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Former SAF scholar joins Reform Party

Posted by theonlinecitizen on January 20, 2010

Kelvin Teo

Reformers at a Jurong Walkabout - from left to right - James Teo (treasurer), Justin Ong (youth chief), Tony Tan (RP Central ExCo)

One can be forgiven for believing that there is somewhat a connection between high-flying scholars and the ruling party. This can be attributed to the number of former scholars who are serving in Parliament and the Cabinet under the ruling party. Mr Tony Tan (TT), however, took an alternative path vis-à-vis his other illustrious colleagues.

A recipient of the SAF Merit Scholarship, he earned a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours from the University of Cambridge. He also earned a MBA and Biomedical degrees from the University of Leicester and Central Queensland University respectively. He left SAF to found an educational provider, achieving success that earned him the Spirit of Enterprise award. He has remained within the educational sector ever since.

Joining the Reform Party, he became a member of the Central Executive Committee in 2009. The Online Citizen was fortunate to be able to catch up with Tony, soliciting his views on various issues, and even managed to catch a slight glimpse into the upcoming educational seminar organised by the Reform Party.

In this exclusive interview, Tony Tan shares his perspective on the economy, national service and education. To find out more about Tony Tan and the Reform Party, why not pop over at the Reform Party’s Seminar on Education? It will be held on 130pm, 23rd January at Berkshire School Pte Ltd, 100 Beach Road #02-19A, Shaw Towers, Singapore 189702. The facebook page for the event is accessible at


TOC: Why did you join politics?

TT: There are numerous reasons, but with one purpose – the hope of being able to make a difference to the people in the street however small it is. I am concerned what the government’s vision for Singapore is. I am also concerned with what ordinary Singaporeans want Singapore to be? Forty-four years ago, we achieved independence by circumstances. We were then at a crossroad – to be swallowed up by a bigger nation, or to trail blaze and succeed. The latter happened. We made it because the people in the street understood the vision and united with the leaders.

After 44 years, do we still have these successful ingredients in place to ride out the impact of globalisation and increasing competition from neighbouring countries? Do the people and the leaders still share the same vision? The vision appears to be developing Singapore to be a world-class city with Swiss standard of living. And the yardstick with which this “standard of living” is to be measured by what seems to be our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Some Singaporeans have started questioning the quality of living standards despite the high GDP growth we have attained. Should we be afraid or excited about the vision of a world-class city with Swiss standards of living?

Being raised by a single mom with 3 brothers and 3 sisters, I understand poverty and the importance of social mobility and social safety nets. They make the society more inclusive and compassionate. According to MOM website and the Department of Statistics, more than 50% of the labour force earned S$2,000 or less monthly in 2006. Rising cost of living erodes their quality of life substantially. In 2007, the government argues the need for a higher GST to help the poor. Today there are families living in the parks after losing their HDB flats. The government has made a promise to help the poor. Can they convince Singaporeans why they cannot keep their promise?

I disagree that the performance of the ministers and the government should be measured by merely one factor – the percentage increase in GDP of Singapore. If that is the only focus, all issues would be studied with only 1 key consideration: what is the economic cost or value to Singapore? How can we build an inclusive society with such a one-dimensional approach?

The first group of members that formed the PAP many years ago included Union leaders, postmen and teachers. They formed the old guards and they fought hard on issues for the men in the street. We may need people from all strata of the society to be represented in the Parliament. If the issues for ordinary Singaporeans are not given priority and accorded attention in the Parliament, then we need to send in ordinary Singaporeans into Parliament to bring those issues across to the government.

Each of us has 1 vote. Singaporeans are the custodians of this country. Not any political parties. We need to get the message out to as many Singaporeans as possible to support or join any opposition parties.

TOC: You initially carved a career in SAF. Having been there and done that, what kind of reforms do you think our military can implement that will improve the lives of our servicemen?

TT: Many areas come to mind. The one area that will be of significance is the duration of National Service and the number of NSmen in-camp trainings. To continue to enjoy the support from NSmen, the ministry needs to seriously review the operational demands on NSmen. How we can achieve that will be elaborated in the subsequent question.

During those call-ups, are NS men gainfully employed? Do they feel they have contributed? National Service is the best and the single largest platform to engage our citizens. Are we making the most of this opportunity to make our citizens feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to the nation and be proud of it? Emphasis must be given to engage the NSmen, apart from ensuring that they clock their number of “high key” and pass their IPPTs. In short, win the support and win the “heart” of the NSmen.

From 2001-09, on average, there are 3 deaths per year. Since 2005, the Republic of Singapore Air Force had maintained an outstanding record of zero fatality for pilots. Why can’t the SAF as a whole strive for zero death? This should be one of the Key Performance Indicators for a peacetime armed force. Any loss of life is one too many. The Reform Party believes that an explicit target zero deaths arising from military training is needed.

TOC: Your party colleagues have advocated a decrease in defense budget. Based on your experience, how can our military reduce its spending?

TT: According to military and strategic analysts, such as Tim Huxley (author of Defending the Lion City), Singapore is using a forward-defence military doctrine . Our current investments in new weapons systems and technologies are to develop 3G SAF which seeks to dominate terrain by precision strikes, unmanned warfare and integrated knowledge command and control.

In the long run, the SAF will have to rely on Navy, Airforce and selected Army troops, while focusing the bulk of NSmen for defense. When that happens, there would be significantly fewer operational skills for NS men to be trained and honed. The duration of full-time NS can be reduced to 12 months. Duration of in-camp training may be over the weekends with minimum or no disruption to their jobs.

This change may mean that instead of putting 5 people on the ground supported by 1 who uses high-end technologies to achieve the military objective, we may just need 1 on the ground supported by 2. Although expenditure and investment on technologies and its enablers will increase, a sizeable saving in defence budget can be achieved by reshaping the Army. The need for a strong defence to protect our independence and sovereignty must still be maintained.

We need to start thinking about this, and how we can achieve this. In subsequent seminars of the Reform Party that will focus on defence and security threats, we will discuss this in greater detail.

TOC: There are who servicemen embark on educational pursuits during their national service term and have complained that they are either too tired or do not have enough time for their studies. How can such servicemen be assisted in their educational pursuits?

TT: For those who wish to repeat their GCE “O” or “A” level exams, MINDEF should grant them deferment. Later enlistment does not mean enlistees serve shorter duration.

For the others, with reduced duration of full-time NS to 12-18 months, servicemen should commit their energy and time fully on meeting training requirements. They can continue their education after NS full time.

TOC: While you have been an exception, other regulars who left the military after years of service have found it difficult in re-adjust to the demands of the working world. Thus, how can the social mobility and employability of former regular servicemen be enhanced?

TT: I believe the statement does not just apply to military servicemen. It also applies to professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and anyone who has lost their jobs and forced to seek employment in other industries. Change is one of the constant realities of Singapore’s economy. The future workforce will need to learn to accept faster pace of changes to the employment needs of the economy.

Currently, there are quotas for polytechnics and universities, and the subjects on offer are designed to meet the manpower needs of industries. When the manpower requirements change, people lose their jobs, and their option is to get re-trained/skilled for other employment opportunities.

So what can we do to prepare our young ones for the globalised world? We would be discussing this issue and some of our proposals at the upcoming Seminar on Education.

TOC: Can the current education system equip students with necessary skills to deal with challenges in this knowledge-based economy? Why?

TT: To make our future workforce more resilient to economic changes, students should be empowered. They should be allowed to pursue their interests and develop their potentials, apart from academic pursuits. Students should take charge of their education and decide for themselves how they want to progress and set the pace at which they want to achieve it. There should be equal opportunities for all Singaporeans since young, regardless of abilities and disabilities.

Our students need to be confident, outspoken, multi-skilled, and be prepared to unlearn what they learnt and to learn like an unlearnt. The learning environment should change. From one where students are asked to accept what is taught to one where students will challenge what is taught. Like a forest, we need to breed new varieties that will add biodiversity to the current. The learning environment should also be representative of the society where different people with varying strengths fulfill different roles.

The future of Singapore also depends on whether the students of today are engaged to stay committed and rooted to Singapore. The students should be engaged to understand the various government policies and how they affect the lives of Singaporeans. They should be engaged to think and understand what are the alternatives, and how these can make a difference to the present system. Change is the only constant reality. Participating in change allows students to be engaged and to want to contribute to nation building. In short, the Reform Party believes in the importance of political education, which will bring about inclusivity.

TOC: Do you think our education system is suffering from an asymmetric distribution of teaching and learning resources, i.e. the best teachers and learning facilities going to the better schools? Why? If yes, what can be done to address this asymmetry?

TT: To answer that question, we need statistics from Ministry of Education (MOE). Numerous like-minded individuals have also asked whether children from the lower social economic strata of our society have performed more poorly in national examinations. Currently those data are not available.

Apart from that, some parents have highlighted that relief teachers, who are non-NIE trained, are teaching their children. MOE and each school should make public the percentage of relief/untrained teachers, adjunct teachers, trained teachers and experienced teachers (>3 years).

The Reform Party believes in Transparency. Information that is of interest to the public should be made available.

TOC: What is your opinion of the integrated programme that allows selected students to skip “O” levels?

TT: In one of the TOC articles on education , it was penned:

The former president of Japanese multinational Matsushita remarked some years ago to the then-Economic Development Board (EDB) Chairman Ngiam Tong Dow that our educational structure had some brilliant individuals perched like eagles on high peaks, but the average education level of the rest was not high. He advised that Singapore should concentrate on educating the masses to raise the average level and not just focus on the top scholars. He said that to advance as a nation, we need “high broad plateaus, not solitary peaks”.

We need to challenge all students to ensure that their potentials are developed to the fullest. Mr Ngiam has clearly pinpointed that our education system had helped the brightest to be “perched like eagles on high peaks” and the integrated programme is another such example.

During the Seminar on Education, we will share some of our proposals to improve education for the masses. As for the brighter students, we also have proposals to allow them to pursue wider spectrum of subjects and easing on the age restriction as to when they can do GCE O/A level examinations.

TOC: Do you think our current education system favors the early bloomers and sidelines the late ones? What improvements can be made to make the system more inclusive so that adequate attention is paid to both groups to allow them to realise their potential?

TT: Currently about 1 in 3 students are in the “Normal” stream. Students who are in “Normal” stream feel abnormal and at that young age, they may lack the maturity to understand the need to group them in accordance to learning abilities. This would have a negative psychological effect on their confidence in learning and may hinder the development of their potentials in other areas.

Should we avoid the creation of a “sure-fail” formula by placing slower or less interested academic learners or late bloomers together, and labelling them as “Normal” when they know it is not normal to be in such a grouping?

Parents are anxious that their children may be streamed to Normal. It is perceived that the future of Normal students is less bright as they are at the bottom of the academic ranking in PSLE. But is this academic ranking necessary? Why must the PSLE consist of English, 2nd Language, Math and Science? What are the possible tradeoffs that we have in focusing our future generation countrywide on PSLE during their formative years?

This is also one of the issues we will be discussing at our Seminar on Education. Please join us at the seminar and give us your feedback on our proposals on how to avoid streaming students of different abilities too early and yet still allow each to learn and develop at their own pace.


A few other pertinent questions have been put across to Tony. They are listed below and they will be discussed during the Seminar On Education. Interested to know more and have other burning questions or issues to raise? Do make a trip down to Shaw Centre and participate in the seminar cum workshop on 23rd January.

  • Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew recently admitted that our method of bilingual education is flawed. Should Singapore continue with bilingual education, and if yes, how we should go about administering it, bearing in mind the past failures?
  • Is there an endemic problem with regards to stigmatisation based on academic achievements within certain facets of our society? Why? And what can be done if there was such a problem?
  • What is your opinion of the government’s decision to implement the primary school fees hike?
  • What is your opinion of the current system of primary school admissions?
  • Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek commented that although Singaporeans score high in standardised tests for maths and sciences, however, rarely do Singaporeans go on to be world-beaters in the corporate (entrepreneurs) or academic world (top-notch researchers). Why is there such a huge gulf between the math and science achievements up to high school (Junior college) level and that beyond?
  • What kind of reforms should our tertiary institutions consider implementing so that our undergraduates will enjoy a quality education that will enable them to take on challenges in their careers?
  • What hindering factors are stopping Singaporeans from pursuing advanced degrees, and what reforms can be made to enable those who wish (especially working adults) to pursue a further an advanced degree achieve their goals with peace of mind?
  • What is your opinion on the current system pertaining to the dissemination of government scholarships?

14 Responses to “Former SAF scholar joins Reform Party”

  1. btan said

    The more high profile a candidate is, the more likely he will receive concentrated firepower from PAP. As a former employee of the government, PAP has lots of ammo to shoot that person. Performance record, budget spending, tax information and so on.

    It is brave indeed for anyone who is or was an employee of the government to join the opposition. However, there is a reason why most opposition members are business owners or independent professionals.

    • andyrmiit said

      most opposition members are business owners or independent professionals -> rememeber Chee Soon Juan was sacked for gap in taxi fare claims.

  2. Busta Rhymes said

    Btan, then its a simple thing.

    Whatever they say, we still vote for TT.

    Its now or never.

    We want to wait no more.

  3. Anonymous said

    What is important with regard to safety in the SAF is to reduce both the number of fatal accidents and also the number of serious accidents in the SAF resulting in near or permanent injuries to the NS men. I do not think that all serious accidents where deaths do not occur are made public. I was told that part of the incident reporting format in a specific service includes a question that asks the reporting officer to state whether there was public knowledge of the incident. This is to help the policy-makers decide whether or not to inform the public of the incident.

    It is difficult to cover-up any incident resulting in death(s) because the parents or relatives of the victims may want to publish obituaries which is beyond anyone’s control. However,the same cannot be said of accidents which do not result in death. In fairness to the govt, there may be a need at times to limit public knowledge of accidents/deaths which have operational/political implications. However, where the aforesaid conditions do not exist, the parents of the victims and the public must be told of any serious accidents resulting in deaths or serious injuries to the NS men and, equally important, the outcome of any Committee of Inquiry (COI) emanating from such incidents.

    The current practice of informing the public that a COI will be held, with no follow-up report is clearly not acceptable. The govt has to be put under sufficient pressure to ensure that a repeat of the incident will not occur. What the public needs to know in any incident is whether it is a recurring incident that was caused by neglience or failure on the part of Supervisors or the authority to follow up with recommendations of an earlier COI of similar nature.

    As is, the public is kept in the dark. The govt cannot continue to say nothing in the name of national security. There must be accountability to parents who send their children for national service. The COI should be headed by a credible citizen who is not a govt official assisted by senior members of the SAF.

    I am glad that Tony has raised the issue of SAFETY in the SAF as one of his concerns. Credos to Tony.

  4. Anonymous said

    I am glad that the Reform Party is seriously thinking about reforming the SAF if it is voted into power. The idea of reducing NS service to one year in the light of modern technology, doctrines, etc,is certainly worth exploring in order to enhance productivity. We must do away with sacred cows.

    I know that the RSAF has many technicians who come back to serve their national service in the Airforce after the termination of their contract service sometimes have no assignments if the aircraft that they were trained in are made defunct or upgraded to another type. With no knowledge of the new aircraft type, they literally do nothing or be assigned with marshalling duties to while away their time. This problem may also exist in the army and navy.

  5. Anonymous said

    The Reform Party may want to look into the issue of moral/welfare in the SAF. It is a well established doctrine that Morale/Welfare is one of the principles of war adopted by many countries, like the United States, Germany, Australia etc, that success in war depends very much on the welfare/morale of its soldiers. The Falkland war has shown that the Argentinians NS men surrendered right at the onset of war because they were demoralised and totally unmotivated to fight the war.

    The sudden influx of new citizens and PR has caused grave concern/unhappiness among Singapore citizens including the NS men. Questions like, “Why do I have to defend, fight and die for these foreigners”, have surfaced on the internet. I am of the view that new male citizens must be assigned NS duties sometime upon becoming Singapore citizens. They must show their commitment to serve and possibly die for their new country just like us. This is also a test of loyalty.

    We cannot assume that NS men will stand up and fight for their country. If they have a morale problem at the onset of war, we are in deep trouble as many previous wars have shown. A cosmetic armed force is no armed force.

  6. Suzie Bombastik said

    TT said : “Do the people and the leaders still share the same vision?”

    From a technical point of view, one thing is for sure, the pioneers are the pioneers. The present batch is majoritily not the pioneer except a few. So, technically speaking, same name, different individuals or composition.

    ” The vision appears to be developing Singapore to be a world-class city with Swiss standard of living.”

    1. Is this what the people want, in the 1st place? The people as in the commoner. I am referring to mainly the 85% especially those living in 1,2,3,4 rooms. Of course, in this world there is no absolute. There are admittedly the elites who can afford expensive lifestyles and standards of living. Anyone in their shoes should prolly want swiss standard.

    2. But is it swiss standard? Train on time?
    Swiss standard is too broad to be discussed meaningfully. Which aspect of swiss standard? Swiss do NS shorter right? Swiss people happy right? They got nice nature and welfare system right? So, we need to be aware of these perspectives.

  7. Anonymous said

    SAF Scholar – join opposition party? got secret agenda anot? I don’t believe.

  8. Anonymous said

    Bravo and Kudos to some of his insights but read carefully and explore the issues.
    He is also a politician and his views are biased. Yes he brings issues to light but in proposing his ‘idealistic’ solutions – he does not address the other issues that might arise from those solutions.

    People might vote for him because they want something different but does a different something = a better something? Are they not all necessary ‘evils’?

  9. smallfly said

    My dear “Btan”, what you mentioned are valid points that in most of the past “G-erections”, the despicable, aloof and arrogant miw will always concentrate in smearing and sneering on the track record, ex-professional experiences, personal professional characters, etc, etc, to adulterate their political opponent’s reputations especially, those opposition candidates from the government service or GIC, as it is very convenient and easy for this bunch of contemptible million-dollar miw to have unlimited accesses to “scour” through the records belong to their opponents employed in whose services.

    In order to totally crush their opponents, this bunch of ungrateful nerds have even proceed to the extent of ‘flaming-up’ “stupid” allegations on their political opponents liken to misappropriation of pittance research fund of $300 over dollars to send one’s wife’s PHD documents to overseas university for vetting, mind you it is only $300 over dollars as compared to the loses of hundred of billions of dollars by the little emperor’s daughter-in-law! Common senses tell us, a former senior lecturer teaching in the idiotic University fully controlled by the despicable miw, whom earns close to ten of thousands a month to “cheat” on $300 over dollars research fund is totally ridiculous and outrageous. If this is not intentional set-up to smear and sneer a person’s reputation then, what is intentional set-up?

    As a very famous long lasting Chinese-proverb proclaims: Humans are not saints, who can never make “honest” mistakes! So, the general electorates need to be educated pertaining to the next “G-erection” that all of them should focus on the opposition candidate’s abilities to contribute to Singapore’s political landscape and capacity in representing them in the parliament to voice their grievances and seeking redress from the “to be erected” government, instead of the opposition candidate’s “ex-endeavors”. As it is very difficult for the opposing voice to dig-out “dirty-linens” belong to the present ruling party’s candidates as the whole “Singapore Incorporation” is under its total authoritarian control. Totally no access to information, so how to dig-out? Hence, the ruling party’s candidates will always appear “CLEAN” and “SAINTED” to the gullible and credulous electorates!

    Besides than using taxpayer’s money to groom the ruling party’s political candidates academically, especially for overseas education, in order to win, (die-die must win, die-die can not lose) the despicable miw even proceed to the extent of using the taxpayer’s money to send their “potential and/or erected” candidates for personal grooming courses to improve their public images through cosmetic packaging! Hence, with this type of un-level playing field, how can opposition candidate’s public appearance out-perform the contemptible miw’s despicable candidates?

    To conclude and summarize, just focus on the “subject” of urgently needing strong, muscular and “virile” opposing voices in the parliament to counter balance the ingrates than the “quality” of the candidates as the opposing party will never have enough resources to artificially package-up its candidates cosmetically, especially, those ingrates have the relentless help of the “mediocrity STATE-MEDIA” to glorify their achievements!

    Good luck to RP pertaining to the next “G-erection”!

  10. SingaporeINC said

    If we dont have, import. Look at the sport arena, how many local born are truly proud that we have more Gold in international events? If we cant make it, we buy talent. With whose money, ever asked the tax payer if this is what we want??
    If cannot get enough vote from locals, import them and give them citizenship so that they can be greatful to vote you in.
    “Ask what not the nation can do for you, but what you can do for the nation”, my question is “are we a nation or a coorporation???
    I respect most of the 1st and 2nd gerenation leaders who serve with passion and love for the nation. However, cant say that for this generation of leaders who server because of F high pay and perks.

    • andyrmiit said

      leaders who served because of F high pay and perks -> I think you need to look at their side or private businesses, where they gained from being in power. I think they cannot finish in 10s of generations.

  11. andy said

    You cannot underestimate under cover operations and the theory of moles being planted. Remember Aljunied the hottest ground? Narrow loss – why? Did you ever think about it?

  12. Jun said

    Finally, someone who Makes Sense. Thank you Tony, you make sense to me.

    As a young Singaporean I am tired of listening to PAP’s ministers talk down to me – to us – as if I (we) have less than human consciousness and brain(s) that don’t function. I am tired of hearing news of government ministers sitting on board of directors and earning external income, and talking as if they represent me – us. Transport ministers who talk about public transport as if they take it every single day of the year, and the caustic tone they take with people who drive and have cars, the hypocrisy, it’s all just TOO MUCH. I like that the Reform party pushes for transparency. That is the only way to progress for any developed nation. Governments should stop hiding statistics from the people, and then criticizing the people when they formulate conclusions based on what numbers they have.

    Enough of condescension from my own government who claims to know what’s best for me. I am not a child. And so aren’t my peers, and many Singaporeans. I live in Tampines, and I look forward to seeing Mah challenged in the next GE.

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