Monday, October 21, 2013

A Slap in the Face or a Smack on the Wrist?

People in and out of Singapore were quite intrigued recently by the no-show display of both Chinese leaders President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang when they by-passed Singapore in their visits to South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam before attending summit meetings in the region.Since Indonesia and Malaysia are so close to Singapore (一水之隔), one would expect that it was a matter of utmost courtesy for the two top Chinese leaders to include Singapore in their itinerary unless it was intended as some kind of a snub for whatever reason. To add to the conundrum, neither the Chinese leaders nor the thoughtful Singapore Government  thought it necessary to enlighten the people , both in and out of Singapore. So it was allowed to continue to be enigmatic and Singaporeans cannot be faulted if they were found to indulge themselves in trying to find a plausible and credible reason for the apparent display of discourtesy by the two top Chinese leaders.

It will not be inappropriate to recall that our comical PM Lee Hsien Loong had in his inimitable way insulted the Chinese by his brilliant diplomatic display during his visit to the United States of America at a dinner given in his honour by the American business community in April this year. He told the august American audience that in Shanghai when one turned on the tap one could get pork soup, a sarcastic allusion to the massive pig carcasses found floating in a river in China. Next he said sarcastically that one could get free smoke when one opened the window in China, an allusion to the severe air pollution in China. He thought it was funny but the Chinese were not amused and could only consider it a sick joke aimed at humiliating them, considering the standing of the American audience. It could  just be possible that the Chinese leaders have not forgotten nor forgiven PM Lee for his insult and the skipping of Singapore from their itinerary is just a way of showing their disgust.

It may or may not be a valid assumption. Some political analysts were reported by the Lianhe Zaobao today (21 Oct) to say that the skipping of Singapore from their itinerary by the two Chinese leaders did not mean that the position of Singapore could not be compared with other countries in the eyes of the Chinese. They cited the visit in October of the Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli to Singapore as one reason for the two Chinese leaders to skip Singapore as it was not considered consistent with diplomatic practice for more than one high-level leader to visit the same country within a short period. Frequent mutual visits of high-level Singapore and Chinese leaders were said to be another possible reason. So was the visit in August to China by PM Lee who met President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang . Until we get a clarification from the two Chinese leaders which may never come Singaporeans are left with no viable alternative but to determine from what is known about PM Lee's insult and the theory advanced by the political analysts. PM Lee would not be able to know if his insult is still the determining factor in the mind of the two top Chinese leaders.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The grotesque behaviour of Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow

Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow needs no introduction to Singaporeans as he is a well-known retired top civil servant of very high social standing. He was permanent secretary of a number of Government ministries, including Finance, and had held the position of Head, Civil Service. In recent years he has also been known to be outspoken against various policies and practices of the Government. Many Singaporeans, especially some from the opposition parties, have looked upon him, because of his sociopolitical eminence, as some kind of a potent critiquer  of the PAP Government, adding not a little impetus to the anti-PAP chorus.

So when Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow was interviewed by Dr. Toh Han Chong, editor of the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) News, which was in a question and answer form, Mr. Ngiam's statement  included some critical comments on the high salaries of PAP ministers, which for fear of losing them, prevented ministers from speaking up to PM Lee Hsien Loong and on the elitist nature of the PAP leadership. These and other comments, which were published in SMA newsletter in September, were hardly flattering to the PAP leadership, especially PM Lee, but they were lapped up with great delight by Singaporeans mainly because the comments were made by an author of high social standing in a prominent medical journal. From the nature of the contents of the statement, there was no question that it was made voluntarily and without any coercion. Mr. Ngiam could not have been a happier man because the statement has been in circulation for a considerable time without any unforseen incident.

What political manipulation went on in the meantime is not something which Singaporeans are privy to. Literally, out of the blue Mr. Ngiam came out with a statement yesterday (published today 12 Oct) seeking to clarify the comments he made about PAP ministers being afraid to speak up and the PAP being elitist. The million dollar question is why has Mr. Ngiam taken such a long time to make the clarification when the statement has been in circulation for some time. Of course, that this sudden turn of event has come as a disappointment to his ardent supporters is to put it mildly. PM Lee, however, showed his true colours by ever so promptly welcoming Mr. Ngiam's clarification and extolling him for his action.

The more important aspect of this whole episode is whether this bizarre behaviour of Mr. Ngiam spells the end of his courageous probing of the PAP leadership. What went on in his mind and whether there had been any political pressure on him to make the clarification is something which we may not know for some time. One thing is certain. If Mr. Ngiam chickens out, it will be quite a significant loss to opposition politics.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A nervous & fumbling Prime Minister

The question of the humongous salaries that PM Lee Hsien Loong and his self-serving ministers pay themselves from taxpayers' money has been the subject of public outrage but PM Lee and his ministers merrily continue to help themselves with the unconscionable emoluments oblivious to public outrage. This is because they are the Government and have the power to pay themselves outrageously without having to answer to the electorate that elected them. Just imagine our PM Lee drawing four to five times the salary of the President of the United States of America Mr. Barack Obama. It is preposterous for PM Lee to think that his position and responsibility are equal or superior to the American President to justify his exorbitant salary. So too are our self-serving ministers if they think they are superior to their American counterparts to justify their humongous salaries. PM Lee simply rides roughshod to any public protest.

But PM Lee shows himself to be less courageous when he faces foreign questioners on his and his ministers' astronomical salaries. In a recent interview with an astute interviewer Ms Patricia Wu of CNN, he was found to be nervous and fumbling with embarrassment when asked to comment on Singapore's lawmakers being some of the highest paid in the world and whether Washington would attract better talents if their salaries were more competitive. PM Lee was quickly put on the spot and caught off guard by Ms Patricia Wu's question. His unsteady answer was that they may have competitive salaries but were far from being the richest lawmakers in the world. They operate a clean system, an honest system, and are paid what their job is worth and what their quality is worth and are expected to perform. And if they don't, they have to go or (shrugs his shoulders) the electorate will vote them out.

Obviously not satisfied with his answer, Ms Patricia Wu pressed on with her question and before she could finish her question, PM Lee cut in and with a pained look and obvious discomfort gave a rambling irrelevant explanation. Not getting a straight answer from PM Lee, Ms Patricia Wu gave up and moved to another topic, allowing PM Lee a relief to his discomfort.

PM Lee can show some Dutch courage to Singaporeans in his unconvincing defence of the humongous salaries he and his ministers pay themselves but he is obviously cowardly and embarrassed when called upon to defend the preposterous whopping salaries in foreign countries, especially when interviewed by astute questioners. His answer can only be porous and untenable, especially if he is shown to be trying to overshadow President Barack Obama in importance and world standing. His defence that his ministers are paid for what their job is worth and what their quality is worth is so subjective that it is not worth the while demolishing it. Except for one or two non-Chinese ministers who are deemed worthy, most of them are considered run-of-the-mill calibre.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Contrasting Personality

The recent memorable visit of the Myanmar icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may still be fresh in the people's mind. Since she is a renowned Myanmar politician of international standing, it was not surprising that PM Lee Hsien Loong pulled out all the stops to make her visit a historic event. In view of the fact that Daw Suu Kyi has captured the attention and affection of the world with her uncompromising struggle for democracy against the powerful military junta which had ruled Myanmar with an iron hand for decades, PM Lee would not want to miss the golden opportunity of showing his exquisite hospitality to the Myanmar herione during her short stay in Singapore to enhance his so-called international reputation. So among the programme which had been meticulously arranged for Daw Suu Kyi, there appeared to be one which had perhaps flummoxed many Singaporeans, unless it was meant as a stop-gap.

There were many who wondered what significance was there in the meeting between Ms Grace Fu, Minister in PMO and the Myanmar icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Suu Kyi is a political fighter of international stature who could easily dwarfed the mediocre credentials of Ms Grace Fu, notwithstanding that she is a PAP minister. In spite of being overawed by the formidable stature of her honoured guest Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Ms Grace Fu nevertheless managed to utter a few words of friendship between Singapore and Myanmar while Daw Suu Kyi spoke with conviction about her hopes for her country and her people.

But the contrasting personalities of the two female politicians are very prominent. Ms Grace moaned about her "sacrifices" during the period of the ministerial salary review. She was reported to have said that when she entered politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor for her. The more considerations for her were the loss of privacy and personal time, public scrutiny and career disruptions. She had further said that she had ground to believe that her family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though she experienced a drop in her income. So it was with this recent pay cut. If the balance was tilted further in the future, it would make it harder for anyone considering political office. Well she is now a million-dollar PAP minister.

Daw Suu Kyi too had her sacrifices all too familiar to the world. She was compelled to forsake her husband, her two young sons and personal freedom to fight for democracy for her people. But true to her lofty character, she perceived her "sacrifices" more of a choice than a sacrifice. "If you choose to do something, then you shouldn't say it's a sacrifice because nobody forced you to do it" Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. (This paragraph is quoted from a post "Transitional Eternity").

The contrast between these two women - one a political luminary of world renown and the other a run-of-the-mill PAP minister - is so great that one glitters like  a shinning star in the dark and the other exhibits darkness like a starless night.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trust is a many-splendoured thing.

This is the title of a magnificant article by David Chan in the Straits Times on 28 September. This is no doubt for the edification of Singaporeans for the enhancement of their political discernment, and in particular to the disoriented PAP leadership under PM Lee Hsien Loong in coming to terms with their predicament in GE 2016.

With due respect to the author David Chan, his treatise has been very carefully crafted with a view to admonishing the PAP that it is heading toward a political disaster in GE 2016. Only that being an invitee of the Straits Times to write, it would not be very civilised of him to be too explicit in his admonishment. But discerning Singaporeans reading the article will be left with no doubt of its oblique reference to the PAP.

David Chan has identified three major dimensions of trust which affect how citizens think, feel and behave and which may shed light on how and why the public trusts or distrusts the Government. They are competence, integrity and benevolence. Trust in competence  is about people's confidence in the Government's ability to perform and solve problems. It involves the ability to address issues affecting quality of life and also effectiveness in managing crises. Issues of infrastructure such as public transport lagging behind population growth raise doubts relating to trust in competence.

Trust in integrity is about people's assessment of the Government's character or extent to which they think it is not corrupt and is impartial. Trust in benevolence is about people's belief in the Government's intentions and motivations. Trust in benevolence increases when people believe that the intention of policy and government action is to serve their interests and is motivated by a genuine concern for citizen well-being, as opposed to being influenced by vested private or partisan interests. It gets eroded when people think that policies are formulated by an elite which is disconnected from ground sentiments, is unable to empathise, or does not care enough for the less fortunate or ordinary folk.

Let's examine the three major dimensions of trust identified by David Chan and see how the PAP leadership under PM Lee fare in measuring up to their strict standards. PAP ministers, including the prime minister, are more concerned with their astronomical salaries running into millions of dollars from taxpayers' money than with serving the people and would this not affect the Government's ability to perform and solve problems? It is a well-known fact that the transport problem, especially the SMRT, is in a dreadful mess with frequent breakdowns and overcrowding  and would not this raise doubts relating to trust in competence? And the rational PAP Government is planning to increase the population to 6.9 million in 2030 as their clever way of solving the overcrowding.

As for trust in integrity, we know that corruption is illegal but with the prime minister and his ministers paying themselves astronomically from taxpayers' money, is this what one would describe as trust in integrity? As for trust in benevolence, Singaporeans are branded as daft by the former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and it is precisely that because Singaporeans are daft that they believe that the intention of policy and government action is to serve their interests and is motivated by genuine concern for citizen well-being, as opposed to being influenced by vested or partisan interests.

We leave it to the discerning Singaporeans to form their opinion whether the PAP leadership under PM Lee deserve the trust in competence, trust in integrity and trust in benevolence identified by David Chan in his magnificent article.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Antics of a Comical Prime Minister

There had been so much hype on the "Ask the PM" TV forum that Singaporeans could be excused if they expected some really epoch-making pronouncements to be made by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the forum. But what came out of this comic opera was a regurgitation of so-called political and social issues purportedly for the amelioration of the plebeian which had been diffused ad nauseam from time to time. It could hardly be objective when the interview is managed by a Straits Times staff and an editor. If PM Lee expected his so-called political expertise and eloquence at the forum to mesmerise the electorate, he could be in for a not so mild disappointment. The reaction from discerning Singaporeans could at best be said to be lukewarm but PM Lee being made of more sterner stuff may find this episode a kind of challenge. Although he has claimed to be immune to cyberspace criticism, he will find it edifying to visit the website TR Emeritus to read a vitriolic article by a very penetrating writer Molly Meek who very expertly demolished the presentation by PM Lee at the forum until what remained was a fig-leaf to conceal the disconfiture.

From his disclosure at the forum, PM Lee is thinking of a career as prime minister up to or very near to seventy. He is now sixty-one. Although he assured Singaporeans that he had a fourth generation team in waiting he had qualified that by saying the team lacked experience which is a way of saying that he could go on holding the prime minister's post ad infinitum. So we have to get used to being ruled by a group of prime minister and ministers who are more concerned with their astronomical (some say obscene) salaries of millions of dollars from taxpayers' money than with serving the people.

There are incontrovertible signs that a very good percentage of the electorate are showing disaffection towards the PAP leadership under PM Lee and could deal a severe blow to their prospects in GE 2016, There is already a precedent in Aljunied GRC in GE 2011 and subsequent by-elections in Hougang SMC and Punggol East SMC. This is an irreversible political trend but may not be sufficiently dynamic to bring about a fall of the PAP Government. There will however be more inroads by a united opposition into a number of GRCs and SMCs, provided there is unity within the opposition parties.

PM Lee and his beleaguered ministers could not be blissfully oblivious to all these undertones inimical to their prospects in GE 2016. So they are desperately trying to pave the way to reverse the unfavourable political trend by intensifying their efforts to win over the electorate with generous largesse to improve the people's livelihood, especially the lower-income Singaporeans. The "Ask the PM" TV forum is the latest political gimmick by PM Lee to salvage a political decline of the PAP but will not be the the last before GE 2016. All hands on deck are required to do their utmost to refloat the sinking ship. We will be able to see in GE 2016 whether they will succeed in stemming the wheel of history.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Already 90 but lacks civility and humanity

Tomorrow (16 September) our former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew will be celebrating his 90th birthday, a longevity by any standard. No doubt there will be felicitous greetings from far and near to congratulate this nonagenarian on his so-called auspicious 90th birthday. In Singapore there will be many like Mr. Chua Thian Poh and Mr. Wee Cho Yaw, two prominent Chinese community leaders who will fall over one another to show their so-called obeisance. In fact never to be outdone in their obsequious zeal, Mr. Chua Thian Poh, president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations and Mr. Thomas Chua, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry had organised a grand pre-birthday bash at the Shangri-La Hotel meant to celebrate the so-called auspicious occasion in a grand way but with a pathetic imperfect element in that the birthday nonagenarian could not attend on his doctor's advice. He was represented by his second son Mr. Lee Hsien Yang who received an award on his behalf, an opportunity lost in glorifying his presence. A picture book "Lee Kuan Yew : A Life In Pictures" was also published to commemorate the occasion. The celebration will not be complete without congratulatory messages from present and past world leaders. Of course they are not to know the unconscionable aspect of Lee Kuan Yew's persona.

All this pomp and pageantry has the illusion of giving a veneer of veneration to former MM Lee Kuan Yew, but does not really give an insight of the loathing of the heinous aspect of his character by a substantial section of the community. Of course with the propaganda of the mainstream media, especially The Straits Times, the undercurrent of abhorence seems not to be apparent to the casual observer unless he or she follows the social media. The netizens are quite generous in their vitriols of the former MM Lee Kuan Yew from time to time especially when he makes a booboo in his discourse.

It cannot be denied that there are some Singaporeans who are still nostalgic about the so-called greatness of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in transforming Singapore from a third world country to a first world nation. But at the same time he had done something inhuman to his political opponents and it is an open secret that some of them had been incarcerated by him for nineteen and thirty-two years, even longer than that of the incarceration of the famous Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mendela.

The nonagenerian Lee Kuan Yew has expressed a wish that when it is time for him to go that it will be a peaceful and painless death, But if one believes in karma, retribution has a way of exacting justice and Lee Kuan Yew may find his wish hard to fulfill. He also said that after his death and the coffin is closed the verdict will be known. (蓋棺論定). His 90th birthday is as good a time as any for the verdict on him to be known. There will be his diehards who will extol his so-called achievements and virtues and there will be his dissenters who will bury him with his evil deeds.