Making a difference - differently
Baey Yam Keng made a mark by being himself. Petir catches up with him to find out about his position on various issues, including his use of social media.
He is a Member of Parliament who appears to be cut from a different cloth from his peers.
Baey Yam Keng told Petir: "Many people say I am different because I am young, but I am 45 years old. I was 35 when I was first elected into Parliament and that could have created the impression that I am one of the young ones. I don't seek to be different, I am just being myself."
In 2012, he resigned as managing director of global public relations firm H+K Strategies Singapore office to serve full-time as an MP for Tampines GRC. Prior to Tampines, he was an MP in Tanjong Pagar GRC
Mr Baey explained: "I was sent quite suddenly to contest in Tampines GRC in the 2011 GE. I was new to my constituency and had to start from scratch. After six years as an MP, I found I did not have much time left after performing my MP duties and running the PR firm. Family time was being sacrificed. I also felt I could do more both as an MP and MD."
He said: "I could not quit being an MP and let the voters down. Family was also important, so it had to be my corporate career that had to go."
As a full-time MP for about three years, Mr Baey devoted two weekdays every week to be in Tampines, on top of the weekly evening visits to residents' homes, Monday meetthe- people (MPS) sessions, and grassroots activities.
After last September's general elections, Mr Baey has gone back to a full-time day job, this time as a Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
He said his role was to support the Minister and to act as a liaison between MCCY and Parliament, especially with members of the Government Parliamentary Committees. While residents of Tampines GRC have noticed that he has scaled down the amount of time he devotes to the constituency, he said they understood he now has a full-time day job.
He still does the MPS and house visits and continues to frequent his regular coffee shop in his constituency every Wednesday morning where residents drop by for chats with him.
"Residents can still approach me and I will do my best to solve their problems," he said.
Talking about his student days, he said that he had gone to London on an Economic Development Board (EDB) scholarship to do his degree in biotechnology and his Masters in biochemical engineering. That took four years and he then worked at the EDB London office for another three years. He and his wife frequented the museums during their spare time. It was an experience he treasures and as a backbencher, he mooted the scrapping of entry fees for museums here. His proposal was accepted.
Mr Baey also spoke up in Parliament for dialects to be considered as part of Singapore's Chinese heritage and not be "driven into extinction." Asked if he is now in a better position to promote dialects since he is with MCCY, he said that he accepts and understands the government's language policy. He added that MCCY supports the preservation and promotion of our culture and heritage, and that he looks forward to working with the Chinese clans and associations to do so.
He said: "Dialects are not just about the language. They also incorporate the different kinds of cuisine, the special festivals and customs, which should be preserved."
Mr Baey, who became an MP in 2006, has also spoken extensively on issues related to the arts, culture, new media and censorship.
His focus on such subjects has earned him quite a following.
Harnessing the power of social media
Baey Yam Keng frequently posts his views on social media such as his public Instagram account, @baeyyamkeng, complete with selfies and personal anecdotes.
For this, he has been flamed for being "vain". Explained Mr Baey: "As a politician, you get used to criticism. You can't please everyone. If my post consists of only serious stuff such as speeches, very few people are going to read it. I try to make it interesting so I include pictures and some insights of my personal life."
He added that social media is also a good way to raise awareness of what he does in his constituency.
He said: "I spend two hours a week visiting residents. Typically, there is someone at home in about 40 per cent of the units, and not all family members are present."
"Those residents of the block will know of my visit but other people whom I did not meet might wonder: 'What is my MP doing?' So by posting images and details of my visits on social media, I reach a much bigger audience."
Mr Baey has had a presence on social media very early in his political career. "As a backbencher, you are hardly featured by the mass media. I wanted to share my ideas with as many people as possible and also get their feedback so I turned to social media. It proved rewarding and I continued," he said.
So much so that when announcing his promotion from a backbencher to a Parliamentary Secretary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said of Mr Baey: "He's got good communication skills on how we can get our message across, how we can present it, how it can be put in the terms of new media if we need to, or mainstream media if we need to."
Q&A: A knack for connecting with youth
PM Lee Hsien Loong said that you are adept in reaching out to the young. How do you do it?
Young people are into new media so my postings on social media can reach out to them. They are also very passionate about issues such as the arts, censorship and sexual orientations, which are also issues I have addressed in my posts and in Parliament.
How do you attract youths to participate in community activities?
They want fun and flexibility so I don't insist they come every week to our activities. Instead, I plan ad hoc events for them and then include some element of fun. For example, when we are distributing rice and foodstuff to needy households in the precinct, I have a dress code in a certain colour. This makes the activity "more hip" in the minds of young volunteers and they are attracted to join.
You often invite people to join your jogs or cycling trips?
Yes, I do this quite regularly. I would invite them to cycle with me to Changi Village for breakfast or for a jog around Marina Bay. Several residents and sometimes even non-residents come along. These are informal events but they can help everyone bond together. Since the invites are through social media, many of the participants are often young people, and I get to know them and they get to know me.
And I jog about 5 to 7 km in the mornings, twice a week.
This article was first published in the Feb 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.