10 sayings by ex-top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow that lays the smack down on everyone
You thought only Lee Kuan Yew could provide you with quotable quotes? Try Ngiam Tong Dow.
Calling the former top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow “outspoken” is like saying a nuclear holocaust is “regrettable”.
Because that would be an understatement.
You might have to hear it to believe it. But the quotes this man gives makes him a living legend.
Ngiam has served as Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office under Lee Kuan Yew, as well as in various other ministries. He has earned his reputation as a no-nonsense kind of guy. Someone with clout. Someone who can speak his mind without fear or favour.
At 73, he could be trimming bonsai, shooting the breeze and smoking a pipe.
But no, he is still out laying the smack down on everyone.
So, here are 10 Ngiam Tong Dow sayings from his recent wide-ranging interview in the September edition of the Singapore Medical Association newsletter that will make him go down in history for giving it like a manly man.
1. “I think a lot of these pseudo-economists and pseudo-politicians say Singaporeans should be employed first, but are Singaporeans fit or willing to do some of these job?”
Ngiam shows what he thinks of today’s naysayers who regard foreigners as stealing Singaporeans’ jobs.
2. “My favourite topic — I’m on public record — is Formula 1 (F1). We’re paying the Englishmen to stage the F1 night race here. Why should we use taxpayers’ money to pay for these races? I have asked this question publicly, but the MOF has never addressed it.”
Ngiam thinks the Ministry of Finance is dodgy.
3. “I was born in a generation where every cent counts, so I believe we should spend our money wisely, and not on frivolities. Sometimes, I think our present Cabinet spends money on frivolities, and staging the F1 is my “favourite” example.”
Ngiam tells the present Cabinet ministers to shove it with their frivolities.
4. “A Hong Kong delegation asked me what I consider frivolities. In Hong Kong, they have fireworks displays every year. One of the delegates asked me whether I thought it was a waste of public money. If everyone in Hong Kong can see the fireworks, then there is no waste; if only a restricted number of people can see it, then the money spent is wasted.”
Ngiam tells why a public good paid for by taxpayers should be non-rivalrous.
5. “For example, one of my favourite topics to show the stark difference in priorities during my younger days and today is work-life balance. During my younger days, we never thought of work-life balance. For me, my first plane ride was for a work conference in Bangkok!”
Ngiam thinks work-life balance is making our present generation chumps.
6. “In the early days, Lim Kim San and Goh Keng Swee worked night and day, and they were truly dedicated. I don’t know whether Lee Kuan Yew will agree but it started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries, not even pegging them to the national salary but aligning them with the top 10.”
Ngiam thinks Singapore’s leaders are overpaid and it’s not working out.
7. “When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollar, every minister — no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell Hsien Loong off or whatever — will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to do it, his wife will stop him.”
Ngiam calls the Prime Minister “Hsien Loong” casually. And he labels ministers’ wives as gold diggers.
8. “The Civil Service has definitely become tamer, which is not good because we need a contest of ideas. The difference is that no one wants to make a sacrifice any more. The first generation of PAP was purely grassroots, but the problem today is that PAP is a bit too elitist.”
Ngiam tells the Civil Service and PAP to shove it.
9. “We shouldn’t buy trophies. The best thing is to train our own people and give them the experience. I wrote an article some time ago on how we were spending over $6 billion trying to raise productivity. I found out that we have 30,000 trained workers each year, if we took into account the graduates from all our universities, polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education! Yet, our employers refuse to take them on because they say that while the graduates may have the theories, they may not be able to do the job!”
Ngiam wants to nurture our own local talents to unlock their own achievements.
10. “For example, the delivery of medical care falls squarely on the shoulders of our nurses, so I was very upset to read that our Population White Paper classified nursing as a “low-skilled” job. Whoever passed that document should have his pay revoked. (laughs)”
Ngiam wants to revoke the salaries of some people who worked on the unpopular Population White Paper.
Somebody, give this man a beer.
Read Ngiam’s full interview here.