The TNP Interview: Lawrence Wong
The New Paper interviewed Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong. Here are his answers in full
On Crossing to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC:
Recently, I had to say goodbye to residents in Boon Lay (part of West Coast GRC). During the MPS, I had a bumper crop of about 160 (people turning up). It was the largest we’ve ever had and many are people I’ve known.
Many of them (came and said) thank you for some of the things that I’ve done. Some cried because they’re sad to see me go.
One person gave me a photo album with all the pictures of key events I’ve attended in Boon Lay from 2011 to 2015, painstakingly compiled.
Parting was difficult but it’s also gratifying to know that I’ve been able to do things in the constituency that made an impact in their lives.
If you were to ask me to rewind the clock, make the decision again knowing that you have to go onto a path that is challenging, I would not hesitate to do it again.
Q: How are you preparing for the move to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC?
By walking around.
Madam Halimah and myself, we’ve both transferred here, so we’ve been spending much time on the ground, weekends as well as weekdays, mornings or nights, whenever we can find time outside office hours, to meet the residents, talk to them and spend time with them.
Q: Were there any particular cases at Meet the People’s Sessions (MPS) that you remembered because they touched you or shocked you?
Quite a large proportion of them are cases requiring financial assistance (which) we can help. But what’s difficult, and sometimes heart-wrenching, is when you have cases that are not just about financial need but deeper problems, (for example) a couple not getting along, abusive spouse, someone facing addiction (such as) drinking or a drug addiction.
Worse still when it impacts the children. That’s when you see sad stories and you try very hard to help. (But such cases require) a lot of counselling.
That’s why it’s good that we now have strengthened our front-line in terms of having more social workers and giving more support. We (also) have a social service centre to provide that kind of support in the constituency on the ground.
Q: What about the touching cases?
I don’t want to highlight any particular ones because (we have) to respect their privacy.
I see many cases where the parents will scrimp and save, do their utmost to ensure their children have an education and a good start... many of them ask for help and we try our best to help. It’s very good to see their kids doing well in school and progressing on.
(There have also been) some improvements (like the) student care centre in the CC (where) volunteers mentor them.
We provide free tuition as well. Previously, there was no such facility. The school (Boon Lay Garden Primary) does not have space for a student care centre.
There are many low-income families where parents are working (so no one’s looking after) the kids. We set up a student care centre in the CC, raised some funds and set up My First Skool.
Q: What kind of issues keep you awake at night or make you ponder over?
There’s no end to the issues. More complex ones (could be) community or neighbour disputes.
(On the constituency level, the) revitalisation of shops scheme: Boon Lay Shopping Centre is strata-titled, with individual owners.
There’s a Government subsidy for the revitalisation but each owner must foot their own share.
(When it comes to) a strata-title property, you must (get) everyone’s agreement or else you can’t move. (If) some don’t agree, then you’re stuck in paralysis.
On the national level, we’ve had a very busy year (with) the SEA Games, SG50 (celebrations).
Those are (some) things that I constantly worry about.
But you got to take it in your stride, take it step by step and move along.
Q: Any concerns about the upcoming hustings, eg. mudslinging?
(There will always be) allegations, criticism (and so on) thrown at you in an election.
That’s not (something) I’m concerned about... My appeal to voters, particularly first-time voters, is: Take the elections seriously.
Test all the candidates, both the PAP as well as the opposition, for their personal integrity, their character, their honesty. Assess the proposals that different parties put up.
It’s tempting to hear proposals to do more but are these sustainable? Who is going to finance the additional spending? Are they good for the country in the longer term?
So assess carefully and make a choice. As Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to say: “This is not a game of cards. It’s your life and mine.”
Q: During election campaigning, it’s par for the course to criticise unpopular policies. But alternatives may be less forthcoming.
It’s easy to get swayed by rhetoric in the heat of an election rally... I hope Singaporean voters will take time to reflect beyond the rhetoric, beyond the emotions of election (campaigning) to think deeply and carefully about what the different parties are offering, what is their track record, who are the individuals who are serving and (his or her) track record, the things that he or she may have said before and what they’ve done.
Those are things that are open, you can compare notes, see for yourself, do your own homework and you can make your own judgement.