Why step down now?
Surprise over Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew's decision to step down, but observers say his job was not an easy one
He understood the idea of collective responsibility when it came to dealing with difficult problems like transport.
Yet in the midst of ongoing bus and rail initiatives, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has announced that he will step down from his position and not contest in the upcoming General Election.
The decision baffled political analyst Eugene Tan, a self-proclaimed avid public transport user who has seen the improvements over the years.
"If it's collective responsibility, why did Minister Lui feel that he had to walk away from politics altogether?
"Did it suggest that perhaps he thought he wasn't getting enough support from the Government?" the Singapore Management University (SMU) law don asked.
The news of Mr Lui's departure from politics came from an exchange of letters between Mr Lui and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong released yesterday.
In his letter, the Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP said he had broached the subject with PM Lee early this year, and had decided to leave politics despite the attempts of the PM and a few other senior ministers to persuade him to stay. (See report on facing page.)
The first hint of Mr Lui's decision not to stand for re-election in the upcoming General Election surfaced in a Facebook post last month, after the new electoral boundaries were released, political commentator Mano Sabnani pointed out. The Transport Minister had talked about "possible plans" to come.
Still, the announcement came as a surprise, some analysts told The New Paper.
Watch: Commuters react to Mr Lui's announcement:
People's Power Party chief Goh Meng Sengtold The New Paper he was puzzled by Mr Lui's decision to leave.
"Does it mean he has used up all his ideas on solving the transportation problem, and there is nothing more he can do?
"If he can't solve the transportation woes, who can?" he said.
Referring to Mr Lui's former navy career, Mr Goh said: "Even if you are going to sink, you should sink with the ship. (As a Rear-Admiral), he shouldn't run away. I do not think that there is any more talent who can solve anything about transportation. He should stay and fight."
National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng expressed both surprise and disappointment at the news.
Citing initiatives like the Bus Service Enhancement Programme and the tweaking of the Certificate of Entitlement system, he said: "I actually feel that he has done a lot of things.
"Also, being an observer in Singapore's transport community and industry, all I have heard about him before this is positive.
"They all feel that even though this is Mr Lui's first term, he really showed his efforts. He has been very diligent in bringing a better transport (system) to Singapore...
"I would like to see if he can continue his tenure in his office so that he can do even more. Transport also involves some technical aspect. It will take time (for someone else) to take over."
Echoing his sentiments was Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser.
The sociologist from the National University of Singapore said he found Mr Lui's move "quite drastic", given that the transport situation has been improving since 2011.
That year, Mr Lui had taken over Mr Raymond Lim, who stepped down from the Cabinet to focus on being an MP for East Coast GRC.
From his letter to PM Lee, it is not clear why Mr Lui chose to quit politics, but Assoc Prof Tan does not think it is to take responsibility for the problems plaguing our transport system.
"Some may speculate that he is claiming responsibility for the problems, but I doubt so, since he also listed what he has achieved during his term," Assoc Prof Tan explained.
"I reckon the transport portfolio is a thankless task, as problems tend to be visible, massive and immediate, with no quick solutions."
Given the stressful nature of Mr Lui's job, former Public Transport Council chairman Gerard Ee said Mr Lui's decision did not strike him as surprising.
"If I were him, I would do the same," Mr Ee said.
He added that as a Transport Minister, Mr Lui has done well for Singapore's aviation and marine transport industries.
"Now that he's decided to step down, let's take a review and give credit where credit is due. All three elements are huge. Sea and air (transport) are bigger than land transport as they have a direct impact on our economy, and we have done well.
"But nobody thanks him for it. All he gets is a lot of criticism. The focus is only on the thing that affects them daily: trains and buses," Mr Ee said.
Mr Sabnani said the fact that the Transport Ministry is in charge of something people come into contact with every day means that the ministry will always be a "hot potato" and a bugbear.
"Transport is something everyone uses every day. Such a mass ministry that touches so many people every day is not an easy (or popular) ministry," he said.
He added that the one big missing piece of the puzzle behind Mr Lui's "premature departure" is the reason behind his decision, and what next going forward.
"He came from the navy and doesn't really have other careers. He was supposed to be in government for some time. Age is not standing in his way... Reading between the lines, he could be unhappy with his own performance, or perhaps other Cabinet ministers are not happy with his performance, but did not say so," Mr Sabnani said.
On a broader level, SMU's Associate Professor Eugene Tan fears that Mr Lui's stepping down will set an "unhealthy precedent" of ministers being judged by how capable and competent they are just by how they manage their portfolios.
"To some level, it is indicative, but we need to bear the context in mind. We are talking about Raymond Lim and Lui Tuck Yew having to deal with something with very easily two decades of under-investment and a lack of sufficient forward planning," he said.
He also highlighted the importance of balancing between the focus on efforts and that of outcomes.
"In a new political landscape, there is a lot more premium placed on outcomes rather than efforts. I don't think anyone can fault minister Lui for lacking in effort. As someone who uses public transport and someone who has heard him in Parliament answer MPs' very pointed questions on transport, I had a sense he was very much on top of issues. He knew the issues; he knew what needed to be done.
"But that doesn't mean that you can effect desirable outcomes as a matter of one parliamentary term," Assoc Prof Eugene Tan said, adding that transport issues require long-term solutions.
Transport is something everyone uses every day. Such a mass ministry that touches so many people every day is not an easy (or popular) ministry.
- Political commentator Mano Sabnani on why the Transport Ministry will always be a 'hot potato'
In a new political landscape, there is a lot more premium placed on outcomes rather than efforts. I don't think anyone can fault minister Lui for lacking in effort... I had a sense he was very much on top of issues.
- Political analyst Eugene Tan
MR LUI'S LETTER TO PM LEE
"It is with deep regret that I confirm my decision not to stand for re-election in the coming General Election. I broached this subject with you early this year. You and several senior members of the Cabinet tried hard to persuade me to change my mind.
"You reminded me that the responsibility of Government was a collective one, and no minister carried difficult problems like public transport alone. I deeply appreciate the reassurance and support. But having thought the matter over carefully, I have decided that I should stand by my original decision."
- Mr Lui Tuck Yew, writing about his decision not to stand in the next General Election, in his letter to the Prime Minister yesterday
PM LEE, SENIOR MINISTERS SAY
"Your role in setting policies, implementing major projects, and supervising the operation of the public transport network, has contributed critically to this progress. You have put in place many improvements whose benefit will be seen only in coming years, and which will make a lasting difference to the public transport system.
My senior colleagues share my view that you have more to contribute, both in transport and in other areas in government. We discussed the matter with you several times, but could not persuade you to continue. So I have no choice but to accept your decision not to stand for election again."
- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his reply to Mr Lui's letter
"I have known Tuck Yew for more than 30 years... He has served with honour and distinction, and has brought commitment, an analytical mind, and compassion and concern for people to every responsibility he has undertaken."
- Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who, like Mr Lui, had been a Rear-Admiral and Chief of Navy before moving into politics
"People like Tuck Yew don't come along every day. Person of complete integrity and honesty - and spent his life serving the country... Was subjected to daily incessant attacks but carried on doing his duty, calmly, and with equanimity...
Finding people to fill positions is not difficult. But finding good men like Tuck Yew is always more challenging."
- Law Minister K. Shanmugam
"Tuck Yew's contributions will be sorely missed by the team. He has been a stalwart in steering us through very challenging circumstances in the transport sector."
- Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing in a Facebook post
Nasirah Banu, 28, financial consultant
"Problems need to be rectified, but ultimately the resignation of the minister and the problems SMRT has faced should be separate events."
Katherine Chiang, 60, secretary
"Mr Lui Tuck Yew shouldn't be held solely responsible for the problems that SMRT has been facing.
Mah Kin Kwee, 70, teacher
"I feel that he has been doing a good job... He seems to have a lot of ideas and I suppose they have yet to be tested. So he should have continued for another term."
Sam Chan, 54, sales engineer
"He has done a lot but given the circumstances (constant breakdowns) there is still a lot more to be done. I have also seen improvements."
Alastair Ho, 60, retiree
"He's done a good job, but I do think that given the number of breakdowns a lot more has to be done."
- By Jennifer Dhanaraj and Azim Azman