Opposition can do more to put forward viable alternatives: Indranee Rajah

Opposition can do more to put forward viable alternatives: Indranee Rajah

Senior Minister of State for Finance and for Law Indranee Rajah went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about today’s political landscape, whether Singapore politicians are sufficiently in touch with people on the ground, and how Singapore can weather economic challenges in the coming years.

SINGAPORE: She was a lawyer who first entered Parliament in 2001. Her appointment to political office came after the 2011 General Election, when she took on the posts of Senior Minister of State for Education and for Law in November 2012.

At the time, the People's Action Party (PAP) was coming off a watershed election which saw it garner its lowest share of the popular vote since independence. She herself acknowledged then that it was not an easy time to be a politician, but she did it anyway.

Since then, Indranee Rajah has been deeply involved in spearheading key initiatives such as ASPIRE, the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE), and speaking up about issues such as constructive politics. Most recently relinquishing her education portfolio for finance, she has continued to be involved in the Committee on the Future Economy, which aims to keep the Singapore economy competitive by positioning it for the future and identifying areas of growth.

She went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about today’s political landscape, whether Singapore politicians are sufficiently in touch with people on the ground, and how Singapore can weather economic challenges in the coming years.

Indranee Rajah: I think many people, especially businessmen – small- and medium-sized enterprises in particular – worry about the economy as it is. There's a global slowdown. Everybody feels it. Their employees worry about whether they will be able to keep their jobs, businesses worry if they can stay competitive and keep their businesses going as they have been.

But I think if you look at it globally, everybody feels that there is a sense of impending change and people aren't sure how to deal with that change so there's a holding of breath, wait-and-see attitude. But this is not something that we have not undergone before.

I did a talk for polytechnic students recently and as part of that, I asked my staff to do a little bit of research for the period when I entered the workforce which was back in 1986 and that was actually a recession period. That was the time of the Pan-El Crisis. I thought that there's a sense of deja vu now. I think the message that I would like to get out to people is that we've actually been in situations like this before and each time, we've managed to overcome the challenges. It's a question of being able to identify the right strategies and doing the right things to set things off in the right direction. So that is actually what the Committee on the Future Economy is intended to do, in tandem with the Budget.

Bharati: While you correctly point out that we've actually been through similar times in the past and history is probably littered with periods like these, does the situation today feel different to you?

Indranee: The change agent will be different at different times and I think what's different about this one from the others is the role of technology. I was reading in the newspapers the other day about “Tina the Turner”. In England they make cheeses, you need people to turn the cheeses. They've now automated that. The machine is called “Tina the Turner”. It just goes around turning these cheeses at exactly the right momentum, the right timing. You don't have to have an individual do that anymore.

I was thinking about it in the context locally, more and more people are moving to online shopping. What does that mean for retailers? Retailers after a while will feel this. How do you cope with something like that? One possibility would be for our big department stores to go into online shopping as well and actually let people shop online as well and then you do delivery. If you do delivery, you then create opportunities for dispatch guys or delivery people. So, you may have technology. Technology upsets things but you may see opportunities in it. It will work for every sector but in a different way.

OPPORTUNITIES EVEN AMID GLOOM

Bharati: How to succeed in spite of the pessimism that many businesses seem to be feeling today?

Indranee: I think that's the key. People are anxious. You can’t run away from that. They are worried because they are not sure what the future holds and they can see signs that look a little gloomy. But I think the right way to approach this is basically to have the kind of mindset that okay, if change is going to come, how can I deal with it? There will be some businesses that can go on as per normal, there will be somewhere the entire business may have to go and there will be somewhere where the business stays, but you have to do the same job in a different way.

Take IT for example, employers tell us they need people in the IT sector. When you speak to the potential employees in the IT sector, they say they've been trying to get the jobs but they can’t. So there's this odd mismatch because the employers say there's demand, the employees say that they're not taking up the supply. So we asked some of the employers what the issue was here and they said there are applicants, but they don't have the right skillsets – meaning that they are familiar with operating systems from before, they can’t write the necessary code for what is needed. In other words, they don't have the current skills.

So the key to that means that you have to get them to re-skill. That is what the TechSkills Accelerator from last year’s Budget is all about. But that requires a few things. It requires the potential employee to be willing to undergo this skills retraining. It requires in this case, the Government to step in and give support. It requires the employers to be willing to take on people who are learning these skills and to teach them. It requires a shift, an adjustment but you have to do this adjustment in order to get that sector going.

Bharati: How to get the companies to invest in people? Because while the Government does provide huge subsidies and opportunities for people to learn and re-skill, companies need to play a part here and they may not be willing to.

Indranee: The very best companies, the ones that have been able to grow and retain talent, usually will find that the key factor is not just remuneration. Money is only a part of it. For the employees who stay with companies or those who say they think their employers are good ones, usually it boils down to companies that invest in people. That means they see their people not just as a resource for the company, but they see the company’s role as developing talent, growing talent and that way, you get loyalty from your employees and your employees see their future with you.

I was in the private sector before and I found that to be true. Not all your employees will stay with you all of their careers but even when they leave, they can be very good friends. But what they appreciate the most is when you take time to develop them. And it has paybacks because obviously the employees are spending more of their time thinking about how to make things better for the company. It's better all round.

Bharati: I understand that you chair a working group within the CFE looking at the legal and the accounting industries. How can those industries be the example for all other industries as well?

Indranee: Legal and accounting are specialised skills but even they are not immune from the advance of technology and the current needs of the economy. In the past, it was enough to be a good lawyer. You just had to know the law, you give the legal advice and that's it. What the clients now say is, that's not enough. They need the lawyers and accountants to help them see round the corner. What comes next in terms of regulatory frameworks, what's the current thing in the region that they should prepare for? So the challenges for the lawyers and accountants would be internationalisation and regionalisation because the local market is really not big enough to absorb all the work that they can do.

I personally think that we have very good professionals in the legal and accounting sector and they are ready to regionalise, but how to do that? Going out and marketing and leveraging on technology as well. Using technology for research. There's a lot of talk in terms of AI for legal research. This is at a very nascent stage, but our people need to be ready to deal with that when it comes. Otherwise, you will find that you're obsolete, your system is obsolete, your approach, your methodology is obsolete. You need to think about these things and you need to think how to go out there and market. So these will be some of the themes that we will be picking up in our recommendations in the legal and accounting sector.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah at Singapore Accountancy Convention 2016

Ms Indranee speaking at the Singapore Accountancy Convention on Aug 25, 2016. (Photo: Calvin Hui)

HOW HELPFUL IS GOVERNMENT HELP?

Bharati: In spite of government help, many businesses remain pessimistic.

Indranee: For some of them, the ones that I have spoken to, usually it's a result of not knowing what's available. So there’s a sense of "I need some help and I can’t get it". This really results from the lack of awareness of what’s available. The trick is really to get the help targeted in a fashion that it does the most good. And that is a very difficult thing to do from a policy perspective because policy by nature is macro. So you've got to have certain objective criterion and you've got to have objective factors that you tick off when you decide whether or not to give a grant or give a subsidy. But the reality is that each business is very different and the needs of one are very different from the other. From a policy perspective, have a one-size-fits-all, or you try to adjust it as much as you can, but businesses need some customisation.

So we need to find the right kind of formula that allows companies to tap on what's available but use it in a way that meets their own specific needs. I mean, we've experimented in various ways but this is one of those things that is a work in progress.

Bharati: You mentioned earlier that sometimes it's a case of them not knowing what's available. What's being done to simplify the processes? To help businesses know what's available and what might work for them?

Indranee: SPRING Singapore has been working quite hard on that, and they're doing a lot more engagement with businesses directly, going down to the ground and explaining to people.

On the social side, we've been doing a lot for the elderly and the People’s Association has been holding “kopitiam talks” in the community as a way of getting the message out. The Pioneer Generation Office and Pioneer Generation Ambassadors who deal with the elderly are another example of how we go to the ground and explain the various schemes available. So we've got to take a multi-faceted approach.

LETTING PEOPLE EXPERIMENT AND FAIL

Bharati: A lot of this – the ability to deal with change – is also rooted in education. You used to be Senior Minister of State for Education and at the time, you said that we tend to teach children to prepare for their careers but we don't really teach them to prepare for change and how to handle it, how to adapt to change. So what do you think needs to change in the education system in order for this happen?

Indranee: I think you've got to keep the fundamentals. You've got to know your basic academic things. But you've also got to expose children to situations which they have not encountered before and give them the space to deal with that. So that could be by way of adventure trips, organising projects.

In my own constituency, I've just recently started an Astro Club at the Pinnacle. Because Pinnacle is one of the tallest HDB buildings, I thought it would be great if we got a telescope out there to look at planets and so on. It's just that space where you're not tested on it, you're not examined on it but you are experimenting and you're learning. It's new and you do what you want with it. So it's just letting people have a sense of something new and different and they do it in their own way. You need a mindset change, you need to let people experiment. There has to be a little more space for failure, but encouraging people to pick themselves up after that.

Bharati: A lot of this, people say, the schools need to do.

Indranee: Only partly. The schools can prepare you for some of the things but parents have a big role to play. Good mentors actually have a big role to play especially when you're starting out in working life because you don't know what it's like when you’re just starting out in the job or in the industry of a particular sector. Speaking to somebody else who's been there before you, finding out the answers to your questions - that's very important. You don't need to have a formal mentor, but you definitely should, when you're not sure about something, go and ask. People don't ask enough. I think sometimes people worry that if they open up their mouths and ask a question, they might look stupid.

Bharati: Wouldn't you say the schools are responsible for that sort of thinking as well? While you say the schools play a part, shouldn't they be playing a major part considering our kids spend so much time in school and a lot of the conditioning, so to speak, is done there?

Indranee: I think it depends on the school and it also depends on the child because I've met some children who are very quiet and won't say anything, but I've met some who are really garrulous and they can't stop asking or talking even if you tried to keep them quiet. So I think family background plays a big part as well. To teachers, I would encourage them to ask their children to be curious, but if you ask MOE, they will say that that's what they do. They want to have curious children, people who are engaged learners and that's all about getting people interested and curious. But I think parents also have a big role to play in just encouraging their kids to go out, learn new things, different things.

File Photo Indranee Rajah

Ms Indranee with fellow Tanjong Pagar MPs Chan Chun Sing and Dr Chia Shi-Lu. (File photo: Lan Shushan)

Bharati: As Senior Minister of Education, you also headed the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee. In terms of getting employers to recognise people beyond their academic qualifications to look at their skills, their competencies, their interests instead which is the aim of ASPIRE – some still say that the civil service isn't setting a good enough example.

Indranee: I think each ministry is looking to see how it can do its own part. You still cannot do away completely with the fact that you do need some academic qualifications for certain types of work. We really do hope to achieve something where people are promoted based on their knowledge, their skills, their ability. There are some people whom I've met that when you look at their academic qualifications, they are so-so but when you get them on the ground, they are really very good. Some are the other way. They are not very good at all. So a lot depends on the individual, their experience, their willingness to work, the initiative that they show and work attitude. That makes a huge difference.

Bharati: But what’s being done to ensure that these things are taken into account when hiring and promoting people in the civil service?

Indranee: The Public Service Division can provide details on that too. Recruitment into the civil service is merit-based, through fair and open competition. The civil service offers a wide range of jobs with different requirements and hiring is not based solely on academic qualifications. Each candidate is assessed based on the relevance of his work experience, skills, qualifications and credentials to the requirements of the job.

For example, for positions in specialised fields such as legal and medical services, a professional degree in the relevant field of study is required. If candidates have no prior work experience, education qualifications could be used as a proxy to assess suitability. On the other hand, relevant work experience would be more important than academic qualifications when assessing mid-career candidates.

After joining the civil service, an officer’s career progression will be based on his job performance and readiness to take on larger responsibilities. To provide even more seamless career progression, they have introduced more single career schemes since the ASPIRE initiative, such as the Extended Management Executive Scheme, Education Scheme and Police Scheme. These single schemes provide equal opportunities for career advancement and development to both graduate and non-graduate officers who are assessed to have the same performance and potential.

AN ACCIDENTAL LAWYER

Bharati: Let’s talk about you. Why were you personally drawn to the law? Why did you choose to study that and make that your life?

Indranee: I'm an accidental lawyer. I actually put in my application for the Arts stream to do Political Science, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) and on the very same day I submitted my application, I went back home and we had dinner with family friends. One of them was a lawyer and he asked me what I applied for and I told him and he said: “Why did you apply for that?”

I said it was because I really didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I eliminated all the stuff I couldn't do. I was from the Arts stream so that eliminated all the Sciences, then I decided I didn't want to do architecture and then eliminated a whole series of other things and that's why I chose PPE. He said: “Have you ever considered the law?”

I said I hadn't and he said you can do pretty much most of the things that you would do with PPE but you'd have the additional option of a professional degree that allows you to go into a profession if you want. That made sense to me, only because I didn't know what I wanted to do.

So the next day, I went back to NUS, retrieved my papers. There was a big hoo-ha, got scolded for changing my mind, then had to go off to the Law faculty where I stumbled into this room with four people in it. I asked for directions and they sent me along my way. I then put in my application.

Bharati: You remember it in such detail?

Indranee: Yes, but the reason why the four people in that room is marked in my memory is because about three weeks later, all four of them appeared in the newspapers and they were the members of the winning Jessup team. It was Steven Chong, now a judge in the high court, Davinder Singh, whom I didn't know at the time but would later be my boss. VK Rajah who would be the future AG and Jimmy Yim, who would be my head of department at Drew and Napier.

So it's just funny how things turn out right? Taking a turn in that room and asking for directions. But anyway, that's how I became a lawyer.

Bharati: What would you say about the law really draws you in? While it seems to have happened accidentally, there must have been something that made you feel it was right for you.

Indranee: I think what people don't realise about the law is the very critical role it plays in society in the way that we interact with each other socially as well as in business. It’s governed by the law. Take a very simple example: You can't just go up to somebody and hit them. You might want to, you might like to, but you can’t do that and the law regulates that because it sets out the rules of engagement in society.

And when you do trial work, the trial process is very interesting because it is designed to elicit the truth and when you're acting as counsel, you're advocating one side while the counsel from the other side is advocating the other side's case, but anybody sitting in the courtroom and especially the judge, when you hear the different sides of the story, you can see a picture starting to emerge from what each side is saying and most times, hopefully, all of the time, you make the right decision or the just decision.

So it's about justice, it's about ordering society, it's about regulating the way people deal with each other and it sets the whole tone of society. In countries which don't have law and order, you see what happens in those areas. So the law plays an invisible hand behind everything. It plays a very important role.

ng bin hong

Ms Indranee with Mr Ng Bin Hong, recipient of the inaugural NUS Pro Bono Champion Award. (Photo: @indraneerajah/Twitter)

THE RIGHT TIME FOR POLITICS

Bharati: You left the law to become a full-time political office-holder after the 2011 General Election. You acknowledged that it was not an easy time to be a politician then.

Indranee: 2011 was a watershed year. It was a time when social media really entered the political scene big-time and I think the government and the PAP had not learnt how to deal with that as well as it could have. It was still relatively new but it was also about issues which had not been addressed which were keenly felt on the ground. Medical costs was one. Housing was another. Education opportunities were also very much on people's minds. So those were real issues. Transportation too. It was a challenging time because in the past, before then, we did have challenging issues, but we didn't have that whole social media effect of people shouting at you all at the same time.

And I thought that in that sort of environment, if asked as I was by PM, whether I would join the Government, I thought that if there's any time to do it, it must be now. Because when things are smooth sailing, you can join, make a contribution but your contribution will be in an environment where everything is chugging along nicely. But in an environment where things are challenging and tough, presumably if you are asked, it's because there's something you can do.

Bharati: Didn't you feel any apprehension about dealing with those challenges?

Indranee: No, I've got this thing about challenges. I just like doing them.

Bharati: What do you like about it?

Indranee: It's because there's a problem to be solved. There's something to be fixed. There's something to be done. And if you can do it, there's a positive outcome with a benefit which helps somebody or people at-large and I think that is what's satisfying for me.


Bharati: How would you say your experience as a lawyer actually informs the way you look at policy and policy challenges?

Indranee: Actually, in two very different ways. One as a lawyer, you're always analysing, you're trying to fit something within a rule. You're trying to see how you can do it in the correct and proper way. So that's very important. Making sure that when you do something, you do it lawfully and correctly. But policy is more amorphous than law. Policy is really about setting a new benchmark whereas being a lawyer is how you fit within the existing benchmark. So it’s been a learning process for me coming into the Government. The other learning process for me is in law, you're used to analysing down to the smallest detail – especially if you're doing trial work, because details are very important.

But when you are doing policy, you're actually doing macro. You're trying to move an entire country as opposed to drilling down to one specific case. So it's like looking at two different ends of the telescope. So it stretches me and I'm learning in this job as well. There's no SkillsFuture for ministers by the way. You just have to learn on the job. But the good thing is that other ministers, the more experienced ones, have always been willing to share and we've got an excellent civil service who does the staff work and that's really very helpful. You look at policy with a private sector eye as well. While something makes a lot of sense as a matter of policy on the ground, this may not work because this is how businessmen feel or this is how my client would have thought about it and that whole interactive process is useful.

ARE POLITICIANS OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE?

Bharati: A lot of people on the ground – and I'm sure you've heard this before – have said that politicians are out of touch. What do you have to say to them?

Indranee: I would say that if you think that the Government is not getting it on a particular point or policy, speak up and let us know. Because a lot of what we do is really about trying to address needs and you cannot address needs if you don't know what the needs are and you don't know what the concerns are. So you will see for example, when we do the CFE work, there is so much engagement on that. We've been talking to the businesses, employers, employees, people in the sector and all of this is with the view to finding out what is the real issue, what are the gaps that need to be plugged. We've been doing that quite consistently. But if there's anything people feel that we've missed, by all means, bring it up.

Bharati: While public consultations may be done on major issues, let’s face it – you can’t implement everyone’s suggestions and people may have to come to terms with that. But sometimes, it's a matter of simple things like you don't take public transport so you don't know what it's like for the ordinary man to be on public transport during peak hours and breakdowns. Ultimately it is these little things that make people feel that politicians really don't know what's going on, or an offhand comment by a particular office-holder or MP.

Indranee: People will know whether or not you're in touch depending on what you say and how you interact with them, so that's one. But secondly, for example, I go to wet markets to do my marketing. I go to the supermarket and do my marketing there as well. I do the same day-to-day stuff that other people do.

Bharati: Do you get recognised in the markets?

Indranee: Yes, sometimes. And people might say: "Oh, you come here as well?" Then they'll look around and ask where my bodyguards are and I have to tell them I don't have one. I have to carry my own bags. But ultimately, people can sense, I think, whether or not we know what the issues are. It's very important for all politicians to make that effort irrespective of what background you come from because if you're representing people you must really know what their needs and concerns are. So if anyone were to ask me, I would say that I make a conscientious effort to find out, to fill the gaps that I don't know but my lifestyle is pretty much the same as most people. I drive, that's true, but from time to time I take public transport also.

Bharati: During peak hours?

Indranee: I did, yeah when my car was in the workshop.

Bharati: Politics is about endearing yourself to the people but it's also about understanding them. Some politicians might do it as a “wayang” to send out the message: I'll show you I can be like you. But it has got to go beyond that, doesn’t it?

Indranee: You don't want to be doing things just for the sake of being seen to be doing them. So it's either got to be a real part of your day-to-day life or it is not. Different people have different lifestyles but the key is that if you're representing somebody or a constituency, are you working for their benefit? Are you working or doing what's best for them? I think that is the litmus test.

Indranee Rajah2

Ms Indranee at a Parliament session in 2016.

Bharati: What are your personal challenges in dealing with voter expectations?

Indranee: It's how you deal with it. When somebody comes to you saying: “I want this linkway. I want this bus service. I want this or I want that”, there are two ways you can view it. You can see this as demanding and therefore feel annoyed about it or you can actually take it as useful feedback and information that helps you make this a better place.

I've told this to my council officers as well as my grassroots leaders. When somebody is telling you something, don't think of it as a complaint. It may be framed that way, but don't think of it that way. Understand what is at the source of this. Is this thing a source of annoyance for somebody? For example, feedback about a place not being barrier-free - is it because they have an elderly parent or a disabled person in their family? And if they do, you can understand the frustration. That frustration spills out in the form of an angry complaint but fundamentally, is it a legitimate concern? If the answer is “yes”, then we must deal with it. And if you deal with it, it makes the place better not just for the family but for everybody else. And when you do that, after a while you find that if you do it correctly, people start to see their feedback as a contribution to making this a better place.

I've tried to inculcate that kind of mindset with some success so that way, at least the town council officers don't feel that they're forever having to fend off brickbats, but they're seeing this as a useful source of information for improvement.

DEALING WITH MISINFORMATION AND PUBLIC SCRUTINY

Bharati: What stands out for you in the last few years of your career as a politician, as negative?

Indranee: I would say something that is currently in the news. It's now called “fake news”, but in 2011, that wasn't the tag that was applied to it. In the last five years, we've seen a lot more fake news than you've had in previous years with social media. So that is negative, in the sense that when you have something untrue out there, and especially when you take into account what TRS was doing for example, it generated a lot of anger and comments, and people get angry actually for no reason because the news was untrue.

And then there are some which are borderline – where it's not exactly untrue, but there is a certain spin put into it. I would say though that things have improved because people have, in the last five years, become a lot more discerning. I think people tend to check but there's still that knee-jerk reaction. So I think that is one of the things that society is going to have to figure out how to deal with. You can correct it, but very few people actually listen to the correction and the damage is already done. You've got to be quite on-the-ball with that.

Bharati: The Prime Minister has mentioned before that it's challenging to get young people into politics. One of the reasons he has said they give him is that the public scrutiny can get overwhelming. How do you process it?

Indranee: The way to deal with it is to conduct yourself in public as you are prepared to have the public see you and whatever you do should be something which you can be satisfied can be held up to scrutiny. Singapore is actually much better than many other places because people are quite nice. They might recognise you but nobody hassles you. They might say: "Oh, you look familiar!"

I did have one person who came up to me at the market said: “You look very familiar. Were you on Who Wants to be a Millionaire”? I said: “No, that wasn't me.”

So not everybody knows exactly who you are. But generally, people in Singapore do give you your space and they're quite nice about it. They may come up and say "I have this piece of feedback" and give you an earful about something they're not happy with, but there's this general sense that Singapore is our home, our place and if you're a politician in Singapore, they will give you that feedback in the hope that you will address it or do something about it. And that is both a privilege and a responsibility and you've got to respect that.

CONSTRUCTIVE OR DESTRUCTIVE POLITICS?

Bharati: A few years ago, you locked horns with the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang on the subject of constructive politics. How constructive would you say politics has been in the last few years?

Indranee: I think that our Parliament is still a lot more civil than many other Parliaments. I do think though that some of the arguments put forward by the opposition can be better thought-through and sometimes, the way it has come across is "it's not good enough, do more", without putting forward an alternative or a viable alternative.

Bharati: Based on some of the feedback we've been seeing online and I'm sure you've noticed it as well, it feels as if even when the opposition puts alternatives forward, the PAP deliberately gives the opposition a hard time. Would you say this is par for the course or can more be done in terms of hearing out the opposition?

Indranee: Actually, in what way have we been giving them a hard time? It’s usually the Government that's on the receiving end of: "How come you haven't done this? Why don't you do more?”

Bharati: But it seems as if the opposition in particular is questioned to no end and they’re also outnumbered.

Indranee: However, that is the same standard to which we are held, and if somebody puts up something, I think we are duty-bound to scrutinise it as well because if you think about it, at the end of the day, if you're saying that this is a policy, imagine if it were to be implemented. It affects people and it affects their lives. It should be questioned and subject to scrutiny, just in the same way government policy is. I think that there is room for the opposition in our Parliament to do a bit more in terms of: If you don't like this suggestion, put forward what you think is a viable alternative so that it can be scrutinised.

Bharati: You talked about how our Parliament is relatively civil. But sometimes, it is through a little bit of chaos and disagreement that the best solutions come about, don’t they?

Indranee: There's a distinction between disagreement and incivility. You can disagree and still be perfectly civil about it. But I think when one descends into name-calling, when there's abuse, physical violence – which thankfully we don't have in our Parliament – it affects the tone of one of the highest offices in your land. And it affects the tone of your society as well because people must remember, if you are a Member of Parliament conducting business in Parliament, people watch you. And how you conduct yourself says something about you. It says something about your party and it also says something about your country. Does this advance our cause as a nation? Is this something that is beneficial? If the answer to those questions is “no”, then clearly that Parliament is not doing what Parliaments are supposed to do.

Video: Indranee Rajah "On The Record"

Bharati: I’m asking more about the issue of disagreement though. In some quarters, there is a perception that the PAP, as the ruling party, doesn't seem willing to allow for some dissension, some disagreement. What do you have to say to people who feel that way?

Indranee: I would say that that's not correct because if you've watched Parliament proceedings, you would see that there's plenty of disagreement even among the PAP MPs. They have not hesitated to say so if they don't agree with government policy.

Bharati: Over the years, have you ever had to go along with a policy that up until today, you disagree with?

Indranee: So far, I haven't been put in that position. We've also got the party whip and just as they do in the Westminster model, you would have to vote along party lines unless the whip is lifted. But so far I don't think I've found myself in that position.

Bharati: What or who has shaped your political thinking the most?

Indranee: That would obviously be Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Even growing up in school, he was a very large figure in people's lives especially back in the 70s. Every other day in the newspapers, there would be something about what he said or what he did. You don't realise it at the time but looking back, this whole idea about being multi-racial, about Singapore being a country where we work together, that sense of consensus. All of this actually comes from Mr Lee and his cohort and I think it's become part and parcel of the Singapore identity. I would say that it's really Mr Lee and the early group of pioneers.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew. File photo: TODAY (1)

Ms Indranee with Mr Lee Kuan Yew (centre) and Mr Chan Chun Sing (left). (File photo: TODAY)

Source: CNA/cy

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