(As I recently wrote about an RI boy, I tot I might as well write about another RI boy, especially one very, very proud to be from RI. So proud that it annoyed me.)
The JBJ Memorial event five weeks to the day yesterday (Saturday), entitled “Heroes in Our Hearts”, turned out to be more than a tribute to JBJ. What has gone uncommented (until now) is that a speech there solved a puzzle.
During the May GE campaign, Tan Jee Say told us that he had been told when he was a civil servant (in the early 1980s presumably?) that the PAP had considered him as a possible candidate-MP. But nothing happened and he never heard about the matter again. (Three other scholars born in the same year as him, 1954, Teo Chee Hean (in 1992), Lim Hng Kiang (in 1991) and George Yeo (in 1988) were tapped to become MPs and ministers.)
During the same election, his ex-boss, Goh Chok Tong, said that TJS was not gd enough to be a Permanent Secretary, and so he left government service. TJS denies this. More details.
TJS’s speech at the JBJ Memorial tells us that he openly cheered in the 80s for JBJ at JBJ’s public appearances and rallies.
That he openly showed his support for a non-establishment figure and knowing the views that the PM of the day, one LKY, held abt JBJ, it is very clear (to me at least) why TJS was never invited to a tea-party, and why he couldn’t ever be a Permanent Secretary. He was “unsound”, likely to be unreliable when the call came to close ranks against the “enemies of the state”, and other trouble makers.
That he rose to be the Principal Private Secretary of the then Deputy Prime Minister (and PM in waiting), despite such open support for JBJ, speaks well of the system of meritocracy in the admin service in the 1980s, and how decent a man Goh Chok Tong was. (Regular readers will know I am usually no fan of GCT or of his policies.)
Yes, yes, I know that a cynic should say that there is only TJS’s word that he attended and cheered at JBJ’s rallies. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even though I know people who were his senior in Morgan Grenfell Asia in 1991, who are annoyed that he claimed the credit for MGA winning the privatisation mandate from SingTel, three months after he joined MGA: “He makes S’pore sound like Indonesia”; “MGA had been cultivating SingTel for years”; and “What else did he win?”.
My one criticism of his speech is that the speech came across as more about TJS* than about JBJ. But then brave men often have big egos, witness JBJ.
TJS is brave, not because of what he said he did 27 odd years ago, but because at age 57, he decided to do something very different and difficult, and which doesn’t pay well most of the time (he is out-of-pocket by at least S$127,000: enter politics on the side that always gets thrashed badly, like our national teams in sepak takraw, weightlifting, archery, basketball, footie, golf, dragon boat, petanque, shooting, fencing and silat.
At the very least, even if he is an opportunist, he loves a challenge like Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem of that name which ends:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
What the poem does not tell us is that Ulysses was drowned when a wave hit his ship and he was washed overhead. Heroes do not have the luxury of dying peacefully in their beds.
Finally, if anyone knows when he joined and left Standard Chartered, his designation(s) there, or whether he was in investment banking, fund management, or whatever there, please drop me an email. I know nothing of this period except that he was in StanChart. Likewise for his stint in Peregrine. BTW, interestingly, between 1991- 1997, he worked for three different firms. I only worked for one.
*It reminded me of LKY’s eulogy of Dr Goh Keng Swee. There was a credible rumour that some members of Dr Goh’s family were upset that the speech seemed more abt LKY than Dr Goh.