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News Reports

Deciding on who will be first among equals

Surrounded by coffee and cake (low-fat), the 16 looked around the ginormous table in the function room of a six-star hotel. Hotel, because no one volunteered their dining room.

They had to make a momentous decision: Which among them should be “first among equals’’?

So many thoughts ran through their minds. Are they really equal or are some of them more equal than others? Then there’s the length of experience to consider. What is a 4G member or can a 3plus G person also qualify? Mentally, they slotted each other in chronological order. Then again, shouldn’t experience date from the time the individual reached full Cabinet level? No, that would disqualify too many.

The 16 are in a quandary. Perhaps, some of them are already out of the running, like the non-Chinese. Singaporeans, it is said, aren’t ready for this change. They would have to be forced into that kind of decision by a mechanism that gave them no choice, like a reserved elected presidency.

Pity there’s no such system. Instead democracy was being practised. But it’s a limited one, someone piped up.  “Maybe we should ask the MPs and party cadres for views as well,’’ he added.

A semi-altercation broke out.

Someone said sourly: “Might as well ask 1G, 2G and 3G ministers as well….’’

Another said scathingly : “Don’t be silly. Even the PM said he wasn’t going to be involved.’’

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A third dead-panned: “Cadres only give views once in two years and it’s about who should be in the CEC, and that’s us. So the responsibility has been handed to us.’’

A fourth (through gritted teeth): “I am not in the CEC, are you telling me to leave?’’

They had been stuffing their faces for an hour but no one was inclined to lead or chair the discussion. Out of shyness? Or so as not to rule themselves out of the running? Maybe the most junior (who would have no chance of being first) should chair the meeting.

Junior tried: “Maybe we should examine how many portfolios each one has taken up. So the more portfolios, the better because it means he or she can handle everything and anything.’’

Less junior added: “Maybe we should weight the portfolios. Environment can’t be as important as Defence.’’

More senior one went tsk tsk: “Do you seriously think the defence of Singapore outweighs the challenge of combating climate change? Also, isn’t this our priority now?’’

Junior tried again: “Maybe we should list the qualities needed for being first and rate everyone on a scale of one to five and whoever gets the most points…’’

Less junior chimed in: “And get an external auditor to vet the process…’’

More senior one went tsk tsk: “Are you suggesting there will be hanky panky? Who’s paying for this hotel room anyway?’’

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Even more senior one intoned: “We’re splitting the bill equally to the last cent. I have already calculated the cost.’’

Middling one, hoping to play peacemaker, said: “Why not just give the job to the person who volunteers to pay the full bill?’’

It was made in jest but it conjured up shades of Keppel. A few squirmed at the ill-timed remark. Definitely middling one wasn’t going to “make it’’.

It was getting ridiculous. No one made a move for the pencil and paper in front of them that had been so thoughtfully provided by the hotel. There was even a power point projector in the room. No one suggested a nomination/seconder process or a show of hands. Because no one wanted to show their hand.

Most senior one said: “Why not write the name on a piece of paper and we’ll open them together and see who’s been most named?’’

That sounded like a plan. Until junior piped up: “Isn’t the decision supposed to be unanimous?’’

Less junior suggested: “Maybe we will all sign a statutory declaration to support whoever is most named?’’

More senior one said hesitatingly: “You know…the media has already named three in the running…’’

Even more senior went ballistic: “This will not be an election by media!’’

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Faces turned to him. No wonder. He wasn’t one of the three. Even more people squirmed in their seats.

Most senior one said: “Let’s just put out a joint public statement to say we will decide in good time.’’

Heads nodded. They left the building, satisfied with coffee and cake.


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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