Posts Tagged ‘Teo Chee Hean’

Freelancing in Syria

In News Reports, Politics on July 11, 2014 at 6:50 am

I learnt a new term lately: Freelance jihadists. It was used to describe Malaysian Muslims who suddenly take off to Syria, fire off weapons at people in the name of their religious cause and then return home (or not?) to lead their former lives. Sounds like a holiday filled with adventure – in which you can maim and kill or get maimed and killed.

Here in Singapore too, it seems, the jihadist call, however misguided, is gathering adherents. Of course, as usual, a lot of the blame is put on social media and the proliferation of radical sites and “selfies’’ that making posing with a machine gun look sexy.

But I also noted something quite interesting when DPM Teo Chee Hean talked about this in Parliament recently. He said there was a whole family of husband, wife and two children, who had decamped there. The husband is a foreigner. But his nationality was not given. An earlier freelance jihadist named is a naturalised Singaporean of Indian origin. He also took his wife and three kids along with him. So it looks like a family affair? Is there a “foreign’’ element in this?

Then there were three others now detained under the Internal Security Act. All locals but there’s no information on whether they wanted to bring their entire family with them.

Said DPM Teo: “There are others who have expressed interest to go Syria to join in the fighting, and are presently under investigation. We have established that they were radicalised by videos, articles and social media postings online. They subscribed to the sectarian-religious or ideological rhetoric that calls for engaging in militant jihad in Syria.’’

Ooh. Which videos, articles or postings? Have they been taken down? Blocked?

We haven’t heard from the Singapore born-or-bred jihadists but the Malaysians have been hearing from their own: One blew himself up in Iraq and took along with him another 25 lives. Another 15 died fighting in Syria. It seems that Malaysian freelance jihadists number as many as 100 and the authorities have detained at least 18 people, including two who belonged in the Malaysian Navy. Apparently, they were drawn by the clarion call of correcting “injustice to Muslims’’ more so than any identification with the formation of the Islamic State that has taken form in Syria. Another theory for the fan following: the puritan form of Sunni Islam called Wahabism that is at odds with Shi’ite teachings is taking root in this part of the world (Yup, yup. Different strands of the Muslim community fight each other too…)

Why would Muslims in this part of the world want to go so far away to fight someone else’s battle? Do they consider this a religious obligation or feel they should have some sort of solidarity with their fellow Muslim brothers, at least a strand of them? I mean, they are shooting at fellow Muslims aren’t they? I am not Muslim, so I don’t know and I don’t understand.

Or would anyone say this is not unlike how the overseas Chinese felt during the communist/nationalist tussle in China early last century or how the Tamils here feel during the civil conflict taking place in Sri Lanka a couple of decades ago? The pull of religion, race and old country is still prevalent everywhere it seems.

The problem appears to be bigger in Europe, with its large and relatively more recent immigrant Muslim populations. ST reported that the Netherlands, with a population 900,000 Muslim citizens, has produced 130 fresh terrorist recruits. Belgium, with an even smaller 630,000 Muslims, turned out 300 volunteer fighters. France, home to 7 million Muslims, has 900 volunteers in Syria alone.

You wonder if many of these people who go on military adventures come back or stay there. If they do, how will they fit in the nice, normal routine of home life? The worry the G has is that they won’t and bring in their extreme views/actions to home ground as well, like the Frenchman who shot dead four people at the Brussels Jewish Musuem. BTW, he travelled through Singapore to get from Syria to Europe, apparently to avoid detection.

Said DPM Teo: “This threat is magnified if these returnee fighters are Singaporeans. Indeed, any Singaporean who assists violent organisations like the Al-Nusra Front, IS or any other violent group, has demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support, or resort to, violence to pursue a political or ideological cause. ‘’

I wish he had said more. Like what did those captured by the ISD say? What were their key influences? And if radical websites are the key recruiting tools, why not block access to them like the French are doing? Would this be too controversial a move? Surely not. Or do the authorities think it better to just monitor interest levels on the site and nab people thinking of a Syrian holiday?

I read an ST commentator talking about the counter-measures adopted by Malaysian religious authorities. He said these had been “largely confined to relatively tame expressions of disappointment about misguided thinking and the lack of proper education’’. He preferred the feisty, plain speaking of ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad who suggested that more people go wrap themselves in bombs and blow themselves up if they want to go to heaven quickly. But the writer makes no comment of the response of authorities here, which looks to be led more by the G than the Islamic leaders.

Today, though, it was reported that mosques, religious teachers and madarasahs will be roped in to put the “right message about the Syrian crisis’’ which, I suppose, would be that the rebels call for jihad do not fulfill the teachings of Islam.

I wonder if this is too lame/tame to counter the romanticism of a foreign adventure fuelled by religious fervour. Remember the Crusades of old when the Europeans flocked to the middle east to fight “infidels’’ so as to guarantee themselves a place in heaven? So many stories, movies, books on them! More fiction than fact! So glam.
I hazard a guess (don’t shoot me) that it is probably more adventure and emotion and less religion and rationality that draw people to Syria and Iraq. And the Internet can be a greater preacher with a greater following than any uztaz that we have here.
So I am straining against every fibre of my being to say this: Go block the sites. Sure, more will pop up. But why make it easy to recruit freelance jihadists?

I wish the Muslim leaders all the best in your efforts.

Little India COI: And now that it’s over…

In News Reports, Politics on July 8, 2014 at 3:14 am

I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not, but did you realise that yet another Little India rioter was sentenced to jail and cane yesterday, on the same day that Parliament discussed the COI findings on the riot?

The Indian national was jailed two and a half years and to be caned three strokes, and is the third to plead guilty to “active’’ rioting. That is, he wasn’t one of those bystanders who merely threatened the cops. He took part in throwing missiles, including a rubbish bin, setting fire to the bus and, yes, he was one of those who danced round a burning police motorbike. I guess that’s the power of video? Or was it eye-witness testimony? The ST news report didn’t make clear.

(In any case, you might want to know the number of police cameras have been DOUBLED to 250 in Little India since the riot night with another 88 to be installed by the end of next year. So everyone had better think twice before doing funny stuff, like dropping your pants for a pee.)

ST didn’t make clear either where he was alcohol-fuelled. All it said was that he had been chatting with a friend and remitting money before he decided to go liven up the events of the night. He makes No. 14 of the 25 rioters charged. It’s good to know that key players have been brought to book, although so far, there’s only been three charged with actively taking part in the riot.

I really wish the news reports said more, like what possessed him to do the things he did. Was that reported in court? Or maybe not since he pleaded guilty? Or were there any mitigating factors that the lawyers put up? I presume he assigned a lawyer. It would have been first-hand testimony, putting flesh and blood on the COI report which said that the accident that happened was the cause of the riot, which was aggravated by alcohol consumption and nought to do with living or working conditions here.

In fact, the three-member COI has “disappeared’’. No press conference to address queries. No interviews. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the inquiry, which has the status of a court? You don’t have judges explaining their judgment, so it is the case here? Pity.

What we have instead is DPM Teo Chee Hean delivering a ministerial statement in response to the COI report and MPs questioning him. I have stuck my neck out to say that the COI report was pretty lame when it came to criticising the police effort that night. And now, DPM Teo has stuck his neck out to say that he thought the cops did okay. He quoted liberally from the COI report which commended those who arrived first on the scene and while he noted the COI saying that the police could have done better in the later stage when the rioters went on a rampage, he said “the commanders and officers that night did the best they could in the circumstances they faced, with the information that they had on hand’’. The COI, he said, arrived at its assessment based on a reconstruction of all available information collected after the riot by a team of investigators.

“It is not always possible to take the analyses done after the fact, and substitute them for the judgement that the commanders and officers had to make on the ground that night. We will not be able to know definitively what the outcome would be if a different course of action had been taken during this phase, given the emotional crowd which was volatile and prone to misperceptions.’’

TODAY had a bit extra on what he said about Tanglin Division Commander Lu Yeow Lim, the ranking officer who decided to “hold the position’’ that night. PAP MP Vikram Nair had asked if action will be taken against him. Mr Teo’s reply: “I have evaluated the actions of the commander and the officers that night, and I do not find them wanting.”
On the matter of DAC Lu, it’s best to read TNP, which had Mr Teo saying that the police on the scene that night did not “have the benefit of hindsight’’. If DAC Lu had adopted an “interventionist’’ approach, that is, taken some action instead of waiting for riot police to arrive, no one could have predicted if things could get better or worse.

This appears to be one key area in which the G disagrees with the COI which thought that there were “lapses’’ in this particular stage of the riot that night and that DAC Lu could have taken “more positive action’’. The COI noted that most of the destruction happened while police were waiting for the Special Operations Command to arrive.
But why split hairs over what has happened, you say? So long as measures are in place to prevent a repeat occurrence – whether of the riot or any police lapses.

DPM Teo cited a list of measures, including beefing up the SOC and points to how there’s a manpower shortage everywhere so simply “asking’’ for manpower like the Police Commissioner had done, is not going to solve the problem although “there is no problem asking’’ .

Oh dear.

Anyway, the SOC will get 300 more frontline officers to get the number up to 600. I wonder if there ever is an ideal riot police to people ratio or even normal police to people ratio. While the force has been beefed up over the years, the ratio is way below other cities but there appears to be no mention of this Parliament going by the news reports. It strikes me that while there’s a shortage of manpower everywhere, including in the private sector, it is for the G to prioritise where new manpower should go to. And to pay them well. What’s also puzzling is how there seems to be no mention of auxillary police officers, who also played a critical role in the riot. Did no one ask about this aspect of beefing up the police force?

BTW, there was an interesting question by WP Sylvia Lim who suggested that the G allow “peaceful’’ demonstrations in certain areas. DPM Teo’s reply was described as “amused’’ by ST. But reading TODAY’s excerpt of the exchange, I thought he was pretty short with her: “Perhaps Ms Lim might want to go one step further and say allow the protests to get out of hand so that they get a little bit more practice? Why not? Since we want to give them practice?’’ In any case, there were enough large-scale events for the police to “practise’’. That’s true. They just need to go to Hong Lim Park every weekend or so…

Frankly, Ms Lim’s suggestion goes against the Singapore DNA for peace and stability. We might as well stage a mock riot with missile somewhere and see how the police deal with it – and this is something I’m sure they already do.

So, are we closing the chapter on the Little India riot? There’s still the public consultation going on on the sale and consumption of alcohol and also some more rioters left to be brought before the courts.

I see the Little India riot as our police force’ “baptism of fire’’. I wish our men and women in blue well. You might want to consider this point: You have a minister who defended you. Good for you. Now, methinks it is time for all of us to get behind you too.

The man in the golden Merc

In News Reports on March 10, 2014 at 1:38 am

After declaring that he was “deeply disappointed’’ with the first immigration breach which allowed a Malaysian woman to tour Singapore for days, DPM Teo Chee Hean has now given the ICA a “chiding’’ for the second breach on Friday. Anyway, that’s the word ST used in its headline to describe what DPM Teo thought of the breach in which a 65- year old man in a golden Merc drove through Woodlands with impunity.

I had visions of a Dad reprimanding his wayward but cute kid for doing something naughty. So it was with great relief when I read the term “sharp rebuke’’ in the ST story later. That’s better….

Reading today’s ST, TNP and TODAY, I am not sure if I had the full picture of what happened at Woodlands. Reading TNP was especially disheartening. Because the ICA and Police top cops weren’t particularly re-assuring about the level of security we have.

Anyway, here’s what happened: The man in the golden Merc, a Malaysian who is a Singapore PR, cleared the first passport checkpoint and then got cold feet at the second when he was asked to open his spare tyre compartment in his boot. He made some excuse, got into the driver’s seat and scooted off, apparently with boot cover still flapping.

The cat claw barrier was activated. So somebody was fast enough to hit button. Excellent!

Now here’s where it got fuzzy. The official phrase is that the barrier “did not work optimally’’. What’s optimally? Well, the barrier when fully extended can go up to 30cms. We don’t know if it was fully up before the Merc drove over but the car took just 20 seconds to cross over. Therefore, how fast can this barrier go up fully?

Now it seemed that its two front tyres were punctured. But nothing was said about the back two. How far can you drive with two punctured front tyres…anybody?

Then it seemed an auxillary police officer “smashed’’ the back right window’s windscreen but ST helpfully said that video footage circulated online showed it was intact. Rather daring of ST since the video leakage, taken by a smart phone off a computer showing the CCTV recording, is now an Official Secrets Act investigation and should not be circulated.

TODAY reported that the officer was injured, but said nothing else of his injuries. So….how’s the guy doing – and what exactly did he do?

It looked like the Home Team learnt from its first lesson and did the correct thing next.

There was an “immediate alert’’, even to taxi drivers to watch out for the vehicle. Can’t be that many 24 year old gold Mercs around…They even rang the man on his mobile phone. But he managed to drive round the island for four hours, and even switched vehicles at one point, according to TODAY’s report. What vehicle I wonder.

On Friday at 830pm, the “vehicle’’, presumably the golden Merc, was recovered. Dunno where. Forty-five minutes later, the man was arrested. Dunno how or where. Four other men were also taken for questioning. There is a stash of drugs somewhere in this story. Dunno whether it was in the Merc’s booth, which was what got him antsy. Seems the Merc driver zips in and out of the Causeway every day too…      

That’s the Friday saga as far as I can tell from reading the reports.

Now, I am just an armchair critic, but I want to exercise my right as a concerned citizen to ask a few questions regarding the security of this country. (Hope that sounded important and pompous enough…)

As someone weaned on TV police dramas, how come no patrol car chased the Merc? The answer, as reported by TNP, was that it was “resource issue’’ (read: not enough people) and the ICA had expected the barrier to work (read: faith in technology).

The quote from Police Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Lau Peet Meng: “Honestly, putting a man and a police car and waiting for something like that is certainly not the best use of police resources.’’

You know, I happen to think stationing a cop, even an auxillary one, in banks is also a waste of resources. How many times do you think a bank gets robbed? Still, the banks seem to think its worth the money to have an officer around even though there are CCTVs as well. Or maybe the presence of a uniform is merely to deter would-be bank robbers. So having a cop car conspicuously on the ready is not a good deterrant as well? Okay. I don’t know.    

There was another question posed: What if these drivers with derring-do were really terrorists?

The quote from ICA Deputy Commissioner Aw Kum Cheong: “If a terrorist is determined enough, I think there are not many things we can do to stop them. But I think part of the measures that are implemented is always to make sure that we provide enough deterrence to slow people down. Proper reinforcement and investigations can then take place.’’ He said making the checkpoint terrorist-proof would essentially “paralyse’’ the process.

I don’t know about you but do you get the impression that terrorism isn’t such a big deal? I’m sure that’s not the cop’s intent but he should really be careful about what he says. In any case, I am not sure stationing a cop car to chase down fleeing immigration offenders would be a huge expenditure of resources or would paralyse the checkpoint.  

Another question: Is five hours to chase down a man in a golden Merc good or bad? Is that considered fast response especially when you have the name of the driver and the car licence plate and the fact that Singapore roads are so CCTV-ed and there aren’t that many places to hide a car?

Said Police SAC Lau: “You must understand that this man already knows he has committed an offence, it’s not like we are waiting to ambush him in a place he is unaware of.’’ This was a determined criminal trying to evade arrest, not someone “who is just walking down Orchard Road’’.

What’s interesting is the process he cited. He sounded like me, when I am trying to teach my class how to analyse something….

He said the cops “knew’’ the man, so they had to next establish where he lives and where he works.

“And at that point, we had to start to determine where he could have gone – could he have gone home? Could he have gone back to work? Could he have gone to other various places? Then there was the actual physical search that required time because he is mobile and is moving around.’’

You know, I think if he was a terrorist, he would be trying to evade arrest too and won’t be strolling on Orchard Road either unless that’s the place he’s trying to blow up…In any case, he’s got five hours to detonate something.

Did I hear you say that our men in blue should be given a break? I don’t think so. Hasn’t the G always said that our security cannot be compromised? I am quite tired of hearing about the “resource issue’’. It was also a lack of manpower that the cops cited as a reason for the escalation of the Little India riot. Not enough patrols in the area. The Special Operations Command had been trimmed down.

I was quite disappointed with debate on the Home Affairs ministry budget in Parliament that took place last week. Some questions were asked about the “outsourcing’’ of work to the auxillary police but not much else on the state of readiness on the part of our law and order people. Maybe the MPs didn’t want to step on the toes of the Little India Committee of Inquiry which is still going on?

All I can recall of the debate on the ministry is that a new independent review panel will be set up to review the work of the ministry’s committees tasked with reviewing the work of officers who did the wrong things. That was flagged by MSM as the most important story from the debate.

Sheesh. It left me feeling quite blue.  

AFTERNOTE: It just occurred to me that if the Merc had got through and if this was classified as a “border intrusion” and not an “immigration breach”, then the “immediate alert” should have led to road blocks set up right? And the police division covering Woodlands would have been deployed immediately?

Questions AFTER answers in Parliament

In News Reports on February 18, 2014 at 12:10 am

So many questions in Parliament, and what I mean is, these are AFTER answers have been given.

That mess over school funding

You’ve got to read both ST and TODAY to figure out the confusion over whether six independent schools had their funding cut, or just four (see earlier post Clueless about Schools). It seems the ST based its earlier figure “six’’ on the number of schools which have both the Gifted Education Programme and the Integrated Programme. Now, seven schools offered this, but one, Dunman, is not an independent school. That makes six. And it IS true that the schools had their GEP portion cut.

ST’s mistake was to only focus on independent schools with GEP and IP, when there seemed to have been under funding formula that covered ALL independent schools which resulted in just four being worse off and six actually having more money in the kitty.

The strange thing is, no one seemed to have asked about that new funding formula for independent schools. Seems the House was satisfied with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s answer that funding is not a zero-sum game: that the Education ministry doesn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

That mess over the checkpoint breach

Oops! It should have been called a border intrusion, not a mere immigration breach. This was why the so-called public alert to detect the Malaysian car was a “low level’’ alert, rather than a “high level’’ alert to the police when the red car scooted into Singapore. That would have meant road blocks set up etc. (See earlier blog post Shame on the Home Team).

DPM Teo Chee Hean said the ICA officer at the first checkpoint for passports took two and a half minutes to sound the alarm after consulting the supervisor. The auxillary police officer at the car booth check didn’t sound the alarm either and he does “not know why’’ – sheesh, how come the DPM doesn’t know why when a thorough investigation was supposed to have been conducted? But he did say that APOs are trained, just as ICA officers are trained, when questions were raised about such security outsourcing.

A more interesting question posed was whether the seriousness of the breach was deliberated “scaled down’’. There wasn’t much of an answer beyond how it was a “mistake’’ on the part of the ground commanders to do so. Hmm, perhaps because they don’t want to make waves? Or because they have been so successful in stopping previous breaches (what were they like anyway – involved tailgating one car through the barriers?) that they didn’t know what to do when something happens?

There was a comment about relying more on technology than on human instincts to prevent such things from happening. Donno if this is good or bad. It might prevent errors but will only blunt the human instinct further no?

That mess over train stoppages  

DPM Teo would only say the errant officers had been disciplined or deployed. The commissioners of both ICA and the Police (who haven’t said a thing about the whole saga) have been given a talking-to. No heads will roll presumably and neither will they roll at the transport operators’ sector. Transport minister Lui Tuck Yew said he was less interested in heads rolling than heads fixed on doing the job well. In any case, it was the boards of the companies (now exhorted to have more engineers among members) to decide on whether to keep the CEO’s head on or off.

In fact, those heads will probably be aching now that the penalties for stoppages have gone beyond one million dollars, if 10 per cent of annual revenue per line is higher. That would be in the millions. ST gave an estimate of $49 million in penalties for the North-South and East-West lines should there be a large scale breakdown. It is not clear why it picked the double lines as an example. What would it have been for each line, or the Circle line?

That mess over HPB FAQs

This wasn’t mentioned in Parliament but in a written reply to an MP’s questions on why the Health Promotion Board’s FAQs said that homosexual relations were not much different from heterosexual ones. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stood by HPB’s side to rieterated that the FAQs were meant to give advice to young people and their parents from a public health perspective.

He said that the statement singled out by the MP should be read together with what followed. That relationships required commitment by two people, and that it is possible to remain faithful to one’s partner regardless of sexual orientation. So the public health message is: Don’t have multiple partners or you’ll contract all kinds of diseases and spread them.

Hm. You wonder then if the FAQs could have been re-written to reflect the “public health perspective’’ more clearly.   


Deciphering Day 1

In News Reports, Politics on February 5, 2013 at 12:32 am

OKAY, I am asking this question again. What happens after five days of Parliamentary debate on the White Paper? Doubtless, the paper will be endorsed given the People’s Action Party’s majority in Parliament. And then what? Will it be revised in any way to take into account comments and views made by the PAP MPs and Opposition MPs? Will we see the revised version? Or is this a done deal?

I agree with an MP who talked about the haste with which this White Paper seemed to be proceeding. ST commentator Chua Mui Hoong said the PAP was doing business-as-usual and tried to make the point that this debate was NOT usual. She stopped short though of saying anything more beyond giving reasons for the difference between this debate and others.

So we have DPM Teo Chee Hean sketching out the plan, arguing that the G was not pro-foreigner but intent on keeping the Singapore “core’’. I don’t think his points in Parliament went very much beyond what the White Paper said. I guess he’s saving some bullets when he has to round up the debate. Oh my, the dozens of civil servants who must be taking notes….

So, the WP opposes the plan. Of course it does. So do the National Solidarity Party and the Reform Party. The NSP wants a referendum while the Reform Party went into full scale attack mode on almost every point.
The WP thinks the upward boundary could be 5.9 million, if we squeezed the retirees, housewives etc back into the workforce and thought harder about getting more Singaporeans to have babies.

Actually, this is one point that the PAP should explain – its “resigned’’ attitude towards future TFR, as WP’s Sylvia Lim put it. How did it come to conclude that its marriage and parenthood package would only raise TFR to 1.6, from the current 1.2? Do we need more radical thinking?

Also, the policy changes to get Singaporeans back to work or to work longer – they have just started. So it doesn’t have much faith in them either? There’s the Special Employment Credit which encourages hiring of older workers, re-employment legislation which just kicked in last year. The latest labour force statistics comparing last year and 2011 showed that the employment rate of women aged 25-54 is up (from 73.0% to 74.0%) and the employment rate for older residents aged 55-64 is up from 61.2% to 64.0%. Is this not a helpful sign? Or still not enough?

I wish the White Paper gave more insight into how the planners do projections. I mean, the sort of statistics that would explain how the big numbers that so plague us come about. Economist Donald Low has pointed out that the White Paper seemed to lack research. I agree – or maybe the planners think most of us wouldn’t be able to understand the research anyway? That this is a paper that’s pitched to the general population? If so, shame on them. For a paper as important as this, it should justify all its numbers.
Instead, we are supposed to take the big numbers at face value, trusting that the planners have worked through the numbers? But the same question can be thrown at the opposition as well. How did it come to 5.9 million as the upper limit? It’s not enough to say “our projections show’’…Hmm. What underlying numbers are we talking about?

Also, did the planners look at how other countries do it? Did they remove the bias against welfarism, as MP Seah Kian Peng put it, and keep an open mind about the practices that can be adopted/adapted from, say, the Nordic countries? Because you know what…without such references, the planners looked like they were planning Singapore’s future in an ivory tower. Someone, somewhere must have done something right that we can copy – no need for a uniquely Singaporean solution right?

As for the White Paper’s productivity targets – well, the employers seem to agree that they can’t achieve productivity by much and that’s why they need more foreign labour. Looks like all employers, big and small, are united on that front. No ifs and buts. This is going to be interesting….Which MP is going to speak for them in Parliament? Speaking for business will go against the grain so to speak. It will be highly unpopular to the people at large who want fewer foreigners in future. I suppose Nominated MPs – not accountable to the electorate – can play the role…

By the way, I like what Mr Seah said as reported in ST:

The Government does not always know best, he acknowledged. “It may only know what is efficient, what is rational, what costs the most, or the least.”
Sometimes, he pointed out, it is right to do what the people want. “Not because we think it is right, but because they do.”
The Government must resist the “self-righteous, sanctimonious chant that ‘We do what is right, rather than what is popular'”, he said.

Hmm. I think PAP Ministers should take heed and think hard about how they come across to people especially on this topic. Win their hearts first, then their mind.
In this case, I don’t think ST did the PAP a service. Its coverage seemed focused on giving Mr Teo the stage, to the extent of excerpting his speech. It’s way too much. All it does is make him come across as defensive.


A non-conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society on February 1, 2013 at 3:47 am

Hah. So Singapore will grow in size after all to hold our huddled masses. Although looking at the map on ST’s page 1, you wouldn’t have a clue as to what was going on? What in heaven’s name is that? A map of a bigger Singapore? If so, which parts? Seems a waste of space to me – just a cut-off of Singapore with pictures superimposed on it.

Back to the point:
You know, there are a few things which stood out for me in today’s extensive reports of land use, but they have nothing to do with the proposals. It’s a lot to process…

I am referring to what some ministers said:

DPM Teo Chee Hean: “Let me be clear, the White Paper focuses on the interests and benefits of Singaporeans.’’

Hmm….I should certainly hope so. I wonder if DPM Teo realises how he comes across…In my view, he sounds pissed. At the way people don’t seem to understand the rationale for the White Paper? That we’re not sure that the G has done its best to balance the no-immigrant camp and the more-immigrant camp scenarios?

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan: “Please don’t worry.’’

Thank you very much for the assurance but, of course, we worry. We should. We shouldn’t be expecting the G to do all our worrying for us. We want to be assured that we are in good hands, and raise questions and concerns.
There are other reports too which made me wonder what was going on.

PMO Minister Lim Swee Say: “Just imagine if 10 years ago, we had a Singapore Conversation to talk about one day 10 years from then… population may reach 5.4 million, then start to put in place infrastructure, housing, MRT. Today, we will be much better off, isn’t it?”

Aaah…so the Singapore Conversation is about this? As expected, the report in ST showed that the focus of participants was on the population report. You know what? Why wasn’t it a Green Paper, which is meant for public consultation and therefore can be the subject of the Singapore Conversation? Why is it a White Paper, which is a firmer indication of what is to come?

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who heads the Singapore Conversation team, was also at the same event as Mr Lim. Rather intriguingly, he said the Singapore conversation should not stop despite the White Paper. There was “value in having both of them in parallel, he added, though he did not elaborate’’. Good on ST to point this out.

So could he please elaborate? Because why is he having a conversation with the rest of us when some directions have been set for the country in the White Paper? No way, we can change directions now right? I mean, all that work by civil servants will go to waste.

You know what. Actually I think we should be thankful to have such a meticulous and hardworking Government. It is quite wonderful to see how the different agencies have come together to put up a package that encompasses so much, whether green spaces for parks, more homes, transport, creating a babydom, more living space through reclamation, more university places…

I think an earlier generation would probably sit back and let the Government do all the thinking and work everything out for us. But times, they are a-changing. People will be obsessed with headline figures, yes, but I can bet that many are poring over the details or even coming up with radical ways of solving the population dilemma, like fining every couple who don’t want children to help pay for those who do!

This is why the timing of the Population report in the midst of an on-going Singapore Conversation is so disconcerting to me. The Government wants to be efficient in making projections, yet make a show of consulting the people? Those projections must also be based on Singaporeans’ values and attitudes, for example, towards foreigners, meritocracy, work stress.

What is our Singapore Conversation going to be about now?