Inderjit Singh: I could always be candid with PM Lee and never felt uncomfortable 

Source: Inderjit Singh

On April 15, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he would hand over the reins of government to current Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on May 15. In the second part of a six-part tribute series honouring PM Lee, Petir spoke to former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh about his experience working with Mr Lee.  

FORMER Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh said that he could always be candid with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and PM never once made him feel uncomfortable.  

“During my time working with PM, we treated each other as trusted comrades and reliable friends. I could always be direct about many personal and political matters, and he never made me feel uncomfortable.”   

The 63-year-old serial entrepreneur served as a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio Group Representative Constituency alongside Mr Lee from 1997 to 2015, overseeing Kebun Baru. During his time as a parliamentarian, the former politician was known for his direct and honest approach, including vigorously questioning government policies. 

In an email interview with Petir, Mr Singh said he was fortunate to have worked with Mr Lee from 1993 to 2015 when he retired from politics.  He was assigned to the PAP Teck Ghee branch in December 1993 to learn from PM after being selected as a potential candidate for the next general election by the People’s Action Party Central Executive Committee.  

“Given his stature, PM remained humble, and I never felt intimidated. Rather, I felt like he was a friend willing to teach me about politics,” he added.  

In July 1994, Mr Singh was asked to serve as the Second Adviser to Kebun Baru constituency after the incumbent MP went abroad to pursue further studies for a year. 

“While I managed the MPS (Meet-the-People) session and grassroots activities, I was hesitant to do house visits,” he said. “PM Lee called me one day and asked why I wasn’t doing house visits. I told him I felt uncomfortable and did not know how to introduce myself to the residents.”  

Mr Singh recounted how Mr Lee had advised him to have his volunteers introduce him as the second advisor to Kebun Baru. Subsequently, he started making house visits, well before the next General Elections. He described those visits as “a great experience building relationships with residents”. Mr Singh, who helped Mr Lee oversee constituency affairs in Ang Mo Kio GRC, appreciated the Prime Minister’s trust in him.  

He recalled that in 2007 while travelling in the United States, he received a 3 a.m. call from the Prime Minister asking him to take over as Chairman of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council. Several issues needed to be resolved before the Ministry of National Development published the town council management report. 

“PM did not know I was travelling… Fortunately, I was awake… I thought someone younger should chair the Town Council, but the Prime Minister wanted me to take charge,” he said. “I appreciated his trust and confidence but told him I would only serve one term while preparing a younger MP to take over.” 

He added that PM agreed, and he assumed the role of the Chairman of Ang Mo Kio Town Council. 

“PM has always been willing to accommodate me due to the trust between us,” Mr Singh said. 

PM Lee had wanted Inderjit Singh to serve another term in 2015 

Source: Inderjit Singh

Mr Singh retired from politics in 2015 before the General Election because he wanted to spend more time with his family and on his work. He remembered vividly how he broached the topic with PM.   

He told Mr Lee of his decision to retire via email on January 2, 2012. They later met for lunch to discuss the matter further. PM Lee had wanted Mr Singh to serve another term and Mr Singh then explained his reasons for wanting to retire. 

“I also suggested to PM that he should bring in a younger replacement who could serve multiple terms early on because future elections would be tougher. I promised PM that I will organise the election campaign for him at Ang Mo Kio,” he said.  

Mr Singh was thankful that PM agreed and sent someone to study under him. Mr Singh also chaired the election committee and became PM’s principal election agent. “I delivered a good campaign and good results. I was happy to leave the team on good terms.” 

Mr Singh fondly recalled the events of polling day during GE 2015.  

“I asked PM what he thought the outcome would be.  He told me he’d be happy if he could match the 2011 result. I told him that because of his leadership and some of his great rally speeches, I thought he could get another 3 to 5 percentage points above the last score,” he said. “On counting day, both of us were delighted with the results. Ang Mo Kio received 78.6 per cent (of the vote) – 9.3 percentage points higher than our 2011 votes.”  

PM Lee is a compassionate leader, always clear when communicating work and objectives: Inderjit 

Source: Inderjit Singh

Mr Singh described PM Lee as a compassionate leader who always listens and is accommodative to his subordinates. “He was also clear about work and objectives. Many of us enjoyed working for him as he gave us the space to do what we wanted,” he added. 

An important lesson that Inderjit learned from the Prime Minister was the need to rely on accurate information before raising issues or solving problems. 

“As a mathematician, PM managed through facts. For any decision, as a mathematician, he needed to examine objective data and information. As an engineer, I also learned to manage facts and analytical data,” he said. 

PM Lee was a steady ship that kept Singapore going: Inderjit 

Source: Inderjit Singh

Mr Singh said PM Lee was a “steady ship that kept Singapore going”. In his view, Mr Lee’s tenure as PM was the next most difficult after the founding years. Singapore was already a first world nation that had achieved much when Mr Lee became Prime Minister. The citizens were looking to the future to see what more the country could achieve, he said. 

“Social media became significant. It could amplify even the smallest of things. Being a politician grew more challenging,” he said. “It was a challenging task, but he kept things steady.”  

According to Mr Singh, PM Lee transformed Singapore into a vibrant city not just for investments but also for culture, entertainment, and as a desirable place to become a citizen. 

On the international stage, Mr Singh noted that PM Lee strengthened Singapore’s profile. Many world leaders meet him in Singapore or globally because they “value his insights and advice in the current tough geopolitical environment”, he said. 

The 4G team should use Mr Lee to further strengthen global connections: Inderjit   

Source: Inderjit Singh

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has said that Lee Hsien Loong will remain a Senior Minister in the new Cabinet. Mr Singh noted that Mr Lee is highly respected locally and internationally, making it sensible for the new leader to keep him in the Cabinet to provide stability as the 4G leaders work towards full control. 

“The initial years of stabilisation will allow the 4G team (a chance) to experiment and develop their own style while receiving guidance from an experienced person who spent 40 years in politics,” he said.  

“He can also serve as Singapore’s ‘ambassador’, representing the government to maintain strong ties with global leaders. The 4G team should use him to further strengthen global ties while they focus on domestic issues in the near term.”

For other stories in the series, read the following:
Welfare of Singaporean workers has a prime place in PM Lee’s heart: Lim Boon Heng