Tan Cheng Bock

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Tan.




Tan Cheng Bock MBBS


Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Ayer Rajah

In office
23 December 1980 – 6 May 2006

Preceded by


Succeeded by

S. Iswaran (West Coast G.R.C.)


12,967 (76.0%)

Personal details


26 April 1940 (1940-04-26) (age 71)



Political party

(formerly People’s Action Party until May 2011)


Cecilia Lee Choon Lian


1 Son and 1 Daughter

Alma mater

University of Singapore


General practitioner


Medical practitioner


Roman Catholicism





Tan Cheng Bock (simplified Chinese: 陈清木; traditional Chinese: 陳清木; pinyin: Chén Qīngmù; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tân Chheng-bo̍k; born 26 April 1940) is a politician and physician from Singapore. Tan was a People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament in Singapore politics for 26 years (1980-2006) and the first non cabinet minister elected into the People’s Action Party Central Executive Committee (1987-96).


Early life

Tan was educated at Radin Mas Primary School and Raffles Institution, before going on to study at the University of Singapore where he graduated with a Bachelor of medicine and surgery (MBBS) in 1968. [1] He was a backbencher in Singapore’s Parliament from 1980 to 2006 as a member of the People’s Action Party (PAP). In early May 2011 he resigned from the PAP to stand as a candidate in the 2011 presidential election. [2]

Medical career

Tan has been the Medical Director of Ama Keng Medical Clinic in Jurong since 1971. He has served as the Chairman of the Society of Private Practice, as a Council Member of the College of General Practitioners, as Committee Member on the Council of the Singapore Medical Association, as Chairman of the SMA Trust Fund, as Board Member of SMA’s Ethics Committee, as SMA’s Representative on the Ministry of Health’s Committee on the Regulation of Medical Clinics, and as a Part-time clinical teacher in General Practice at National University of Singapore. [1]

Political career

Representing the PAP, Tan was elected as a Member of Parliament for Ayer Rajah SMC at the 1980 general election (83% majority). He was re-elected five times in 1984 (75%), 1988 (70%), 1991 (75%), 1997 (73%) and 2001 (88%), winning by an average majority of 77%.[3][4] His 88% share of the vote in the 2001 parliamentary elections was the PAP’s best score in 31 years. [5]

While in Parliament, he served as the Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committees (GPCs) for Education (1987–90), National Development (1991–95) and the Environment (1995–97), and was the Co-ordinating Chairman for all GPCs from 1987-88. He was also a member of the GPCs for Communications (1997–2000) and Defence & Foreign Affairs (2001–06). Tan was the Leader of the Singapore-European Parliamentary Group between 1991 – 1996 and Singapore-SEA Parliamentary Group between 1997 – 2006. From 1987 – 1996, he was an elected member of the PAP Central Executive Committee[4], the highest ruling committee within the PAP. Tan stepped down as a Member of Parliament at the 2006 general election. He also served as Chairman of the Jurong East Town Council from 1989–91, Chairman of the West CoastAyer Rajah Town Council from 2001–04, Chairman of the Bukit Timah Community Development Council from 1997–2000, and Chairman of the Feedback Unit at the Ministry of Community Development from 1985-89.

CPF for Tertiary Education

In 1988, Tan Cheng Bock, as GPC Chairman for Education, led a team of MPs to argue for the use of CPF for education, as an appreciable number of able students were not able to enter local universities due to limited places. Tan felt that education was a form of investment, and that all his GPC was asking for was an extra option for CPF members, to let them decide whether to put their investible savings in stocks and shares or in education. Chief argument against the idea was that the use of such retirement savings may leave the account holder with an insufficient amount at the end of his working life. The Minister for Labour at that time, Lee Yock Suan said that there were alternatives available such as soft loan schemes which were interest free. In answer to Tan’s claim that Lee had not clearly stated his position on the issue despite the idea being first mentioned years ago, Lee insisted that his position had always been plain, that he “was against it, but you have pressed me to study it and I shall”[6]. The set of guidelines on the use of CPF for Education proposed by the GPC was eventually implemented, paving the way for the beginnings of a wave of Singaporean students studying at local tertiary institutions. [7]

Free parking

Tan also convinced the Ministry of National Development (MND) to let Singaporeans park their cars for free in HDB estates on Sundays and public holidays, to promote family togetherness.[citation needed]

In early 2010, Tan volunteered himself to help fellow multi-millionaire residents in Sentosa Cove to meet with Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) to seek waiver of the gantry entry charge (S$2 to S$7 depending on the entry time) for visitors to their residences to the Sentosa island. His efforts however did not bear immediate fruits. Later in October 2010, the SDC offered to cap the entry charge at a concession rate of $3.[8]

Nominated Member of Parliament Scheme

Tan Cheng Bock actually voted against his own party despite the Whip not lifted (a first in the history of Singaporepolitics) regarding the NMP scheme, on grounds that MPs had to be elected by the people and be accountable to an electorate for their views. He received a warning for his action.[9]

Think Singaporeans First

In 1999, when the nation was recovering from the Asian Financial Crisis, and experiencing yet labour talent shortages in several key sectors, the PAP pushed for a stronger intake of foreign talent to fill the ranks. Although not against this rationale, Tan Cheng Bock argued that the Government should tone down its calls for the recruitment of foreign talent and reassure Singaporeans that they came first, [10] which earned him strong rebuttals, including one from then Minister of Trade and Industry BG Yeo and a stern rebuke from then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.[11]

No Blank Cheque

In 1985, he made in Parliament about “no more blank cheque” for the ruling party which he revisited on his blog in May 2011.[12][13]

Working with the Opposition

After the May 2011 General Elections, Tan said in a speech at the 52nd Singapore Medical Association Annual Dinner that he had given advice to Opposition candidates including Tan Jee Say on how to campaign in the 2011 general elections when they approached him. [14][15] Tan Jee Say had stood for election as SDP candidate in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and lost. Tan Jee Say later resigned from his party to stand in the 2011 presidential election.

Business Career

Appointment to Chuan Hup

Tan’s appointment as non-executive Chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings Ltd in 1991 was unusual at the time, as Members of Parliament did not normally hold such positions. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who had been a classmate of Tan’s at the Raffles Institution (Secondary), later said that he had initially been inclined to say no to Tan’s request because Tan was a medical practitioner with no experience in shipping:

“When I first saw the letter, the old attitude was, why is the company interested in him? Is it to use him to open doors in Singapore? People know that he was my classmate. He is close to me. And would they use him to take advantage of his relationship with me? I would regard that as natural initial reservations.”[16]

Goh ultimately agreed to the appointment, but in the letter he sent to Tan made clear his reservations:

“When you become CHH’s non-executive chairman, you should distinguish clearly between your private position as CHH’s chairman and your public position as MP. You should not lobby any public officer in the course of your business. You have often spoken publicly on the state of the property market, and the need for the Government to intervene. It has not always been clear whether you were speaking as an MP, or in your private or professional capacity. This has confused the public.”[17]

Goh later confirmed that neither Tan nor his company had ever tried to take advantage of his position.[16]

Current appointments

In addition to serving as non-executive Chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings Ltd since 1991, Tan has also held the position of Chairman of Dredging International Asia Pacific Pte Ltd since 1997.[citation needed]

Past corporate appointments

His past corporate appointments include

  • ING Asia Private Bank (2008 – 09)
  • M&C REIT Management Ltd (2006 – 10)
  • M&C Business Trust Management Ltd (2006 – 10)
  • Jurong Health Services (up to 2011)
  • Jurong Medical Centre (up to 2011)
  • Provisional MRT Transit Authority (1983)
  • Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (1983 – 85)
  • SMRT (1987 – 95)
  • Land Transport Authority (1995 – 2005).

Awards and decorations

Tan has been awarded numerous accolades from various Organisations such as the Sreenivasan Orator, Singapore Medical Association(SMA); Orator, Obstetrics & Gynaecology Society; Fellow, College of Family Practitioners; Honorary Member, Singapore Medical Association; Honorary Member, Republic of Singapore Yacht Club; Governor, Tower Club; Honoured – 100 Rafflesians (1823 – 2003).[citation needed]

Charity Work

Tan has been involved in the following Charity Organisations such as the Tsao Organisation (2000 – 2009), Centre for Third Age Ltd (2007 – 2011), Disabled People’s Association (1985 – 2006), Handicap Welfare Association (1986 – 2006) and the Credit Counselling Singapore (2002 – 2007).[citation needed]

Personal Life

A Catholic, Tan is married to Lee Choon Lain and has one son and one daughter. He enjoys playing the Ukulele, gardening, golf and keeping koi.

2011 Presidential Election

In June 2011, Tan announced that he was running for the position of President of Singapore in the 2011 presidential election. He resigned from the party early May 2011 in order to be able to stand for the Presidental election (as members of political parties are barred from running for the office of President).[18][2] On 22 July 2011, Tan submitted the presidency forms. [19] On 11 August 2011, Tan was declared eligible to run.[20]



Tan at the Nomination Centre on 17 August 2011.


Tan expressed he wishes to promote multi-racialism, if elected. [21]

Internal Security Act detentions

Controversy erupted shortly after Tan declared his interest in the Presidency. It was revealed that in a Straits Times article dated back in 1987, Tan had spoken regarding the Singaporean government’s controversial Operation Spectrum while he was in parliament, which saw 22 young Roman Catholic church and social activists and professionals detained without trial.[22][23] He addressed in his capacity as Feedback Unit chief, that most Singaporeans had accepted the government’s and ISD’s reasons for the detention, he also reported that certain “solid citizens” were sceptical of the detention. On 4 June 2011, Tan’s Facebook administrator cited that as posts on his page about the incident were running contrary to what law courts have ruled, the risk of being sued for defamation was open to both hosts of the site and people behind the posts alike, as such, “(they) are obliged to remove posts that run contrary to what the law courts have ruled.”[24] In an interview with The Online Citizen geo-political website in June 2011, Tan explained[25] why he ‘supported’ the infamous detention, “I believed the information that was given to me from the government at that time. I saw that the people believed that they were conspirators as well. As Feedback Unit Chief, I could not let my own feelings dilute the general consensus, which I presented in Parliament.” When asked whether he still feels the ‘Marxist conspirators’ are guilty, Dr Tan responded, “I really feel they are innocent. They are all social workers and they meant well but unfortunately”.




A bumper sticker produced by Tan for his presidential bid

In the presidential candidate broadcast,[26] Tan addressed that “The President must be above politics.” and that “he must not be a proxy to be any political party” where “his interest must be national, not with a political agenda in mind”.

He also proposed for the government and the Prime Minister’s office to be separated as “this familiarity attracts unwanted suspicion of undue influence”. He emphasized that this separation is a symbolic move required to reassure the people that they are independent of each other.

Tan also proposed an Annual Statement for greater transparency in order for Singaporeans to better understand the president’s activities and ideas in unifyingSingapore. The statement will also touch onSingapore’s reserves, and the rationale behind the appointment or vetoing of civil servants.

Tan’s campaign slogan is “Think Singaporeans First”, a reference to his 1999 debate on the need to prioritize Singaporeans first when faced with prevailing foreign talent policy.[26]

Election symbol

Tan’s symbol is a palm tree. He explained “The leaves of the palm represents our multiracial society, the trunk represents them coming together, and the roots represents us taking root in Singapore.” [27]









30 AUGUST 2011


All about Dr Tan Cheng Bock

From village doctor, to member of parliament, to corporate world, charities, and the grassroots.

A man driven by passion:


Tan Cheng Bock is a man who went from humble beginnings to a varied and deep experience. Born in 1940 to a poor family,whose father passed away in his mid-teens,he went through Raffles Institution on bursaries,eventually making it through to medical school inSingapore to qualify as a medical doctor. He began working life in equally humble circumstances,in 1971,as a village doctor in Ama Keng village,Lim Chu Kang. Described as “the best years of my life”,where life was so simple and real as to take payment sometimes in vegetables and farm produce;he came to be the confidant of the villagers,who looked to him to represent them in matters with the authorities. Eventually this brought him to the attention of the PAP which asked him to stand for general elections in 1980.


Parliamentary Contributions

As Tan Cheng Bock entered the political arena in 1980,it became clear that his strength was in the grassroots,with the people. He became Chairman of the Feedback Unit (84-89) and was so effective and sincere in conveying the people’s hearts that he was nicknamed Mr. Feedback. He spoke vigorously but fairly in parliament for the people,for moderation in certain government policies which he felt were divisive and elitist,including streaming in education (’81),graduate mothers programme,and the excessive emphasis on foreign talent (‘99). On one occasion,disagreement even came to the point of voting against his own party,the PAP,on the Nominated MP scheme (‘92) which he felt violated a principal of democracy:which was,to speak in parliament requires electorate accountability. Tan Cheng Bock’s motto has been “Let your conscience be your guide”, as sometimes what is right should prevail over party lines. He also advocated policies which he felt were for the common man,including leading successfully the fight for CPF for Education,Free Parking on Sundays to promote social interaction,more C class hospital beds,greater access for the disabled,and more affordable primary healthcare access. As the people grew to know him as an MP with a heart for the common man,and a defender of principles and values,he became fondly known as “Doc” to the people ofSingapore.

Political & Foreign Appointments

His frankness over policy won him respect within the PAP,such that from 1987-96,he was an elected member of the Central Executive Committee of the PAP,its highest ruling committee.  In 1985,he was the pioneering 1st Chairman of Town Councils,he was to helm various town councils all the way to 2004.  In 1987,he also became Co-ordinating Chairman of all Group Parliamentary Committees – GPCs propose and assess policy flowing from the ministries. His involvement in GPCs spanned from Education (Chairman),National development (Chairman),Environment (Chairman),Communications (Member),to Defence &Foreign Affairs (Member). Tan Cheng Bock’s warm personality also saw him involved inSingapore’s foreign relations for 15years,where he was Leader of the Singapore-Europe Parliamentary Group (91-96),and subsequently forSouth East Asia (97-2006). During this leadership,his duty was to visit,and receive visiting parliamentarians from these countries,and others as well. Dignitaries met include Mahathir,Najib,Megawati,Ramos,Deng Xiaoping,Zhao Zhiyang,Nakasone and others. One of his foreign affairs highlights was to actually help guide the first general elections ofCambodia whilst the political atmosphere there was still charged with violence.

Corporate Governance

His reputation for accountability and independence, brought him to the attention of the corporate world where he has held various positions of Corporate Governance. He has been Chairman of Investment holding company Chuan Hup since 1991,and was invited to be an independent board member of the Asia Pac operations of two multi-billion European multi-national companies –Dredging Int’l Asia Pac since 1997 (of the DEME Group) and ING Asia Private Bank (of ING N.V.),which later became Bank of Singapore. From commercial entities,he also advised charities as well,including the Disabled People’s Association (85–06),Handicap Welfare Association (86–06) and Credit Counseling Singapore (02-07). He also has a long history in statutory boards,having been a board member of Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (83-85),SMRT (87-95),Land Transport Authority (95-05). Recently in March 2011,another incident impinged on his conscience which caused him to resign from the board (Jurong Medical Centre) of the upcoming Ng Teng Fong Hospital,where he did not believe that a 90% publicly funded institution should give up its entire naming rights (originally Jurong General Hospital) on a 10% donation.

Grassroots & Community

Despite the many high appointments,Tan Cheng Bock never forgot the ground and he loved the ground,this was his base,and constituents of Ayer Rajah remember him fondly for being an accessible,warm,and fair MP. He promoted social interaction,integrated Community Centres for young and old to mix,pioneered disabled access,and genuinely enjoyed gracing community events. His heart for the grassroots was such that he named the community centre theatre after a simple humble grassroots leader who never sought high appointments,Pek Ang Mooh,a tribute plaque written by Tan Cheng Bock himself can be seen there today. Ayer Rajah gave Tan Cheng Bock a resounding send off in the 2001 GE at 88%,his average being 77% over 6 general elections fought,in what was to be his final term,retiring in 2006,after 26 years of service.

The Complete Candidate

In putting forward his candidacy for the Elected Presidency of Singapore,Dr. Tan Cheng Bock hopes to bring his qualities and strengths to bear:an accessible people’s President as evidenced by his grassroots and charity track record;for the reserves his deep experience in independent Corporate Governance;in foreign relations the dignity during his 15 years in parliamentary group leadership;and finally as a unifying president as having a track record of seeing both sides of the coin – dear reader,you must read this speech he made in 1985,to know the heart of the man,which resurfaced as relevant today (click here for no blank cheque speech).