And then, they said... Singapore's quotes of the year 2018

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s comments on ministerial elicited a lot of strong reactions. (File photo: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

By Theresa Ellsworth

Singapore’s political scene was lively in 2018, with discussion and debate on topics ranging from leadership succession and ministerial salaries to hawker treatment and rights. Yahoo News Singapore looks at some of the more memorable quotes of the year.

1. “First, we have to fight an election. We have to win the election and after that, if all goes according to plan, well, the succession happens within the PAP, there are no surprises.”
— Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Amid keen interest over leadership succession in the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in December that he would lead the party in the next general election, although the fourth-generation (4G) leaders will “very much be in the thick of things”. In November, the PAP announced Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat as the party’s first assistant secretary-general. Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Foo Chi Hsia said in a letter to The Economist on 18 December that Heng will be the country’s next PM if the PAP were to win the next general election. Singapore’s next GE must be held by 15 January 2021, though rumours are awash that it will happen much sooner.

2. “Where do you want to get your ministers from? From people who earn only $500,000 a year, whose capacity is $500,000 a year? So (when) I look for Ministers, anybody who wants to be paid more than half a million, I won’t take him. You are going to end up with very very mediocre people, who can’t even earn a million dollars outside to be our minister. Think about that. Is it good for you, or is it worse for us in the end?”
— Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong

Social media lit up in response to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s comment during a dialogue with South-East District residents in August that Singapore’s ministers – already among the highest paid in the world – were not paid enough. He added that the proposal to cut ministerial salaries from current levels of some $1 million to fund pensions for elderly people would see civil servants earning more than ministers, and dissuade high-calibre candidates from coming forward to serve the country.

3. “While we have designed CareShield Life to be inclusive, it is equally important for the scheme to be equitable and sustainable. To that end, premiums must be actuarially sound.”
— Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor

The announcement of gender-differentiated premiums for Careshield Life – an enhanced version of national disability scheme ElderShield – sparked vigorous debate both in and outside Parliament, even prompting an online petition. Writing on Facebook, former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng said, “because this is a national insurance scheme, everyone should pay the same”. In response, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor pointed to how women live longer and are likely to spend more years in severe disability.

4. “Getting a good picture everybody? So we look nice and handsome and thin and perfect?”
— US President Donald Trump

In what appears to have been a misplaced fat joke, US President Donald Trump’s request to photographers at a working lunch with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dropped like a lead balloon. The lunch was the final session of a historic summit between the two countries held in Singapore in June. Kim looked suitably unimpressed, and the video went viral, prompting no shortage of reactions. Watch the North Korean’s reaction here.

5. “In fact, especially when you talk to the young, it appears to me that it is becoming very fashionable not to drive so much, maybe not even to own a car, and to take public transport more… even to walk and to cycle.”
— Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Sitoh Yih Pin

The retorts came fast and furious when Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Sitoh Yih Pin said in September that it was “fashionable” for Singaporeans to not own or drive a car, and that they were eschewing four wheels to embrace the WCR – Walk, Cycle and Ride – way of life. Some pointed to sky-high COEs, Singapore’s public transport system, and car ownership among ministers, and said “unaffordable” might have been a better word.

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