SINGAPORE: Former Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s latest appointment as Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States of America has drawn mixed reactions online. Many congratulated the ex-ruling party politician, while some doubted whether the appointment was based on merits or connections.
A former Chief of Navy, Mr Lui left the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) in 2003 and became CEO of the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA). Two years later, in 2006, he was made CEO of the Housing Development Board (HDB).
The next year, Mr Lui was unveiled as a new candidate under the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) banner. He was placed in founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s six-member team for Tanjong Pagar GRC and coasted to Parliament without contest, as Mr Lee’s team won the ward by walkover.
Mr Lui rose fast within the PAP ranks, going from Minister of State after the election in 2006 to Acting Minister in 2009 and then full Cabinet member in 2010. He led the PAP team contesting the now-defunct Moulmein-Kallang in the 2011 election and won the ward with just over 58 per cent of the vote.
Right after that election, Mr Lui was made Minister for Transport.
During his tenure Mr Lui defended the privatisation of the public transport system, arguing that if public transport were to be nationalised, operators would be dependent on government funding and operate on a cost recovery basis.
Asserting that this would not spur them to lower transport costs, the Minister was adamant that the companies remain financially viable by approving yearly fare hikes.
In December of that year, Singapore experienced a series of major breakdowns in its MRT system for the first time. The first disruption on 15 Dec 2011 left thousands of commuters stranded in stations and trains for several hours during the evening peak hours.
Subsequent incidents occurred in the following days and weeks, further aggravating the situation. These incidents included signalling faults, track circuit failures, and train disruptions, leading to frequent delays and service interruptions.
The persistent breakdowns severely affected the daily commute of thousands of Singaporeans and caused growing frustration among the public, triggering a series of protests and public demonstrations.
Contrasting the unreliability and inefficiency of the MRT system with the price hikes approved by Mr Lui, protesters called for the resignation of top transport officials. They urged the government to address the issues promptly.
Mr Lui decided against standing for the 2015 general election and announced his retirement a month before the nation went to the polls.
He acknowledged the criticisms against him as a result of his management during his tenure as Minister for Transport and said, “In politics, you need a tender heart and a thick skin, not a hard heart and thin skin. I think my heart, my skin, like all my body parts, are fine.”
The ex-politician was appointed a diplomat less than two years later, on 1 June 2017, when he became Singapore’s Ambassador to Japan. He then became Singapore’s Ambassador to China and served in Beijing from November 2019.
Mr Lui was appointed Singapore’s Ambassador to the US on Tuesday (30 May) and will replace current US envoy Ashok Kumar Mirpuri in Washington this month.
Singaporeans online have largely congratulated Mr Lui for this big next step in his diplomatic career. Some have lauded his humility, while others have said on social media that they are happy he was given this opportunity, given the public fury he withstood during the MRT breakdown saga in 2011.
Some netizens, however, have asked how Mr Lui’s connections have contributed to his latest appointment. A few Singaporeans even went so far as to suggest that his new post resulted from “cronyism.”
Several netizens agreed that these sorts of appointments happen “only in Singapore” – where “failed” ministers end up representing Singapore on the world stage. Others called Mr Lui a “paper general” who has no worries about getting a well-paid job as they jibed that a “PAP membership” certainly has its perks: