bark but no bite? Giving “different views” mean nothing if not followed through on.

‘The fugitive (Mas Selamat) was either still in Singapore, hidden by sympathisers, or had fled the country – a scenario he said was “more pausible” - Wong Kang Seng

  • DPM Wong was quoted saying this sometimes in Jan 2009, Mas Selamat was subsequently caught in JB (Malaysia) officially on 1 Apr 2009 over a year after his escape. The Straits Times, May 9 2009
  • Askmelah’s all-time favourite. What a brilliant prediction from a million dollar minister, who is the right hand man of the Prime Minister, in saying “I don’t know what the hell is happening under my watch!”. It epitomises a political language of the highest level for all future generation of politicians to emulate and surpass.

“Because they (people from less developed countries) don’t know what life is, they’re quite happy. They wake up, they brush their teeth, then they’ll farm, and then they’ll sleep. But do you want it that way?” (2011)

  • Goh Chok Tong noting that surveys indicate how people in less-developed countries are happier and presumed that these people don’t know what life is. The Singaporean version: They don’t know what life is: they’re NOT happy. They wake up, they brush their teeth, then they go to work (squeeze in sardine-packed buses, MRTs and highways), and then they’ll sleep. But do you want it that way? Read more: An Elitist’s View On Life.

“If we don’t do that (increase the Ministers’ pays by 60%), in the long term, the government system will slowly crumble and collapse.” 

“If you ask me whether it has got anything to do with the elections, the answer is ‘yes’. everything has got to do with the elections”

  • Mah Bow Tan, Minister for National Development, in announcing a raft of measures to curb property speculation (The Sunday Times, 5Sep2010).

“I didn’t ask for it. That was the rate for the job, that’s what I accepted. You don’t like the rate, I can’t help it.”

  • President Nathan who doesn’t feel he needs to defend his high salary which has been criticised extensively online. (The Sunday Times 7 Aug 2011) 

“GST hike is to help the poor.” - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

  • Askmelah remains to be convinced after so many years that the GST hike has helped or benefited the poor!

“If we spent 387 million dollars, will we get value from that expenditure? In my mind, the answer … is yes,”

  • Dr Vivian Balakrishnan opining whether YOG still worth its salt if he had known the cost of the YOG were three times the original estimate.
  • Unlike F1 and the two integrated resorts, many Singaporeans remain to be convinced how the $388m helps to boost tourism or boost Singapore’s image as a fun place to visit. It is money not well spent, period!

“We started off with (the name) and after looking at everything, the name that really tugged at the heartstrings was in front of us. The name itself is not new, but what has been used informally so far has endeared itself to all parties.” – Mah Bow Tan on the $400,000 exercise to rename Marina Bay as Marina Bay.

  • There is another similar incident in an exercise to find the best name for Singapore’s first budget terminal, the final name chosen: the Budget Terminal.

“How much do you want? Do you want 3 meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”

  • Minister for MCYS Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in replying to a request by MP Dr Lily Neo’s “Is it too much to ask for just 3 meals a day as an entitlement for the PA recipients?”   (25 April 2007)

Remember your place in society before you engage in political debate… Debate cannot generate into a free-for-all where no distinction is made between the senior and junior party… You must make distinctions – What is high, what is low, what is above, what is below, and then within this, we can have a debate, we can have a discussion… people should not take on those in authority as ‘equals’” – Former Foreign Minister George Yeo (1994)

“If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals, hence a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity.” -- Dr Lim Wee Kiat, PAP MP for Nee Soon GRC, 24 May 2011 (Lianhe Wanbao)

[Askmelah‘ Note: So to say if a police officer who earns about S$1000-2000 per month, talk to us we can choose not to respect or listen to him since many of our middle income executives are earning way above that amount? How dumb can a politician say this?]

“No, it was not a U-turn, and neither was it a reversal of government policy. But you can call it a rethink.” - Yeo Cheow Tong

“Every month, when I receive my CPF statement, I feel so rich and the best part is, I know the CPF money won’t run away.” - NTUC Secretary-General Mr. Lim Swee Say and Minister without Portfolio said this in 2008. (Source)

(Askmelah’s note: We all know that our ministers are paid millions of dollars but it is highly inappropriate to declare it on national media.)

“If you’re the best today, strive to be better. If you’re better today, strive to be ‘betterer’ and if you’re ‘betterer’ today, strive to be ‘betterest’ so that over time, Singapore’s service standards can just keep getting better, ‘betterer’ and ‘betterest’.” (2010)

  •  NTUC Secretary-General Mr. Lim Swee Say and Minister without Portfolio shocked Singaporeans with his “improvisation” of the English language. He is also famous for coining the phrase “cheaper, better and faster” to exhort Singaporeans to increase their competitiveness in 2007.

“Only 5% are unemployed. We still have 95% who are employed.” — Yeo Cheow Tong

“just like good chilli crab will sell, no matter where the stall is located”

  • Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong trivialised the impact of redrawing of electoral boundaries in which WP chairman Sylvia Lim called the analogy a “red herring to confuse voters”. Using Mr Goh’s analogy, she countered “SM Goh must be aware that he is one of the three most well-known chilli crab stall operators, besides Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, operating chain stalls all over Singapore in the form of the GRCs. (and thus forcing the smaller chilli crab operators out of business)”.  Source: TodayOnline Mar1,2011

“Contrary to public perception, the White Horse classification is not to ensure that sons of influential men gets preferential treatment. Instead it is to ensure that they do not get preferential treatment.”- Cedric Foo

  • who is this Cedric kidding?  [Updated 21Oct2011] In response to Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh’s (Aljunied GRC) question about the “white horse” programme – where sons of civil servants allegedly receive preferential treatment in NS – and whether medical dockets continue to be stamped today with the white horse stamp, the Defense Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen said “no”.

“Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?”

“People support CPF cuts because there are no protest outside parliament.” – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

  • Either LHL is hugely out of touch or he is kidding himself, you need to apply for a licence from the Police in Singapore to protest. Not only the time taken for the approval is long, the purpose of the protest must be stated. If the purpose in known, the chances to get the licence is virtually zero as the “public safety” is often cited as the paramount concern, the only way to protest safely is a small little obscure corner known as the “Speaker’s Corner” which is allowed lately and a butt of jokes around the “openness” of Singapore Government.

“We will manage immigration to make sure Singapore doesn’t become too crowded.”

  • PM Lee Hsien Loong reassured the nation that he will tackle the immigration issue on National Day Rally 2010 after the uproar of the lapse immigration policy resulting in soaring property markets, crowded MRT, buses, roads and schools. Two years after he said that, the population increased by another 240,000 or 4.7% which is huge for a small country.)

“Leave the gambling to the tourists”

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated in his Mandarin National Day 2010 Rally speech that Singaporeans should leave the gambling to foreigners. In other words, it is a tourist trap that guarantees to suck your money dry so Singaporeans be warned. LHL inadvertently revealed the country’s “top secret”.

“For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, $600,000 is peanuts as it has a few hundred millions in reserves.”

  • Mrs Goh Chok Tong defending the high monthly pay of Durai, CEO of Non-Government-Organisation (NGO) NKF.

“Save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening.”

  • Then Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang rejecting the suggestion by MP Dr. Lily Neo to provide subsidy for breast cancer screening (source)

“The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) spends more than 80 per cent of its funds on its beneficiaries, which is within the guidelines set for charities.

  • said then Minister Lim Hng Kiang (Prime Minister’s Office), little have he foreseen the NKF scandal that unfolded thereafter (link)

“Having enjoyed football as a national sport for decades, we in Singapore have set ourselves the target of reaching the final rounds of World Cup in 2010.” - Ho Peng Kee

  • Askmelah’s note: in World Cup 2010, Singapore was seeded 29th in Asia and did not make it in the sub-group qualifying round, more reporting here.

“Retrenchment is good for Singapore. If there is no retrenchments, then I worry.” – SM Goh

  • Askmelah’s note: Sounds like his wife who infamously said that S$600,000 salary for the ex-CEO of Nation Kidney Foundation (NKF) is peanuts and probably the only senior leader in the world that worry if there is no retrenchment in their country.

 “I don’t think that there should be a cap on the number of directorship that a person can hold.” – PAP MP John Chen who held 8 directorships.

  • Askmelah’s note: A murderer once declared that “I don’t think there should be capital punishment for killing someone”

“It’s not for the money because some of the companies pay me as little as $10,000 a year.” - PAP MP Wang Kai Yuen who held 11 directorships.

  • that’s right, $10,000 is very low for attending 4 board meetings a year to crack his head is hard work compared to the $15,000 per month part time job received as a MP and don’t have to do much!

“One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around.”

  • former PAP MP Mr Choo Wee Khiang (1992). He later apologised for the inappropriate comment.

“Singaporean workers have become more expensive than those in the USA and Australia.” - Tony Tan

  • Since when? Er, may be he was referring to the President and the ministerial pays.

“Our funds are accountable to the government. I would not believe that transparency is everything.”- PM Lee Hsien Loong, The Telegraph UK

  • It is like Kong Hee saying to the public: “our funds are accountable to the board. I would not believe that transparency is everything.” If a well respected and religious Paster can make mistake, who can guarantee that there will not be crook or cover-up in the Government. Politicians are generally not the most, if not the least, trustable people all over the world, period. Read More.

“Fair-weather Singaporeans will run away whenever the country runs into stormy weather. I call them “quitters.”- ex-PM Goh Chok Tong

“The PAP Government has always thrived on its ability to anticipate problems.” – Wong Kan Seng

  • Askmelah agrees completely after seeing the billions of dollars lost on investment by Temasek and GIC, the mismanagement of immigration policy post 2007, the Mas Selamat escape, the one-in-50 years floods, the Little India riot, the China bus drivers’ strike, the reversal of welfare state style subsidy, the hacking of Government website, the immigration breaches, all happened in the last 10 years despite we paid the highest salary to ministers and civil servants in the world.

“We are very prudent in managing public funds.”

  • Transport Minister Lew Tuck Yew explaining in 2012 Parliament the sharp increasae in the budget for constructing the Downtown Line rail network which increased from S$12 billion to about S$20.7 billion mostly due to sharp rises in construction costs and changes to the original designs of the line (16Nov2012, CNA).

More reports here.

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  1. […] it is a calling, they must be able emphathise with the masses (remember the infamous remark “Do you want 3 meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?“) and lastly see being politicians as a calling above all! If all other countries, rich or […]

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My favourite quote today

"The question to ask is what lies at the root of the discontent or the disengagement between the G and the people. I am going to stick my neck out and say that it is ministerial salaries. I consider it the root of all evil. Serious. It reduces what should be a social compact into a business contract. " - Bertha Henson