Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow needs no introduction to Singaporeans as he is a well-known retired top civil servant of very high social standing. He was permanent secretary of a number of Government ministries, including Finance, and had held the position of Head, Civil Service. In recent years he has also been known to be outspoken against various policies and practices of the Government. Many Singaporeans, especially some from the opposition parties, have looked upon him, because of his sociopolitical eminence, as some kind of a potent critiquer of the PAP Government, adding not a little impetus to the anti-PAP chorus.
So when Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow was interviewed by Dr. Toh Han Chong, editor of the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) News, which was in a question and answer form, Mr. Ngiam's statement included some critical comments on the high salaries of PAP ministers, which for fear of losing them, prevented ministers from speaking up to PM Lee Hsien Loong and on the elitist nature of the PAP leadership. These and other comments, which were published in SMA newsletter in September, were hardly flattering to the PAP leadership, especially PM Lee, but they were lapped up with great delight by Singaporeans mainly because the comments were made by an author of high social standing in a prominent medical journal. From the nature of the contents of the statement, there was no question that it was made voluntarily and without any coercion. Mr. Ngiam could not have been a happier man because the statement has been in circulation for a considerable time without any unforseen incident.
What political manipulation went on in the meantime is not something which Singaporeans are privy to. Literally, out of the blue Mr. Ngiam came out with a statement yesterday (published today 12 Oct) seeking to clarify the comments he made about PAP ministers being afraid to speak up and the PAP being elitist. The million dollar question is why has Mr. Ngiam taken such a long time to make the clarification when the statement has been in circulation for some time. Of course, that this sudden turn of event has come as a disappointment to his ardent supporters is to put it mildly. PM Lee, however, showed his true colours by ever so promptly welcoming Mr. Ngiam's clarification and extolling him for his action.
The more important aspect of this whole episode is whether this bizarre behaviour of Mr. Ngiam spells the end of his courageous probing of the PAP leadership. What went on in his mind and whether there had been any political pressure on him to make the clarification is something which we may not know for some time. One thing is certain. If Mr. Ngiam chickens out, it will be quite a significant loss to opposition politics.