SDP’s Tan vs SM Goh: War of words heats up

SDP candidate Tan Jee Say reveals why he resigned from the civil service. (Yahoo! photo/ Faris Mokhtar)SDP candidate Tan Jee Say reveals why he resigned from the civil service. (Yahoo! photo/ Faris Mokhtar)Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Holland-Bukit Timah GRC candidate Tan Jee Say says he was "surprised" by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's remarks that he was not capable of being a Permanent Secretary.

Speaking to an estimated 7,000-strong crowd at the SDP rally on Sunday evening at Clementi, Tan responded to SM Goh's comments, revealing why he resigned from the civil service.

"I want to respond to remarks by a few ministers. In the past few days I've been the target of a lot of criticisms and I think it's only fair that I tell you what my position is."

"I am surprised that he (SM Goh) made such a remark because he had earlier said he would not comment on candidates outside Marine Parade GRC," said Tan.

Tan shared that he had wanted to resign from the civil service after his scholarship bond ended in 1984 but was asked by SM Goh, who was then Deputy Prime Minister, to be his principal private secretary.

He added that his appointment was to assist in the leadership transition from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who was the Prime Minister, to the second generation of leaders.

"I told him I had no intention of staying in the civil service; he said he needed me for only 3 to 5 years, after which I could leave the civil service if I still wanted to do so."

"At the end of five years, I again expressed my desire to leave the service. He replied that since this was the second time I told him I wanted to leave, he would not hold me back but would give me his blessings to leave the civil service," said the 57-year-old investment adviser.

SM Goh had earlier said at a People's Action Party rally for Marine Parade GRC on Saturday  that although Tan was "hardworking", he did not think that he "could make it" as a Permanent Secretary.

As a result, Tan resigned from the public service and entered the private sector to advance his career.

But Tan replied, "It was not my mission in life to be a permanent secretary. I wanted to be a more complete person with life experiences in both the public and private sectors."

Tan expressed his disappointment at his former boss' comments.

"I have given five of my best years in my career life to Mr Goh. He asked me to be his PPS, I did not ask for the job. I do not expect such comments from him after five years of loyal service," he said.

Tan and his fellow SDP teammates were speaking to a estimated crowd of 7000 people. (Yahoo! photo/ Aeron) Tan and his fellow SDP teammates were speaking to a estimated crowd of 7000 people. (Yahoo! photo/ Aeron)

Tan also responded to MM Lee's comments on his proposal to transform the economy, where he suggested that Singapore should divert from the manufacturing sector and progress towards the services sector.

Said MM Lee on Sunday, "He has no qualifications to say that and he is wrong. If you don't have manufacturing, you're going to have trouble with jobs."

In his response, Tan said he was qualified to propose alternative economic proposals, highlighting his educational background and policy-making experiences in the administrative service as supporting testimonials.

"I am surprised; I studied economics at Oxford University and for six years, I worked in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) where I headed economic and manpower planning.

"So I have knowledge of both economic theory and development economics. In addition, my proposals have been endorsed by Lord Butler who served three British Prime Ministers."

Lord Robin Butler was a Cabinet Secretary to three British Prime Ministers - Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair.

On MM Lee's statements that the manufacturing sector is "more steady" than the services sector, Tan argued that an economic study has proven otherwise.

He was referring to a study by three economists from MTI which was published in the Economic Survey of Singapore in 2009, titled "Is Smoother Always Better? Understanding Singapore's Volatility Growth-Relationship".

Tan explained that the study — conducted over a 30-year period from 1978 to 2008 — concluded that the services sector as a whole has a relatively low volatility. And that a large part of the increased in volatility in Singapore has stemmed from the manufacturing sector.

"It is these conclusions and the experiences of other countries that led me to propose that Singapore be developed as an integrated services hub for the region."

At the rally on Sunday evening, a total of 10 SDP candidates delivered their speeches, focusing on the rising costs of living where they spoke out against the lack of government assistance to help Singaporeans cope with the issue.

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