Straits Times: WP new face: From Normal stream to top grad

ELECTION 06

BY SUE-ANN CHIA


QUITTING HIS JOB
“Something’s got to give. The people need to be represented.”

MR TONG, who declined to confirm his candidacy, said that, if elected, he would quit his $100,000-a-year job and be a full-time MP. He is a management consultant who advises chief financial officers on how to optimise their company’s funds.

POTENTIAL Workers’ Party (WP) candidate Perry Tong, 35, is what some would call a Comeback Kid.

He took five years to get his O-levels and scraped through with three passes – in English, geography, and combined physics and chemistry.

Following his national service, he took another five years, working as a bartender, to save for a tertiary education in the United States.

Eventually, he got a political science degree from the University of California in Berkeley, graduating among the top 10 per cent of those who received a degree in 1998.

Yesterday, in relating his struggle to be a graduate, Mr Tong shrugged off talk that the opposition finds it difficult to attract talented people.

“No, it’s not true. You’re talking now to possibly one (talent),” he said with a wry smile during an interview with The Straits Times.

But ask him if he had considered joining the People’s Action Party, he replies matter-of-factly: “No. With my academic track record, I didn’t think I’d qualify for the PAP.”

Mr Tong spent his first 10 years of school in St Andrews, where he was in the Normal stream in secondary schools.

For his O-levels, he switched to Ping Yi Secondary, which was nearer his home – a three-room HDB flat in Marine Parade. His family could not afford the bus fare to St Andrews in Potong Pasir.

His father, now retired, was then a small-time businessman and his mother, a housewife.

The older of two sons, Mr Tong said he worked as a waiter for a year before his national service. He then became a bartender, and at one point held two jobs, working from 9am to 5am, to save for his studies.

In 1996, he left for Santa Barbara City College where he studied for 18 months before moving to the University of California in Berkeley. To help pay for his tuition fees, he said he worked 12-hour shifts daily as a bartender.

His interest in politics was piqued when the late President Ong Teng Cheong had an exchange with the Government on the state of its reserves.

However, he joined the WP only three years ago when his career was on a firmer footing, after he was laid off by a dotcom company.

He chose the WP as “it has a long tradition of being consistent in seeking to improve the welfare of Singaporeans”.

But it was only last November that he stepped forward as election talk became rife. “I believe that moral support is not enough, you have to active,” he said.

He is likely to be a WP candidate at East Coast GRC, where he was seen for the first time on Sunday, when potential WP candidates went for a walkabout at Bedok Central Market.

He declined to confirm his candidacy but said that, if elected, he would quit his $100,000-a-year job with United States-based company Hackett Group and be a full-time MP.

“Something’s got to give. The people need to be represented,” said Mr Tong, a management consultant who advises chief financial officers on how to optimise their company’s funds.

The man who stands at over 1.9 metres and has a deep bass voice shrugged his broad shoulders and said his work, which requires him to travel about 80 per cent of the time, would clash with his job as MP.

If elected, he would focus initially on local issues, such as alleviating the flash flood problems in Bedok.

“I would like to begin with municipal issues, and work my way up to national issues,” he said.

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