Vivian Balakrishnan’s “illiterate” remark was basically what everyone else had in mind

In a video of the parliamentary debate yesterday (Sep 14), which was livestreamed on the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Communications and Information, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan can be heard saying “he’s illiterate”, after Manpower Minister Tan See Leng replied to a question from Progress Singapore Party’s Leong Mun Wai.

Dr Balakrishnan is heard a few minutes later saying “seriously, how did he get into RI? Must have been a lousy school”. His comments were directed to Leong.

Dr Tan is then heard replying: “I’m from Monk’s Hill.”

RI refers to Raffles Institution, where Mr Leong studied in the 1970s, while Dr Tan studied at Monk’s Hill Secondary School. Dr Balakrishnan received his early education at Anglo-Chinese School.

The guai lan we need, not the guai lan we deserve

Leong has received flak from netizens for his poor showing during the debate relating to his motion on foreign talent policy and free trade agreements.

The 10-hour debate which stretched till midnight saw Leong frequently fumbling with his speech, and at times, had to be prompted again to give more coherent answers and clarify his views about the FTAs.

Despite the debate being called upon by Leong and PSP, Leong’s understanding of the various FTAs as well as the legal provisions in CECA was inadequate.

At one point, Minister of Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said, “Sir, I’m afraid Mr Leong doesn’t even know what his motion says.”

Dr Balakrishnan’s guai lan comments, while inappropriate, was not entirely uncalled for.

Similarities to US TV’s West Wing

Dr Balakrishnan’s oopsie moment bores some similarities to an episode of West Wing where the character President Bartlett supposed private remarks off air was actually recorded on his mic and livestreamed to the audience.

In the episode, President Barlett said, “I think we might be talking about a .22 calibre mind in .356 magnum world,” a reference to mean that his opponent was not very bright.

Later on, the President’s press secretary questioned if the President knew his mic was turned on when he made the remarks but the President didn’t answered. The scene concluded by revealing that the President actually knew his mic was on but made the comment anyway.

In the same episode, the opponent’s supporters called for an apology and kept referencing back to the President’s remarks. Unfortunately for them, the comment about the opponent not being the sharpest tool in the shed echoed on.

Perhaps in Dr Balakrishnan’s incident, the remark about Leong being “illiterate” shall also be immortalised.


Vivian said on Wednesday (Sep 15) that he has called Leong to apologise for his “private comments to a colleague” in Parliament on Tuesday.

“I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said,” Dr Balakrishnan wrote in a Facebook post. “Mr Leong has accepted my apology.”

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Leong said he received a call from Dr Balakrishnan on Wednesday and that the minister conveyed his apology for his comments.

He added: “I am also curious to know who are the other persons who were involved in the conversation and the reason why they held the institution that I attended in contempt.”

He also called for everyone to put their time to better use for Singapore and Singaporeans


What do you think?

1.5k Points
Upvote Downvote

TOC M’sian writer allegedly paid only S$50 for defamatory article on PM Lee

Raeesah Khan finally realises that the Parliament is not Geylang Serai Market