I still feel completely inadequate: DPM Teo

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke candidly and openly about his experiences with discussion participants. (Yahoo! photo/Jeanette Tan)
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke candidly and openly about his experiences with discussion participants. (Yahoo! photo/Jeanette Tan)

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean says that he was never ready to enter politics, and till today still feels "completely inadequate".

DPM Teo was speaking to a group of about 250 young Singaporeans aged between 17 and 25 at a forum Saturday morning, organised by local and overseas Singaporean university students.

He was responding to Actuarial Science student Kenneth Zhang from the London School of Economics (LSE), who asked for his take on when one would know if he is ready to enter politics.

He said, "The answer is 'Never.' And even today, I feel completely inadequate... it's not easy; you could ask me anything! And if I don't answer, you'll say, 'this guy, how can he be a minister? He can't even answer my question!'"

"So I feel totally inadequate still," he continued. "And nothing prepares you for the work and the job. And if I were to believe social media, nobody in government is adequate at all... we're just all completely inadequate," he added.

DPM Teo shared that he had not considered entering politics on his own accord, although it seemed to him that politics combined his three aspirations -- to heal people, to grow them and to build a future.

"Politics, in a strange sort of way, allows you to do all that," he said. "I don't think I ever thought of going into politics on my own. When did I feel ready? I don't even feel ready or adequate today, and that's the truth."

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean leans forward in his chair as he engages students in the audience. (Photo courtesy: Singaporeans in Conversation)
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean leans forward in his chair as he engages students in the audience. (Photo courtesy: Singaporeans in Conversation)

This was among a wide range of topics discussed at the forum, themed "Your Next Move: Youth, Politics and the Future" -- the second of an annual event organised by 'Singaporeans in Conversation', or SGin(C) for short.

The inaugural event last year saw former Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan fielding questions from about 150 tertiary students.

Another student asked DPM Teo if he could ever envision a Singapore not governed by the ruling People's Action Party, and he responded with the affirmative.

"Yes, I can. If the PAP does a lousy job, if somebody else can come up and do a better job, yes I can. Why not?" he asked.

He noted, however, that a transition to an opposition party government would not be smooth, because of the structure of politics that Singapore has.

Citing examples of Australia and Britain, countries that practice coalition government systems, he said that such frequent government "swaps" are not conducive for the implementation of long-term policies lasting between 15 and 20 years.

"So my answer is yes, I do see a possibility that the PAP may not stay in power all the time. Do I see a smooth transition to a system which is better or more glorious? No. I think it'll be very difficult if one comes, and I'm not sure what the outcome will be, and I'm not convinced it will be a better one," he said.

When asked about the lack of opposition Members of Parliament representation in government parliamentary committees (GPCs), DPM Teo said this would not be feasible, asserting that looking at it realistically, opposition parties do not aim to help the government formulate better policies -- instead, they seek to advance their own agenda.

"I'll be surprised if they don't have that objective," he said. "And if that were the case, it will be odd to formulate policies together as it is not the starting position of the opposition parties."

Students continuously engaged DPM Teo in a continuous stream of questions and comments. (Yahoo! photo/Jeanette Tan)
Students continuously engaged DPM Teo in a continuous stream of questions and comments. (Yahoo! photo/Jeanette Tan)

A vibrant discussion on foreign talent also took place at the forum, and DPM Teo highlighted some of the main issues that the government faced with regard to them -- an ageing population, the threat of overcrowding, pressures faced by employers who were facing severe manpower shortages for jobs that Singaporeans did not want, and filling jobs in new industries.

He also named some of the measures taken to handle these issues, including short-term work permits and population outflows, as well as the government's efforts to increase capacity by way of housing and infrastructure.

Participants at the forum ranged from junior college and polytechnic to university level, and students who spoke to Yahoo! Singapore were generally happy with the issues discussed.

"I liked that we got to speak to the minister directly," said 21-year-old Toh Chen Yang, who will be starting a course in chemical engineering at NUS this year. "As someone on the ground, I believe it was quite valuable from us, as it felt like we were getting more advice from him (in his personal capacity) instead of him speaking on behalf of the government," he added.

Second-year Anderson Junior College student Tan Ren Jun, 18, said he learned a lot about issues pertinent to Singaporeans, being slightly less aware previously.

"It's a starting point, giving me an awareness; a head-start on the things I didn't know," he said.

However, some students from overseas universities had mixed opinions on the effectiveness of the discussion.

20-year-old Dong Hanzhi, who is studying accountancy and finance at the University of Manchester, was part of the organising committee for the session with Dr Balakrishnan last year. She said that the debate was more vibrant then, because the minister was more keen to engage the youth on wide ranges of issues.

"With DPM Teo, it was more like an information session, where he was educating, informing and correcting misconceptions we had with regard to politics," she said. "It was good, though, that most of us came away learning something from it."

Daryl Chia and Yao Wen Yang, both starting their second years at the University of Warwick, felt that the session was "a bit too much like coffeeshop talk", and lacked statistics and figures that they believe would be more substantial.

"It was quite unstructured; they threw out random questions... it was not very constructive," said Yao. "I would have preferred that they defined the theme more clearly; they spent a lot of time talking about foreign talent, but that isn't completely related to the theme of today."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting