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Is Good Governance Really Good?

Saw an interesting letter in the Straits Times Forum (letter page – which I sometimes contribute to), entitled “Don’t take good governance for granted,” which talked about how Singapore needed to take to remember that trust in a good government was something that could not be taken for granted.

Interestingly enough, I do recall being sent similar message from my favourite Young Muslim Politician during our General Election in the Middle of last year.

The message can be summed up as “PAP = Good Government,” and Singaporeans should be thankful that the government they have is good. The further message is this simple – everything that one enjoys as a Singaporean is due to “Good Governance,” which in turn means “PAP Governance.”

Before any assessment can be made on whether the PAP deserves to be credited for good governance, one should perhaps try and define good governance. A helpful definition could be found in the following diagram from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (“UNESCAP”).

In fairness to the PAP, it does measure up pretty well on most things. We do have elections that are fairer than say North Korea’s. The government is famously efficient and effective and there is something called “rule of law,” in as much as courts are officially supposed to look at the evidence rather than to look at who the participants in the trial are.

One of the most interesting things I experience, is that everyone else seems to think that we set the standard in governance and the people saying it, are not just people from “shithole” countries. I think of the boys from the US Navy looking at me in the middle of Geylang and telling me, “If this is your worst area – come to America and we’ll show you a bad area.” I have a friend from Holland who, when asked where he wanted to settle down, said without a moment of hesitation “Singapore – where else is there?”

Covid-19 has also allowed the government to look good when compared to other places. For example, all our leaders have had the good sense to wear mask in public and our Prime Minister did lead by example in getting his vaccine jab. While our numbers spiked in April of last year thanks to the infection cases in the dormitories, our numbers and deaths remain low and our health system has remained functioning. You do not see images of doctors and nurses walking around in trash bags.

Having said all that, the question remains – can our ruling party claim to equate itself with “good governance,” based on the fact that it wins elections and everywhere else seems to be worse?

My personal take is that a government which needs to talk about how it provides “trust,” and “good governance,” is like a restaurant that needs to tell you that it makes “delicious” food. The problem lies not in whether the “good governance” is delivered but the fact that even needs to be said in the first place. This is particularly true when you consider the fact that Singapore’s ministers are the world’s best paid (because they’re supposed to the world’s best). Why does a political party running a rich and clean city where the opposition campaigns to be opposition need to tell its voters that they are lucky to have good governance?

Perhaps the answer is that things are clearly not as shinny as the ruling party imagines them to be. Our economic model is still over reliant on exploiting cheap labour from elsewhere in unproductive industries like construction and shipping (though since I work in liquidations, I should not complain). The Singapore government is struggling to find a winner. The last grand idea was “casinos,” which we had to dub “Integrated Resorts,” and rather than developing smart (as opposed to educated) people who come up with life changing solutions, our economy depends on the simple idea of getting people from elsewhere to pump money into the economy (A banker I once ran into called it “money laundering.”)

This struggle is visible in the complaints that the local population is being drowned out by people from elsewhere snapping up the cushy jobs and the government, who have helped to push up the price of everything except wages. Singapore is, as is often said, becoming expensive for Singaporeans and the government sees this as a problem during the election as was seen in the slate of immigration restrictions after the slap in the 2011 general election (the first time every seat got contested).

Then there’s the feeling that rule of law is not applied universally and accountability is….well, getting a little worn. The most famous incident was back in 2007 when a man with a limp walked out of a highly secured facility and while the guards were sacked, the minister and head of internal security kept their jobs without a hint of remorse. In fact, our then Minister Mentor started telling us off for being complacent in expecting the Minister to be accountable. The latest “bru-ha” involves the government reneging on its promise to use data collected from the “trace-together” app only for contact tracing of Covid cases to other things.

Government in Singapore is by no means rotten (though I’m sure the brickbats will come out for me) but it is by no means perfect. Let us say that the flaws in the governance we have are like little scars, which are little but if left untreated have a way of turning sceptic. Instead of applying treatment (more space for alternative voices etc), the ruling party appears more interested in trying to convince us otherwise. Think of this effort to remind the people that “good governance” is something we cannot take for granted as a dressing of a scar that will only make the scar come true.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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10 Responses to “Is Good Governance Really Good?”

  • Andrew is Spot On!:

    Its just like asking who is the arbiter of truth?

    Or who defines what is National Interest? Or is it self interest?

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  • Le chiens:

    Now,it is quite simple.
    First ask this: is the policy for the COMMON GOOD?
    If not,nothing more to say.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Tang Li

    YOUR WINDY HAPPY CONTRADICTIONS below on the concept of “rule of law” amuses and also befuddles me.

    :In fairness to the PAP, it does measure up pretty well on most things. We do have elections that are fairer than say North Korea’s. The government is famously efficient and effective and there is something called “rule of law,” in as much as courts are officially supposed to look at the evidence rather than to look at who the participants in the trial are………..Then there’s the feeling that rule of law is not applied universally and accountability is….well, getting a little worn

    It looks to me it is YOUR (ancient) medieval law conceptualisation of antropology concoction (your background) – the “rule of law” is probably the most hackneyed and abused law terminology.

    First up, North Korea also has “rule of law” – it is the KIM’s family law of extermination of all those who stares different at reality from the emperor’s throne – including his own half-brother on foreign soil. If we reach there (and consider that we don’t even have agrarian land for food farming) – we did all died of starvation days after independence.

    Closer to home, we were told by a law practitioner, no less, CPF is NOT our money – this is NOT denied in Parly but OUTSIDE the “rule of law” so-called law-making sanctum. Up till this moment,a lot of peasants including me, still don’t know if we are “owner” of HDB dwelling including land paid for, is de facto or de jure or a muddled confusion of both concoction of fiction. Remember our property deed said we are “tenant” of HDB.

    Let us not go into the shame of Parti Liyani “evidence-based” conviction in subordinate court reversed in the high court. My mind boggles at the veracity of evidence applied in those mutually contradictory courtroom outcomes reached.

    And this one is a miracle of head spinner – forever haunting my mind. The conviction of SDP 5 walking on the street near HLP where the judgment decision ruled that 5 person WALKING IN THE SAME DIRECTION is sharing the SAME POLITICAL MIND AGENDA thereby “proving” the charge (accused of the defendants) of “illegal assembly” offence.

    The judgment applied the legal concept of “legislative intent” in Parly that the law intends to convict anyone/group sharing the same mind thought at relevant moment to assemble together in furtherance of that presumed shared cause.

    Now take a look at the facts and law thus applied in SDP-5 conviction. Was there rule of law?

    Assembly, in that judgment, requires the “collusion of minds” of the 5 convicted.Was there that “meeting of minds” considering these facts

    - my head is sitting on my shoulder, NOT yours, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT I THINK?

    That conviction was wrong on ERRORS OF FACTS AND ERROR OF LAW.

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  • Thean:

    Last time good.

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  • every round of renewal:

    // Instead of applying treatment (more space for alternative voices etc), the ruling party appears more interested in trying to convince us otherwise.//

    and why not ?? they are still enjoying the richly rewarded fruits of their positions (well, each renewal period is about 5 years times) ??? and for every round of renewal, daft sinkies may be hit with change of game rules ???

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  • Soccerbetting2:

    Reported on Straits Times :Quote-”Economic Affairs
    Rethinking government debt
    Increasing debt can be a potent weapon against recession.

    Vikram Khanna
    Associate Editor

    Rising government deficits and debts in advanced economies need to rise further.PHOTO: REUTERS
    PUBLISHED7 HOURS AGO
    FACEBOOKWHATSAPP
    “It will cost us dearly,” said US President Joe Biden when he announced earlier this month his proposed American Rescue Plan, which has a price tag of US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion).

    This will come on the heels of the US$920 billion fiscal package passed by the US Congress last month, which in turn came on top of the US$2.2 trillion stimulus under the Cares Act passed last March, plus at least US$600 billion in other fiscal reliefs. Add it all up and it totals close to US$6 trillion, or about a quarter of US gross domestic product (GDP)….”Unquote.

    Response : So US gross domestic product = US$6 trillion x4 =US$ 24 trillions ? No wonder US is reported as a real rich country even though it has massive debts .And no wonder the US ENVY brand 3X apple one piece cost think $5 sold at e*** b**$* women wing NTUC Fairprice previously .

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  • Tracey Ching:

    A cretin and part-time possibly IB propagandist trying to pass off as a writer. What a joke! Pui! Pui! Pui!

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  • Lupin:

    I doubt this bloke knows what he’s talking about. Better than Tan Kin Lian only because of his eloquent spin of the English language!

    Tracey Ching:
    A cretin and part-time possibly IB propagandist trying to pass off as a writer. What a joke! Pui! Pui! Pui!

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  • opposition dude:

    PAP loves using the same old phrases of “moving forward together”, “trust in government” and so on every now and then. It’s ok if you want to believe that you are the best and that voters should trust you based on that but even PAP cannot escape an election result that they would like to forget.

    Sure, 60% is damaging to the party so what will be the positive spin when it goes below that? Something like “A few percentage points below 60″ or “Close to 60% of votes garnered” perhaps?

    And about trust, there isn’t much left. Not many trust them after their lies to reduce the number of aliens. Just look at the number of people on the island now. And Vivian conveniently telling us he “forgot” about how Tracetogether can be used by the mata and having “sleepness” nights, who believes him?

    Screw the PAP good in the next election to send them another reminder of just how much we “trust” them.

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