In an interview with Channel News Asia on Sunday (13 May), former Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said that the government is trying their “very best” to grow the economy. He also acknowledged that they are aware about concerns over the cost of living and that residents know that the government “is trying [their] very best”.
When asked by the reporter if Ministers were out of touch with the ground, Yaacob responded that that was not a fair question. He felt that the “ministers are plugged in” and asked the reporter to verify that “almost every weekend, all of us are down on the ground”.
The report then further illustrated this by highlighting the problems with the public transport system when Ministers do not take the train themselves. Yaacob responded that it “was not the yardstick that you should use”. He said that he had previously taken public transport but has switched to a car as it was a necessity.
"Now, because of the nature of my job I have to move from place-to-place, so I have to take the car. I think the measure by which we must judge is how well can you relate to the minister and how well the minister can relate to his constituents," he said.
He said that society needed to “look at the totality of things” rather than an oversimplification of whether they take the bus or not as that was too “minutiae” a criteria to be used. He then felt that “Ministers are concerned when there is a big problem and that [they] need to tackle that problem.”
Many examples of PAP politicians being out-of-touch with the ground
Despite what Yaacob has said, one does not need to think hard to realise that PAP Ministers and MPs have made comments which show a complete lack of understanding of what is happening on the ground.
For example, amidst soaring COE prices in 2013, the then candidate for Punggol East by-election Koh Poh Koon gave a media interview saying that "everybody has a car, we have two... We are professionals, we need to travel". His insensitive comment was met with public criticism as it suggested he could not understand the woes of public transport commuters and appeared detached from the average Singaporean.
He later claimed that he was misquoted, "It's not logical, even an idiot wouldn't say that. So it was partly my fault." He meant to say that, as doctors, he and his wife are "medical professionals" who need their cars to attend to emergencies. But that does not explain his first sentence saying that everybody has a car.
Then in 2011, with the debate on Ministerial salary raging, MP Lim Wee Kiat told Zaobao, “If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals, hence a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity.”
Under fire from the public for his outrageous statement, he later apologised on his Facebook page, "I withdraw those remarks and apologise for making them. Dignity cannot be and must not be measured purely in monetary terms."
In 2016, Chairman of the National Population and Talent division Josephine Teo said that one needed “a very small space to have sex” in response to Singapore’s low birth-rate. Netizens later lambasted the Minister, saying that she did not understand the costs of raising a child and that they did not want to raise a child with the uncertainty if they have yet to get their BTO flat.
Clearly, the comments from these other PAP politicians seem to suggest that these politicians may not be as "plugged in" or as "down on the ground" as what Yaacob has claimed.
Singaporeans are more positive about PAP today
Nevertheless, when asked about what his sense of the ground today, Yaacob replied, “I think more positive compared to 2011. I think people understand where we are coming from. At the end of the day, we can alleviate some of the transport woes. I think all the ministers including current Transport Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan showed that they are working very hard to try and solve the problem."
“I think the concerns now are about the whole economy. People are worried about jobs. The Government is trying its very best to grow the economy. There are some concerns about cost of living but I think generally, they know that we are trying our very best,” he added.
Quoting the late Lee Kuan Yew, Yaacob also said, “I’ve always believed one of the lessons I’ve learnt from Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He said that what you want is to be able to shake hands with the person and have the person look into your eyes and say, 'I trust this chap to look after my affairs'. I think that’s what’s important.”