Friday, 11 January 2013

PAP fields Koh Poh Koon as its candidate for the Punggol East by-election

By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 10 Jan 2013

The ruling People's Action Party will field surgeon Dr Koh Poh Koon as its candidate in the Punggol East by-election.

He was introduced as the party's choice on Thursday morning, a day after the Writ of Election was issued by the President.

The ward was left vacant after its former MP Michael Palmer resigned last month due to an extra-marital affair.

It was hardly a surprise when surgeon Dr Koh was introduced. Speculation has been rife over the past two days that he would be the PAP candidate.

The 40-year-old surgeon is a fresh face although he has been a grassroots volunteer since 2002.

He is married with two young children, aged four and nine.

It was only three weeks ago that Dr Koh joined as member of the PAP.

He said he was approached to stand as a candidate within the last month.

The newcomer described himself as a "son of Punggol", having spent his early childhood in a farmhouse at Lorong Cheng Lim in Punggol before his family was relocated to a 4-room HDB flat in Toa Payoh.

Dr Koh said he grew up poor -- his father was a bus driver, working two shifts a day to support a family of five children. He now lives in a 5-room HDB flat in Telok Blangah.

Dr Koh said: "I can really identify with some of the issues that are raised by residents and Singaporeans - from getting our first homes, putting our kids through school, taking care of the elderly folks.

"I remember when I finally got my HDB flat in 1988, just after I ORD from the army, my wife and I had to borrow money from my uncle to do renovations. You'd be surprised to know that at the end of the thing, before we moved into our house, in the combined accounts of our banks, in the pockets together, we had $11.50.

"We were scratching our heads thinking how to even have our first meal in the house when we had no money to buy chopsticks? We went down to Toyogo at Lorong 8 Toa Payoh and we had to count the number of pieces of chopsticks we can buy with $11.50 to equip our home.

"That was something interesting that we sometimes look back with a bit of a sour feeling in the heart but nevertheless interesting memories of the days we struggled through and I'm sure a lot of Singaporeans are facing similar struggles of having to set up their own homes and families as well."

Dr Koh said he and his family are proof of the success of Singapore's meritocratic system.

Dr Koh said he is thankful that despite his humble background, he was able to attend medical school at the National University of Singapore and graduate as a doctor.

He was also given government scholarships to receive training at top centres in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Dr Koh worked for 14 years at Singapore General Hospital before setting up his own practice as a colorectal surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Explaining why he decided to enter politics, Dr Koh said when he was called to serve, he felt "duty-bound to stand and be counted".

Dr Koh said he wants to help create the same opportunities to help other Singaporeans achieve their fullest potential.

He said his priority is to take care of residents' needs so he chose to do his first introductory walkabout at this mall, Rivervale Plaza.

Quite a number of residents here have expressed unhappiness over the fact that the upgrading works have stalled, due to the contractor going bankrupt.

At the mall, caretaker MP Teo Ser Luck introduced Dr Koh to residents and briefed him on the unfinished upgrading works.

Dr Koh had said if elected, he would look into having more childcare facilities and community clubs in the area.

Dr Koh said: "We will probably also push for more resources to get our community centre set up in the community. This will open up more facilities for residents to enjoy, to bond and perhaps consider siting some of these childcare facilities within an area like this that increases the capacity for more utilisation by the residents here."

The PAP had been considering Dr Koh as a potential candidate for the next general election.

The party's First Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said several other names were considered for Punggol East but it picked Dr Koh, because it felt he was the best candidate.

Mr Teo said: "To the residents of Punggol East, we are sorry to have to put you through a by-election, we promised that we will continue to look after the residents of Punggol East and we want to fulfil this promise, so we've chosen carefully a good candidate, with roots here in Punggol, an HDB heartlander who can understand your problems, a person with young children like you, who can empathise with the issues that you are facing.

"We hope that you can place your trust in him, we hope that he'll be able to work with you for many more years to come to help improve your lives here in Punggol East and also to contribute at a wider level in Parliament to make Singapore a better place, and we hope you will give him your support."

If more than one candidate successfully files his papers on Nomination Day next Wednesday, January 16, voters in Punggol East will go the polls on January 26.

Homecoming for a bus driver's son
Kampung boy wants to create same opportunities he got to come up in life

By Jessica Cheam, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2013

THE firstborn of a bus driver, Dr Koh Poh Koon, who is a kampung boy from Punggol, did odd jobs to help support his family of seven and studied medicine on a student loan.

When he and his doctor wife bought their Housing Board flat in 1998, they borrowed money from a relative for its renovation.

With just $11.50 left in their bank account, they could only afford to buy chopsticks for the first meal in their five-room flat in Telok Blangah, which they now share with their two young daughters.

Yesterday, the 40-year-old colorectal surgeon credited Singapore's sound policies for his rise from poverty.

"They must have been put in place by a capable and committed government. So when I was called to serve, I felt duty-bound to stand and be counted.

"I want to help create the same opportunities that will enable Singaporeans to achieve their fullest potential," said Dr Koh, who was formally introduced as the People's Action Party's (PAP) candidate for Punggol East.

His introduction by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean comes a day after the Writ of Election was issued, setting Nomination Day on Jan 16 and Polling Day on Jan 26. The seat was vacated last month by Mr Michael Palmer, who quit politics after confessing to an extramarital affair.

Although a political newbie, who was approached by the PAP only last month, Dr Koh was swift to explain that standing in Punggol was like "coming home".

As a boy living near where the Cheng Lim LRT station now stands, he recalled with delight how he played among the pig sty and chicken coops his family kept.

His father, working two shifts, drove bus service 82 that ends at Punggol Point.

"Punggol has always occupied a very special place in my heart... and the fact that there are so many Teochews in Punggol kind of makes us all a bit like Teochew nang, ka ki nang (a Teochew phrase that suggests everyone is a kin)."

Similarly, as a "heartlander", he said he readily identifies with issues close to the hearts of residents: "getting our first home, putting our kids to school, taking care of elderly folk".

So, his campaign strategy is simple: "As long as the focus is on the residents and our motives are clear, the residents will see it and that will be the best strategy."

But his top priority, meanwhile, is the renovation of Rivervale Plaza mall.

Its delay by a year has upset some residents and shopkeepers, because walkways are narrowed and footpaths are carpeted with sand and mud that pose a problem for cyclists.

"The key focus is to alleviate the discomfort, which is why I came here immediately (after the press conference)," he said.

Dr Koh joined the PAP three weeks ago but his grassroots work as a residents' committee member dates back to 2002.

The force that drove him to enter politics is a sense of duty, which he credits to the teachings of legendary strategist Zhuge Liang and Song dynasty poet Wen Tian Xiang. He imbibed them as a student at Maris Stella High, where he took Chinese as a first language.

Citing Chinese verses with ease and switching fluently between English and Mandarin, he said: "These Chinese verses espouse loyalty and sacrifice for one's country as a great virtue."

Also, "helping residents as a community leader or a politician is an extension of my calling as a doctor in helping patients...

"The difference is that as a parliamentarian, we have the opportunity to shape policies that would impact a wider girth of society."

And as a father, "it's also my way of making sure the Singapore my kids grow up in will be as much the one that I've grown to love and cherish.

"This is the reason I decided to enter politics."

About the candidate: Dr Koh Poh Koon

Age: 40

Occupation: Colorectal surgeon; owns a private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre; part-time consultant at Changi General Hospital; an adjunct assistant professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School; and a clinical lecturer with the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Marital status: Married to a doctor, with two daughters, aged nine and four.

Education: Attended the former MacRitchie Primary, Maris Stella High School and Hwa Chong Junior College; studied medicine at NUS and has a fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Academy of Medicine in Singapore.

Languages and dialects spoken: English, Mandarin and Teochew

What he will champion in Punggol East: Improve childcare facilities, get more resources for the community centre and tackle renovation problems caused by the delay in upgrading Rivervale Plaza shopping mall.


"Punggol has always occupied a very special place in my heart... and the fact that there are so many Teochews in Punggol kind of makes us all a bit like Teochew nang, ka ki nang."
- Dr Koh

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