Correcting why the past matters

July 22, 2014

I refer to the 13 Feb 2014 Straits Times article “Why the past matters” by Mr Barry Desker.

According to Mr Desker, people in Singapore did not see themselves as one people in 1942 and at most cared only for their families, clans or ethnic groups.

Mr Desker would be pleased to know that back in 1935, a Chinese firm was already giving out scholarships that came specifically without the race criteria while in 1937, the YWCA already represented women across 20 racial groups. These are some of the examples of people in Singapore caring beyond clan and ethnicity prior to 1942.

• CHINESE FIRM’S $10,000 JUBILEE SCHOLARSHIPS
The Colonial Government has received, through Mr. Gaw Khek Khiam, J.P., chairman of the directors of the Ho Ho Biscuit Factory, Limited, of 33, Chin Swee Road, Singapore, a cheque for $10,000 from his company for the foundation of a scholarship or scholarships at the Singapore Trade School … The donors have also expressed the desire that no racial criterion shall be applied to the selection of scholars, the only suggested qualification being that they should have been educated at Malayan (preferably Colony) schools and be the children of parents who have resided in Malay for a number of years.
[The Straits Times, 30 April 1935, Page 11]

• 20 RACES REPRESENTED IN LOCAL Y.W.C.A.
The Y.W.C.A. was not a charity; it was just a woman’s club which developed character and gave younger women opportunities to enjoy a fuller life. Although it was a Christian organisation the membership was not restricted to Christians. The officers and voting members were, of course, Christians. The work in Singapore was of an international character, no fewer than 20 different racial groups being represented in the membership. Besides finding work for those girls who are unemployed, the Y.W.C.A. also looked after women who were strangers to Singapore.
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 22 April 1937, Page 3]

According to Mr Desker, Singapore society only came together gradually over the last 50 years to create a sense of nationhood and identity that goes beyond clan, race, language or religion and of emerging ties linking Singaporeans based on Singlish and eating roti prata or satay. 50 years ago is 1964. Is Mr Desker saying the Chinese and Malays only started eating roti prata after 1964 or the Chinese and Indians only started eating satay after 1964? That would be most silly indeed. Mr Desker would be pleased to know that Singapore society was already coming together beyond clan, race, language or religion prior to 1964.

• Racial Harmony In Malaya
To those who know their Malaya from one end to the other, no less than to the casual visitor, it is a constant source of wonder how so many different races and communities live and work together in the utmost harmony … we repeat, that the different communities live and work in harmony because the British system of justice and administration enables them to obtain fair play. There are no discriminatory or repressive laws, there are few, if any race prejudices in the bazaars and counting houses, there is nothing to prevent the humblest coolie from rising to great wealth – many indeed have done so …
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 26 July 1935, Page 8]

• MALAYA’S RACIAL HARMONY IMPRESSES
“It is a pleasing feature of life in Malaya that there is not merely a complete absence of friction but much cordiality in the relations between the different races inhabiting it. It is quite common to find Malays, Chinese and Indian all living the same street in perfect harmony and apparently, with some degree of intimacy.” The Mui-Tsai Commission Report Chapter VIII.
[The Straits Times, 1 March 1937, Page 13]

• SINO-MALAYAN AMITY IMPRESSES GEN. WU
It makes me happy to see the Chinese and other peoples here co-operating so well with each other.
[The Straits Times, 15 November 1940, Page 11]

• The Malayan Melting-Pot
The Sultan of Perak … “I wish to say to you that Chinese and Malay in the past eighty years before the coming of the Japanese lived side by side in absolute peace. The Chinese lived in the midst of Malays without any trace of fear, and the Chinese also fearlessly and peacefully pursued his vocation in any Malay settlement … Here in Singapore we are constantly impressed by the easy, natural and friendly relationships existing between Eurasians, Straits Chinese, Straits-born Indians and others who went to school together and now meet each other in adult life … Boys – and girls – of the local-born communities who sit side by side in the classrooms of Raffles Institution and St. Joseph’s and St. Andrew’s and the A.C.S., learn to become unconscious of racial differences, to meet on common ground, and to accept each other simply as Singaporeans – not as members of this racial community or that. Naturally this process is more penetrating in the secondary schools than in the elementary ones, because the influence of the school is exerted for a longer period and in years of higher mental awakening …
[The Straits Times, 25 May 1946, Page 4]

• S’pore an ‘example’ of race harmony
Singapore has set an example to the world of racial harmony, said Mr. T. P. F. McNeice, President, in reply to Mr. C. F. J. Ess, at the meeting of the City Council yesterday.
[The Straits Times, 29 September 1951, Page 5]

• Duchess praises ‘one people’ idea
The Duchess of Kent, the first Royal Freeman of the City of Singapore, said yesterday that its people were engaged upon a project of far-reaching significance – the casting into one mould of elements derived from many different cultures.
“This plan in itself testifies to the good will and good sense so characteristic of the people of this island,’ she said.
[The Straits Times, 2 October 1952, Page 1]

• Police help island troop to learn sailing
Singapore’s 84th Pulau Tekong Sea-Scout Troop is certainly helping to strengthen the bonds of friendship among Malays and Chinese on the island. It is undoubtedly a Sino-Malay affair for half of its 20 members are drawn from each race. Even the four patrol leaders in the troop are equally divided on a communal basis. Members of each patrol, however, are mixed.
[The Singapore Free Press, 17 July 1953, Page 12]

• Our racial harmony inspiration to bishop
An American Negro bishop said in Singapore yesterday that complete racial harmony among students and teachers in Colony schools was an inspiration to him. He said it proved his theory that if you get people of all races close enough together for them to smile at each other racial pride and prejudices will vanish quickly
[The Straits Times, 30 September 1954, Page 4]

• A Chinese bank to train Malay
The Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation has awarded a one-year scholarship to Inche Mohamed Yasin bin Abdul Rahman, a member of the Johore State Council, to study general banking with its head office in Singapore. This is the first time the bank has awarded such a scholarship to a Malay.
[The Straits Times, 3 February 1955, Page 4]

• ‘See yourselves as just one people’ Governor’s advice to teachers
The people of Singapore must not think of themselves in terms of their racial and language loyalties, but as Singaporeans, the Governor, Sir William Goode, said yesterday. Schools must be Singapore schools, not English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil schools … In 1953, he said, English was the only medium of instruction at the college, but today they worked in English, Malay and Chinese. “In this way too the different races in the Colony can be welded into a united people with a common loyalty and a common pride in Singapore and a united determination to work for the good of Singapore.”
[The Straits Times, 12 October 1958, Page 7]

• U.S. TEACHERS ‘IMPRESSED’
Eighteen American teachers (above) from 11 states left for Bangkok by CPA this morning after a four-day stay here … Prof. Mulder said they were impressed by the racial harmony they had observed in Singapore and had come to know the state much better.
[The Singapore Free Press, 16 July 1959, Page 10]

• TELLING THE PEOPLE
So many races, but one nation
If a world list were compiled of countries enjoying high degree of inter-racial harmony Singapore would undoubtedly occupy a leading position. Here people of various races work, play and live together happily as one nation. They help each other in time of difficulty. They rejoice in each other’s happiness. And they share each other’s grief. Such is the respect, understanding and goodwill between the Malay, Chinese, Indian, European and other races living here that visitors in Singapore have often praised the State as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The latest visitor to express this view is Mrs. A. Qugley, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, who passed through the State during a tour of the Far East. She said that “the people here must be extremely proud of themselves for the “really great” racial harmony that was evident
[The Singapore Free Press, 6 July 1961, Page 6]

Mr Desker wrote of our vulnerability as a city state despite our prosperity and enviable standard of living now. But city states like Rome and Venice have outlived the empires to which they belonged to. Larger nations like Japan and Ukraine are also susceptible to feeling threatened by even larger nations like China and Russia. Vulnerability is thus not a function of being or not being a city state but a function of our military capability vis-à-vis those of our neighbors as well as the prevailing political climate. In both military and political terms, Singapore is not as vulnerable as our city state status suggests.

Mr Desker urged Singaporeans to remember the Japanese invasion, communist subversion and communal riots that undermined our stability and well being and tested the unity of our forefathers. Mr Desker can also urge Singaporeans to distinguish those who resisted the Japanese and those who worked for them. He can explain that the great majority of the Leftists were not communists but were true patriots and nationalists who fought British colonialism and agitated for our independence. Mr Desker can also add reasons to our communal riots like the one below:

• That PAP appeal: ‘It is political trickery’
Until the PAP and its supporters came into the political arena, the Chinese as a whole had worked and co-operated not only with the Malays, but also with other racial groups. For the PAP, after planting the seeds of dissension and distrust, now to call for tolerance is political trickery of the highest order. There can be no racial harmony based on political double talk, of tolerance in word and intolerance in deed. Racial harmony can only be built on goodwill, co-operation, good faith and mutual trust.
[The Straits Times, 2 February 1959, Page 5]

Correcting Mr Tay Boon Suat

July 20, 2014

I refer to the 26 Feb 2014 Straits Times letter “Timely boost for pioneer generation” by Mr Tay Boon Suat.

Mr Tay quoted former Nan Hua primary school principal Madam Fong Yuet Kwai saying Singapore was forced to become a country. That is not correct. Singaporeans experienced a political awakening after the Japanese Occupation and began agitating for nationalism, self-determination and an end to British colonialism. That generation of Singaporeans shouted Merdeka, the Malay word for independence. The reward for their dogged determination was that Singapore progressively received more independence and by 1959, in the words of LKY, achieved ¾ independence. While the Leftists wanted to press on and complete the last ¼ journey towards full independence, LKY autocratically hijacked the national agenda and forced Singaporeans to accept merger with Malaysia. Singapore wasn’t forced to become independent; instead, we were forced by LKY into marriage with Malaysia. But in a twist of fate, Singaporeans got what they wanted and there was great rejoicing in the country:

• Lee Kuan Yew, appearing in tears on television when announcing separation, was devastated. His feelings strongly contrasted with what he pictured as the scenes in Chinatown. “They set off firecrackers to celebrate their liberation from communal rule by the Malays from Kuala Lumpur, carpeting the streets with red paper debris”. Most Singaporeans … did not share the government’s dismay …
[Sikko Visscher, The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, page 171]

Mr Tay’s parroting of PAP’s misplaced pessimism about the survival of post independent Singapore is contradicted by the optimism of our then No. 1 economic advisor Dr Winsemius:

• Lee’s dismay was also not shared by the country’s most prominent foreign advisor. Winsemius, the former leader of the UN development mission and now a regular consultant to the Singapore government, said in an interview in 1981 … to my amazement, a discussion had started: can Singapore survive? That was the only time I got angry in Singapore. I said: ‘now you have your hands free – use them!’ It was the best thing that happened during the whole period from 1960 till today.
[Sikko Visscher, The business of politics and ethnicity: a history of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, page 171]

Mr Tay parroted LKY questioning whether Singapore will be around in 100 years even as LKY confidently declared America, China, Britain and Australia will be. But China and Britain barely made it through World War II intact. If America hadn’t defeated the Japanese, it was unlikely bitter rivals Kuomintang and CCP would have. If America didn’t sustain Britain, it was unlikely Britain could have continued to wage war on Germany. If America hadn’t won in the Pacific, the Japanese’s next stop would have been Australia. America is the reason why China, Britain and Australia are still around and not renamed like Singapore was to Syonan-to. America was also the reason why Syonan-to was renamed back to Singapore. America continues to rescue small nations and small populations like Kuwait and Kosovo. If any country big or small is to be around in the next 100 years, it is because America is around.

Mr Tay asserted young Singaporeans attribute our success to good education and government efficiency. Mr Tay should encourage young Singaporeans to read Dr Goh Keng Swee’s book “The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7” in which he attributed our success to our (1) excellent geographic location, (2) excellent British institutions, (3) adaptability honed from 100 over years of continuous adaptation by the colonial government and (4) stability of Southeast Asia.

Mr Tay reminded Singaporeans that we are a city state heavily dependent on the fragile confidence of foreign investors. But bigger countries like Malaysia and Thailand require even more foreign investments to support larger populations. They, not us, have it tougher.

Mr Tay reminded Singaporeans never to forget our pioneers’ contributions. Mr Tay should also not forget the contributions of our pioneers’ pioneers and their pioneers too.

Celebrate Singapore’s national day by understanding its history

July 19, 2014

I refer to the 13 May 2014 Straits letter “Celebrate Singapore’s birthday by learning its history” by Ms Lim Lih Mei.

Ms Lim feels that a truly meaningful way of celebrating Singapore’s birthday is to learn Singapore’s history through events or activities that explain the historical significance of places like Bukit Chandu, Old Ford Factory, Fort Canning Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Park so that Singaporeans understand our achievements did not come easy or happened overnight and that citizens shoulder a heavy responsibility to make our country an even better place.

If Ms Lim truly learns Singapore history, she will know that 8 Aug is not Singapore’s birthday but her Independence Day instead. The day Singapore was given independence was not the day Singapore was born.

Understanding the significance of Bukit Chandu and Kent Ridge means showing gratitude to people like Lt Adnan and Lim Bo Seng who rose up to the occasion in our hour of need to fight for our country. They are the perfect role models to inspire the younger generation to defend Singapore, not those who chose self-preservation over sacrifice. The former represented courage, honour, sacrifice, dependability and rootedness for the country. The latter represented cowardice, dishonor, selfishness, dubiousness and rootlessness that swayed according to the winds of change. The day-night difference between the two is captured by the following:

• In the war years, against the great suffering of the Chinese-educated who bravely put themselves behind the wheel of resistance, the Westernized elite was distinguished by ingratiating themselves to the Japanese, so Lee remembers:
Many of us will remember the unhappy spectacle of English-speaking, Western-educated colleagues suddenly changing in their manners of speech, dress and behaviour, making blatant attempts at being good imitation Japs. Indeed some were sent to Japan so as to be better educated, to enlighten their ignorant countrymen in Malaya and doubtless also to become the privileged class, second only to the genuine Japanese themselves.
[Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess, Souchou Yao, page 34-35]

In France, those who fought on despite the capitulation of the French government were hailed as heroes after the war while those who fraternized with the enemy were publicly humiliated as traitors. It would be truly meaningful if Singaporean society can finally learn to distinguish the two and not mistake one for the other.

Singapore today did not continue from 14th century

July 18, 2014

I refer to excerpts from the 26 Jun 2014 Straits Times report “Between the covers: The Chinese in Singapore”.

It was reported that a book will be published next year detailing the history of Singapore’s Chinese as far back as 500 years before Singapore’s founding in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. The book will draw evidence from recent archaeological finds showing a Chinese community dating back to the 14th century that is expected to fill the gap left from a previous book covering the period 1891 to 1919.

Dating back 500 years or since the 14th century doesn’t mean the history continued all through the 500 years or continued since the 14th century to this day. Whatever that the book aims to reveal, one thing is certain – there is a historical black hole in Singapore from the time the Portuguese burnt it down in the 1600s to 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles revived its fortunes. No amount of scholarly writing can fill that black hole of close to 200 years that clearly separates a former civilization that used to exist in Singapore from modern Singapore that has continuously existed since 1819. What cannot be denied is that by the time Raffles arrived in 1819, all that was left of Singapore was a small fishing village, no more bustling city, not even a town. Whatever glory that 14th century Singapore purportedly held had all but vanished for close to 200 years until Raffles’ arrival. The Singapore that we know today did not continue from that 14th century civilization but began afresh with Raffles.

Incidentally, the name Singapore could have originated from the Sanskrit words “Sing-gah” and “Poorah” which together meant a place of calling or landing.

• In 1160, a renowned Malay leader and his followers landed at the Southernmost extremity of the Malayan Peninsula, and were there designated the Leeward people (Orang dibawah angin), from the fact of their following the Trades, (as they emigrated from Menang Kabao,) their Chief City in Sumatra, At this resting place they built a City and called it Sing-gah-poorah; Sing-gah, to call at, to land at, – Poorah, is simply a mark of composition, having no Distinct meaning in itself, hence a place of call, or landing. It has been suggested by some, that it’s origin is Sanskrit; “Singa,” thus, has the meaning, a Lion; but in this case the word is pronounced with the “g” soft, as in the word “Singer.” It is one of the many Sanskrit words which has been introduced in to the Malayan tongue, – while Poorah is said to be a Javanese word meaning, a Kingly place, a City, and therefore the “Lion City.”
[The Straits Times, 8 May 1875, Page 6, ORIGIN AND MEANING OF THE NAME "SINGAPORE.", T. H Crane, Western Isle of Wight, 26 Dec 1874]

Re-evaluating a turbulent era

July 18, 2014

I refer to the 16 May 2014 Straits Times letter “Recalling a turbulent era” by Mr Lionel De Souza [1].

Mr De Souza highlighted an ST report [2] detailing Madam Goh Lay Kuan’s supposed recruitment into a splinter group of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), her stay at a CPM jungle camp along the Thai-Malaysia border and her arrest by the ISD in 1976 for supposed communist activities.

Madam Goh’s televised confession in return for her freedom after 2.5 years of incarceration was not unlike some medieval confession extracted through torture – you don’t know how much was wholeheartedly agreed upon and how much was begrudged. Whatever the case maybe, one thing is clear – Madam Goh had noble intentions. What comes across clearly in her recent interview with the Straits Times [3] is that Madam Goh was driven by anti-colonialism, social justice, championing for the poor and for the children, not having to bow to authority and freedom to speak up for justice. These virtues coincided with those of the CPM and perhaps brought their paths together. The bottom line underlining the Leftist saga in Singapore and Malaya had been social injustice that continues to dog both nations today.

Mr De Souza also highlighted CPM’s assassination activities in Malaysia and professed to still feel the real threat of Vietnamese communism in the 1970s, the Cold War, the fierce Malayan communist insurgency in the 1970s that killed hundreds and Chin Peng the Butcher of Malaya.

It’s strange that Mr De Souza should fear Chin Peng or the Malayan communist insurgents given that neither operated in Singapore but from within Malaysia. Stranger still is Mr De Souza’s fear of the Cold War whose epicenter was in far away Berlin.

The Malayan communists’ use of violence cannot be condoned. Nevertheless, there are other aspects that should be considered.

The Malayan communists resisted the Japanese during the Occupation for which Chin Peng was awarded the Order of the British Empire. They were true patriots who deserve our gratitude for putting their lives on the line to fight the enemy.

The Malayan communists then fought British colonialism and it can be argued that this accelerated the British granting Malaya independence. Both Sukarno and Ho Chi Minh also waged independence wars against their respective Dutch and French colonial masters, yet neither is seen as villain but hero instead in their respective nations.

It is double standards that Nelson Mandela is revered throughout the world while Chin Peng is reviled for employing violence in pursuit of their respective revolutions.

Both sides of the insurgency exhibited brutality and that thousands of insurgents perished as well. There was not one but many butchers on both sides of the contest.

If the British had granted Chin Peng’s wish for peaceful contest through elections in exchange for laying down arms, the second communist insurgency in the 1970s might not have happened.

The Mar 2008 protest by 10,000 Indians in Malaysia’s central Kuala Lumpur against racial discrimination is an example of what Chin Peng had been fighting for.

In conclusion, noble intentions led individuals like Madam Goh Lay Kuan to cross path with the communists. The communists’ use of violence cannot be condoned. Nevertheless, a number of considerations suggest they deserve better than their eternal condemnation.

[1]

Straits Times, Recalling a turbulent era, 16 May 2014
I HAVE been following The Straits Times’ The Pioneer Club series as I belong to that generation of Singaporeans, and I read the interview with ballet teacher Goh Lay Kuan with particular interest (“The ballerina who overturned tables”; May 3).
As a police officer from 1961 to 1988, I still have vivid memories of Singapore during those days. I remember ST reported extensively on Madam Goh’s detention in 1976. The report (“The red plot…”; May 28, 1976) stated that 50 people were detained for communist activities that sought to undermine Singapore’s stability.
It gave a detailed account of how Madam Goh had been recruited into a splinter group of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), and that she had stayed at a CPM jungle camp in Betong along the Thai-Malaysia border, where she observed about 60 armed persons training with guns.
The report even had a photo of this camp, which was recovered from one of the other arrested persons.
Related online articles described the links this group had to an ultra-violent splinter cell of the CPM that had assassinated the Malaysian Inspector-General of Police in 1974, and the Chief Police Officer of Perak in 1975.
In fact, according to former senior Malaysian Special Branch officer Aloysius Chin’s book, The Communist Party Of Malaya: The Inside Story, this same group had sent agents to tail the late Mr Tan Teck Khim, a former commissioner of the Singapore Police Force, under whom I had served, for an assassination attempt that fortunately never materialised.
These events may seem distant, but they are still very real to me.
The 1970s was a time when the Red threat was high. South Vietnam had fallen to the communist North. We were in the midst of the Cold War, and there was a fierce communist insurgency in the Malay peninsula where hundreds were killed in the 1970s. The CPM leader, Chin Peng, nicknamed the “Butcher of Malaya”, made peace only in 1989 from his base on the Thai-Malaysia border.
It is good that ST has been reporting on the experiences and memories of the pioneer generation, so that younger generations of Singaporeans can understand the challenges we had to overcome, and the choices we had to make as individuals and as a country to arrive at where we are.
Lionel De Souza

[2]
• Straits Times, I Confess, Bitter tales and then a warning to youths, 29 May 1976
• Straits Times, Did their parents know what was up?, 29 May 1976

Another report that detailed the same event was “Communist plot revealed, 50 arrested”:

Communist plot revealed, 50 arrested, 27 May 1976
A well-known ballerina, a flour mill sales manager and a naval officer were among 50 people arrested over a communist plot to undermine the stability of Singapore. Some of those detained – such as ballet teacher Goh Lay Kuan and her husband, Kuo Pao Kun, a secretary of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce – were from the middle and upper-middle class. This indicated that the communists were planning to cast their net beyond their classical base of old bys’ associations and non-unionised workplaces, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement. Police also seized documents, including photographs of communist guerrillas in a training camp on the Thai-Malaysian border, and cash for financing underground activities. According to the ministry, the plot to destabilise Singapore involved collecting funds and channeling supplies to several communist groups. According to the ministry statement, the communists had planned to infiltrate government departments, statutory boards, cultural groups and schools. They hoped to use gangsters to rob local and foreign capitalists, and to carry out terrorist acts. The ministry said that “only timely action by the ISD (Internal Security Department) has foiled the communists before any real damage is done”.
[Chronicle of Singapore, 1959-2009: Fifty Years of Headline News, Peter H. L. Lim]

[3]

http://www.singapolitics.sg/supperclub/goh-lay-kuan-being-detained-under-isa

THE PIONEER CLUB, Goh Lay Kuan on being detained under the ISA, 3 May 2014

Q: You received a Chinese education up to age 19. How has it influenced your thinking?

During the colonial period, English schools provided “slavery education” to produce people who knew English, but were obedient. You first learnt, “Yes, sir”, followed by “British is the best”.

In Chinese schools, we were linked to our traditional culture. We were taught to be sensitive to social issues.

When I saw children weaving through traffic and endangering themselves to sell mah piu poh (Cantonese for newspaper carrying horse racing results), I was disturbed and unhappy. The Malay children were also out on the street selling curry puffs.

So, I wrote a musical about children selling rice dumplings. It wasn’t welcomed because it was seen as political criticism.

Q: What main challenges did you and your husband face in starting a performing arts school in 1965?

We had a skit called gai si de cang ying (Chinese for “damn the fly”) around the time of the Keep Singapore Clean campaign (a yearly campaign that then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew started in 1968).

Lee’s authority struck fear in the people at the TV station.

Once, there was a fly when he arrived to give the National Day address. You can imagine how everybody reacted. Turn off the light! Ten minutes later, the light was turned on and they resumed. But the uncooperative fly came back. The light was turned off and Mr Lee was asked to rest in a dressing room. They had to do the recording a few times before it was finished.

Pao Kun, who was the producer-announcer, felt it was very funny. It was just a fly, but everyone was so frightened, as if a whole army had arrived. So at a drama camp, gai si de cang ying was performed. It was about the funny situations created by a fly at a fruit stall. We did not make any direct criticism, but they thought we had a Communist ideology.

Q: You and your husband were accused of communist activities in 1976. Looking back, why do you think you were detained?

It’s cumulative. They called you to account for each one of the performances you put up. We had also raised issues about children and their poverty, sometimes in songs, short plays or on stage.

When Singapore was just founded, we needed huge foreign investments. We especially wanted the Japanese investors.

I had heard of an award-winning story about the Second World War where the Japanese were out to kill a Malayan freedom fighter. But someone hid the man. The Japanese said they would kill the whole family of this courageous rescuer.

I felt it was good material for a dance performance but it was not approved. We argued that the story was out in the open, and it did no harm to our country.

Q: Why did you put up those performances?

Theatre is about life. It’s about people, about how we see, how we think, how we feel. It is so simple, yet so powerful. When I see some wrongdoing, I will talk about it. This is my right. This is why I became an artiste.

Q: What happened during your detention?

Many things happened inside there. I found it funny that when they detained me, they asked me to draw a gun. I didn’t even know how to draw a toy gun.

I said: “Why do you want me to do this? I have no idea.” I drew (an inverted L shape). I said I knew where they pulled the trigger, but I didn’t know where they put the bullets.

As I spoke, they kept laughing, and I also kept laughing.

Later, I discovered their intention was to charge those of us who were detained with having received military training. Luckily, I didn’t know how to draw.

When they threatened me, I told them: “If I don’t care whether I’m alive or dead, what can you do with me?” I was not easily intimidated. I even overturned their tables.

Be forthright with Singapore’s public transport

July 15, 2014

I refer to the 14 Jul 2014 Straits Times letter “Be appreciative of Singapore’s good public transport system” by Ms Gina Ng.

Ms Ng wants those who complain about MRT delays or breakdowns to consider MRT’s 25 years of faithful good service and not take it for granted. But MRT delays, congestions and breakdowns have persisted for nearly three years already. It is not a one off delay or breakdown that Singaporeans can understand. How long must the delays or breakdowns persist before Ms Ng would agree to complain? 25 years?

Ms Ng points to more buses being added to shorten peak hour waiting time. But what is the point of adding more buses when the roads are jammed during peak hours?

Ms Ng cites her visitor friend often praising our public transport for its efficiency and convenience. Can Ms Ng also share where her friend comes from? Taipei or Timbuktu?

Ms Ng praises Singapore trains as affordable, takes you anywhere and equipped with air conditioning. But the recent public transport study by Credo gives Singapore a lowly score of only 3 out of 10 for public transport affordability and 4 out of 10 for network density. The table below shows that when these two factors are considered, Singapore ranks lowly amongst First World cities.

City Affordability Network density Average
Hong Kong 5.5 10 7.8
New York 5 8 6.5
Tokyo 5 8 6.5
Vienna 2 10 6
Stockholm 1.5 10 5.8
London 1.5 9 5.3
Madrid 2.5 7 4.8
Berlin 2 7 4.5
Copenhagen 2 7 4.5
Seoul 6 3 4.5
Los Angeles 4 4 4
Melbourne 2 6 4
Sydney 2.5 5 3.8
Paris 3 4 3.5
Singapore 3 4 3.5
Toronto 3.8 3 3.4
Chicago 3 3 3

Ms Ng postulates that Singapore complainers have not experienced worse transport systems in other cities. But most First World cities have transport systems comparable to or better than ours. Is Ms Ng referring to worse transport systems in Third World countries? What’s the point of comparing with Third World countries? Do Singaporeans deserve Third World transport systems? If we do, what’s the point of paying million dollar minister salaries and enduring their constant self-praises?

Ms Ng urges Singaporeans to appreciate and not take our transport system for granted. It is Ms Ng who should appreciate the situation as it is and not take Singaporeans’ good will for granted.

PAP government responsible for falling Chinese standards

July 15, 2014

I refer to the 11 Jul 2014 Straits Times report “Govt committed to helping S’poreans master mother tongue”.

PM Lee claims that schools in the 1950s either taught in English or in Chinese but not both. That is not true. Mr Lee Kong Chian had already introduced bilingual education to the Chinese High School in 1949 and also proposed bilingual and trilingual education for the country in 1953 before PAP was founded:

• 1934 – 1955: Served as chairman of the management committee of Chinese High School. In 1949, he convinced the principal to introduce bilingual education.
• 1953: Proposed introducing bilingual and trilingual education, and equal treatment for schools of all language streams. His proposals were accepted by the colonial government and included in the White Paper on Education Policy that introduced a unified education system for Singapore.
[http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_978_2006-06-16.html]

PM Lee has the cheek to say that it was government policies that safeguarded the Chinese language in Singapore when in the first place it was the PAP that many authors pointed to as the culprit that destroyed Chinese schools in Singapore.

• PAP systematically undercut Chinese education as it saw the Chinese educated as both political and cultural threats
• PAP set about neutralising Chinese schools, which were powerful auxiliaries to labour unions and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce which is the major funding and controlling body for Chinese education in a bid to control education
• PAP, through government policies, strengthened social and economic forces that reduced the number of Chinese schools
[Carl A. Trocki, Singapore: wealth, power and the culture of control”, page 150]

• PAP sought to destroy Chinese education, page 81
• Racial integration policy was a cover for an all-out attack on Chinese education, page 84
• PAP undermined Chinese education autonomy while attempting to win Malay support by appearing to be multiracial, page 85
• The 1969 bilingual policy, while appeasing Chinese public opinion, completed the demolition of the Chinese education system, page 89
• The government being the largest employer in Singapore could have given better job opportunities to the Chinese educated but refused to, page 79
[Christopher Tremewan, The political economy of social control in Singapore]

• PAP promised equal treatment for all language streams but not equal employment opportunities for people from non-English streams
[Tong Chee Kiong, Identity and ethnic relations in Southeast Asia: racializing Chineseness, page 62]

PM Lee maintains that Speak Mandarin and bilingualism has allowed the younger generation to communicate in both Mandarin and English today. But the younger Malaysian generation who can speak Mandarin, English, Cantonese and Malay shows there is no need to suppress dialects to promote Mandarin or English.

I refer too to the 11 Jul 2014 Straits Times report “PMO responds to Zaobao editorial on Chinese language”.

PMO cites Hong Konger’s inability to master three languages to support its view that most people cannot master English, Mandarin and dialect at the same time. But Malaysians have shown that it is possible to achieve conversational fluency in English, Mandarin, Malay and Cantonese without compromising written proficiency in English.

PMO rejects blaming the bilingual policy for falling Chinese standards and instead states its belief that without it, Singaporeans would not understand, speak or write Chinese. But as explained above, many authors believe that it was the PAP government that actively brought down Chinese schools and Chinese education in the first place. The blame must fall squarely on the PAP government.

PMO views as extreme and unjust Zaobao’s assertion that the Speak Mandarin campaign and bilingualism divided the pioneer generation from their grandchildren leading to loss of Chinese values and hastening of Westernization. PMO’s defense is the similar shifts in values and attitudes in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

• PMO should not deny the disconnection between generations when grandparents only speak dialect while grandchildren do not.
• PMO should not deny that Singapore is the most westernized amongst China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

PMO is of the opinion that Speak Mandarin strengthens, not weakens the younger generation’s sense of belonging. PMO should not deny that the damage had already been done long before the Speak Mandarin campaign.

Like the stop-at-two policy, the government will never admit to any wrongdoing.

Rebutting Mahbubani’s $5 meals, $500 holidays and $50k homes for SG50

July 14, 2014

I refer to Mr Kishore Mahbubani’s 12 Jul 2014 Straits Times column “$5 meals, $500 holidays and $50k homes for SG50”.

Mr Mahbubani mistakenly confines our extraordinary success to just the last 50 years. Singapore had become prosperous soon after our founding in 1819.

• Since its foundation, Singapore had rapidly developed into a prosperous international free port. Its success was due to joint Sino-British expertise, capital and labour. By the 1930s Singapore had become a trade focus for an immense and wealthy area stretching from the Bay of Bengal to China and embracing the whole of Southeast Asia.
[Yeo Kim Wah, Political Development in Singapore, 1945-55, page 14]

• Singapore was the example par excellence of a colonial port that had prospered on global trade because its overlord had the wisdom not to confine its trade for narrow imperial gain.
[Abu Talib Ahmad and Liok Ee Tan, New terrains in Southeast Asian history, page 152]

• Before World War II Singapore had already experienced very considerable economic development. At the beginning of the 1950s it was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but as a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and distribution of mail, Singapore in the inter-war period, was the biggest market in the world for natural rubber, internationally important as a specialized futures market for tin, and a major world oil distribution centre. There existed a reservoir of human capital: the city had an entrepreneur class which is both extensive in numbers and high in quality, and substantial industry, not least as a centre for ship repair with the skilled labour force this implied. Quantitative evidence confirms this impression of rising living standards. In 1956 the first estimates of national income for Singapore showed that per capita income had been increasing fairly steadily and rapidly since 1948 and were very much greater than almost anywhere else in Asia. Per capita income was probably over a third of that in the United Kingdom.
[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

Mr Mahbubani claims that the increase in our per capita income from US$500 in 1965 to US$64,584 is unmatchable by any other nation state. Mr Mahbubani is again mistaken. According to the Penn World Tables (http://www.rug.nl/research/ggdc/data/penn-world-table), South Korea, Taiwan and China outgrew us in per capita GDP (output) from 1965 to 2011. South Korea also outgrew us in per capita GDP (expenditure) from 1965 to 2011. Our per capita GDP growth has been matched by the other East Asian dragon economies.

Country PWT 2011 output per capita GDP as multiple of 1965 (both in 2005 USD PPP) Country PWT 2011 expenditure per capita GDP as multiple of 1965 (both in 2005 USD PPP)
Korea, Republic of 22.6 Equatorial Guinea 28
Botswana 19.3 Botswana 27.1
Equatorial Guinea 16.7 Korea, Republic of 21.6
Taiwan 10.8 Singapore 17.5
China 9.6 Taiwan 10.9
Zimbabwe 7.9 China 9.6
Singapore 7.6 Hong Kong 7.5
Malta 7.5 Cape Verde 7.2
Romania 7 Romania 7.2
Thailand 6.8 Thailand 7
Japan 6.6 Egypt 6.9
Cyprus 6.1 Cyprus 6.5
Ireland 6.1 Malta 6
Cape Verde 6 Indonesia 5.6
Egypt 5.6 Ireland 5.5
Argentina 5 Malaysia 5.4
Hong Kong 4.5 Argentina 5.4
Panama 4.4 Japan 5.2
Portugal 4.4 Iran 5.1
Italy 4 Portugal 4.6

Mr Mahbubani believes we have reached a good base camp in 2014. How can a good base camp be so squeezy and so infrastructurally inadequate?

Mr Mahbubani claims we have had no conflict over the last 50 years as though the recent Little India riot is not a conflict. Like the three wise monkeys, Mr Mahbubani sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil.

Mr Mahbubani takes pride in 90% of our citizens owning our own homes, never mind many retiring today don’t have sufficient CPF retirement money after paying for their homes.

Mr Mahbubani quotes well known journalist Mr M. J. Akbar asking fellow Indians why can’t they have a simple toilet in every home by 2022, broadband in every village and cleanliness. Mr Mahbubani forgets that:

• India has 192.67 million households compared to 1.15 million households in Singapore. If Mr Mahbubani is tasked to supply another 192.67 million – 1.15 million = 191.52 million toilets in Singapore, can he complete the work by 2022?

• If our nationwide fibre optic contractor keeps getting fined for not being able to complete its work on time in small Singapore, can it do better in much bigger India?

• Singapore has hordes of cleaners without which Singapore would look like Little India after every Sunday.

Mr Mahbubani bemoans citizens’ growing tired of success narratives and begrudges them focusing only on huge population increase, crowded trains, long wait for flats, highway jams and soaring COE.

• He should accept that as long as success narratives don’t gel with figures from international agencies and don’t gel with everyday experiences, people won’t buy them.

• He forgets that it was through sound public provision that PAP won over Singaporean hearts so why should it come as a surprise that when the goods dry up, so will the good will?

Mr Mahbubani uses his own example of going from a three-figure monthly salary in 1971 to a five-figure salary now to show how exceptional Singapore’s first 50 years track record has been by historical standards. He forgets that Singapore is winner-takes-all so that when one person takes all, others cannot.

Mr Mahbubani claims that every Singaporean can enjoy cash and credit. But given our high GINI inequality how much cash or credit can low income families enjoy?

Mr Mahbubani boasts of our car ownership being the highest for a city. But Singapore already had the highest car ownership in Asia back in the mid-1950s.

• Prosperity had spread, so that Singapore was almost certainly the only place in Asia where there is a really substantial middle class. In the mid-1950s the island had 30 people per private car and British Malaya 70. No other country in Asia had fewer than 120.
[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

Mr Mahbubani boasts of us being the first to open up to global MNCs. We were just one of four East Asian dragon economies that were the first to benefit from globalization and MNCs. Furthermore, our pursuit of the FDI strategy was courtesy of Dr Albert Winsemius, our economic advisor from UN.

Mr Mahbubani boasts of Singapore being one of few developed countries where good meals can be had for less than $5 per head. He quoted Mr Steve LaNasa, ex-president of Donnelly College in Kansas praising the amazingly good quality hawker centre food at astonishingly low prices. Mr Mahbubani, please tell Mr LaNasa that Singapore hawkers have existed long before PAP was born so stop trying to sneak this in as another PAP achievement.

Mr Mahbubani asks us to stop dreaming about holidays in London, Paris, New York or Orlando and travel instead to magnificent Southeast Asian historical sites for less than $500 per head. From dreaming about Switzerland in the 1990s, we are now asked to dream about Southeast Asia. Is that progress Mr Mahbubani?

Mr Mahbubani suggests that we buy small homes elsewhere in Southeast Asia for less than $50,000. After studying hard, serving NS and working hard, Singaporeans are now asked to move to poorer parts of Southeast Asia. All our hopes for this country have been in vain. Singaporeans who cannot afford expensive Singapore must vacate this land for rich foreigners who can. This Mr Mahbubani says is normal behaviour in other countries.

Mr Mahbubani wants us to forget all our troubles and party for one year to build up our happiness quotient. But burying our heads in the sand won’t bring us happiness. Mr Mahbubani must supply 40% × 3 million × 365 = 438 million ecstasy pills to dumb ourselves down for one year.

Rebutting “Singapore has never been winner takes all”

July 11, 2014

I refer to the 3 July 2014 Straits Times letter “S’pore has never been winner-take-all society” by Mr Cheng Shoong Tat.

Mr Cheng took issue with the “winner takes all” description of Singapore society. The Oxford Reference website http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803124206571 explains a winner-takes-all market as:

an occupational labour market in which there are widely differing rates of pay for those performing ostensibly the same kind of work. Those at the top of their profession will earn very high, and arguably disproportionate, salaries for the work that they perform. The emergence of winner-takes-all labour markets has been identified widely in higher skilled occupations (managers and professionals) in developed economies and is one of the factors associated with rising income inequality; inequality is increasing, that is, within as well as between occupational groups in the labour market.

So a winner-takes-all society is simply a society where the successful takes more than his fair share of the spoils of society while the less successful takes less than his fair share. It is not an unfair description of Singapore society given our high GINI coefficient and our high PISA score which suggests high inequality despite high level of ability from the average person.

Mr Cheng insisted that Singapore capitalism has always been far more benign than United States’ or Hong Kong’s. However, United Nations University data (http://www.wider.unu.edu/research/WIID-3a/en_GB/wiid/) shows quite the opposite instead. US capitalism has always been far more benign than Singapore’s while Hong Kong’s capitalism has been no worse than ours.

gini

Mr Cheng pointed to HDB providing a roof over most Singaporeans’ heads with sustainable mortgage payments. If HDB mortgage payments have been sustainable, how come so many Singaporeans retiring today don’t have the minimum sum in their CPF?

Mr Cheng pointed to our virtually free education. But all First World nations give virtually free and most give absolutely free education. Does Mr Cheng not realize that the few ablest who went on to study at Oxbridge on the state’s account is an example of winner-takes-all?

Mr Cheng pointed to no one dying in the street and no hospital operation being delayed due to cost or doubt of patient’s ability to pay. But even in Indonesia you don’t find people dying in the street so what relevance is dying in the street? No hospital operation being delayed is because people like the 95 year old Samsui woman distinguished in the 2007 National Day celebrations opted to commit suicide instead.

According to Mr Cheng, if Singapore is winner takes all,

• Newly married couples wouldn’t be able to sell their HDB flats after 5 years to make a profit
• Winners would be able to buy their children a place in a choice secondary school
• Winners would be treated in private hospitals where the best doctors and equipment are while losers get treated in public hospitals where third rate doctors and equipment are.

Mr Cheng:

• Where will couples stay after selling their flats? Must they emigrate from Singapore to become winners?
• Being able to afford a better learning environment, better learning materials or private tuition doesn’t count towards winning?
• Don’t the best doctors move on to private practice after some time? Doesn’t that lead to the best doctors being in private hospitals?

Mr Cheng pointed to government transfers from the more successful to the less successful. But what is the point of making the less successful so terribly unsuccessful first then transferring some success to them? Why not just make sure they have some minimum standard of success to begin with?

Mr Cheng warned of the danger of comparing with the successful rather than with some reasonable benchmark. Mr Cheng’s reasonable benchmarks are:

• No one dying in the street – Indonesia
• No hospital operation delayed due to cost – Malaysia
• Nearly free education – Indonesia or Malaysia
• Treatment in government hospitals – Indonesia or Malaysia

From the Swiss standard of living in the 1990s, we have now moved on to the very reasonable Southeast Asian standard of living.

Mr Cheng explained that the bell curve naturally separates the successful from the rest, so the only way to give similar rewards to both the successful and less successful is to level down the former, but this will not help the latter. But bell curves can be very broad or very narrow. How does Mr Cheng know that the Singapore bell curve is by nature very broad and not narrow like those of Europe? So instead of leveling down the successful, giving similar rewards to both successful and less successful can be achieved by narrowing the bell curve.

Mr Cheng said never mind the GINI as long as people live healthy, productive and dignified lives according to some reasonable benchmark. Going by Mr Cheng’s reasonable benchmark, Singaporeans should be content with Malaysian or Indonesian standard of living. But is it not unfair that Singaporeans pay Singapore cost of living but only enjoy Malaysian or Indonesian standard of living?

Mr Cheng reminded us that a fair and just society should never prevent one from living better than one’s neighbour. In the same token, a fair and just society should never allow one to live far better than one deserves or another to live far worse than he deserves.

Rebut healthy dose of realism

I refer too to the 12 Mar 2014 Straits Times letter “Healthy dose of realism” by Dr Yik Keng Yeong.

While aiming for a lower Gini, Dr Yik wanted us to note that supposedly egalitarian communist and socialist countries have dismantled their unworkable political systems. Dr Yik was mistaken; communist countries like China and Vietnam have dismantled their economic systems, not their political systems. Dr Yik forgot that “in capitalism, man exploits man while in communism the opposite is true”. The bastion of egalitarianism is not communism but European social democracy.

Dr Yik shared how amongst his cohort from the same school, some ended up driving Ferraris, some ended up taking the bus. To Dr Tik, that is an example of the normal distribution of a bell curve at work with everyone getting no more and no less than what they deserved according to their sweat and tears. If Dr Yik had come from an elite school, it is unlikely that his cohort differed greatly in drive or ability. Does it not occur to Dr Yik that the bell curve of his school cohort was probably not the standard normal distribution but a compressed one like the shape of a tall bell? How can such a tall, narrow bell curve of students end up producing such a broad bell curve of career outcomes later in life? Simply put, Singapore is a winner takes all society.

Correcting MP Hri Kumar’s May 2014 parliament speech

July 9, 2014

I refer to Mr Hri Kumar Nair’s 28 May 2014 parliament speech.

Government has no risks, only allocates risk

Mr Kumar’s response to Mr Gerald Giam’s bemoaning that the government is good at managing its own risks but not those of the people’s was to say that the government has no risks but merely allocates risks between young and old, present and future generations, employers and employees and so on.

But the government’s allocation of risks between groups should not result in the government becoming richer. When the government takes $10 from one group thereby increasing the group’s risk by $10 and gives it to another group thereby reducing the latter group’s risk by $10, it gains nothing and so should not be richer. Yet the government is becoming richer and accumulating bigger budget surpluses year after year. In other words, the government isn’t just allocating risks; it is also extracting from the groups it assigns risks to. The more the government extracts, the more risks it leaves behind for the various groups.

Mr Kumar illustrated his concept of the government being a mere risk allocator with French economist Frederic Bastiat’s description of everyone endeavoring to live off everyone else through the government. But Frederic Bastiat also said that the state too lives off everyone else. In other words, Frederic Bastiat’s everyone endeavoring to live off everyone else includes the government. So contrary to what Mr Kumar said, the government isn’t just a passive umpire but an active player as well in the game of risk tai chi.

Contradictions

Mr Kumar pointed out the contradictions to what people want:

• Less stressful education, better education
• Higher wages, lower costs
• Free market for investment and job creation, job protection

However,
• Finland is an example of less stressful education with comparable education outcomes.
• Higher wages need not be tied to lower costs but can be tied to higher value added services or products.
• Free job market may be abused and hence necessitates protection just as capitalism may be abused and hence must operate within the confines of law and regulation to avoid a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis.

Mature democracies

Mr Kumar pointed to the millions spent, negative campaigning and grand speeches at every election in mature democracies. Is that not true for Singapore?

Mr Kumar pointed to US politicians referring to American healthcare as the best in the world despite the 2013 Bloomberg survey ranking it 46th in the world while Singapore came in 2nd. But American healthcare is indeed the best in the world in some respects. When George Yeo’s youngest son had a relapse of leukemia, his father sent him to the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the US instead of to Singapore hospitals. In any case, healthcare administrators and statisticians throughout the world make the same mistake of not adjusting healthcare costs with population age, an important reason why Singapore is ranked very high.

Mr Kumar pointed to American politicians saying a different thing behind closed doors. But unless we get behind the closed doors of Singapore politicians, how can we tell what they say behind closed doors?

Mr Kumar pointed to US politicians telling popular untruths. Is that worse than Singapore politicians telling unpopular untruths?

Mr Kumar pointed to politicians in mature democracies doing what they want to do, not what they said they would do. Is that worse than Singapore politicians insisting in going against Singaporeans’ wishes?

Mr Kumar pointed to an overwhelming belief in mature democracies that people run for political office not to help citizens but to satisfy egos and thirst for power. How does Mr Kumar know Singaporeans don’t feel the same way?

Mr Kumar pointed to contempt for the most important office in most mature democracies. From graffiti on HDB water tanks, bus stops, notice boards to defacement of government websites, is it not already clear that Singapore is no different?

Voter or voting age turnout

Mr Kumar claimed that people in mature democracies are turning off from politics because they no longer vote. He gave the following examples:

• US presidential election voter turn-out falling below 50% in 1996 and hovering in the mid-50s in the last few elections.
• UK voter turnout falling to 65% in 2010 compared to 80+% in the 1950s
• German voting age turnout was 66% in 2013
• Japan voter turnout was 59% in 2012
• Switzerland voter turnout was 40% in 2011

There are several issues with Mr Kumar’s examples. He sometimes used voter turnout (UK), and sometimes used voting age turnout (Germany). In the case of the US, there is a big difference between the two.

The US presidential election voter turnout in 1996 was 82% (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance http://www.idea.int), not falling below 50% as Mr Kumar had claimed. The last few elections’ voter turnouts have been above 60%, not around 50% as Mr Kumar had claimed. If Mr Kumar had been referring to voting age turnout (VAP) instead, then VAP has been stable since World War 2 and not falling as Mr Kumar had claimed.

1st

Mr Kumar’s depiction of UK’s 1950s voter turnout as 80+% is also problematic. UK had four elections in the 1950s and the voter turnout had been 81.6%, 81.4%, 75.8% and 77.5%. Overall voter turnout in the 1950s was 79%, not 80+%.

Mr Kumar’s selective use of examples doesn’t do justice to voter turnout across mature democracies. The following table from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (http://www.idea.int) shows 6 countries with better voter turnout since their first elections compared to Singapore and another 7 countries with less than 10% decrease in voter turnout since their first elections. Mr Kumar’s claim that people in mature democracies are turning off politics is therefore only half true … and half false.

Country 1st year parliamentary voter turnout (%) Latest year parliamentary voter turnout (%) Change in voter turnout since first election (%) Change in voter turnout per year since first election (%)
Taiwan 68.32 74.72 6.4 0.3
Sweden 82.74 84.63 1.9 0
Norway 76.36 78.23 1.9 0
Denmark 86.29 87.74 1.4 0
Australia 93.95 93.23 -0.7 0
Luxembourg 91.9 91.15 -0.8 0
Singapore 94.09 93.18 -0.9 0
Belgium 90.3 89.22 -1.1 0
Ireland 74.25 70.05 -4.2 -0.1
Iceland 87.41 81.44 -6 -0.1
United Kingdom 72.55 65.77 -6.8 -0.1
Germany 78.49 71.55 -6.9 -0.1
Finland 74.87 67.37 -7.5 -0.1
Spain 76.96 68.94 -8 -0.2
Japan 72.08 59.32 -12.8 -0.2
Liechtenstein 93.36 79.8 -13.6 -0.2
Italy 89.08 75.19 -13.9 -0.2
Greece 77.2 62.47 -14.7 -0.2
Canada 76.31 61.41 -14.9 -0.2
Netherlands 93.12 74.56 -18.6 -0.3
Austria 94.31 74.91 -19.4 -0.3
United States 89.66 67.95 -21.7 -0.5
South Korea 76.12 54.26 -21.9 -0.5
Switzerland 71.69 49.1 -22.6 -0.4
New Zealand 97.6 74.21 -23.4 -0.4
France 79.83 55.4 -24.4 -0.4
Portugal 91.73 58.03 -33.7 -0.9

Furthermore, mature democracies tend not to have compulsory voting. The New Paper Young Voters 2011 survey found 40% of Singaporeans aged 21 to 35 would not bother to vote if voting wasn’t compulsory. Thus, without compulsory voting, Mr Kumar may find us in an even worse situation than the mature democracies he is ridiculing.

’Clear’ evidence of minority groups seizing agenda from majority

Mr Kumar claimed there is clear evidence of well organized and funded pressure groups seizing the agenda from the majority and shaping it. Mr Kumar’s evidence was the supposedly over 70% people in US who want stricter gun laws but who cannot pass them because the minority 30% is lobbying against it.

The chart below shows that the percentage of Americans who want stricter gun laws have never gone above 62% let alone 70% since 2000. As of this year, only 49% of Americans want stricter gun laws. 49% is not the majority.

2nd

The chart below shows the percentage of Americans who are satisfied or unsatisfied with American gun laws. For much of the last 14 years, those who are satisfied outnumber those who are not. The trend has changed in the last two years but still does not exhibit the 70-30 ratio Mr Kumar claimed.

3rd

The rest

Mr Kumar described mature democracies as being infected by cynicism, hopelessness and pessimism whereas Singapore is free from these ailments. However, both the World Happiness Report and the Happy Planet Index placed most mature democracies higher than Singapore in happiness. How can people in mature democracies feel hopeless and pessimistic while feeling happy at the same time?

Country World Happiness Report 2013 2010-2012 Happiness Happy Planet Index 2013 Inequality adjusted well being Average happiness 2013
Denmark 7.7 7.6 7.6
Norway 7.7 7.4 7.5
Switzerland 7.7 7.3 7.5
Netherlands 7.5 7.3 7.4
Canada 7.5 7.4 7.4
Sweden 7.5 7.3 7.4
Finland 7.4 7.1 7.3
Australia 7.4 7.1 7.2
Austria 7.4 7.1 7.2
New Zealand 7.2 7 7.1
Ireland 7.1 6.9 7
Luxembourg 7.1 6.8 6.9
Iceland 7.4 6.5 6.9
United States 7.1 6.7 6.9
United Kingdom 6.9 6.7 6.8
Belgium 7 6.6 6.8
France 6.8 6.5 6.6
Germany 6.7 6.4 6.5
Singapore 6.5 6.3 6.4
Spain 6.3 5.8 6
Korea 6.3 5.7 6
Italy 6 5.9 6
Japan 6.1 5.7 5.9
Hong Kong 5.5 5.3 5.4
Greece 5.4 5.2 5.3
Portugal 5.1 4.4 4.7

Mr Kumar expressed his belief that most Singaporeans believe in the nobility and integrity of politics and that the government is a force for good. But Mr Kumar’s fellow MPs are not turning up for parliament so much so that NMP Eugene Tan had to twice remind the House of the insufficiency of MP numbers to pass bills. How noble can Singapore politics be if MPs don’t even turn up for parliament?

Mr Kumar said Singapore has thrived in the last 50 years despite obvious limitations. But statistics show that small size, small population and lack of natural resources are no limits to the globalised economies of today.

Mr Kumar expressed his belief that members of parliament should be honest with the electorate and not sugar coat or over reach. In the same token, government controlled media should be honest with the people and not flood our senses with half truths or falsehoods.

Mr Kumar lamented that we have not been getting robust debates from the opposition. Mr Kumar, being in the debate himself, is in no position to judge. Judgment rests with the people.

Mr Kumar likened the opposition to World War II German prison guards who were always finding out what prisoners were doing and telling them to stop what they were doing. In the same token, the PAP can be likened to Hitler who ruled with an iron fist, insisted his way, ignored his generals’ advice and pleas and ended up ruining the country.

Mr Kumar brushed off critics saying it doesn’t take a genius to criticize. What genius does Mr Kumar or the PAP has to show?

Mr Kumar asked those who call for the abolishing of the GRC to say how minority representation in parliament can be ensured. The NSP has done precisely that with its “Constituency reserved for minority scheme” proposal.

Mr Kumar asked those who call for CPF Minimum Sum to be lowered or for earlier withdrawal of CPF monies to say what the government should do if people run out of money. Mr Kumar should first ask the government why its risk allocation role results in an ever growing layer of buffer fat around itself. Does it not occur to Mr Kumar that the fatter the government’s buffer layer is, the thinner the buffer layer will be for the people with consequently higher risk for the people and lower risk for the government?

Mr Kumar boasted that while governments in the world claim to take a long term perspective for the common good, it is the Singapore government that has been actually doing it. Mr Kumar’s boast doesn’t square with the government’s admission of being caught flat footed for the massive infrastructure problems caused by its growth at all costs economic policy.

Mr Kumar boasted that Singapore has been showing the rest of the world in the last 50 years what honest, realistic policies and constructive politics can achieve. Actually, Singapore has been showing the rest of the world for close to 200 years already since 1819. Our preeminent Dr Goh Keng Swee has made it clear that what we have been doing post independence was to merely continue with the priceless policies of our former British colonial masters.

• [Goh Keng Swee, The Practice of Economic Growth, Chapter 1: Why Singapore succeeds, pages 6-7]
For well over a hundred years Singapore learnt to adapt her economy to changing circumstances. This ability to adapt which was won in the hard school of experience remains an asset which the government of independent Singapore decided to retain. It might have been politically expedient to rid ourselves of institutions and practices that bore the taint of colonial associations. Had we done so, we would have thrown away a priceless advantage.


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