Is this the end for Singapore?
- Subject: Fw: JooOnTheControversy25April07Edit1
The Writer below has only The Oversea Senior Cambridge Examination
Certificate, if I remember
correctly. Someone only 2 years my junior, but many, many years more mature
and articulate than our current tertiary-educated MP's, PAP or otherwise.
Read and reflect, my friends what he has written below my little note.
Make that extra effort to read beyond the Straits Times and what you get
from MediaCorp. Until and unless you make the effort to learn more about
what goes on in more progressive and educated societies on this planet, you
will continue to think that Singapore will sink without the PAP.
But Singapore didn't sink before the PAP took over, and when this
island-state was ruled by a Chief Minister who was a lawyer's clerk before
he decided to join in the political fray of the 1950's. It may be a cliche
but yet one worth the repeating for the relevance it has for Singaporeans: A
people deserves the Government it gets.
Also remember what George Orwell says in "Animal Farm". It starts with "Four
legs good, two legs bad". Then the four-legged creatures took over power
from the two-legged ones and, lo and behold, they soon began to live and act
like their once two legged foes and even learn to walk on two legs, and
sleep in bed with pillows and blankets. And then these four-legged elites
who now make it a practice to walk on two legs started a campaign to
convince or rather brain-wash their four legged brethrens to accept
that:"Four legs good, but two legs better". They also said they had to drink
milk because they had to do a lot of thinking for the people.
When I gave a brief account of this fable to a former top Civil Servant, his
educated opinion was that I had misunderstood George Orwell who, according
to him, had written the fable to expose the hypocrisy of the Communist
Society. Unfortunately he did not know that George Orwell later acknowleged
that the scenario he had painted in his "Animal Farm" also existed in
Communism, Socialism, Democracy, or Cosmopolitanism are but just convenient
labels. What the ordinary folks of any society should be interested about is
how are they faring in where they are residing. And they must not make the
mistake of using the dirty lucre rod as the sole instrument of measurement
when it comes to talking about quality of life.
On a final note: let us not be fooled into believing without question that
Singapore is not an ordinary country, and that we need extraordinary people
to run this more than ordinary island-state. All countries have their own
peculiar problems which make them also not just ordinary countries with
ordinary problems. Try and deal with the Tamil Tigers, the Afghan rebels;
think also of leaders ruling countries many thousand times bigger than
Singapore. Are these also ordinary countries that require only ordinary or
mediocre people to form the Government. Come on people. Wake up!
Is this the end for Singapore?
A personal open letter to our government 25 April 2007
If the People's Action Party were to call a general election now, chances
are it would lose a good number of seats to the opposition, of course that
is if you could find able candidates to join the opposition. If certain
changes do not take place in the ruling party's style of government, in time
to come the PAP could lose power. That would be a shame, a tragedy for
So strong has been the political backlash and so great the people's outrage
over the government's widely unpopular decision and persistence to reward
its cabinet ministers such handsome pay increases. Such dissident views
have been eloquently articulated, though often sneeringly so, and confined
mainly to mass emailing and internet postings. The latest salary revision
for each minister will by next year nearly double his current remuneration,
and bring it on average, to four or five times what US President George Bush
Minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew, while still prime minister in 199_,
formulated his formula of pegging ministerial salaries to 80 per cent of
that of the top earners in six professions and businesses; it gives
Singapore the unique
status of having the world's highest paid political leaders. Their
salaries surpass by far, several times, what leaders of the world's largest
and most successful economies command.
LKY's reasons were that unless he paid such big bucks he would not be able
to attract able leaders for the country, retain their services, or keep them
free of corruption.
LKY says unless he pays so well he cannot lure good and talented people to
serve as leaders. Problem is: he had been, for a long time now, looking for
them in the wrong places - and following a policy that discourages emergence
of potential leaders. Some who entered the political fray came a cropper;
not a few have served long terms of incarceration for their political
beliefs or activities, some have fled the country to live (or die) in exile
Someone in Singapore had said not so many years back that the best way to
corrupt a person is to feed him so well you enslave him (did Mr Lee also say
Ironically then, in his effort to ensure - according to his propagated
belief - that his leaders remain above corruption, he might have bought
From the relatively brief and muted parliament debate over this burning
issue, there seems to be serious cracks of opinion within the party's own
ranks. However mildly aired, there is, for sure, disquiet among the PAP's
members of parliament. Still, what man of sound mind would argue against
being given a personal pay rise that first jacks up your annual salary to
around $1 million and soon to nearly $2 million? Feed them so well, they
will never rebel.
I love my Singapore, and am thankful for the remarkable progress and
prosperity it has achieved through the efforts of a stable and good
government. I am immensely grateful, too, to the group of people who gave
their all for the country since the pre-independence 1950s.
I remain a loyal Singaporean who once had aspirations to serve our country,
and did it initially (1960s and early 1970s) as a newspaper journalist, and
through the Singapore National Union of Journalists and the National Trades
Union Congress, of which SNUJ was affiliate.
I will carry to my grave, with great personal satisfaction, the memory of
having been part of the team that carried out the first successful strike
against a penny-pinching, ill-managed, callous Straits Times Group of
That industrial action, over the Christmas period of 1971, resulted in a
fairer deal for several thousands of its employees in Malaysia and
Singapore. It was a time of baptism under fire for my SNUJ colleagues and
me. Some of us could have lost our jobs with no prospect of working for
another newspaper in Singapore as there was none other.
The late Mr C V Devan Nair, leader of the National Trades Union Congress
and later President of Singapore, was one of my role models and idols then.
He had encouraged me as a union leader by helping to open up and broaden my
mind. In one of our several intimate conversations he once challenged me to
join the PAP. Later, someone also suggested I joined an opposition party.
But partisan politics was not my cup of tea, more so as I was mindful of the
hostile and dangerous waters I would be plunging into. I also had little
desire for such public prominence.
Also, and alas, any thought or enthusiasm for committing myself further to
community leadership was quickly doused by a series of factors: my loss of
faith in the Straits Times Group as an honest news organization. Mr Lee
Kuan Yew helped put paid to it by his public parading and glorification of
people who were steeped in scholarship, and humiliation of those who were
not. Mr Lee, in searching for a second and then third generation of
leaders, started looking for them first in academia (we know how it failed)
and then to those who were government scholars.
At the same time we saw the hasty and maybe premature retirement of earlier
leaders who had fire in their bellies but no multiple mortar boards on their
heads.The harsh treatment of those with dissent views, and slapping down of
those brazen enough to join battle with the PAP and Mr Lee at the hustings,
quickly scared off those who thought they had something to offer to the
country, not necessarily as part of the PAP political apparatus.
Those with divergent, though not necessarily dissident, views were
unmercifully smacked down. Others, subverted by the comfortable life and
relative affluence their talents and training earned them in a well
governed, prospering and stable society, were soon swallowed up in the lap
of the good life. It made political engagement not only a perilous pursuit
but a wanton risk of losing all they had amassed materially, and loss of
possible personal freedom.
A PAP apologist recently condemned me for criticizing the incredible pay
hikes for our cabinet leaders that has no precedent or matching model
anywhere in the world.
"You can only criticize, but what's your solution?"
I believe I have something by way of solution, or at least an alternative
view to what Mr Lee Kuan Yew insists is the only way:
a.. Look for our future leaders not just among our scholastically successful
Singaporeans; academic excellence does not necessarily equate with
leadership. This inclination might even disqualify one from
b.. Look for people with a good and stout heart, and undying love for
Singapore and his/her fellowmen, compassion and a burning desire to serve
even at huge personal sacrifice - people with compassion, fire in their
bellies, grit in their gut, and steel in their backs.
c.. Look for those who possess and exhibit the many other qualities of
leadership. A yen for scholarship (at government's expense) is a poor
prerequisite of leadership.
d.. If you encourage our government scholars to cherish high income, in a
society encouraged to worship financial success, you will have to pay big
bucks to get them to join your PAP ministerial ranks - definitely the wrong
kind of people to lead our country and inspire our countrymen.
e.. Support the scholarship of the more successful students with the lure of
career and financial success and you see either more scholarship bond
breakers or those who will work only for lucre (for those are the values you
f.. Rethink your policy, enunciated by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, of encouraging
potential leaders to chart their paths through the Armed Forces (through an
SAF scholarship), then a stint in the civil service, a short spell in the
private sector, and then to the PAP cabinet. You produce less open minded
people who possess a one-dimensional perspective of the world, a common mind
set. Such a policy deprives you the services and creativity swimming so
vigorously in the vast reservoir of talents out there in the real world. The
military promotes obedience, viz. "Charge of the Light Brigade". You could
end up with people paid well enough and smart enough either to not
charge with you - or charge blindly when they should detect the perilous
g.. Encourage elitism but do not ridicule those who have interests and
talents that are not skewed towards pursuit of a Ph.D (I cite one example of
how Mr Lee a few elections ago disparagingly compared our loyal opposition
member Mr Chiam See Tong to his bright young submissive scholars).
h.. Do not beat down all dissidents or those with alternative views, but
judge them on their integrity, and do not swamp and swallow up those with
potential into the PAP and high ministerial salaries.
i.. Open up the minds of Singaporeans by not controlling so rigidly the flow
of information about their own country, flaws and foibles included.
j.. Put in place committed, honest, mature and trained journalists over your
mass media organizations, people with a feel for the ground and popular
feeling, people trained in journalism (not just through academia) and bold
enough to launch investigative journalistic enquiry that aid thinking and
intelligent decision making by Singapore's people. NOTE: such control of
the press deprives you of sincere and essential feedback, and assures you
sycophantic feedback of the king with no clothes. The current mass media
situation had encouraged a flourishing of emailing and postings on cyber
space; they contain both useful information and misinformation or
disinformation as well, including scurrilous rantings by irresponsible
k.. Let Mr Lee Kuan Yew's quest for self-renewal verily proceed. He should
let go, and let the people he personally chose or vetted, take over
completely. Let them err, let them rule. When is the appropriate time for
this to happen? Mr Lee did not have a mentor to minister to him and his
colleagues in the tumultuous days of pre- and post-independence - and did
I am no political scientist, or your scholastic type. But I have not been
disabled from seeing another view to tackling our problem: there is no lack
of leaders, only a lack of desire. Perhaps there is a hesitation prompted
by what some call fear.We in our immensely successful Singapore owe much to
Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his
colleagues. There are many Singaporeans who would want to cherish his
If the current fuels other more dangerous and divergent views and
anti-government thoughts (even hatred) among our Singapore population, our
remarkable success as a country could prove ephemeral. Singapore could be
another sad story of the decline and fall of a fledgling civilization. If
that happens, we would, as the late Mr G G Thompson, director the Singapore
Political Study Centre once said, cause merely a small yawn in the world. We
must not let that happen.
Yeo Toon Joo, Peter
Ex-news editor Straits Times
Ex-assistant editor New Nation
Ex-secretary general Singapore National Union of Journalists
Ex-owner of a Public Relations company and Broadcast PR firm
Hon. Fellow of Institute of Public Relations of Singapore
Recipient of IPRS's Life Achievement Award in 2006