Meritocracy works but beware of elitism: ESM Goh Chok Tong

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday evening warned of the threat of elitism, saying it can divide the inclusive society that Singapore is striving to build. 

The way to guard against it is to adapt and strengthen the practice of meritocracy that has served Singapore well. 

“What we need is to get the successful to understand that they have a responsibility to help the less fortunate and less able with compassion, to give back to society through financial donations, sharing of their skills and knowledge and spending time to help others do better, and to serve the country,” he said.

He made the point at Raffles Institution’s 190th anniversary dinner, where he received the school’s Gryphon Award, which honours the most distinguished alumni. The award’s first recipient was former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Goh called on top schools, including RI, to play a role in ensuring that elitism and the sense of entitlement do not creep into the minds of their students. The Government, on its part, will continue to have policies and programmes that give a leg up to those who have fallen behind.

He said: “Those of us who have benefited disproportionately from society’s investment in us owe the most to society, particularly to those who may not have had access to the same opportunities. We owe a debt to make lives better for all, and not just for ourselves.”

Medisave, Edusave reflect ESM’s care for Singaporeans

Two entrenched schemes are testimony to the deep concern Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has for the welfare of Singaporeans, said Professor Tan Ser Kiat, president of the Singapore Medical Council.

These are Medisave and Edusave. 

Medisave, introduced in 1984 when Mr Goh was Second Minister for Health, is a national medical savings scheme in which people set aside part of their income to meet future hospitalisation, day surgery and outpatient expenses.

Reading a citation last night for Mr Goh’s award from his alma mater, Raffles Institution (RI), to honour his contributions to society, Prof Tan called Medisave a “revolutionary and innovative concept” in Singapore’s health-care financing co-payment policy.

In setting up Edusave to fund enrichment activities for children, Mr Goh “tried to ensure a level playing field for all”, he noted.

Edusave was introduced in 1993, and two years later, Edusave Merit Bursaries were given to bright but needy students.

When Mr Goh was Singapore’s Prime Minister between 1990 and 2004, he brought a “new leadership style that was more inclusive, consultative and open and ensured that policies are made with inputs from all sectors of society”, Prof Tan noted.

Mr Goh’s humility and caring nature were legendary, added the orthopaedic surgeon, citing an incident during a visit the then-PM made to his clinic in the late 1990s.

They had heard a loud noise and saw Mr Goh’s security officer had fainted and cut himself on the lip.

Mr Goh helped him up, arranged for him to be admitted to hospital and accompanied him to the ward to ensure he was taken care of, Prof Tan recalled.

And a few weeks ago, he added, Mr Goh helped raise about $800,000 for Canossaville Children’s Home that had taken in two orphans from his ward in Marine Parade GRC.

These were among the highlights of the citation, underlining a point raised by RI principal Lim Lai Cheng in her speech at the school’s 190th anniversary dinner.

She said she wished to see in all Rafflesians “a heart of gratitude instead of a sense of entitlement”, and a sense of social responsibility at the core of a Raffles education.

Mr Goh, in his speech later, urged Singaporeans to guard against elitism and give back to society.

His call resonated with Rafflesians like Dr Lim Kuo-Yi, 44, chief executive officer of Infocomm Investments, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore’s venture capital arm.

Dr Lim, from the class of 1987, mentors students in entrepreneurship: “I truly believe in entrepreneurship being the tool to ensure success, regardless of background.”

Another Rafflesian, Mr Colin Low, 37, director of business development at Frasers Hospitality, said he and a few school mates got their class of 1992 together last year to raise $30,000 for RI, specially for needy students.

Current and former politicians at the dinner also shared Mr Goh’s social concerns.

Workers’ Party MP Png Eng Huat, 51, from the class of 1977, encouraged students to help in his Hougang ward to give back to society. He believes integration should start at a young age, in schools: “That’s the best time to weed out elitism.”

Former presidential candidate and MP Tan Cheng Bock, 73 – whom Mr Goh described in his speech as one who “stood for the underdog and still does” – returned the compliment, saying his “good friend” is a genuine person who cares for Singapore.

By Goh Chin Lian
The Straits Times
Published on Jul 27, 2013