Home > Singapore Scene, Singapore: Talent No Enough > Singapore: Talent No Enough, so say the Lees

Singapore: Talent No Enough, so say the Lees

In the run-up to GE 2011, PM Lee asserted on national television that a two-party system was not workable because there was not enough talent.

OnFriday, 22 July 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said,

“… If Singapore depends on the talent they can produce out of 3 million people, it’s not going to punch above its weight,” Source: YahooNews.

Quoting YahooNews again, it implied that Mr Lee expressed the following:

Although there had been some “discomfort” among Singaporeans over the unequal competition for jobs, Mr Lee said that this “cannot be helped” because without foreign talent, there will not be any jobs to begin with.

In the last decade or so, my husband and I spent a lot of time abroad. The reason was simple. In order to make a living, he headed overseas – sometimes to very dangerous countries – such asIraq, immediately after the war. And no, he was not that well paid – but we needed the income.

On a happier note, almost every country we went to, the people there complimented Singapore, and expressed their aspirations to be like Singapore. In Africa especially, many saw Singapore as a model they would love follow. It made us so proud to be Singaporeans, and we often told them that while we had good governance, it is the people who should be praised, for without their diligence and submission to government, we would get nowhere. Every country I went, I often met with people from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or representatives of IE Singapore or SCE (Singapore Cooperation Enterprise). These were there to sell Singapore expertise.

Hence, PM Lee’s statement truly offended me. Not enough talent to form two parties? How can a government, who wants our votes to continue ruling, slap us in the face like that? If after so many years of governance, we cannot find enough people to form two credible parties, then I say the government has failed!

I was somewhat mollified post election, especially when the PM himself apologized and made moves to amend some policies. The one of note was of course the review of ministerial salaries. By the way, this has been very quiet of late. In the meantime, other unpleasant events have surfaced – the unending escalation of housing prices, the impending fare hikes, the inefficiency of public transport, the lack of resolution over Ms Tin’s cooling off alleged transgression, the unnaturally high no. of corpses found…

Then Mr Lee Kuan Yew made these statements. I was bowled over. The man who told the residents of Aljunied GRC that they would “repent” their decision, used such a lackluster word like “discomfort” to describe the angst of the people, and made a superlative claim that there would be NO jobs without foreign talents.

My dear ministers, retired ministers, members of the ruling party, the people on the street are not feeling discomfort. They are feeling pain.

By saying that the pool we have is not able to produce enough talent, you are insulting your people.

Singapore got to where it is today because Singaporeans put nation before self, particularly in the formative years. Yes, we are immigrant stock, but we are stock that chose to stay. Think of the harsh land acquisitions that saw many gave up their land for national interest. Think of the hard work that the people put in to build the nation. Think about our boys going into national service. Think about how we swallowed COE, ERP, GST, with grumbling yes, but no civil disorder. Think of how Singaporeans subjected themselves to the laws of the land, including laws that made other countries laugh at us –anti-littering, anti-smoking, flushing of toilets… Why? The simple answer is that Singaporeans are willing to do whatever it takes for the good of our nation and her people. Singaporeans are painfully aware of the size of our country, its vulnerability. We are fiercely proud of what we have achieved. Sure we have good governance. Good governance without cooperative citizens would get still have gotten us nowhere. Now we are feeling that you are dismissing us and our anguish.

We boast an education system that is admired internationally. We sweep awards in Maths and Sc Olympiads. We win international awards for our airports. We are ranked amongst the world’s best in terms of shipping and logistics. We are the financial hub in SE Asia. We offer world class medical services. Yet we do not have enough talents? How can a country try to sell its only resource, people and their expertise overseas, if it does not have enough for herself?

My challenge to the ruling party is therefore to define talent. Is it intellectual talent? Professional talent? Creative talent? Sporting talent? Business talent? What talent are you talking about? Is the lack due to a smaller pool to select from? Are there no other factors?How long can a sports star continue to earn a good income? Can a musician really make a good living here? Can our local professional compete with a foreign talent in terms of salary?

How has the country encouraged and developed talents?

By the way, while we cannot control who runs international businesses with branches in Singapore, we should boost our locals by ensuring that local conglomerates are headed by Singaporeans. After all these years as a financial centre, it will be a real shame to still need to import foreign talent for these positions.

If we still feel the need to do so, we may as well import foreign talents to be in our cabinet – after all to quote Mr Lee Kuan Yew again:

“Let’s remove the foreign element first. There’s no better way to run the country than the best man for the most difficult job.”

 Mr Lee said that the toss up is faster growth with foreign talents or slower growth without. This leads to my next question, why do we chase economic success. Is it so that our GDP stands head and shoulders above the other countries? Is that what Singaporeans sacrificed for? Or is it for the well being of the people?


  1. Lesser Mortal
    July 25, 2011 at 4:13 am


  2. July 25, 2011 at 6:09 am

    This is a nice article. Can I have your permission to post this on other sites online? Thanks!

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      July 25, 2011 at 6:30 am

      no problem kojakbt

      • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
        July 25, 2011 at 6:32 am

        but do tell me where please

  3. Lu
    July 25, 2011 at 6:18 am

    “By saying that the pool we have is not able to produce enough talent, you are insulting your people.”

    Not if it’s true. The veracity of ‘enough’ is predicated upon the goals set, of which ‘enough’ is evaluated. Your issue is with the government’s lack of representation of the people in economic goal-setting, and the determination of the means with which these goals are to be accomplished.

    If one was to set an arbitrary benchmark, say 25% economic growth per year, against which Singaporean talent is pitted, it would be evident that the pool you have is not able to produce enough talent for the accomplishment of which. There is no insult in that. That is not to say that foreign talent would necessarily be any better. But you need not confuse the issues for one another; firstly that your government does not take your complaints into account of economic planning, and secondly that your government is somehow telling fibs about how Singaporeans are insufficiently talented for its desired goals.

  4. Scru PAP
    July 25, 2011 at 6:22 am

    Sintel was once headed by an ex army officer parachuted into position without a day of experience in the commercial world. And Temasek Holdings got a CEO, an ex MID maiden without any clue of the job either.

    So why are the Lee’s and their grovelling sycophants insisting about talents?? Scru the talents!!

  5. This is Anfield
    July 25, 2011 at 6:28 am

    My thoughts exactly! I remember many years ago, he-who-must-not-be-named commented S’pore lacked the “buzz” of many int’l cities like HK, Tokyo, to name a few. One of the solutions was to artificially create this “buzz” by liberalising the economy and immigration laws. We are reaping the bitter fruits of this harvest. Sure, we now have “buzz” of an int’l city like London or New York everywhere (IRs, vibrant arts scene, cosmopolitan outlook etc) but we conveniently overlook the social cost (crowded public transport, badly behaved foreigners etc). In a sweet twist of irony, those int’l cities have now decided that they do not need this kind of “buzz” and are implementing a slower pace of life, wheras here in S’pore, we are embracing this like ants to honey.

  6. Dan
    July 25, 2011 at 6:42 am

    Very good article, simply expressed the thoughts of many S’poreans. My ancestors made this place which was then not even a country their home. Sadly, I am encouraging my children to emigrate because it does not feel like home amynore.

  7. July 25, 2011 at 7:11 am

    My eyes welled up as I read your post. This is the hard truth on what the local S’poreans faced which the MIWs keeps denying. Fancy our leaders looking down on their own pple. Looking at most of the developed countries (let’s not even go into US or Europe), just within our Asia, most of them fiercely protect their own pple but ours? The opposite. Now not only they failed to protect, they dampen all our spirit and demoralise (especially our young ones) that we do not have the talent capacity. What a joke.

    Thanks for putting all our anguish into this well written article.

  8. Daft Singaporean
    July 25, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Of course there will be not enough talents if you only consider your family members, your friends and your relatives. Singapore should stop having such unaccountable and opaque dynasty style government. Singapore has good governance? LOL. Look at what UN defines good governance. A unaccountable and opaque government will be good governance? The sky will droop soon if this is hard true.

  9. christine
    July 25, 2011 at 8:04 am

    Excellent article. With your permission, i’m sharing it on my FB page …

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      July 25, 2011 at 8:07 am

      sure christine

  10. July 25, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Hello, I saw this page on a fb link. Want to thank you for putting what I had in mind into words! Its really well written, straight to my heart. Would like to repost it on facebook so my friend can read if you dont mind.

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      July 25, 2011 at 9:41 am

      sure. Thanks for dropping by

  11. James
    July 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

    All the more we need more than one ruling party – we need a plurality of views. Insulting isn’t it, to hear of all people, MM Lee talk about his own people in such a condescending tone. This man who once fought fiercely for independence, for his people, so that “we” can define our own destiny.
    Come on lah…. what talent do you need? What is so incredibly difficult about being a minister? Even the current crop of ministers have quite a few among them who cannot string together a coherent sentence. I would prefer people with more heart than mind to be ministers. If you’re going to represent me and run the country, at least fight for me, damn it! N

  12. July 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    We lack information on the talent profile of Singaporeans who emigrate. It is well-known that our emigration rate is non-trivial (15% of tertiary educated Singaporeans emigrate, according to the World Bank). Perhaps Singapore wouldn’t lack talent if the government did not keep implementing policies that chase away the talented.

  13. Qichu Beichuang
    July 26, 2011 at 2:57 am

    Singapore has talents. It is just that the system run by the pap does not allow anyone whom they suspect, even remotely, of having differing views from them to rise. Such people get smitten down, forced to go overseas for study or migrate. Look at the education system. Just take Junior Colleges. Starting JC1, the students are immediately saddled with the inane “Project”. After speaking to many JC students, I conclude that the whole exercise results only in them having less time to read and think. It is not difficult to score “A” in the inane “Project”. Brute force – time and effort will do. In my days at JC, there was no such “Project Work”. Am I less able now are handiapped in any way in my work or in society ? The way I see it, the education system seeks to stifle independent thoughts by saddling the maturing students with tomes of work. It is a subtle form of brainwashing. When you are too tired to think, you accept the pap do the “thinking” for you. This is continued into univerity, then into adulthood where they make you run ceaselessly by increasing the cost of housing. That is deliberate. Finally, they tell you “we have no talent to afford more than one political party”. I have long chaffed at the pap’s manipulative social engineering. Thiers is not the type of life we want our children to live.

  14. I-am-Not-a-Talent
    July 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Hi, saw your writeup via a friend’s Skype link, a very good writeup, may I have your permission to put it in my FB?

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      July 26, 2011 at 9:18 am

      sure. dont be discouraged – instead be challenged to be a talent!

      • I-am-Not-a-Talent
        July 26, 2011 at 9:22 am

        Thanks for the encouragement, it’s just a pun at our talented retired minister

      • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
        July 26, 2011 at 9:35 am

        ya i know – but sometimes when we keep hearing it, it can have a less than desirable effect…

  15. SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
    July 27, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Don’t know how to do an addendum – so shall write this here. I am very touched by some of the responses to my simple post.I think it has reminded us that this is Singapore, our home.

    I want to clear some perceptions though. My family and I are now back in Singapore, struggling like many of you, to earn enough to catch up with the cost of living. Incidentally, my children never left Singapore – it was either just my hubby, when the kids were young, or just the two of us. We could never have afforded to bring the entire family along.

    Also, I want to state that I was born in Malaysia, and chose to be a Singaporean. I am grateful to Singapore and Singaporeans who have made me welcome. I have lived more than half my life here, and this is MY country – where i belong.

    And i will try to make a difference for the betterment of my countrymen, even if i am no economist or intellectual, through writing from my heart.

  16. July 27, 2011 at 2:26 am

    Exactly my sentiments. The ministerial policies and actions all have consequences: the people are bearing all the pains and sorrow now. Accountabilities must prevail eventually!
    Yes, indeed I will fly the flag.(was not going to earlier until your prompt!)

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      July 27, 2011 at 2:32 am

      thank u!!

  17. July 27, 2011 at 2:44 am
  18. David Teo
    July 27, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Well thought out and incisive post. dt

  19. SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
    July 29, 2011 at 1:06 am


    Another one bites the dust? A case of TALENT NO ENOUGH RECOGNITION

  20. PG
    April 9, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Sorry to say that A lot of things are wrong in Singapore . And I agree with a lot of the things written , especially accountability by the government , civil servants , and people appointed to companies controlled by the government .
    I also agree concerning the way that the education system is run , and concerning talent . Talent should come from within Singapore as a young country , and should be exporting its talent .

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