Q2: Do connections help you get ahead in Singapore? (SUSS Ministerial Forum 2019)

I think if you join the government, it doesn’t matter whom you are connected to, you’re going to be evaluated on your merits. And I think in many Singapore companies, that is also the case . If you think you’ve got connections and you want to use 关系 to get places, it may open you the first door or two. But Singapore is a small place, people will straightaway know whether behind that 关系, there’s any substance or not. I think what we want to make in Singapore is the society where your ability and your contributions count much more than your connections. Connections do matter. If you grow up in Singapore you have friends, you serve NS together with your buddies , you come to university, you have your
university cohorts. These are your networks, growing up with you and entering the workforce, and then rising in society with you, that’s important. You know them and they know you. You get the measure of them. They also have a sense what you can contribute, and each other’s strengths and weaknesses In Singapore, it’s a very small place, you cannot bluff one! In another country, you come from far away – wow, people think this is a famous man, he has a few billion dollars (at least he says he has a few billion dollars), maybe he’s very good. But in Singapore you can’t run away – somebody will know you and you will know him. Therefore it is possible for us I think to be more objective. We have built our system, to the maximum extent possible, to be fair and to assess the person on what he can do. But I would say, is also a matter of the way the society and we ourselves interact with one another and react to one another. A person who goes to a posh school overseas, for example, they may come back with a posh accent or speak quite atas, A few people do, I mean, it happens. If your parents speak dialect at home, or nowadays not dialect, but they speak English to you, but not quite the standard Mediacorp accent, and you therefore don’t quite speak standard Mediacorp English, people may say,” What’s wrong with you?” and maybe the accent tells you something. I think that we should resist that – I wouldn’t say instinct – that temptation to look at somebody and say, he looks not quite right, therefore I mark him down. You must go beyond the looks, and the voice, and the polish. Does he have the substance or not? Is he an unpolished diamond or is he a very beautifully polished piece of shining glass? There is the difference and we have to know that.

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