SINGAPORE: A soldier, a sportsman and an advocate for social causes ranging from children to the elderly and the workers in Singapore - Mr Tan Chuan-Jin has at some point in his life straddled one or more of these vocations.
And on Tuesday (Sep 5), it appears that another season of change is coming for the current Minister for Social and Family Development.
Mr Tan has been identified by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the person to replace Madam Halimah Yacob as Speaker of Parliament, after she resigned to contest the upcoming Presidential Election.
He will resign from his ministerial post in order to be nominated as Speaker when Parliament sits on Sep 11, and it will be put to a vote in the House.
The 48-year-old should be familiar with change by now, as it could be his third major change in portfolio.
AS A SOLDIER
Before he stood for election in 2011, Mr Tan had been in the service for more than two decades and rose to the ranks of Brigadier-General. One of his notable contributions during his stint was in leading the SAF’s relief efforts in Meulaboh, Indonesia, following the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The natural disaster, one of the deadliest ever recorded, had claimed more than 230,000 lives in 14 countries, with Indonesia the worst hit.
As SAF Humanitarian Assistance Task Force Commander, the then-Colonel had helped the devastated community get back on its feet by leading the humanitarian efforts there. It remains the SAF’s largest military operation to date.
He said in a January 2005 Cyberpioneer article: “I've learnt about the courage and commitment of the TNI in leading and organising its people effectively. Their selfless sacrifices and non-stop efforts despite personal loss and tragedy make them heroes in our eyes.
"I've also learnt the meaning of friendship, brotherhood and solidarity by the bonds of friendship forged with the people of Meulaboh."
AS A SOCIAL ADVOCATE
It was in 2011 that he swapped the army life for life in politics, standing for election as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate in the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC), led by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. He won and became an MP on May 7.
It wasn’t long before the 48-year-old was tapped to take on a ministerial portfolio; he was appointed Minister of State for Manpower and National Development the next month, and was to become Acting Manpower Minister on Aug 1, 2012.
It was two more years before Mr Tan was made full Manpower Minister, and during his stint in this ministry, introduced the Silver Support scheme which provides additional support for elderly Singaporeans who had low incomes through their lives and have little or no family support. Older workers’ CPF contribution rates were also increased and the ministry worked with tripartite partners to review the re-employment age.
He also introduced the Fair Consideration Framework to ensure a level employment playing field for Singaporeans, with related legislation and dispute management system improved to reinforce fair and progressive workplace practices.
A year after becoming the Manpower Minister, Mr Tan took up the reins as Minister for Social and Family Development on Apr 9, 2015.
Here, he continued to advocate social causes and launched initiatives such as KidSTART, which aims to support low income and vulnerable children to enable them to have a good start in life. In fact, at this year’s National Day Rally, PM Lee said the programme will likely be expanded as the early feedback on the 400 families currently on KidSTART has been promising.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Mr Lee highlighted Mr Tan’s contributions to the ministry, saying he has “taken a deep interest in social issues, and in helping the needy and disadvantaged”.
The Prime Minister added that programmes such as KidStart and SG Cares, which encourages Singaporeans to give back to society, will “deepen our social capital and help build a more gracious, compassionate and cohesive society”.
As a father-of-two, Mr Tan has been a big advocate in encouraging fathers to play a more proactive role in parenting their children. In 2016, speaking at the inaugural Dad’s Day Out carnival, the minister called on fathers to make time for their families and not just spend leftover time with them.
“Often we say that they are the first priority in our lives, but do we really place them first? The key thing is to work our schedules around them where we can. I know it’s not always possible, but if you try hard enough you’ll be surprised – there’s a lot we can do,” he said then.
He also championed the use of the two-weeks paternity leave, as he highlighted the desire for fathers to be present in their children’s lives.
AS A SPORTSMAN
In addition to his contributions as a politician, Mr Tan is also currently serving as the president of the Singapore National Olympic Council.
At the recently concluded SEA Games 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, the minister was seen at various events such as shooting, synchronised swimming and gymnastics cheering the athletes on.
In a poignant post on Facebook, recapping the sporting event, Mr Tan highlighted the sacrifices and challenges the Singaporean athletes faced - and overcame - to make it the country’s best away showing at the SEA Games.
He wrote: “The 15 Games records, 13 national records and 29 personal bests at the 29th SEA Games may or may not have come with medals. But it really means something special.
“It takes a nation to cheer on our athletes. When our athletes compete, they are our gladiators. Their performances and stories fill us with pride not just when they win, but also when we see how they fought.”
“TEMPERAMENT AND PERSONALITY” FOR SPEAKER ROLE: PM
The Prime Minister said it was a “very difficult decision” to nominate Mr Tan as the next Speaker of Parliament, but said he has the “temperament and personality” for the role. “Since entering politics, he has built up good links with a diverse range of NGOs, VWOs and interest groups,” he wrote.
He added that Mr Tan remains an important member of his team, though in a different role.
“I have asked him to maintain his interest in environmental and social issues, and his concern for the needy and disadvantaged,” Mr Lee wrote, adding that Mr Tan will continue advising the Ministry of National Development on these issues and to oversee SG Cares after he becomes Speaker. He will also be appointed advisor to the National Council of Social Service, he said.
On his end, Mr Tan said he was “glad” to accept the nomination and hoped for support from his parliamentary colleagues.
“Good ideas can come from both sides of the House, as does good intent. In fact they abound throughout the length and breadth of our society,” he wrote on Facebook, following the announcement. “Our duty must be to harness these for the common good – so as to put them to the service of fellow Singaporeans, and to build a better society.
“I look forward to doing this as effectively as I can.”