“HARD TRUTHS” AND “HARD MYTHS” FOR ALL SINGAPOREANS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE THEY CAST THEIR VOTE ON 7 MAY 2011.
Fellow Singaporeans, regardless of what constituency we live in, apart from Tanjong Pagar GRC, this is our opportunity to vote, perhaps for many of us the first time in our lives, or for the first time in decades.
Many issues have been raised, and exchanges of opinions made for and against the opposition parties and the ruling party.
This paper is from a concerned citizen, a “baby‐boomer”, who has been fortunate to have lived and worked not only in Singapore but in other countries. It comes from the heart, but is based on the mind and hard facts. (To call them “hard truths” may be somewhat supercilious and condescending, but the phrase has recently been given much play in the media. For me, I will endeavour to present “truth” as facts, not opinions).
Hard truth #1: The founding fathers of the PAP have done very well for Singapore. They have governed with steely determination, bold courage and with the people’s best interests at heart. Above all, they governed with righteousness and selflessness. Tough policies and decisions had to be made, mostly correctly. But some policies were flawed, such as the “Stop at Two” campaign.
Hard truth #2: The pioneers made many sacrifices to serve the country. Apart from Lee Kuan Yew, early ministers and decision‐makers such as Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Hon Sui Sen, Lim Kin San, EW Barker, Devan Nair and David Marshall served with great distinction. Their contributions will not be forgotten.
Hard truth #3: Singapore today has many firsts and won many accolades. We have the best airport according to many international benchmarks. We were once the busiest port in the world, but still among the busiest. We probably have the healthiest per capita reserves of any country.
Hard truth #4: We have beautiful parks, greenery, and an environment that is clean, secure, and relatively crime‐free. Education standards are high, and infant mortality among the lowest. Unemployment is low and we probably have the highest proportion of citizens who own their own homes.
Hard truth #5: We have in our government ‐ Cabinet ministers, junior ministers and Members of Parliament – who have brilliant academic records. We also have quite a few from the Ministry of Defence. A high weighting appears to be placed on academic brilliance in the selection process of potential Members of Parliament.
Let us now examine some possible “Hard Myths” that seem to be suggested today by the ruling party, and then ask ourselves such questions as: How many of these myths are truly defensible? How many serve the best interests of the people of Singapore? How many are designed to perpetuate power in the hands of the ruling party?
Hard Myth #1: We know what’s best for you, so we have to select people whom we believe can serve you best, but we must still maintain absolute power, simply because we have the best people.
Time and again, especially in the recent past, we have seen mistakes made for which no apologies are made (at best, just a bland statement “It is regretted…”). We have seen possibly “wrong” people being selected to high office (including cabinet ministers), and policies introduced that have compromised the righteous values held dearly in the early days.
Examples? Firstly, the casinos. Didn’t an illustrious founding father say that “over my dead body” will Singapore have casinos?
The rationale now given is that “We have to have them (couched in the euphemistic term of ‘Integrated Resorts’) in order for Singapore to continue to grow and prosper. If we don’t, our neighbours will soon have them and we will lose out even more at that time. We have no choice”.
The question: at what social cost? What are the figures for broken homes, relationships, increase in organized crime, money laundering, prostitution, and so on? How effective have been the counter‐measures to ameliorate the negative impact? Should not the public be given facts and figures on such matters?
Secondly, the naming of public hospitals – to what lengths are we going to heap praise for possibly the wrong reasons? How are far are we prepared to go to “worship” the spirit of MONEY? What signals are likely to send?
The Khoo Teck Puat hospital was named to recognize the donation of this man’s family. Yet, there appears to be a widespread opinion that the contribution was a way to perhaps make amends for lapses in income tax returns? The most recent naming of the Ng Teng Fong hospital raises another basic issue – how can a 10% plus contribution be justified for having the naming rights for the entire hospital? Where did the 90% come from? Surely, the tax‐payers’ pockets.
I fully agree with former MP Dr Tan Cheng Bock for immediately resigning from board membership because he disagreed with the naming rationale of this hospital. Not to agree and still remain on the board would have been unconscionable.
Yet, did any of the cabinet ministers who disagreed with the allowing of casinos resign? None. What happened to their sense of conviction, their sense of values? Curiously, one of them was even recently quoted as saying that Catholics believe that a little gambling is no sin!
Hard Myth #2: Following from HM#1, the ruling party must then do everything possible to attract the best people for the job, and that money is the KEY factor in overcoming obstacles preventing good people from entering politics and to serve the people.
How can we ever justifiably (and in all clear conscience) accept the ruling party’s rationale for paying astronomical salaries for cabinet ministers, pegged to a certain percentile of the CEOs in the top 6 industries in Singapore?
CEOs in the corporate world who make big mistakes are removed promptly from office. Does this apply to cabinet ministers and others in government?
It appears not. It seems that we are “Uniquely Singapore” by having a system where monetary rewards are not tied to accountability. Why the double standards? What happens when the most wanted (and dangerous?) person escapes from the much guarded detention centre? The lowly supervisor gets sacked and another given a warning. What of those at the director level, or the ministerial level? Was this regarded as just an honest mistake, and no further action and no apology is necessary? Or perhaps it’s because the escapee wasn’t that dangerous after all? What is the public expected to believe?
Undoubtedly, there are many sensitivities and complexities in governing Singapore. We are a multi‐cultural, multi‐religious and multi‐racial society, existing amidst a sea of nations with their own challenges, agendas and problems. So we must have leaders who are politically savvy, bright, forward‐ looking, culturally sensitive, measured, and above all, have the passion and commitment to serve the best interests of the citizens of Singapore.
The question is this: Can we truly attract such people assuming that money is the primary motivator?
Have we, deliberately or unconsciously, developed a Money‐above‐all‐else in our Singapore worldview? What happened to our values of righteousness, justice, equality, and compassion?
How can we justify paying our Prime Minister six times what the President of the United States is paid? But there is more – we also have two Senior Ministers plus one Minster Mentor whose salaries are just slightly below the PM’s salary! Thus we have in fact FOUR persons being paid 5 to 6 times more than the President of the Unite States, still the most powerful nation in the world. One may argue that the US President has other perks and can make millions after retirement from speaking tours, etc. This can be countered quite easily by asking how many months’ “performance bonus” is being paid to ministers and others? It is believed that this “performance bonus” can be up to 8 months’ salary.
There is still more – not only do we have the highest paid Prime Minister in the world, we also have the highest paid Head of State of any republic in the world – our President. He is paid more than S$4.2million per annum. This is 8.5 times the salary of President Barack Obama.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister in Parliament has declined to divulge the salaries of individual ministers, saying they were placed in different grades.
Why? What happened to transparency? Does not the tax‐payer have a right to know? If not the precise numbers, surely a range, the median and average salary could at least be provided? Could it be political embarrassment?
Many may have forgotten that our first Executive President Mr Ong Teng Cheong, was paid, from recollection, around $700,000 per annum. He was humiliated in Parliament for asking a simple but important question – the total financial reserves of the country. He was told that it would take many, many man‐years for the answer. He was later given a shortened answer. It was a good question, our late President was merely doing his job, and yet this shabby treatment. Why?
Many Singaporeans have asked ‐ was he subsequently “punished” by not being accorded a state funeral? Yet his salary was only 16% of his successor’s annual renumeration. Why the need to raise it to such heights over the past few years? Our president’s role is mainly titular in nature. Could this be a way to “reward” a loyal supporter of the government? Or a preparation for the next incumbent?
So is there any wonder why there appears to be a growing disenchantment among Singaporeans with the ruling party’s leadership and its policies? Is there any wonder why Singaporeans are wondering whether self‐interests and protection of interests for the select few have replaced the best interests of the citizens at large?
Going back to HRM #2 – it is highly questionable that the myth has produced effective results. It also appears that cabinet ministers and MPs are out of touch with the ground.
In the current slate of candidates for the General Election of May 7, 2011, only a handful from the ruling party are from the private sector, the very sector from which they want to attract talent.
Perhaps many have joined the party for the “wrong” reasons? It has even been suggested that some in high governmental positions today would not be earning any where close to the salaries they are earning if they were to leave. Of course, there may be a few doctors or lawyers who may have made more money in the private sector. It is uncomfortable to read that a minister should even make a comment that the government “got him for cheap”. Did he lack political acumen or was it just plain arrogance? Perhaps he should have remained where he was?
We even have a minister who thinks nothing of saying “Let’s move on. Nobody is interested in the YOG anymore”, or words to that effect.
Really? Whose money paid for the YOG? The tax‐payers. Yet, this issue was brushed aside at a time when the electorate is voting in their new Parliament. Political naiveness?
The foundational question is ‐ Did our pioneering fathers join politics for monetary rewards? What has changed so much that the ruling party leaders now have to pay top dollars in order to attract the “right people” to join them?
Indeed Sylvia Lim has a point in voicing her opinion that with the wide divide in salary levels, how can the ministers be expected to share the same dreams as the ordinary people?
Hard Myth #3: Since Singapore is very small, and we have such a small pool of talent to pick from, it is not feasible to have two A teams. So stick with the ruling party as we have picked the best. And therefore, we don’t really need an opposition. (As a way of making sure many citizens agree with this viewpoint, the ruling party increased the number of NCMPs, as a way to debunk the need to have elected MPs from the opposition).
Yet the quality of candidates from the various parties has improved significantly, and many have sacrificed much in contesting the elections. And they have offered themselves to the Singaporean electorate.
And isn’t this what is necessary in Singapore? Why the need to assume that “right” talent must come from the army, scholars, CEOs and bright doctors, lawyers and professionals, selected only by the ruling party?
What happened to compassion, commitment, character, capability and calling? Did our first generation of leaders expect or demand astronomical salaries before they came forward to serve?
Thus, HM#3 indeed a myth.
Hard myth #4: In keeping with the myth that the ruling party has the lion’s share of talent, they therefore have the right to do everything possible to maintain in power. Any other group will bring Singapore down.
Of course, this means that the ruling party will do whatever is not illegal to remain in absolute power. The best example is gerrymandering after every election.
How does this serve the best interest of the people? Citizens are indeed treated like digits who can be literally kicked around to ensure that the ruling party wins at the polls again. There are countless examples of Singaporeans who are befuddled, bemused and even angry for this blatant use of power to ensure power is maintained.
So, whose interest is paramount – ordinary Singaporeans or the ruling party?
Fellow Singaporeans, this is indeed a watershed election. If you believe the myths above are just myths, then the conclusion is clear.
Exercise your unalienable right to vote wisely, courageously and righteously.
Exercise your right to say, “You guys have done a good job, by and large, but you do NOT have a monopoly of good ideas and policies for the good of Singapore, now and in the future.
Exercise your right to get the message that across all ages and walks of life, ordinary citizens have feelings, they like to feel they can express alternative opinions. They genuinely want to be heard but not in a condescending manner.
Exercise your right to say, “Please be more accountable. Please stop paying yourselves salaries that just cannot be defended by any rational, common sense standards”.
Exercise your right in saying, “Please stop being so arrogant, and taking me for a person who can’t think. Please be gracious to at least genuinely apologise when mistakes are made. It’s all right, we do recognize you are human”.
Exercise your right to get the message, “Yes, economic growth and prosperity are important, but not at the expense of righteousness, justice, equality and compassion. Values remain critical for the soul of the nation”.
Think of the future, of the next generation and beyond. If power continues to remain in the hands of a selected few, absolute power can indeed corrupt, as observed by one philosopher centuries ago.
Do not be intimidated by veiled threats. This has happened before and has not worked. Ask yourselves ‐ can the ruling party really going to carry out its threat to “punish” those who vote against them? Are they going to penalize 40, 50 or more percent of our voting citizens? If they do, it merely confirms that change is even more imperative in Singapore. Bullying tactics may have worked in the past, but today, things are different.
Singapore really needs to have a strong alternative voice in Parliament. If the ruling party begins to believe it has a God‐given right to rule, and rule with absolute power, without checks and balances, without a true heart for the people, Singapore is heading for major storms.
And remember, your vote is indeed secret. The ruling party has so much more to lose if ever there is the smallest hint or truth that it voting is not secret. The opposition parties are there to ensure that this is maintained. It has been for decades; it won’t be changed on May 7, 2011.
In closing, those who believe in God, pray. Pray for discernment, wisdom, courage, justice, righteousness to prevail for the nation on May 7, 2011. Those who believe in other religions, philosophies or in themselves, spare a thought for the same virtues. Those who do not believe in any god, just think what is fair, just and reasonable – for yourself, family, neighbours and fellow citizens – today and in the future. And then vote. Do not spoil your vote. It will be a wasted opportunity if you did.
May 2, 2011