In early February, Grab announced that Tin Pei Ling, a member of parliament (MP) with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), had joined it as director of public affairs and policy (likely in December, two months prior).
Two issues have emerged from this episode: conflicts of interest (COI), and whether or not an MP has the capacity to hold a second job. This week’s Jom essay, “Should MPs hold second jobs?”, by Chirag Agarwal, a former civil servant, examines the latter. In this newsletter, I’ll talk a bit about the former.
Singaporeans have long been desensitised to COI, partly due to the fact that Lee Kuan Yew never seemed too bothered by them. Who runs Singapore? The father, the son and the Ho Ching, went one joke.
Lee had Darwinian beliefs about talent allied with a narrow view of merit. In April 1971, he said that Singapore’s success rested on the shoulders of just 300 people. “If all the 300 were to crash in one jumbo jet, then Singapore will disintegrate.” In 2015, Lee Hsien Loong, his son and current prime minister, spoke about the importance of a “natural aristocracy” (echoing, perhaps, the views of Thomas Jefferson, the US’s third president, in the early 1800s).
With only a few good people around, so it goes, each has to wear multiple hats, and so COI is inevitable. In many ways, then, one can hardly blame Grab and Tin for thinking that it’s business as usual. There was a nonchalance about the way they and the PAP went about the appointment. The PAP’s final press statement on the issue was so absurd that even party loyalists had trouble digesting it. (See timeline below).
Proponents of the Singapore model argue that cronyism and nepotism have never been problems here like they are elsewhere. Even if true in the past, recent events, like the fiasco over Keppel’s corruption scandal in Brazil, have made Singaporeans wonder if COI needs much closer scrutiny. (Keppel’s chairman from 2009-2021 was a former minister and chum of the Lees.)
The really encouraging thing, then, to come out of the Grab/Tin saga, is that the resultant outcry forced the firm to shift her into a different, corporate development role. Cute window dressing, cynics might say. Still, it was another sign to me that different segments of society, including the mainstream and alternative media, are going to be asking much harder questions of the governing elite.
Read Chirag’s piece to understand exactly what the role of an MP is about. Meanwhile, in Singapore This Week, we talk about how Singapore has decided to call itself a “developing country” for climate purposes, the proposed nomination of the Padang and surrounds as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Michelle Yeoh’s famous relatives in Singapore, and much else.
A timeline of Tin Pei Ling and Grab
The ruling PAP approves the application by its Tin to join Grab as director of public affairs and policy.
Source: PAP press release, Feb 10th 2023
Tin starts work at Grab (most likely this month).
Source: Tin left her previous job on Dec 2nd 2022. Tin and Grab declined to inform Jom of her exact start date. “Tin Pei Ling joins Grab Singapore as director of public affairs and policy”, The Straits Times (ST), Feb 1st 2023.
February 1st 2023
Tin attends a Grab Chinese New Year lunch alongside Amy Khor, senior minister of state for transport. Only after Khor reveals Tin’s new role, does Grab feel compelled to issue a public statement, writes Christopher Tan, ST’s transport correspondent, in “Grab should get a grip on optics.”
Source: “Grab should get a grip on optics”, The Straits Times, Feb 13th 2023.
February 10th 2023
Following a public outcry, Grab shifts Tin to a corporate development role. The PAP says that it had only just become “clear to the Party that she would be expected to engage regularly with Government ministries and agencies on public policy issues on behalf of Grab.”
The PAP has only just understood the job scope of a “director of public affairs and policy”? Ok lor.
Source: “MP Tin Pei Ling moves to new role at Grab after conflict of interest concerns over public affairs post”, The Straits Times, Feb 10th 2023.
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