Ngiam Tong Dow once said George Yeo can weave magic with words. The context was the request from the MITA minister to build the Esplanade theatres and concert halls for $600 million. Before this, the highest ever request from MITA had been for $50 million to reconstruct and refurbish the Victoria concert halls, and even that was approved only because Goh Keng Swee personally placed his "considerable power of persuasion" behind the proposal. At the launch of Ngiam's book "Dynamics of the Singapore Success Story", Yeo confirmed the story: "When I was in MITA, Mr Ngiam was Permanent Secretary in the Finance Ministry. He almost killed the Esplanade project about which he paid me a high compliment years later."
The "high compliment" paid by Ngiam: "MOF was defeated by this ingenious procedural innovation," which was to use the Totalisator Board to finance the capital expenditure outside the Budget, using future revenue streams. Then Finance Minister Lim Hng Kiang has another variant of the ingenious scheme, giving Yeo less effusive credit for deploying future revenue streams, but the money was still spent.
Behind the cascade of words, more schemes must have been hatched. Why else is the current generation feeling the burden of financing the strained infrastructure, such as the $1.1 billion freebie for SMRT and SBS Transit? On Tuesday (Aug 12) SBS Transit reported a 57.2% increase in net profit for the second quarter; will they ever return anything to the taxpayers? The future's a tricky business, when the guys in charge weave magic with words.