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Posts Tagged ‘PM Lee’

The baby, the bathwater and the bathtub

In News Reports, Politics on May 2, 2015 at 12:24 am

Everybody is reading tea leaves again. You can be sure that every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth from now, people will speculate on whether it would be an early election held way before January 2017. I have given up guessing dates but my tea leaves, or rather coffee grounds, tell me that all seats will be contested and eyes will be on wards bordering the Workers’ Party cluster in the east. At least, I sure hope so….I live there!

So what can be gleaned from PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech on May Day? It was all about exceptional leadership, like the sort his father and the first generation of ministers provided. And the difficulty of recruiting good men and women into leadership positions. He didn’t say that they would be for the People’s Action Party – presumably because it’s a given. In fact, he hardly mentioned his party at all except when he reminisced about the late Lee Kuan Yew’s early days with the NTUC.

He has set the agenda for the next election: “..leadership renewal is the most important issue. It is not doing more or spending more as some would like you to think. It is who will lead Singapore into the future and it is our future at stake and our children’s future. Because if this government fails, what is going to happen to you, to all of us to Singapore?’’

The thing about leadership renewal as a mantra is that it has been the case for nearly every general election that I can remember save the years when the PAP put the elected presidency and the need for MPs who can run town councils centre-stage. Of course, there were plenty of other issues the PAP threw in, like vote for upgrading and deny racial politics ecetera.  But the theme of getting a team in place for the future is like listening to a tape recorder after re-winding.

Is it going to get any traction? Can it compare with the WP’s theme of needing a check in Parliament? Remember that Singapore lost a Foreign Minister in George Yeo. That’s a high profile job that is responsible for Singapore’s high profile on the international stage. Despite expressions of Mr Yeo’s exceptional ability, the PAP couldn’t fight the WP tide.

I suppose one reason leadership renewal might resonate now is that PM Lee isn’t getting younger. He’s 63. Leadership renewal was less of an issue during PM Goh Chok Tong’s time was because we all knew who was going to take over his job when he stepped down. Now the guessing game isn’t just about when the GE will be held, but who is going to step up to the PM’s plate. (You realise that we no longer have a First or Second DPM? Both Mr Tharman and Mr Teo are equal players although it is Mr Teo who steps up in the PM’s absence.)

The other issue is what it means to have an exceptional team.

PM Lee said this of the outpouring of emotion from the people when his father died: “I think his passing reminded people that exceptional leadership made a big difference to us and I think it has caused many people to pause and to ask ourselves are we sure we don’t need that kind of leadership any more, that quality of leadership anymore. Of course Mr Lee did not do it alone. Part of his greatness was that he brought together exceptional people to form an outstanding team.’’

As evidence, he also cited the numerous foreign leaders who came for the funeral and even flying their own national flags at half-mast.

So is PM Lee talking about “tough love’’? Hard truths and no holds barred kind of leadership that the late Mr Lee epitomized? He was after all, not a “gentle father figure’’ but a hardnosed mobiliser and, some might even say, hardboiled mobster.

I don’t think the late Mr Lee was the right leader for the turn of the century but I have sometimes wished that he had come out to lay out the law of the land and just point the waaaay. This is especially so when discussion gets too fractious.

I really want to know, for example, what was it that the late Mr Lee wanted to say in Parliament post-GE which his son didn’t allow him too. My guess is that it’s some kind of harangue about navel-gazing and going on about COEs and property prices when the world is out there ready to eat our lunch. The PM told his father that he and his team would handle it by themselves.

This is pure guesswork but I suppose he thought Mr Lee might do more harm than good by speaking up to a population which is no longer dominated by the first or second generation Singaporeans. Also, he wouldn’t want his father to help bolster him and the younger lot, and risk looking even weaker especially after a weak showing in the GE. Just saying.

There is another point in his speech I found disconcerting. He talks about how Mercedes still needs Lewis Hamilton to win the F1 championship even though it has an outstanding car. “The car can’t drive itself.’’ So those people who think it’s okay to try out a different team to lead the government because there is still the civil service to run the show should be “very careful’’.

Hmm. The civil service SHOULD be able to run the show despite a change of political masters no? That’s how it works elsewhere, so why can’t it work here? What is the relationship between the civil service and the government-of-the-day, especially when so many ministers are ex-civil servants?

I ask this because I was very taken by the speech made by Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo published in the media last week:

“The distinction of the role between the politician and public servant has started to become blurred.

“The upside is that the politicians will have strong support from public servants when they need to sell government policies. But the downside of the change is that it will be more difficult for the public servant to behave in a non-partisan manner as the public will see him as intrinsically linked to the ruling party, perhaps even occasionally justifying the party line. It was not an issue in the early days because the old-generation public servants never had to worry about another political party taking over government from the PAP.

“But GE 2011 has caused some of our younger public servants to worry about what to do if there are more and more opposition MPs in Parliament or even if there is a change in political party, and not just in government, maybe a few general elections from now.’’

There is something very wrong here. Are the fates of the civil servants so inextricably tied with that of their political masters that we have to be “very careful’’ if we exercise our right to put in a different political team? We risk the country going down the drain because the civil service can’t function as well with someone from a different party? Surely, ministers are NOT super civil servants.

You can already see attacks on the civil service when something untoward happens in the Workers’ Party town council. There is a perception that civil servants might not be even-handed in its dealings with the PAP and WP town councils, with those living in the opposition wards being worse off. It might be an unworthy perception but it is one that will dog the civil service if the distinction of the role between the politician and public servant is not clarified. We can throw out the party in power because we disagree with its politics or politicies but we must always be able to have faith that the civil service can and will carry on on behalf of the people.

It got me thinking about the NTUC. What happens to the NTUC should the PAP lose more seats or even lose power? Maybe nothing as the symbiotic relationship is between the PAP and the NTUC, which is like a holding fort for some would-be candidates and a testing ground for others. (Note: symbiotic is not tripartite which is G-employer-union.) I once asked Mr Lim Swee Say about the relationship and he said there were non-NTUC unions as well and opposition parties are free to tie up with them or form their own version of the labour movement. Interesting.

So PM Lee is right about being “very careful’’ about our vote. Throw out the bath water (the PAP) and the baby might go as well (the civil service) – and we also risk over-turning the bathtub (the NTUC)?

He might be right but it doesn’t seem right, does it?

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Furniture buying

In News Reports, Politics, Society on April 10, 2015 at 10:12 am

The Cabinet reshuffle has led to speculation that the general election, due by January 2017, could be held early, according to a TODAY report. Plus, the PAP G can reap an “LKY dividend’’, from the goodwill demonstrated by the populace in the aftermath of the first Prime Minister’s death. It’s a minor reshuffle, with Mr Masagos Zulkifli elevated to full minister and becoming second minister in both the Home and Foreign ministries and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew taking on a second portfolio.  Messrs Lim Swee Say, Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan-Jin have done some portfolio swopping. Me, I am still tickled by the idea of our multi-tasking Cabinet, who are members of the A team, said the Prime Minister.

So I went furniture shopping…

Me: I’m looking for some cabinet…can you advise me please?

Salesman: What sort you looking for? Kitchen cabinet? Shoe cabinet?

Me: Actually, something more multi-purpose…can put shoes, books and all kinds of knick knacks. Maybe for the living room…And maybe another for my bedroom with drawers for underwear and cold weather clothing.

Salesman: For living room ….how big?

Me: Ah…something adjustable, stackable. In case, I accumulate more stuff over the years…Somethings I just cannot throw away, you know…last forever.

Salesman: You want with glass panels or open shelving? Glass can show off your ornaments….Or you want them covered so you can hide stuff …

Me: Hmmm…open shelving must dust everyday…But very good to show off my Lee Kuan Yew books. But maybe put at the bottom because they are very heavy. Some glass doors for me to show off stuff I’ve bought from abroad or some sg50 mementoes…

Salesman: Different size compartments? All same size? We can stack small ones and some got double the size. Or we can have separators within compartments.  Everything adjustable…

Me: Maybe some have two separators so I can put stuff of different colours in one stack…Hmm…your cabinets come in white? Difficult to maintain or not? Can get rid of stains easily?

Salesman: Don’t worry Ma’am. We have all sorts of cleaning fluids. Just dab and like bleach, stains go off. Case-trusted and CPIB-approved. But don’t use too much or the wood will get rotten…

Me: What? Your cabinets all made of wood? I thought something stronger…

Salesman: Ma’am, then you looking for filing cabinet – we have cast-iron one…

Me: Don’t need filing cabinets…got computer. Just sell me one living room cabinet, soft compressed wood, white, with big and small compartments and shelves that can adjust up and down. Some got glass panel, some don’t. Do you have shoe cabinet?

Salesman: Of course! Very cheap. Very good. But stock only come in October.

Me: Aiyah, I think don’t need then…I buy from NTUC.

Salesman: Okay ma’am. I have a Class A type living room cabinet for you. Very good to display, very multi-purpose. People see …sure to go waaah…I can also offer you Class B type cabinet for your bedroom. For your socks and all that…Sometimes, can put in living room as well if living room cabinet suddenly collapse because you put too many things….

Me: Your stuff so lousy ah???

Salesman: Not lousy. Very good. Don’t believe me you just ask people…they will all kee chiu…

Me (dubious): Hmm…how much and when can you send over?

Salesman: Depends on how many compartments and how big each compartment. But don’t worry, still below market rate. Let me calculate…

Me: I don’t mind paying if you sure it’s good quality…so when delivery?

Salesman: Arhh Ma’am, you have to carry home yourself and assemble yourself. Got instructions…very easy to follow….Ma’am! Ma’am…don’t run away…Still haven’t shown you our kitchen cabinets!

One Cabinet and musical chairs

In News Reports, Politics on April 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm

The problem with reporting on news of a Cabinet reshuffle is that no one wants to say anything bad about anyone. So if someone gets promoted or moved, commentators will try to second-guess the Prime Minister’s intentions, and invariably come up with answers to fit the PM’s choice. No one says, not in public anyway, that he/she botched up the job and so got moved to another. Nor would anyone say that so-and-so’s posting is a sop to a segment of the population or because of intensive lobbying.

That’s what makes reporting Singapore politics so dull – everybody wants to be politically correct. (It really is the best thing to do since acceptable guesswork is better than negative speculation.) Of course, privately, everyone has their own ideas or conspiracy theories about what’s really happening behind the scenes. And because of the general election has to be held soon, everyone makes a link, even though there might be none.

What did the PM say? “These changes are part of continuing leadership renewal, to build a strong ‘A’ team for Singapore.’’ Gosh, I wonder if the PM realizes that the use of an A team means there is a B team, in reserve…If he does have a B team, we should be glad – because there seemed to be so few people we can draw on that the Singapore Cabinet has to play musical chairs and with some people straddling two chairs…

So what’s the big news this time around? MSM went to town with how the Malay/Muslim community now has a second full minister in Mr Masagos Zulkifli, besides Dr Yacob Ibrahim who is Muslim Affairs minister and minister for Communications and Information.

The PM said having two full ministers reflects the “progress of the Malay community’’ and observers have echoed this.

Said former NMP Eugene Tan in a commentary in TODAY: “This demonstrates the coming of age of the role of Malay politicians in our national leadership. And they are handling significant portfolios at the full ministerial level. While numbers should not be the sole measure of political relevance and effectiveness, the fact that Malay ministers are tasked with handling non-traditional and even sensitive portfolios is significant.’’ (I suppose he’s referring to Mr Masagos being second/second minister in Home and Foreign ministries – each now has a truly multi-racial team at the helm. In Home affairs: Mr Teo Chee Hean, Mr S Iswaran and Mr Masagos. In Foreign affairs: Mr K Shanmugam, Ms Grace Fu (female somemore!) and Mr Masagos.)

Then you have ….

Mr Zainal Sapari, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC: “This would definitely dispel the notion that there is a racial quota with regard to the number of full Cabinet ministers that the Malay community could have.” (There is no quota…this is a meritocracy no?)

National University of Singapore (NUS) political science don Hussin Mutalib: “it helps to soothe the feelings of the community, since the … Indian community, despite being smaller than the Malay community, has always had a larger and disproportionate share of Cabinet appointments”. (So there should be a quota rather than a system based on meritocracy?)

NUS  political science lecturer Bilveer Singh: “It’s good for the country and it’s healthy for democracy, because I think the Malay community has made a lot of progress and this is symptomatic of the progress that the Malay community has (made), and they should be represented at the highest level.” (And what about other communities, like the Eurasians or women? No progress?)

Association of Muslim Professionals chairman Azmoon Ahmad: “It will create impetus for the community and encourage us and give us the confidence that Malays can succeed.” (What are you saying? That Malays lacked confidence in the past about succeeding?)

Before you pounce on me…I want to quickly say that I exaggerated my remarks in the parentheses to make a point: I so dislike this idea of connecting representation to race/community.

I would rather people say that Mr Masagos got promoted because he has all the right qualities for the job. Period. It is not a reflection on his race/community – whether progress or regress. After all, we do not encourage stereotyping by race do we? Like connect certain negative attributes to certain communities? Likewise, I wouldn’t make a big deal if a woman breaks through the glass ceiling of any company or in the Cabinet. She’s a good, capable person – who happens to be a woman. Just like Mr Masagos is a good, capable person – who happens to be Malay.

Now, I had someone tell me that I can’t understand because I am not a member of the community. Correct. But it would distress me to think that the Malay community needed such assurances that a Singaporean. regardless of race, cannot rise to the top of the tree based on pure merit. Or that it needed to be “soothed’’ because other communities have “got ahead’’.

Dr Hussin said something else which puzzled me: That ‘some quarters may look at his Islamic profile with a certain unease’’. Hmmm. What does that mean? I looked up his community credentials for clues. All I got was that he chaired Muslim welfare group Perdaus, and started its humanitarian offshoot Mercy Relief…

Then comes this musical chairs over the NTUC, Manpower ministry and Ministry of Social and Family Development.

So NTUC’s Mr Lim Swee Say who had publicly stated that he would like to retire isn’t about to be allowed to. He’s going to MOM. Only in Singapore can you have someone jump from one side of the fence to the other. In fact, right across the line. In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Lim assured unionists that he will continue to be “pro-worker” while also being “pro-business”. “After all, the two are not necessarily in conflict. They are the two sides of a same coin.” You don’t say!

You have pundits agreeing about this ideal situation – and it really makes me wonder why people just don’t suggest a direct switch – MOM’s Tan Chuan-Jin should go to NTUC then instead of moving to Ministry of Social and Family Development! But of course, people can always make a case for this switch, like how he’s “well-placed” for the job since he had to deal with workers in difficult situations.

But I was most puzzled by this statement in the ST report regarding Mr Chan Chun Sing:

Meanwhile, the labour movement will get a new chief earlier than expected. Mr Chan, 45, who is now NTUC’s deputy secretary- general, will take over as secretary-general on May 4. He was previously expected to be voted in as labour chief during the next NTUC central committee elections in October.

Now, it looks as though it was the PM who decided that Mr Chan should be NTUC sec-gen. Yet much was made about Mr Chan having to get endorsement from the NTUC rank-and-file at its delegates’ conference in October.

Anyway I checked. The NTUC Central Committee promoted Mr Chan from deputy to full sec-gen yesterday morning. (Yup. Well-timed). And he still needs to get through that conference, which is held once every four years, which will vote in the 21 members of the Central Committee. Then the committee needs to decide on the various posts.

As for Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is now also Second Defence Minister. I don’t know what to say… Don’t you think he has enough to do in Transport?

PS. I would like to congratulate Mr Masagos on his promotion and for the rest of the ministers, good luck in your new portfolios!!

No man like him

In News Reports, Politics, Society on March 23, 2015 at 12:55 pm

And now the grieving starts. I had a look again at the television broadcast of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement of his father’s death. I saw it at 8am online – but you know how live streaming sucks. Now I see clearly how tough it must be to remain prime ministerial when it’s your father who has just died. Nobody would fault Mr Lee if he broke down in tears instead trying so bravely to hold them back. But he did. The son remained prime ministerial.

So many things have happened since the announcement of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s  death in the early hours of the morning. Flags are down half-mast, people are streaming in to pen their condolences in books that will be kept for posterity, the great and good the world over have sent messages. They praised him as a visionary leader whose counsel on geo-politics was sought and who cut through the chase. There was no bullshit about him.

I was taken aback when I read that Dr Henry Kissinger, now 91, recalled how Mr Lee’s first words on their first meeting was “You make me sick’’. It had to do with the US involvement in the Vietnam War and how some top American academics had wanted the country out. Mr Lee wanted the Americans to stay. “That took courage,’’ said Dr Kissinger as ST reported today.

Singaporeans can take pride in how world leaders regarded their first prime minister. Messages via official channels and even social media have come from world leaders, including Malaysia’s Najib Razak. The Brunei Sultan has already called at Sri Temasek where Mr Lee’s cortege has been placed for a private wake. Indonesia’s Jokowi is coming to the funeral on Sunday.

In fact, my worry is that with him gone, would the international glow on Singapore fade too? Mr Lee’s international stature had much to do with how much regard big countries had for this little red dot, as his successor Mr Goh Chok Tong himself testified. New leaders would stop by Singapore to take his counsel and I am still a little pissed that US President Barack Obama didn’t do the same. It is too late now for him to meet the man he described in his White House message as a “true giant of history’’. Harrrummph.

Major media have spewed forth obituaries, some positive, some negative. Even as they lauded his achievements as a pragmatic politician who took Singapore from Third World to First, they also highlighted the more draconian aspects of his “reign’’. References were made to detention without trial, political prosecutions/persecutions and the chewing gum ban. From the Western media was this tone: “Singapore is successful BUT’’, rather than “Singapore is successful DESPITE’’. A Foreign Policy commentator even called him the world’s “most successful dictator of the 20th century’’. I can’t decide if it was derogatory term or a backhanded compliment. Go read for yourself. The Economist called him the “wise man of Asia’’ while recalling descriptions of Singapore as “Disneyland with the death penalty’’ and “Pyongyang with broadband’’. I want to harrrummph again…

Of course, there were obituaries and tributes that were “over the top’’, with nary a negative word. I guess we should expect this. Sometimes what’s said reflects a depth of feeling, sometimes, a sheer lack of words.  After all, we are not used to expressing emotion, according to some survey. Also, it is not “nice’’ to say bad things about a man who is dead, however glad you are that he is. (Shut up, will you?)

Yes, I have been reading obituary after obituary. I can’t get enough of them. It is so interesting to have the man viewed through different lenses. Some facets have come out. I was so surprised to read Mr Lee Hsien Yang saying that the family bathed by ladling out water from those big dragon-motif salted egg jars, and that his parents did so for almost six decades until a shower was finally installed in the bathroom in 2003 after his mother had a stroke.

My goodness!

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Mr Lee was well-known for being frugal and for his distaste for ostentation. I remember once walking behind him with my eyes glued to a hole in the singlet he had on under his CYC shirt. This was no ordinary man who knew about ordinary things or cared about the material stuff. He once told me of how his refrigerator had been in family since forever and asked me what sort of fridges were on sale now. I don’t know Sir, I’ve never bought one, I told him. I felt like sinking into the floor…

Then there was former Speaker of the House Abdullah Tarmugi who said that Mr Lee was the only MP who always sent him a note explaining his absence from Parliament. Again, I went “my goodness!’’. You mean the rest of the MPs…?

Anyway, this was a man who stuck by the rules. It showed discipline and an inclination for order. Would that others follow his example.

Now we will be treated to (or is flooded with?) more black-and-white footage, some of which we’ve never seen before. We will be facing reams of text and old photographs. The older generation will have a fine time pointing out to the young ones who’s who  seated/standing near the young Harry Lee. Old names will surface again, the likes of Ong Pang Boon, Jek Yuen Thong, Toh Chin Chye and other members of the Old Guard, both living and dead. Already, I hear the “silent’’ majority speaking up, talking of water rationing days and other hardships they faced while bringing up a brood of children. Now, as my mother would say, “people are born into air-conditioning’’ and still think life sucks because they can’t afford a new car or house.

I hope our young people are taking it all in. His many books on his ideas and thoughts can be heavy going but, surely, plonking yourself in front of the television to watch some local history isn’t too strenuous an exercise?

I hope they get to know the man. PM Lee said “we won’t see another man like him’’. I agree. Not here, not in the future, not anywhere.

I’m glad that we can boast that we had a man like him.

NOTE: President Obama did meet Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I apologise for my error and am swallowing my Harummph.

A deadly serious laugh

In News Reports, Society on December 13, 2014 at 3:44 am

Prof Kishore Mahbunai is now down to his last big idea for Singapore: We should litter not, laugh a lot and love Singapore. I am only going to deal with laugh a lot, because that’s the most fun part. He thinks part of the reason we are gloomy people could be that we live in such a densely populated place. Easy to get irritated. We simply have to learn to love with this existential condition, he says.

He also wants national cartoonists to be nurtured and for leaders to allow themselves to be made fun of. Like Tommy Koh, Chan Heng Chee, Ho Kwon Ping and Gerard Ee. He said that they surely wouldn’t mind being lampooned once in a while. (Note that he steered clear of political figures here, although he named Malaysia’s Mahathir as someone who, despite being heavily caricatured, didn’t have his stature diminished one bit.)

Gosh! I think he doesn’t get online much.

Anyone I can just imagine the fuss if cartoonists started parodying everyone in more accessible, physical spaces than, hmm, online. So boh tua, boh suay!   There’s a difference between tasteful illustrations and comic caricatures. And the plain rude types. I can already hear the protests: It would denigrate the authority of the person. Surely, a cartoonist can’t be going around asking for permission from the person he wants to parody?

In any case, I agree that we should laugh a lot more than we do. I can’t help but think about how deadly serious we are about holding to certain points of view.

So let’s have a deadly serious laugh then…

POLITICIAN aka PM: I am deadly serious when I tell you that we’ll be seriously dead if we lose the next election.

PANEL MODERATOR: Can you please be deadly serious or even half-way serious? In fact, can you just be serious?

TAI TAI: I am in a deadly serious fix. Both my hairstylist and manicurist have gone on holiday.

ANXIOUS DAD: Son, this is deadly serious. If you don’t get into the Gifted Education Programme, it will kill me.

KID: I am going to throw a deadly serious tantrum if I don’t get to play on my iPad. In fact, I might cry, choke and die.

CYCLIST: HolyCrit is about deadly serious cycling. Except no one has died yet.

JOVER CHEW: Of course I am deadly serious about ethical business practices which do not include making customers kneel.

SIM LIM RETAILER: I am deadly serious when I say that Sim Lim Square is now a seriously dead place.

SPORTSHUB: We are deadly serious about replacing the National Stadium turf with dead grass.

MOS DESMOND LEE: I am deadly serious when I say the Workers Party should be transparent and accountable about its town council finances.

WP’s SYLVIA LIM: I agree that this issue is so deadly serious that you will have our answer in due course.

YANG YIN: I am deadly serious about my love for Singapore, my godmother and her money.

PROF KISHORE: I am being deadly serious about laughing a lot.

Partying into the next GE

In News Reports, Politics on December 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

So the People’s Action Party has started the election ball rolling. It’s framed the terms of the contest: First World Government, not First World Parliament. I wish though the MSM would make it clear that this is not the Prime Minister addressing the nation. Mr Lee Hsien Loong was speaking as the PAP secretary-general and he was speaking to the party faithful. A quibble you say? It isn’t. Because that is the line that MSM must maintain between the G and the party. Plus, it’s the truth.

I was a little flummoxed at how what he told party activists was suddenly elevated into a national issue. Perhaps it is, or even should be. But that’s the interpretation or analysis of the facts. And putting cart before horse. So what did the party chief say? Every media angled on how he said the GE would be a “deadly serious’’ fight. Deadly serious for who? Given that he was speaking to party activists, it would be deadly serious for them especially if the PAP loses. Extrapolate further, and you could say his message could also be directed to the population at large.

If the media treated it as a party message, then it could be interpreted thus: Wake up your ideas! You think we are going to sail through the next GE like we did the past? Better buck up and don’t get complacent or you may find that we’re not just out of some wards, but out of government!

In any case, how would Mr Lee know that the PAP won’t form the G anyway? It all depends on whether the opposition parties choose to contest more than half the seats and deprive the PAP of forming the government on nomination day. But if the opposition decides to organise itself and contested just half or less, than the PAP has to worry about the by-election effect. (The PAP in power already leh, so let’s vote in a few more opposition politicians.) The PAP already knows what a by-election means. It lost both the Hougang and Punggol East by-elections. Hougang was helmed by a philanderer (from the Workers’ Party) and the voters still picked a member of the party he belonged to. Punggol East was also helmed by a philanderer (from the PAP) but voters chose to throw the party out as well.

Okay, the PAP failed to form the G on nomination day in the last two elections. Perhaps Mr Lee expects the trend to continue, especially with opposition politicians figuring that they have social media to utilise. Third time lucky/unlucky?

One political commentator noted that this was the first time the spectre of the PAP losing the GE has been raised by the PAP itself. Why did it do so? I wonder what the PAP thinks would be better for itself: form the Government on Nomination Day and never mind if people use the vote for opposition parties and lose more seats OR don’t form the G and scare everyone into voting for it so as not to get what it calls a “freak election result’’. It might actually win some lost seats in the process or at least retain its parliamentary margin. (NOTE: a freak election result is what happens when people actually want only one thing to happen, that is, more opposition members in Parliament, but get more than they bargained for: opposition forms the government. Of course, it is NOT freakish if that is what people really want. In fact, it might be the will of the people! Who can say?)

As a political strategy though, framing the contest as who forms the G is a great one. Why wait till Nomination day and find out that most of the seats are up for grabs and only then start telling people the consequences of the vote in a doomsday voice? Best to start seeding the ground early, whatever happens on Nomination Day. Unless, of the course, the G resorts to certain tools in its kit – bring back six-member jumbo GRCs, reduce the number of single-seat wards and redraw the boundaries such that those pesky opposition voting blocs are split up….

The GE has to be called by January 2017. The bet is that it will be late next year or early 2016 to take advantage of the SG50 hype and the feel-good factor. Actually, there are many issues that will be on the table next year that might well form its election platform, like Medishield Life. “If you like Medishield Life, vote for the PAP! A vote against means that you are against Medishield Life and thence, our social policies. And didn’t you want the PAP to do more on the social front anyway?’’

Then there are amendments to the Broadcasting Act (if too tough, get it done early and hope people forget since the opposition will make hay out of it). There are also changes to the CPF after the review committee does the job (it can say it is listening to feedback or the opposition can say the changes don’t go far enough). I think the Town Council Act would be up for review too to plug loopholes on financing and who can or cannot be employed in the management. (Which will not look good for one particular opposition party and make it harder for those who think running an estate is a walk in the park).

And though Mr Lee said that every seat will be a national contest, I wonder if it would actually be more advantageous for the PAP it say it will be a “local election’’, in the light of what is happening/not happening in the Workers’ Party town council. People won’t “get’’ the big picture, but they know enough about dirty corridors and lifts which don’t work. Of course, if the WP shows that there is nothing wrong with the way it runs the town council when the Auditor-General is finally done with his work, then the G would have egg on its face. In fact, it might well be that the Town Council Act was badly conceived or the “regulators’’ did not do due diligence. (Speculating here, okay…)

In any case, I think the PAP already has a very strong hand in this game. It can safely say that it has fixed most of the things it would fix after the last GE, like housing and transport and tamping down on the number of foreign workers. (The opposition can, of course, say “not good enough’’) It can cite plenty of schemes and subsidies about levelling up the population especially the lower income group. (The opposition can, of course, say “too little, too late’’) It can say that it is living up to its new, improved constitution about making Singapore a fair and inclusive society underpinned by compassionate meritocracy. (The opposition can, of course, say “that’s because we’re around to make sure the PAP changes’’.)

You know how the game is played. The PAP will ask the opposition: “What ideas do YOU have?’’ Another point which it doesn’t emphasise as much is: “Where are you going to get the money from since you can’t touch what we’ve made in the past?’’ Actually, I wonder what are the provisions made for the finances of a changed government? Is it as clumsy as the handover of a town council seems to be?

BTW, what Mr Lee said about social media is the most placatory I’ve heard from him on the issue in a long time. According to CNA, Mr Lee noted there are different and louder voices now in society, especially on social media. Some mean well, and the PAP must engage and persuade them to make common cause with the party. But, Mr Lee said there are others who will try to mislead voters, and this will lead Singapore into trouble. And the party has to counter, expose and defeat them.

This is going to be interesting. I’m not sure the PAP has really been engaging well-meaning detractors on social media, it’s more like “digging in its heels’’. As for “counter, expose and defeat’’, we have a lot of examples of that. Methinks Mr Lee should have used the words accountability and transparency as the key approach in responding to social media views. Of course, there will be those who prefer not to believe anything the PAP says whatever the facts. But my bet is that there is still a wide middle ground just waiting and watching.  Both the PAP and opposition parties must work on engaging that middle ground instead of assuming (like the PAP does) that the silent majority is on its side or (like the Opposition does) that the vocal minority is vocalising for the majority.

Some people have pointed out that the PAP (and the opposition too) shouldn’t take the view that “if you are not for us, you are against us’’. But that is surely the point of casting a vote: You make a decision on who to back. Of course, you don’t have to display any partisanship if you don’t want to. And the vote is secret.

The question is: on what basis is that decision being made? On the way political parties frame the election agenda to influence thinking? I don’t know about you, but I will make up my own checklist closer to the date.

Whose story is history?

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on October 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

I like reading about the past. In fact, over the past two years, I have eschewed fiction. I read plenty of non-fiction, in particular, history. Whether the books are about adventurers who trek through the wilds, on ice or up the Nile and the Amazon, early pioneers in the United States or Australia or about dynastic families such as the Tudors, Hapsburgs or the Ottoman empire, I devour all. I often wished I did my degree in history rather than in political science. After all, political science is just a multi-varied framework that describes what really is political history.

It is important to know the past because it is a signpost of the future. I read about the different empire builders in history and wonder if ISIS is a repeat: that’s how empires begin, with an idea and then wholesale slaughter of those not in agreement, before coming to something more akin to stability. So it is now in Stage 2?

I read about the Crimean War because of what is now happening between the Soviet Union and Ukraine and was enlightened on four things:

  1. That the Lady of the Lamp Florence Nightingale served during this war and more people DIED under her care than in other hospitals. Because her hospital was built on a leaking sewer system which seeped into the water.
  2. That the Charge of the Light Brigade immortalised by actor Errol Flynn and poet Alfred Tennyson was a suicidal assault by unthinking calvary who obeyed orders of silly, squabbling commanders.
  3. That the phrase the Fourth Estate was coined during this time during a Parliamentary session in England to refer to pressure from the popular press to launch a war against the Russians (I have always thought it was of American origin!)
  4. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was in the war and based some of his characters in War and Peace on real-life officers.

I guess those are the “facts’’ I have gleaned. As for impressions: The English wanted war, the French were dithering over it, the Turks were overwhelmed and Tsar Nicholas I was mad.

History books give the facts but how the facts are presented is another thing altogether. I read Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941 – Countdown to Infamy, on how the Japanese cabinet decided to go to war and I am left with the impression that every minister was either out for himself or very, very stupid. I read the Balfour Declaration and was sorry about how the Arabs appeared to have been conned by the crafty British to carve out Israel during the period of the Great Game played among colonial powers for control over other people’s territory.

Sometimes I read more than one book on the same period or people – and think I am actually reading about a different period and different people. So I read JOP Bland and Edmund Backhouse contemporary record of China under the Empress Dowager and Jung Chang’s Empress Dowager CiXi and wonder why she is so much more emphatic/sympathetic to the woman than the Englishmen.

I read Raffles and the Great Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning and want to put flowers under the statue of the great man (so brilliant but misunderstood). But I also read Raffles and the British Invasion of Java (crazy, cruel megalomaniac) – and I wish he stayed in Java.

Now we are being fed reams of newsprint on the Battle for Merger. I will go buy the book because I am interested in history and this has to do with my country. But, dare I say that I am also aware that it will be one-sided reading, from our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew? Because I was not born during those times, I do not quite know what the communists did nor their views on why they do some of the terrible things they are said to have done. I wish I could hear from the older generation who lived through those times.

Also because then, I will have a better idea of why the G is so adamant that Tan Pin Pin’s film To Singapore, With Love, cannot be screened in public. (Actually I won’t have a better idea because I haven’t seen it). Some very tough words have been used by both Communications and Information Minister Yacob Ibrahim and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to defend the G stance. The G says that the film is full of drums – distortions, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears. It was self-serving because the interviewees (communists who fled the country) chose to white wash their past and did not talk about their “wrongs’’.  (I hear background noises…like, did the Holocaust really happen?)

It’s so terribly odd. We decided not to screen a one-sided film, but are okay about reading a one-sided book – which is more or less on the same topic (?) or at least of the times. It seems to me it would be good to let both loose on the population, as Han Fook Kwang suggested in Sunday Times today. It is when there are two opposing ideas that people get excited and engaged; a monologue will have the opposite effect. Letting the film be broadcast might generate more interest in Battle for Merger, he says, and make it come alive.

I think it’s a good idea too. PM Lee says that a film is not like a book, and therefore cannot be easily countered. Frankly, I have great faith in the ability of the G to counter “anything’’. It seems lazy to resort to a ban when it might be better to engage the film. In fact, given what he has said, maybe Ms Tan should consider putting the exiles’ transcripts in a book! And they could be packaged together with Battle for Merger for sale! Okay, bad joke.

In any case, here’s what PM Lee said: “Why should we allow through a movie to present an account of themselves (that is) not objectively presented documentary history, but a self-serving personal account, conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over inconvenient facts than others which will sully the honour and reputation of the security people and the brave men and women who fought the Communists all those many years in order to create today’s Singapore?”

I think the better justification is the later half of the statement on the need to preserve the honour and reputation of those who fought. I would dearly love to hear from them, for a firmer grasp on that period which most of us weren’t born early enough to experience.

But I was taken aback when PM Lee also said the communists were still vying for “a place on the winners’ podium’’. Goodness!  In 2014? I doubt most people understand the first thing about communism, unless they mistake it for consumerism!

I don’t think I will be sticking my neck out if I say that communism will never return nor take root here. Nor do I think Ms Tan’s film will be a threat to national security. Let everyone have their say. People will have different views, sure, but I really doubt that they will be so rattled as to shake the foundations of our country. The past belongs to everyone. Let the present people be the judge.

Sounds and silence

In News Reports, Society, Writing on September 7, 2014 at 6:49 am

The Prime Minister said something a couple of weeks ago which I think we should heed. He said that the Internet, far from leading to a great convergence on universal truth, has led to divisions of all kinds. People seem to think they have grasped the “truth’’ with the emergence of groups that are completely antithetic to each other. “We have to make sure we don’t get seduced by the delusion that we know everything, that what we know is the truth and that we are the sole possessors, and therefore we will fight it out to the very end.’’ It leads to a fractured society, he said.

He doesn’t think human society was designed with the Internet age in mind, like the good ole days with information lags and time lapses to let stuff sink in before coming to a considered and wise consensus. “But today, all of that is telescoped and the splash goes out tonight, and tomorrow morning, everyone knows the answer, which may be the wrong answer.’’ Far from having a faster circuit, we have a “collective short circuit’’, he added.

ST followed it up with a Pew survey report which talks about how people online tend to keep quiet when they think they have a minority view. Yesterday, it followed up with a major spread on whether the same “spiral of silence’’ applied to Singapore. The Anton Casey and Amy Cheong cases were brought up as examples of online vitriol, with moderate voices only emerging when the din has died down. The ease of the “sound bite’’ online with no need to substantiate views makes it impossible to have a good conversation, you have experts saying.

I agree somewhat.

I have watched different groups emerge online and those who push a line or agenda regardless of the topic at hand. If you watch the many conversations closely, you get an idea of who are among the like-minded and who sticks together, whether friends or not. The various Facebook groups which are agenda-based don’t help. They start off by promoting a cause which gets hijacked by immoderate elements who are countered by yet other immoderate elements. Hence, this wonderful term: polarisation.  

It’s the word of the day, week, month and maybe even year given the way people are agonising over east being east, west is west and never the twain shall meet.

Here in Singapore, I think we’re still novice navigators of the free speech space. It wasn’t too long ago, you know, that rules were relaxed for rallies at Hong Lim Park and you don’t need a public entertainment licence for indoor events. It used to be that you can’t even use a loud hailer at Speakers’ Corner and it was the police, not the parks or performance authorities who monitored your events. The internet hastened the pace of liberalisation and the flowering of views everywhere, yes. But here, it meant liberation of a different kind. Suddenly, it seemed the shackles were off and we don’t quite know how to use the new-found freedom.  So there’s a torrent of voices, a cacophony, so loud that it intimidates those who want to say something not quite “mainstream’’ – or rather, fits with what the supposedly online mainstream is saying.

I have been asked many times if it’s possible to bridge the different groups or bring a level of reason to discussions on the Internet. I reply that there are probably plenty of reasonable people on the Internet, those who watch and don’t post a word because they’re scared that they’re being watched. They’re scared that they will be called to account for their views and can’t answer rationally – all “gut instinct’’ you know. They worry that the more articulate will out-talk them and make them feel small. Worse, being called names and feeling bullied. They think of Anton Casey and Amy Cheong. They’re not like them at all, but what if….?

I call them the internet spectators. Funny that the climate of fear that people perceived as emanating from the authorities has become a climate of fear of fellow netizens.

There are probably many, many groups of people out there online who discuss issues rationally. But they are probably “closed’’ groups, that is, like-minded individuals who do not want to have their reasonable conversations interrupted by the unreasonable. That’s the problem isn’t it? Reasonable people don’t want to reason with the unreasonable and the unreasonable pitting themselves against other unreasonable people. No wonder it’s so noisy on the Net.

Ask you. Do you have any of the following traits?

  1. I have a view which I hold very dearly and will inject it into every conversation because MY view is important and everybody MUST share them.
  2. Everybody who disagrees with me is wrong. They have been brought up badly, are intrinsically bad or went on the wrong path somewhere along their miserable life.
  3. I cannot listen to other people’s arguments because they go against something very fundamental for me, for example, the PAP is evil, religion is evil, homosexuals are evil.
  4. I don’t care about the totality of your views. So long as ONE aspect offends me, you are not worth “friending’’.
  5. I have a right to my views and I don’t care how in-your-face I get. The internet is free space. So suck it up.
  6. I shouldn’t have to pick my words carefully because that won’t be ME talking or reflect exactly how I’m feeling.
  7. I don’t see the need to self-censor even if others are offended because censorship is just plain wrong.
  8. I will never say sorry for my views or acknowledge that I might have interpreted things wrongly because I know, at the end of the day, I am right.
  9. If you have not experienced what I have, you have no right to talk to me because you don’t know what you are talking about. So shaddup.

Narcissism, egotism and self-righteousness is everywhere on the Net. I tend to think that maybe some people don’t want to be any of the above but lack the tools or experience to communicate effectively. They come off as blunt and abrasive because they’ve never had to engage in the cut-and-thrust of debate in the past. And they haven’t collected a body of knowledge with which to defend their viewpoint against the more erudite. So they either come off as defensive or they seek solace in silence. Or these people might really hold those positions from a. to h. In which case, I don’t see how any sane discussion can be had with them.

I liked what Mr Baey Yam Keng said in the ST report: “Facebook itself is a neutral platform. What is the style or character of that page depends on the people in charge of that page.’’

There is something to be said for having “moderators’’ and rules of engagement. Too often, people are turned off from voicing views when they see a few dominant voices making a point so aggressively that they seem to be spoiling for an online fight. Or the page or chatroom becomes so sour that you are worried about being infected by it. Of course, blocking and deleting views is an option – for which you get vilified elsewhere.  Questions will be raised about “censorship’’ – and you will simply have to bear with it. The bottomline is this: If “censoring’’ or editing some people can lead to more people taking part in the discussion and bring more views on board, why not?

I have blocked a grand total of three people on my FB wall, and this after many, many nice warnings to them to behave and get with the programme. My rules of engagement are simple: No vulgarities, personal attacks, hijacking of conversation threads or protracted bilateral feuds. There must be space for moderate voices or reasoned voices that doesn’t descend into name-calling or pure assertions. I like the way some people try to tamp down tempers by resorting to humour. I like people who are clever but also self-deprecating. Those who put down others oh so nicely are also appreciated. There can be “hurt’’ feelings but there should not be long lasting “hard’’ feelings. And I get a nice, warm feeling when someone who is defeated in argument actually admits it.  

This is the way the Internet space should be : where no one need fear one another and where you – and me – can admit that we are not always right. With humour and elegance, of course.     

 

After the rally…the buffet

In News Reports, Politics, Society on August 18, 2014 at 4:14 am

I started painting my nails halfway through watching PM Lee’s National Day rally speech last night. Bad of me; I should have been taking notes. But the speech struck me as very administrative and municipal. Plenty of human interest stories of people made it good despite the odds (kudos to them!), with PM in the role of interviewer. And an explanation of how CPF works with the PM playing financial planner to a fictitious 54 year old Mr Tan. PM Lee was a real estate agent last year.

I had to look over the newspapers this morning to find out what I missed. I think it was this point: PM Lee called for a cultural shift – away from chasing grades to valuing a person for his worth and character. He made the point much sharper in his Mandarin speech when he stressed that a university education does not guarantee jobs. And please don’t enrol any old how into any university course which you are not suited for.
Good point. That’s a reason I gather that our universities now do away with grading first-year examinations so that freshman can check out their aptitude and inclination against what’s on offer before buckling down to work. Hence the PM’s emphasis that an ITE and poly education would do just as well so long as it is accompanied by learning in working life. (A freshman in my class told me he was puzzled by the PM’s speech. He was a polytechnic student. For the past three years, poly students have had the carrot of a university education dangled over their heads with the promise of more university places. Now that he’s in the university system, a different song is being sung. *shakes head*)

So it looks like the focus has shifted to equipping the broad swathe of young people in the ITE and polys for the market. For what areas I wonder? To replace foreign S pass holders in areas traditionally shunned by Singaporeans? The PM also gave examples of those who did well despite lack of paper qualification except, as he noted, his examples were all Keppel employees. You need a company that makes money and a good boss who doesn’t look at grades and will give you a chance to move up the ladder. He said that the civil service will lead the way so that the career paths of grad and non-grad civil servants aren’t always so separate.

DPM Tharman will be leading a team to get the nation to “learn as you earn’’ (my phrase). What does this mean? Compulsory continuing education as is the case for some professions? Guess workers shouldn’t think that they have left the classroom forever. Or that examinations and tests are things of the past. It would be interesting to hear how DPM intends to integrate working and learning, as well as starting and raising a family.
I think the cultural shift is something to be encouraged. It’s in line with the compassionate meritocracy that we want to build here. It really shouldn’t matter which school you went to or how well you did in an exam hall; what matters is what you can bring to the table. But it would take people (parents and employers) some time to recognise this. That prized photograph of a family member in a graduation gown and cap is still very much sought after, no matter what sort of degree, course or university the person had enrolled in. One sign to look out for to know if the cultural shift is a-coming: whether people start believing that every school is a good school.

Here’s a run-down of the news points on the CPF front:

a. Four-room flats to be included in lease buyback scheme, which is now confined to three-roomers or smaller. This means that those who don’t have enough cash to retire on can still remain in their homes and get a pay-out in a lump sum and every month. One question: Your child won’t be able to inherit the home then? Or only up to the expiry of the home owner’s lease?

b. Minimum sum for next year’s cohort of 55ers already calculated: $161K. PM stressed repeatedly that the sum is not too much, and people tend to forget that half the sum can be a property pledge. Most people would be able to make the grade – and get a pay-out for life. I think of the minimum sum as a one-off insurance premium you pay in return for a monthly annuity.

c. The poor elderly will get an annual bonus called Silver Support pumped into their CPF. Thing is, what is poor elderly hasn’t been defined yet. Can’t just be looking at minimum sum right…because they might have well-heeled children to count on for support.

d. A committee will be set up to add some flexibility into the system – like allowing those who need money urgently to draw up more in a lump-sum (this is a big change of heart on his part, he admits), or having a scale of payments which increase or decrease with age.

Wonder what the Return My CPF lobby will say…PM Lee didn’t touch on the interest rates earned on Ordinary and Special Accounts which some people think should be pegged to what fund manager, GIC, makes. He didn’t talk about the use of CPF for housing, presumably because he is clear about how both CPF and housing are twin pillars of old age. So we’d better hope that the housing market keeps moving up…

As for what else in his speech was worth noting….Here are my, ahem, news reports:

a. HD: Pick up sticks gain popularity

A fishball stick dropped by a litterbug earned more than one mention in the Prime Minister’s National Day rally speech last night. It was the subject of a complaint by a civic conscious citizen who noticed that it had been lying on the ground for a good two days, well past Singapore’s efficient cleaning standards. His MP, Mayor Low Yen Ling was galvanised into action, as she sought to ascertain the agency responsible for the fishball stick’s continued offensive presence. After intensive and extensive investigations, PM Lee decided that it will be the National Environment Agency’s business to pick up sticks, although people shouldn’t be dropping them in the first place. He used a dialect term “pau kar liao’’, causing many to wonder if he was moving away from the Speak Mandarin policy.

A Municipal Service Office graced by Grace Fu, he announced, will be set up to ensure that all sticks anywhere will be picked up with alacrity. In the meantime, the civic-conscious citizen complained that he had sent a picture to STOMP which obviously did not realise the political potential of the stick which, it argued, could have been holding up a sotong ball.

b. HD: East Coast residents upset with Jurong plans

Hundreds of East Coast residents will be gathering at Hong Lim Park on Saturday to protest plans announced by the Prime Minister to make Jurong more hip and happening. Upset that they will only be getting the Thomson/Marine Parade MRT line, they are organising an online petition calling for the Singapore-KL high-speed rail to terminate in the east instead of the Jurong Lake district. “The Jurongites can keep their Chinese and Japanese Gardens,’’ said lead organiser Tan Kah Tong. “We don’t even mind if the Science Centre re-opens there but we think the Jurong Lake should be filled in and move to the East so that we will have a bigger East Coast Lagoon or East Coast Lake.’’ Planning authorities, dealing with the fallout from PM Lee’s National Day rally speech, said it will meet disgruntled residents to explain that these are tentative plans, not confirmed targets. It is understood that one option is to move the proposed Ng Teng Fong hospital, which has had its opening delayed by six months, to the east to placate the residents.

c. No news is… good news?

The PM didn’t talk about how economic restructuring is affecting the economy and making SMEs scream about not being able to get foreign labour. Nor did he say anything about low productivity.

The PM didn’t talk about the looming culture war (although he spoke about a culture shift) brewing between conservatives and the not-so-conservative a la the book pulping issue and the Pink and White standoff and who really decides what sort of values the people should hold.

The PM didn’t talk about how events in Syria, Iraq and Gaza might affect the Muslim minority here and create tensions although he did use the Ukraine/Crimea conflict as an example of how small nations must stay strong.

And, finally, he didn’t talk about the pesky people online….Thank goodness!

Personal answers to national questions

In News Reports on January 29, 2014 at 2:13 am

So the Prime Minister fielded questions at an undergraduate forum yesterday. One question was from a foreign student who lamented on behalf of his Singapore friends that doing National Service was only delaying the start of their careers. Nice of him to speak for his friends, but weren’t they in the audience too? Too scared to speak up or were they setting up their foreign friend for a robust rebuttal? In any case, PM Lee was quite kind but firm in insisting that NS should stay.

I agree absolutely.

Have our young people been navel-gazing? All that tension in the South China sea and the saber-rattling is enough to cause worry that there will be a repeat of World War One, when nations sleepwalked their way to war. And it’s the 100th anniversary this year…

Okay. Now that I’ve got that out of my system…

The MSM is filled today with two sets of reports. Besides the PM’s forum, there was yet another portion of an IPS survey released, this time concerning attitudes towards foreigners and some hot-button social issues. Remember that the earlier sets were about race? That we’re not quite as race-blind as we may think we are?

Well, actually there’s no need for a survey to tell me that we are more anti-foreigner now than before. So we’ve somewhat closed ranks among ourselves (very good). And we put up a barrier against other nationalities (not good). According to the survey, 32 per cent of people surveyed said there was “more/much more’’ prejudice against foreigners compared to five years ago. This was articulated by half of the Chinese respondents surveyed. Big number indeed… 

Here’s the part I can’t quite understand…

According to TODAY, about 70.6 per cent of the respondents also felt that the government is responsible for racial and religious harmony in Singapore. However, only 45.8 per cent of them felt that the authorities have done well to improve the integration of new immigrants here.

When asked why this is so, IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said Singaporeans may expect the State to continue to be a mediator given its prior success with issues such as race and religion. “People have a lot more expectation, just like how we dealt with race or religion, everything was so well-orchestrated, (so they feel that) immigrant issues will be equally taken care of quickly,” Dr Mathews, who headed the survey, added.

There we go again, expecting the G to do everything, including containing our dislike for foreigners. The G actually admits it could do more to “communicate the worth of foreigners’’ to its citizens. Seriously, do we need the G to do everything?

We can hold the G responsible for certain aspects. It was responsible for the huge inflow of foreigners in the past without giving much thought as to how it would strain relations here, and the kind of burden it would put on the infrastructure, which is leading to further strains on citizen-foreigner  relations…

In recent years, it’s making amends. It’s done quite a bit to make a distinction between the privileges of the citizen and the PR in terms of doling out G subsidies. It has set up an employment framework to ensure fair hiring. It has tightened the foreign worker tap, so much so that SMEs are screaming in pain. Now it’s intervened to set quotas in the HDB neighbourhoods to prevent foreign enclaves forming.  

What else? Now this is the part I worry about. Predictably, the Anton Casey case came up in both reports, mentioned both by the PM and the IPS people who did the survey. Mr Casey shouldn’t have said what he did, and this is almost universally acknowledged. But now that he is out of town and out of a job, attention has turned to the “lynch mob’’ and “pack of hounds’’ who exist, where else?, online. The spectre of the rise of fascism here was raised by no less a person than the Government Chief Information Officer who also heads IPS. Already letters have been published in MSM calling for controls on xenophobic and extremist sentiments online.

The G could well say that it has to intervene to calm anti-foreigner sentiments just as it had in the past to quell race/religious tensions. And you guessed it – the clamps will be online. Never mind that the same xenophobic and extreme statements will be made in coffeeshops and bars. So long as not many people are listening, it doesn’t matter eh?

It is for us to police ourselves online. Can we do a better job of shouting down/over the insane, inane and plain unreasonable voices? I suppose people will say there is freedom of speech online, but you wouldn’t want more curbs so that there would be even less freedom would you? And that will happen if the laws come in with a heavy hand, never mind the G’s insistence that it is really a “light touch’’.

Okay, I should really stop lecturing and answer the questions below which I culled from newspaper reports on both events:

a)     Do you like living in the present, or would you prefer to be born in Singapore 50 years later?

Depends on whether there is a Singapore 50 years later…PM Lee said the future is bright and promising for young people. You can’t expect the leader of a country to say anything else, can you?

 But I know this: I am glad to have Singapore as my birthplace and can’t fathom being born anywhere else.   

 

b)    If a Malay/Muslim policeman intervened in a quarrel between your Muslim and Chinese neighbour, do you watch to see if the cop will side with a member of his own race/religion?

I wouldn’t but I know many who would automatically jump to the conclusion that it was race thing if the cop sided with the Muslim neighbour.  This was an interesting point that PM Lee brought up when he talked about women police officers wearing the tudung. It would make the distinction so much more apparent. Frankly, I’ve never thought of it that way. We have to hope that the next generation would be more race-blind. Fifty years?

 

c)     Do you think meritocracy is a “dirty” word?

 

Not at all. I am a beneficiary of the system. My worry is that we will push for so much egalitarianism that merit is no longer a useful marker. The dirty word really is not so much meritocracy as “stress’’. The pursuit of meritocracy does mean some stress. Even in a “compassionate meritocracy’’, can you take the “stress’’ out of the system? Should we?

 

d)    If you’re Chinese and a choice between working for a non-Chinese Singaporean and a Chinese national, which would you pick? 

Can’t answer this since I am only half-Chinese and therefore a minority member. My answer would depend on whether the boss can speak comprehensible English!

 

e)     If you’re against gay marriage, are you also against gay couples adopting children?

I was a bit puzzled by the survey results. About 72 per cent said gay marriage is “always wrong/almost always wrong’’. Yet a smaller proportion (about 61 per cent) said it was okay for gay couples to adopt children. I would have thought the numbers should be about the same. If you are against gay marriage because you think a unions should be between a man and woman, doesn’t it follow that you think this should be the family unit which raises the child?

 

I am against both. I don’t think much of society is ready either. What I am against: the retention of section 377a criminalising homosexual sex. For this simple reason: If something is in the rule books, you either enforce it or you don’t. You don’t dangle it like a sword of Damocles and swear you won’t use it. People shouldn’t live in uncertainty.

I’m probably going to get whacked for the above. If you feel like whacking me, please be nice can?