It’s been twenty-eight long years since Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong first took office as prime minister of Singapore. TWENTY-EIGHT.
And for a long time now, there’s been every indication that he’s no longer the man he once was.
Close to two weeks ago, during a dialogue with Southeast district residents, seventy-year-old Mr Aziz suggested that ministers’ million-dollar salaries could afford to receive a 10% cut to finance a proposed elderly pension fund.
In a slew of textbook debate tactics, ESM Goh put his foot in his mouth by responding to the “very bad” and “populist” suggestion and surmising that Singapore would end up with “very very mediocre people” as ministers in the future if he did so.
“I am telling you the Ministers are not paid enough, and down the road, we are going to get a problem with getting people to join the government, because civil servants now earn more than Ministers,” he said.
Naturally, Redditors and EDMW-ers around the country flew into a collective rage.
But at this point, should we really be surprised?
Let’s take a hobbled stroll down memory lane and chart the slow, often hilarious unraveling of MParader.
“Last year I told you Singapore would never have a chance in the World Cup, because the rules require all players to be citizens. But after watching the French victory, I have changed my mind. Maybe if we change our immigration criteria to bring in top football talent and make them citizens, then one day we too can get into the finals.”
Today, we still haven’t gotten over it. Just ask Ben Davis.
At the ripe old age of fifty-seven, ESM Goh looks like your regular well-to-do uncle here in his combination of checked shirt and navy trousers. His expression seems to be one of quiet hope mixed with a little naivety. At this point, can’t really fault the guy for dreaming big.
April 2001: The simple life.
“Because they (people from less developed countries) don’t know what life is, they’re quite happy. They wake up, they brush their teeth, they’ll farm, and then they’ll sleep. But do you want it that way?”
Today, seventeen years later, throngs of Singaporean holidaymakers who escape to Bali say YES.
But in the words of ESM Goh himself, this would make all of you “quitters”. Tsk.
Now is it just me or does ESM Goh look kind of exhausted?
I think you could use some eating, praying and loving too, sir.
8th March 2003: Man of steel.
It read like this:
“Retrenchment is good for Singapore. If there are no retrenchments at all, then I worry. It means that we are actually offering an iron rice bowl to every employee.”
Which is … bad? I don’t get it.
Looking at ESM Goh, I’m not sure he gets it either.
July 2005: I’d tap that.
Following the National Kidney Foundation scandal – in which former CEO T.T. Durai was convicted of misusing donor funds – Madam Tan sparked nationwide outrage after infamously saying that his annual salary of S$600,000 a year was “peanuts”.
PEANUTS. And I thought pistachios were expensive.
Though Madam Tan subsequently expressed regret over her statement, one can only imagine what must’ve been happening in the Goh household for S$600k to be treated with such nonchalance.
Also, I think I’m starting to see where the pattern started.
Anyway, a picture really does speak a thousand words doesn’t it?
August 2015: Ownself check ownself.
In the lead up to the 2015 election, ESM Goh once again used his trademark death-by-a-thousand-questions debate strategy to criticise the opposition’s call for transparency in the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
“For many years, the PAP was the only party in Parliament. Had the PAP gone corrupt in those years? Until the 2011 election, there were very few opposition MPs in parliament. Had the PAP let the people down? We are our own checks, the integrity of our leaders and our MPs.”
Cue Mr Pritam Singh dropping the Singaporean meme of the century.
At this juncture, just over a decade after stepping down as prime minister, ESM Goh’s massive eyebags and tired expression have gone, but only to be replaced with eyes that look amazingly glazed over.
He perfected the blank stare, and the longer you gaze into that dark abyss, the scarier it is.
As millennials would say, at this point, he might just be “dead inside”.
18th November 2017: We all have our crosses to bear.
In his interpretation, he subtly tells Singaporeans to shut up and put up with the many train delays that are now part of our daily commute. Or not. Without a definitive explanation of his intentions, we’ll never really know.
I do find it a bit strange that ESM Goh chooses to compare Singapore with Bangkok though. After all, weren’t the Swiss the barometer for Singaporean success?
Whatever the case, it recently appeared that life had been injected back into our ESM as he appeared to savour his retirement and twilight years.
But why on earth didn’t he just stay that way?
ESM Goh also seems to have lost touch with the man on the street, arguably the most important quality someone representing the people should have. So with all due respect Sir, just retire. For good.
In the meantime, let’s forget about the money for a minute and finally decide if serving the nation is a calling or a job.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go attend to the men in black currently trying to bash my door in.