There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Election Watch Part I - A Response To Yu-Kym’s “DO YOU HATE SINGAPORE?”

This article is contributed my me to the Singapore General Election Portal (SGEP).

I just returned to Singapore after a 3-week annual retreat in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. Singaporeans should be quite familiar about this 2nd Tier city in China from its history and also the number of investments the Singapore Govt / GLC had poured into this region in China.

I first visited Nanjing in Year 2000 and had re-visited it again several times. I have seen the transformation and progress of this 2nd Tier City, host city of the next YOG; in the last decade, versus what I live and experienced in Singapore as a First World Country. Great reflections, like the photos shown below, each visit. While in China, I was totally locked out of part of the blogosphere as China bans Facebook, Blogger, Twitters, etc. Despite having broadband access, I could not access many websites and blogs I visit regularly. I was trying to catch with more news about the coming General Election as I was able to gather from the Singapore General Election Portal (SGEP) that our PM had instructed the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee to be convened.

Photo : Clear Reflections of Ming-Styled Architecture Along Qinghuai River, Fuzi Miao or Confucius Temple Area. Clean and Green. No Debris. No Flooding. No LKY Water Prize Award Given.

Soon after my return, I started to look up the missed part of blogosphere when I stumbled upon this posting in Yu-Kym’s Blog. [ Link : http://yu-kym.blogspot.com/2010/11/do-you-hate-singapore.html] [Top 10 Singapore's Most Insightful Blogs 2009 and 2010]. It had this caption “Do you hate Singapore?” and commented on the following key topics, which in my own opinion make good raw materials for an Election Debate, since they affect our ordinary daily life - Wealth distribution, Cost of living, Free speech, Subsidies and Taxes, Emigration, Authoritarian Government, Elections.

I can’t resist making fair comparison between ordinary lives in Nanjing, a China 2nd Tier City vs Singapore, a First World Nation, and reflecting on my own observations about the developments in Nanjing and China, in contrast with Singapore for the past decade.

"Do you hate Singapore?"

The author’s choice of this question as her topic was most misleading, if not weird, for her ensuing comments on these key national issues. I would not dismiss her thoughts as immature and naive, but they must have been connoted with a mixed feeling of a different form of political apathy, complacency with our system and some personal favouritism. It sought to sell politics of envy to favour the system’s status quo rather than to encourage positive critics to see more improvements for our country as a nation and not a City Incorporated.

I hope it is not representative of a new generation of younger Singaporeans brought up under PAP’s elitist style of governance and educational system. As SM Goh Chok Tong mentioned, the coming election would be a “watershed” one, as the next PM would probably come from PAP’s list of new protégés which may belong to this new 4G generation.

It is totally wrong to suggest and imply that people who criticize our systems are people who “hate” Singapore. The author proclaimed “People only hate Singapore or the Singapore government when they themselves fail to keep up. This wrong assumption must have caused her to cast her wild assertions and / or complacent remarks to persuade greater political apathy, and if not; to promote greater complacency. In MM Lee’s own words, “complacency” had been the root cause of some of our recent major regrettable faults and lapses, the MSK Saga II included.

To the contrary, I see in the hearts of many Singaporean critics, a passion to see and move things rightly and smoothly, in a course which they feel is now alarmingly wrong and obstructed by the “complacent” hands of the incumbent PAP Government. By staying “Anonymous” is not a sin but could be an equal right and option to every “Freedom of Speech” believer. It only takes greater gut and dignity to add more decorum with a name to a piece of writing by declaring, but it adds no weight or substance if the whole argument is flawed or biased.

It is equally disgusting to read known writers selling vague ideas with or without intent to obscure the reality and truths of life, even if such writers are from the top 20%, and completely at ease with our systems for granting them the comfort and grace to keep up with material achievements and pursuits. Spare some thoughts for the bottom 20% who needs help. These are people who might not even have the luxury to enjoy our expensive infrastructures like landing at a first-class Changi International Airport.

Wealth distribution

The issue whether Ministers are paid million-dollar salaries is totally apart from what the writer perceived as also relevant to “wealth distribution”. It adds to the envy, if any. It also does not matter that they are leading amongst the top 20% who are completely at ease with our system, even if the writer is right in her arguments. Issues should be put in proper perspective and context if indeed a “total” solution is desirable, or even swayed in favour of the needy bottom 20%.

"What people should be spending time thinking about is how to get into the top 20% instead of complaining about how much other people are earning.", the writer said. This is somewhat elitist thinking and selfish. For the 20% at ease, there is another bottom 20% struggling for survival. There is another 60% “caught-in-between”. It does not matter if a country is First or Third World. The degree of suffering at the bottom is about the same anywhere on Earth.

If “competent” Government is not about making million dollar salaries, it must be about narrowing the gap between the TOP 20% and the BOTTOM 20%, and this is what wealth creation and distribution must entail. In reality, the bottom 20% would never climb up and cross the 50% mark, not to say become the top 20%, notwithstanding efficient wealth distribution methods. Equal opportunities are for those who are equally endowed, in MM Lee’s choice of words; this would be “Act of God”.

"I think if we had known how quickly the pace of change would accelerate and how much our people would be under pressure from globalisation, we would have prepared them for it earlier," said PM Lee, in reply to CNN International Asia-Pacific managing editor Ellana Lee's question on whether he would have done anything differently on hindsight during a dialogue session as part of CNN's 30th anniversary celebrations. If the common people’s welfare and aspirations could be missed out in a New Millennium Dream for our country, this is “complacency” and not “equal opportunities”, especially if more cheaper foreign workers are then imported in to spur and sustain our economy. Our system does believe in little social benefits but conversely it also collects high GST which benefits the country.

Even if we have to adopt “politics of envy’ to spur on Singaporeans, we must take on a proper perspective. I like to share some data here by taking a glimpse of China’s Rich (1999~2009) in the past decade. [ Source : http://tech.qq.com/a/20100527/000510.htm ]

A Glimpse of China's Rich (1999-2009)


Half in the property, energy and IT sectors;

29%, or 567, in the property sector;

12%, or 235, in the energy sector;

11%, or 221, in the IT sector;

9%, or 179, in the financial sector;

40% did not receive higher education or even finish primary school;

30% earned a bachelor's degree or an associate diploma;

30% earned a master's education or above (458 master, 79 PhD);

Less than 7%, or 130, earned overseas qualifications;

Most live in Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

The above data illustrates what “equal” opportunities could bring about while it also demonstrates what the mammoth “task” and relevance of what wealth creation and distribution is all about. 40% of their super-rich “did not receive higher or even finish primary education” while there is still a major segment of the population who can ill-afford down payment for a basic home in a 2nd or even 3rd Tier City. China has a large population, Nanjing’s population in Year 2000 Nov Census was almost 3.78 million. (Singapore 4.02 million then including non-residents, and comparable). I do not have the latest statistics as the population census was just completed during my recent retreat , but unofficial figures for Nanjing’s population for 2009 was 7.7 million, compared to 5.07 million for Singapore this year based on census. The land area of Nanjing is about 9.5 times Singapore’s. And just in inner Nanjing itself, you can see what a disparity in income has brought about.

Photo : An Old Neighbourhood in the Jiankang Road Area undergoing roof replacement and façade re-painting works. Yet many Nanjing residents can ill-afford such old housing.


Photo : A Newly Completed High-rise Apartment Block in the Hexi Area for The Rich in Nanjing, Inner Suburb.

Photo : A Bungalow Styled Clustered Development in the Hexi Area for The Rich in Nanjing.

Since we are at this topic following the writer’s trend of thoughts, I wondered if our Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan who recently led a PAP Delegation to Jiangsu , Nanjing; had asked his Jiangsu Party Secretary counterpart, Liang Baohua; how much the Chinese ministers and top civil servants are paid?

Cost of living

The fact that our population is still “consuming” is not bad economically but it does not mean that the “cost of living” is not high. “By the way, the fact that people are complaining on the Internet proves that they are not poor enough. Poor people will be too busy trying to earn money and probably have no access to Internet", argued the writer. The cost of living affects each income bracket differently. Those complaining on the Internet may not be complaining just for themselves. They may be complaining for the bottom 20% of our population who may not access blogosphere. The fact remains that the “poor” are “too busy trying to earn money” and therefore could not afford to complain. But there must be people who care to highlight their plight on high living costs in the Internet or any other media. The author’s “all for ourselves” as long as she could make it to “the top 20%” assumption and argument is totally flawed and very dangerous for an evolving 4G Singaporeans.

Free speech

There is no meaning in free speech if writers do not make good sense in their arguments, notwithstanding putting their names and pictures. It will not add weight or depth to the arguments. In the writer’s words, it is more “waste”. Free speech is also not just about making “noise”. Free speech is also not just about the Internet, but technology has made it a convenient medium. This medium is a double-edge sword – it is highly accessible and a less regulated medium, though it could be abused. But just because there are “black sheep” does not mean the medium is inefficient and ineffective for communication. Complacency and paranoid can only bring down what would be a helpful medium.

If you compare with high-handed tactics on the media for propaganda adopted by the PAP in early Elections, you may marvel what this new media can now do despite the “black sheep” and amidst the "Internet noise". It is a learning process to digest both critics and data and putting and leaving them in contending perspectives for the electorate to decide. It is better for a more educated electorate to mature, just like parents would want their child to grow and mature, then to hide and avoid issues to safeguard and sustain survival of political parties.

Subsidies and Taxes

“Subsidies come from somewhere: the taxpayers.” – very true. The essence is in how the Govt spends “taxes” wisely in the form of “subsidies” and also “expenses”. The dilemma is our Govt policies are often “caught-in-between” and far from being aligned. They tell you it is “justifiable” to pay high Ministers’ salaries. They debate for long hours in Parliament, before deciding to give financial “titbits” through social grants to the deserving destitute. Without telling you, they spent several times the YOG budget, and then finally tell you they actually did not account for this and that. They tell you a first class civil service is only achievable with high salaries that are pegged to the private sector. But when you feedback or complained about their inefficiencies, they maintain the “Sound of Silence” with full protocol. They say we must achieve "standards", but believe in condoning “double standards” for their own mistakes. This is high-handed governance which a more sophisticated electorate does not wish to see. Whether this will still be accepted is an election issue by itself.


Levelled road side-table, walkway / bicycle track, with Real-Time Monitoring (CCTV) and aesthetic lampposts along this old stretch of shop-houses / apartments near Fuzi Miao Area, Nanjing Inner City Area.

There could be fewer subsidies given but we still must see that our “taxes” are worth what we have paid for. If more goes to the spending on expensive infrastructures, are the poor marginalized and deprived of their basics?

The author boasted about flying back happily to land at a first-class Changi International Airport (world’s best) each time and Singapore becoming the future "Switzerland of Asia" while attempting to buy the Australian Stock Exchange and allowing the heroic appreciation of the Singapore dollar, viz. making our exports more expensive. While arguing that the money has to come from “somewhere” which is not the Ministers' pockets, the author perhaps failed to realize that her enjoyable flight and custom clearance through Changi Airport each time has been made possible through the “sweat” and “taxes” paid by generations of toiling Singaporean workers. It did not come easy just because of the top 20% now who feel at ease with our system. It neither came from the Ministers’ pockets nor through printing money through QE 1 or QE2. It encompasses more.

Emigration

Given the writer’s take on “People only hate Singapore or the Singapore government when they themselves fail to keep up”, the top 20% of the population will certainly not migrate. Is this true? The bottom 20% is too poor to migrate. Only a small percentage of the balance 60% with some calibre will want to migrate if they opt to, while PM Lee claimed our people were not prepared by the Govt to face the pace of globalization for the last 5~10 years. How would this transform our society if all thinks the way as the writers “for planning, working, saving and taking care of themselves” and just thinking about how to get into the top 20%?

There are always two sides to a coin (or policies) and our Earth is always round and rotating and will never fall asleep on any one side.

One contributory factor to the “Deserters” had been not lending enough “More Good Ears” to those who had the passion to criticize. The “Deaf Frog” theory with “The New Millennium Dream In Retrospective” for failing to see “how quickly the pace of change would accelerate and how much our people would be under pressure from globalization” will continue to add on to the “Deserters” woes. [Link : http://de-leviathan.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-millennium-dream-in-retrospective.html]. Simply, Singapore just could not be sustained; with the top 20% who at ease and comfortable, whether in terms of population demographics or brains only for making more money. This would not only put PAP at risks but the whole country.

Authoritarian Government

My concern is if Singaporeans with the same mindset as the writer belonging to a “softer” 4G generation should join PAP and become the leaders of Singapore tomorrow, regardless if the next PM will be from such a generation, will it then be too late to sigh “in retrospect” for “not equipping Singaporeans five to 10 years earlier” with the right political education and direction to see a more thinking, matured and sophisticated electorate.

PM Lee told the dialogue session attendants at the CNN's 30th anniversary celebrations, that the Government has invested heavily in education and training. But if it had known how critical skills and ability were to "get ahead and do better", it would have put "even more resources in". I like to ask in which areas and what ways. By just getting IT savvy youths equipped and knowledgeable to handle technologically advanced gadgets and i-phones, just as he shown the nation in his N-Day rally speech, and if not; how and what?

Even if Chee Soon Juan could one day “jump up from his grave” to hold PAP’s out-stretched hands whole-heartedly, we may be simply just too late. [Please take this as “metaphor” and humour, not acceptance of political ideology]. We must realize that the PAP is already suffering the fate of its own wrong-doings due to selfish paranoid for ensuring political party survival.

The author said, “If Singaporeans feel they are ruled by the government, it only goes to show that they are afraid of something. What could it be? Most likely it's the fear of having to take responsibility for their own actions and choices.” Well asked.

Well said "If the people are to be ruled they must first be scared", but I am asking “Why and what is the PAP as a part of “Singaporeans” afraid and paranoid about? Are they still “afraid of something” having reached the top of the top 20% who are at ease and comfortable. In MM Lee’s words, it would only be “complacency”, with monetary “spurs stuck in the hides” but waiting for “Acts of God”, because they are “afraid” like what the author said.

Political leaders need not set themselves apart as a unique worthy “privileged” class even if they have the means not to be “afraid” of the VOTE, and could be accorded with such privileges in office and monetary compensation. This would retrograde and regress us back to colonial history.

The education system must solve this lack of “critical skills and ability” to think politically in order for us to "get ahead and do better" as a whole. It should not be taken as a “political mess” involving political parties but a mess due to the lack of Government foresight and conviction for renewal and survival.

Elections

The author said, “It's interesting what BBC wrote in Singapore's country profile: "Prime Minister: Lee Hsien Loong. The elder son of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong took office in August 2004, without an election, as part of a planned handover of power”. I wish the author had read something I read in a Nanjing newspaper a few years back about “Princelings (太子党)” just before he took over office as PM and his controversial visit to Taiwan. Such callings and criticisms are “open” in China. They even refer to the current likely successor to the Party Chairman post as another “Princeling”. And MM Lee had described him as "a princeling who succeeded despite being rusticated". Sometime, I wonder if China is more “democratic and open” than us in its own ways. [ You may read more about this topic in this NUS research paper at this Link: http://www.eai.nus.edu.sg/BB278.pdf  and article in The Guardian Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/210110]

"When the general election draws near, the government often hands out cash in various [forms] to citizens. Most of them would run to the nearest handphone shop to buy new handphones. After they have gotten their new handphones and cast their votes, they start complaining again about the government that they elected!", said the writer. Why is the Govt so afraid then that they have to hand out such sweeteners? Is the author “poking fun” at our form of politics, Govt or the telcos? The telcos would once be called “princeling-controlled” in China, and I recall a joke from a Malaysian friend that “M1” means “Mother’s 1” in Malaysia and not "Malaysia’s 1 or Mahathir’s 1.

Conclusions For Looking Ahead

Following Yu-Kym’s sub-titles in her posting, I must conclude here. I feel for the “Better or Worse”, we must take her writing on this topic positively to reflect on the weaknesses in our political and education systems, rather than her incoherent arguments and dangerous assertions to support more “complacency” and wider “political apathy”.

A General Election is a good time to reflect and “spur” ahead. The electorate must be given a chance to mature further. Its level of maturity must get over and go beyond just “Out-dated Election fears”, “Lift-upgrading”, “Internet noise”, and a “soft 4G post-1980 i-phone-wielding” generation of eligible voters; flying like “headless houseflies” but “landing at Changi Airport”. We must evolve and move on from here to mature. Just like every parent would want to see their kids mature and be independent to survive the stresses of globalization.

If the PAP chooses to be “afraid”, it must be about the survival of Singapore’s destiny and not its own party survival.

The authoritarian style has finally got its own Mentor tired. MM Lee told an audience of 200 business leaders at the 40th anniversary of Hewlett-Packard, “A person needs to have a life free from unnecessary hassle.”

"That's what we set out to create, and that's something we should keep improving on. It doesn't matter how the world changes, we have to stay ahead of the pack."
But he emphasised that to stay ahead of the curve, a stable society is necessary - one where it is 'easy to go to school and come back, easy to go to the hospital and come back'. But I ask, “Have we achieved these?”

MM Lee on his own privileged “expressway” under the auspices of his office, authority and mentorship, just like this sole Nanjing Biker at Hexi shown in the photo below; has finally also got “tired”. How about the ordinary Singaporeans (particularly the older ones) who toiled for generations to support the construction of such highways both in the form of infrastructures and to support political “privileges”?

A Lone Biker enjoying the luxury of cycling along this bicycle track beside a landscaped pedestrian walkway and 8-Lane Dual Carriageway in the Hexi Area for the Rich in Nanjing, China.

Singaporeans have no options whether to live in a 2nd Tier City like Nanjing or any other 3rd Tier ones. Despite the present affluent status of our country as a whole; many would never dream to live lavishly in a 1st Tier City.

While Singaporeans have been overlooked in the Govt’ s plan to stay ahead of the globalization path in the past decade, as our PM admitted; our rich GLCs are making vast investments even in a 2nd Tier City like Nanjing, such as in Lukou Airport, Jiangxin Zhou and also Comfort Delgro Taxis. Whether the grapes to be harvested from Jiangxin Zhou investment will be “sweet or sour”, a fact is we are now not cruising but dashing in a pace dangerously on PIE Expressway, with a carefree but risky FT biker tagging along, which blogger Koropokman care to cautious. We may not even have options to enjoy the safety, luxury or even "privileges" granted by the state; to be on a 8-Lane Carriageway as in a 2nd Tier City like Nanjing, as the photo below shows.


Photo : A FT or tourist cycling and testing the nerves of motorists along the Pan Island Expressway, Singapore. Source : KEROPOKMAN'S - SINGAPORE DAILY PHOTO [ Link : http://keropokman.blogspot.com/2010/11/cyclist-on-pie.html ]

Finally, just because I chose to write openly does not mean that I “hate” Singapore, but I do hate bad "caught-in-between" policies.

Photo : Spacious 8-Lane Dual Carriageway in the Hexi Area, Nanjing. On each side of the carriageway is a spacious bicycle track and pedestrian walkway with landscaped trees. (Shown in photo above)

Read : More Interesting Articles at the Singapore General Election Portal (SGEP)

4 comments:

  1. You misinterpreted what I wrote.

    You said that my article "sought to sell politics of envy to favour the system’s status quo rather than to encourage positive critics to see more improvements for our country as a nation and not a City Incorporated."

    However, I wrote in the introduction that "people only hate Singapore or the Singapore government when they themselves fail to keep up." This means that people need to improve themselves first before going around telling the government (that they elected) what a bad job they're doing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Eh.. correction.. she is not younger generation leh.. from what I see from her blog, she looks like she's older generation of Singaporeans

    ReplyDelete
  3. This article is contributed by me to the SGEP. General comments may be posted here. Any related contributions on the topic proper should be sent to the SGEP at email address :-sgeportal@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. When I read Yu-Kym's blog post earlier, it really put me off.

    For the record, I am one of those who wants "to see and move things rightly and smoothly, in a course which [I] feel is now alarmingly wrong and obstructed by the “complacent” hands of the incumbent PAP Government". I certainly am not complaining for myself.

    ReplyDelete