Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Did Loong Slap Dhanabalan?

In his National Day Rally speech on 17 Aug PM Goh Chok Tong,when
officially stating that DPM Lee Hsien Loong will succeed him as PM, said "You may also have heard this old story about Loong {Referring to DPM Lee}. In case you have not, I'll tell you now. Back in 1990, Loong had a quarrel with Richard Hu. S. Dhanabalan sided with Richard. Loong lost his temper. He reached across the table and gave Dhanabalan a tight slap. The whole Cabinet was thrown into commotion. I then forced Loong to apologise. I must be suffering from amnesia. I just cannot remember this incident. Now you know how creative Singaporeans are."

In trying to dismiss this "slapping incident" as just a rumour by
"creative Singaporeans" PM Goh sought to dispel it but by relating the "slapping incident" quite a number of Singaporeans who had heard his speech and/or read it in the local newspapers were confused.

People began to wonder if the incident had really happened and why PM
Goh mentioned it in the first place. According to PM Goh, it did not
happen but here's an extract from a recent book by Ross Worthington
entitled "Governance in Singapore" about this "slapping incident."

Now, why aren't the Lees suing Ross Worthington? You go figure.

Excerpt from book:
A major issue that has shaped bureaucratic/ministerial relationships
for much of the past 10 years is the place and power of Lee Hisen Loong within the ministry and his possible future.

While Lee has many supporters, he has also alienated many because of
what is seen as his arrogance and the autonomy he demonstrates in his
relationship with other cabinet ministers; characteristics which, seven years after he joined the cabinet under Goh's sponsorship, he had not

One significant example of this was consistently reported by several
respondents. In 1990, an incident occurred in a pre-cabinet meeting which was the beginning of entrenching further among the many in the core executive, resistance to Lee Hsien Loong's long term ambitions for prime ministership. Prior to this meeting Lee Hsien Loong had gone to the office of Richard Hu, the Minister of Finance, and removed a number of files without Hu's permission. At that time Lee's office was on the 48th floor of what is now Temasek Tower and Hu's was on the 50th floor.

At the pre-cabinet meeting Hu took Lee to task for doing this and was
supported by Tony Tan. Lee's response was aggressive and insulting, he directly insulted Tan and Hu, a man of his father's age. This was a double insult to Hu, who was Lee's superior in cabinet and a person of an age who should of itself deserve respect in Chinese society. Suppiah Dhanabalan intervened and chastised Lee for his behaviour, demanding that he apologise to Hu, withdraw his remarks and not interfere in other minister's portfolios. A heated exchange occurred into which a number of other issues intruded and eventually Lee lost his temper, and reportedly reached across the table and slapped Dhanabalan across the face.

This caused an uproar in the cabinet and Lee was severely chastised by Goh Chok Tong. Dhanabalan stormed out of the room and did not return for some time. Lee, in response to a demand from Goh, subsequently apologised to Dhanabaln, Hu and Tan. Hu, Dhanabalan and Tan all initially stated that they would leave the cabinet as a result of this incident. Goh later took up the matter with Lee Kuan Yew who reportedly verbally thrashed his son over the matter.

This was apparently followed by a more sober, educational but equally
critical assessment from Lee Hsien Loong's mother, a talented though
background political adviser. Lee Kuan Yew reportedly met later that day with Hu, Tan and Dhanabalan apologised for his son's behaviour and requested that they not resign, supported by a similar request from Goh Chok Tong.

All held out for some time, but eventually Hu agreed to stay, but
Dhanabalan and Tan both resolved to leave. This they did the following August 1991 elections, all without a public word against Lee Hsien Loong, continuing to subscribe to the tenet of all secrets staying within the PAP family.

While this is reportedly Lee Hsien Loong's worse outburst in cabinet
and he has obviously learnt from the experience by somewhat moderating his behaviour among the political leadership, he has reportedly not done as much in his dealings with the civil service. Every senior public sector official with whom I discussed the succession issue, off the record, rated Goh above Lee in terms of being of prime ministerial calibre and rated Goh as having far more support than Lee, although Lee has probably been more successful at developing support within the civil service than elsewhere.


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