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Politics in Singapore – What needs to change

Recently, Viswa Sadasivam, Chief Editor of Strategic Moves, interviewed Bertha Henson on 'Inconvenient Questions'. The topic covered was "Politics In Singapore - What Needs To Change?". Bertha of course used to be a journalist from Singapore Press Holdings for 26 years. Amongst other endeavours, she is currently a lecturer at NUS.

I am not professing Bertha a polymath but her decades pounding the grounds as a journalist gives her street credibility. That much can be said of her views being a closer representative of the general public then ministers' who are fed biased views from interest groups like grass roots organisations and who listen to the science of statistics from online surveys culled from professional online respondents who are people trying to make a buck or two answering some questions with disinterest.

Everyone should have an interest in current affairs. Our participation do make a difference. The best illustration is the SimplyGo fiasco, which surprisingly, and to the credit of the government, notwithstanding their mistakes in product specification, they heeded the public's call to address the system's weaknesses that were brought to light.

It is heartening to see the 'Inconvenient Questions' podcast attracted 63,000 views and 300+ comments. The show of interest is healthy. What I am rather miffed is easily 40% of comments went ad hominem on either the interviewer or interviewee. They discussed people instead of issues. Actually, I think Viswa did remarkably well as interviewer to hem the discussion within topic, occasionally asserting his own views, but just not too much. Bertha, falling into colloquialism most of the time, was merely expressing her views, whether we agree with her opinions or not is besides the point. We are free to critique or support her. That's the whole purpose of a conversation and participation. As a community, we must share and try to add value to ideas.

The discussion covered political and social-economic grounds. The way she put it, Bertha has many issues with the government, but whilst she was blunt on the points raised, she did her best to observe political correctness. The dichotomy is not lost in her criticism of the way some things got done and her paying tribute to the excellent civil service corp,

One point that was mentioned was Singapore's inability to produce world-beaters, or as Viswa put it, Singapore icons. As Viswa said, we only have SIA, and some time back, Creative Technology. I had hoped this line of thought would drive the discussion to a more philosophical level delving into a discussion on the downside of statism, which is the ideological statecraft of the PAP government. Statism is the doctrine of centralised control over economic planning and policy. A discussion on what has been good and what has been bad for Singapore, from the perspective of statism, would have been interesting. Bertha did mention Singapore business inc tend to cocoon itself in the safety of latching onto the leads of the government, such as in AI, the current poster boy of investments, rather than blazing their own trail. This is precisely one downside of statism. Unfortunately the discussion merely scratched on anecdotes instead of core principles which would have provided a better understanding of the status quo.

Viswa tempted Bertha to comment on whether there has been tectonic changes in government. The gist of Bertha's position is Lee Kuan Yew's government was anchored on incorruptibility, that Goh Chok Tong is intrinsically a good man from what she can perceive having covered him for many years as a journalist (implying morally upright), and then she trailed into the soap opera episodes of Minister Iswaran and Speaker Tan Chuan Jin. She lamented Lee Hsien Loong's government has skewed away from morality towards talent. Although not the kind of tectonic shift in terms of economic policies one expects to focus on, Bertha's choice of moral standards to me is interesting because I harbour the acute sense that progressive liberalism has uprooted the moral compass of governments of Western countries. Has this disease visited the shores of Singapore? More importantly, has the PAP internalised their deviation from the moral compass and bring the vessel to even keel? From their handling of the Ridoutgate scandal, it does seem the answer is negative.

This is a topic about 'change', and Bertha's view is LHL's government is predicated on continuity of Same-O-Same-O. It has no new bright spark ideas and coasts along on the coat-tail of continuity of policies of past governments. As a commenter asked, is continuity necessarily a bad thing? I think continuity has been one of Singapore's strongest point. It provides stability and no disruption to ongoing state projects. The business community has a high level of confidence in making their long term plans. Compare our experience to that of say the US and Philippines where a change of government causes massive social-economic upheavals. Biden has made 180 degree turns on most of the policies of the previous admin. In Philippines, Marcos' re-pivot back to the US has basically put a stop to the many infrastructure projects the previous Duterte admin had arranged with the Chinese government.

On the other hand, corporations do not hold dogmatically to the adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Continuity begets staleness, change brings in fresh ideas and energises creativity. Change however, does not mean a tectonic change of products or services, although it does happen, such as in the case of Apple switching from personal computers to mobile phones and wearables. Change mostly takes the form of restructuring from centralised to martrix organisations, or vice versa. It could be along functional lines, resources, markets or geographical.

For the government, change does not necessarily mean drastic ideological and policy changes. It could be some form of structural or procedural changes. Looking at the LHL government, who is to say such changes have not taken place.

Bertha mentioned the government appointment holders are the same small group of people that plays musical chairs. This is a unique problem of a small population base. The challenge of this situation is to prevent the development of a siloed environment. Such an environment invariably develops tribal loyalties and territorial conflicts which discourages cross agency collaboration. People working in a siloed network lose track of the bigger mission. A structural change forces people in siloed networks to re-establish new networks across the bigger organisation. It is this change that brings in a breath of fresh air. It is very evident Singapore Inc is a much siloed network where the ruling party and government has become synonymous.

Tan See Leng, the Manpower Minister and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, was mentioned as the kind of official both Viswa and Bertha like to see in the government. Someone from the industry, a successful entrepreneur, rather than full-time politician who has never held a job in the market. I would add that Edwin Tong is similarly placed as Tan. Bertha recognises the difficulty of enticing successful entrepreneurs to join the government.

I recall many years ago when I moved into a private condominium, I attended some management committee meetings. Except for committee members, not a single resident turned up. Noticing my interest, I was co-opted into the committee. There was no quorum as nobody bothered. We had a new maintenance project - the mandatory re-painting and some repair works. Nobody bothered. So the committee tried to show inclusiveness by notifying all residents of decisions to be made. Nobody was interested. It was left to us to decide on everything. Then on completion of project, complaints started pouring in. Why this colour, not that, and other petty issues. The point being made is let's not act like these residents, let's be more participative and recognise the value of officials.

The usual patsy or punching bag, the foreign workers, was also touched on. But Bertha paid cursory reference to merely suggesting a bad taste in the mouth to see so many foreign workers in our midst. This is an issue that is totally owned by the opposition, with the government on the defensive. Folks understand the necessity of having foreign workers for jobs that Singaporeans do not want. This is a commonality of all developed countries. Singaporeans also understand real talent is in demand in the world as well as those who can create jobs. All these are welcome. What is unacceptable is foreign worker policy has been a cover for the business class to take advantage of a cheaper labour source, gradually hollowing out local PMETs and depressed general wage levels. This is a point that Bertha failed to stress. For me, another important corollary point is the friendly foreign worker policy is a pathway to citizenship. While a country with a decreasing demographic must be creative in managing at least zero population growth, generously turning the faucet for new citizens but denying a generation that has built the reserves more access and benefits to savings built from years of denied gratification, is discriminatory. It is a policy that is forcing Singaporeans to view new comers as carpetbaggers who get to enjoy the benefits of wealth built by those before them.

Bertha was asked what is that fundamental piece of advice that she would like to send to the incoming Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. To her, she would have Wong shed the image of his being a last minute compromise. He should project the image the whole cabinet is solidly behind him. She would like to see Wong gain legitimacy in the coming general election. For me I think these comments are rather lacklustre.. There is a tectonic shift in the world geopolitics as well as the real existential threat of New World Order. I would frame my questions for Wong to share his thoughts in this context. Specifically, I want to know the influence of WEF on government policies, does having a President holding directorship in WEF Trustee signify certain servitude? Are we blindly signing the pandemic treaty and handing sovereignty to a Bill Gates-controlled WHO? Have we woken up from the deep hypnotic spell of novel mRNA vaccines pushed by Big Pharma elites who turned billionaires during the pandemic? Singapore will be isolated by the BRICS community. What are his options for Singapore to remain significant in a BRICS-dominated future where we are barred membership due to our knee-jerk foreign policy of unilateral sanction against Russia, one decision I would think was made in appeasement to, and show of solidarity with, Western countries rather than to the publicised noble policy of standing up for small nations.

I had no expectations of great insights that we are accustomed to from the likes of Kishore Mahbubani, George Yeo, Ngiam Tong Dow, or Phillip Yeo. Nevertheless, Bertha serves to illustrate that one can paint the government negatively without attracting any POFMA.

 

Patrick Low

* Article first appeared on Down The Rabbit Hole.

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

23 Responses to “Politics in Singapore – What needs to change”

  • rice:

    Maybe she should tell LW to abolish GRC.
    GRC leads to group-thinkers who do not,in truth,THINK except about COLLECTING MORE MONEY from peasant sgs and how to POFMA constructive critics.

    We are a small populace and we need every talent we have.
    Shutting up constructive critical opposing ideas especially in Parliament leads to the mediocrity we are witnessing.

    Remove inept “group-thinker$’, put in sgs with constructive and diverse THINKING.
    GROUP-THINKING NON-thinkers will by and by completely destroy us.
    Already,a huge numbers of sgs are sinking.
    We dont need to witness a total destruction,do we?

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  • Singaporean R Free Rider:

    Nevertheless, Bertha serves to illustrate that one can paint the government negatively without attracting any POFMA.
    =======================================================================
    Of course you can criticize the government but you must present facts.

    Not shout or quote some silly Ang Mo Slogan like Goh Meng Seng.

    Just look at useless Goh Meng Seng the loud hailer attention seeker.

    Did GMS solve any problem at all apart from criticizing ?

    https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/some-50-people-protest-in-hong-kong-in-support-of-amos-yee-report
    “I don’t like Amos because he’s rude in the Singapore context. But I have to defend his rights,” he was quoted as saying.

    UK Home Office revokes visa of Palestinian student after protest speech
    https://youtu.be/h2N4Z4UNBH0?si=2HEBQODBMUSGuDQJ

    Useless Goh Meng Seng, last time you fly Hong Kong to protest against our great PAP government.

    This time, will you fly to UK to protest against UK government and defend her freedom of Speech rights in UK ?

    Calling all Singaporeans, please grill big mouth Goh Meng Seng with this question.

    What goes around comes around…Goh Meng Seng, don’t hide and don’t dodge our questions to you.

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  • OMEN 1505:

    LW is just a last minute substitute PM for “short runway” HSK.

    Under this PM it may be bad omen just like the SQ321 flight that encounter turbulence & cause many casualties!

    IT WILL BE BETTER TO HAVE A COALITION GOVT TO LAND SG SAFELY!

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  • Harder Truths:

    why? change for what reason?

    the Regime is making more money than ever. from taxes, housing scam etc.
    the Regime are getting mote and more votes as immigration goes up.
    the Regime have no opposition – the stupid sinkies killed them off.

    things are great for them. why change?

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  • VFC:

    LW will not change because he is from the same mould! It is the form of governance that need to be changed. Change has to come from outside.

    Deny pappy two thirds majority by voting in more opposition candidates this upcoming GE! Policies pass in Parliament will not be simply rubber-stamped but fine-tuned to ensure passage of good & better policies for citizens’ well-being!

    For now under dominant pappy SG is a fake democracy. They use race card to change electoral boundaries & create GRCs in their favour saying minority race has slim chance to be voted in. It is not true – look at the recent PE with Indian candidate voted in – he was elected democratically because of his personality & not his minority race.

    GOD SAVE SG!

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  • VOTE:

    What need to change in SG urgently is policy to improve the well-being of the silver generation as SG is facing ageing population crisis!

    The poor seniors either have to slog till they drop or rot at home which is a pathetic sight to behold!

    https://theindependent.sg/whether-youre-joe-biden-81-or-a-cabby-73-know-when-to-call-it-a-day/

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  • ClapX:

    “Singapore will be isolated by the BRICS community. What are his options for Singapore to remain significant in a BRICS-dominated future where we are barred membership due to our knee-jerk foreign policy of unilateral sanction against Russia, one decision I would think was made in appeasement to, and show of solidarity with, Western countries rather than to the publicised noble policy of standing up for small nations.”

    Well said. I also want to know what authority they have to declare war on Russia. Sanction IS war, and Russia has officially placed Singapore as its enemy.

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  • rice:

    The ministers like hyping about being INCLUSIVE.
    But the PAP IS PRACTISING EXCLUSIVITY AND EVEN EXCLU$IVENE$$.
    First,we ask what is the true meaning of being inclusive ?
    Is putting barriers on entry into parliament an inclusive act?
    Inclusive must mean we need to be DIVERSE.
    IS OUR PARLIAMENT DIVERSE???

    IF NOT,we should not claim to be AN INCLUSIVE SOCIETY.

    We,as A PEOPLE, must understand and accept that a good opposition in terms of number of representatives and quality will lead to diversity of good ideas that are imperative for progress.

    It is time to put diversity into inclusivity.
    Group-thinking is NOT INCLUSIVE in any way!
    Tell us it is?

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  • Singaporeans R Free Riders:

    ClapX:
    “Singapore will be isolated by the BRICS community. What are his options for Singapore to remain significant in a BRICS-dominated future where we are barred membership due to our knee-jerk foreign policy of unilateral sanction against Russia, one decision I would think was made in appeasement to, and show of solidarity with, Western countries rather than to the publicised noble policy of standing up for small nations.”

    Well said. I also want to know what authority they have to declare war on Russia. Sanction IS war, and Russia has officially placed Singapore as its enemy.

    You are a stupid flapping parrot. Beside parroting what others said, what else can you do?

    Oppose just for the sake of Opposing.

    Indonesia also not joining BRICS.

    Indonesia’s absence from bigger BRICS echoes decades of non-aligned policy
    https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/8/28/indonesias-absence-from-bigger-brics-echoesdecadesof-non-alignedpolicy

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  • Sheep in, Sheep out:

    Sheep swallows western propaganda. Truth is:

    Ahead of the BRICS summit in South Africa last week, some 40 countries had apparently expressed interest in joining the grouping, including Indonesia.

    Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said, after attending the gathering in Johannesburg on Thursday, that he was considering membership but did not want to “rush into it”.

    Good for Widodo not to rush it. Why? A new President is coming in a few months. It’s good protocol to leave this to the new President.

    Brainless sheep repeat western opinion as the godly truth.

    Singaporeans R Free Riders: Indonesia also not joining BRICS.

    Indonesia’s absence from bigger BRICS echoes decades of non-aligned policy
    https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/8/28/indonesias-absence-from-bigger-brics-echoesdecadesof-non-alignedpolicy

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    @ Sheep in, Sheep out:

    Until it happens.
    Meanwhile,
    You see what you want to see!

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  • Pappies:

    Everyone knows the gov hide lots of facts. No need to know. What’s your point? Giving summary data and hide details.

    One case in point. When oppo asked for pension numbers in $1000 brackets, the gov gave these
    $2000
    That’s it. They did not show how many get $200,000 pension per month. Not so nice details are hidden.

    Singaporean R Free Rider: Of course you can criticize the government but you must present facts.

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  • Singaporean R Free Rider:

    Sheep in, Sheep out:
    Sheep swallows western propaganda. Truth is:

    Ahead of the BRICS summit in South Africa last week, some 40 countries had apparently expressed interest in joining the grouping, including Indonesia.

    Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said, after attending the gathering in Johannesburg on Thursday, that he was considering membership but did not want to “rush into it”.

    Good for Widodo not to rush it. Why? A new President is coming in a few months. It’s good protocol to leave this to the new President.

    Brainless sheep repeat western opinion as the godly truth.

    You are one stupidest Sissy Pee (CCP) sheep and stupidest Chinese Chauvinistic Pee.

    Al Jazeera is not Western. You Idiot.
    https://www.aljazeera.com/about-us#:~:text=The%20Network%20presents%20impartial%20news,from%20more%20than%2095%20countries.

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  • Singaporean R Free Rider:

    Pappies:
    Everyone knows the gov hide lots of facts. No need to know. What’s your point? Giving summary data and hide details.

    One case in point. When oppo asked for pension numbers in $1000 brackets, the gov gave these
    $2000
    That’s it. They did not show how many get $200,000 pension per month. Not so nice details are hidden.

    Opposition only ask for pension numbers of course government give what the Opposition ask for.

    Opposition never ask for detail behind it so information not given.

    This is like you sent an email to your colleague Ah Tan next door to ask for product A stock quantity.

    After you fired off the email, you just sit on your big fat ass and wait for respond. After 10 days you still get no respond.

    Boss ask “Have you got the stock quantity?”
    You reply “I am still waiting for Ah Tan email reply”
    So, are you going to keep on waiting or walk to next door Ah Tan desk and ask him to reply?

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  • Singaporean R Free Rider:

    VOTE:
    What need to change in SG urgently is policy to improve the well-being of the silver generation as SG is facing ageing population crisis!

    The poor seniors either have to slog till they drop or rot at home which is a pathetic sight to behold!

    https://theindependent.sg/whether-youre-joe-biden-81-or-a-cabby-73-know-when-to-call-it-a-day/

    Don’t run away from my question. You have not answer my question.

    Who should we help? The Honourable or DisH0nourable one ?

    The Honourable help others without demanding returns.
    https://youtu.be/oysE0i1N_Cs

    The Dish0nourable help others with SEX in mind
    45years old man buy 16 years old girl for SEX
    https://youtu.be/0zPJDfLjA5o

    Just like some old Singaporean chi ko pek who go Philippine marry 16 years old girl.

    When the old chi ko pek finished all their monies enjoying screwing, beer and drugs, they crawl back to Singapore to demand our great PAP for financial assistance.

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  • Sheep in, Sheep out:

    Sheep simply swallow. Western propaganda under Arab scarf taste just as good.

    This is from Alja today:

    United States President Joe Biden will host leaders of NATO in Washington, DC, this week as the military alliance marks 75 years since its formation amid security threats arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia Pacific.

    A western propaganda loved by sheep

    Singaporean R Free Rider: Al Jazeera is not Western. You Idiot.

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    @ Sheep in Sheep out

    Be careful what you wished for .

    https://finance.sina.cn/2024-06-29/detail-incakihm3767673.d.html

    工资个人财产论”等错误思想,心怀国之大者。事实上,个人薪酬只是单位赋予职工的贷款,只有完成了工作任务、达成了社会责任、实现了历史使命,“贷转拨”才有其现实意义。

    Sounds to me prc employee salary is not personal earned monies or asset but a loan instead ? Meaning can call loan or repossess anytime and our prc employee need to vomit back out.

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  • Random Links:

    No head, no tail.
    Unofficial. Someone’s grumbling.
    Nothing to discuss, unless you provide more details. Your “sounds to me” is definitely wrong.

    PAP mandate strong:
    @ Sheep in Sheep out

    Be careful what you wished for .

    https://finance.sina.cn/2024-06-29/detail-incakihm3767673.d.html

    工资个人财产论”等错误思想,心怀国之大者。事实上,个人薪酬只是单位赋予职工的贷款,只有完成了工作任务、达成了社会责任、实现了历史使命,“贷转拨”才有其现实意义。

    Sounds to me prc employee salary is not personal earned monies or asset but a loan instead ? Meaning can call loan or repossess anytime and our prc employee need to vomit back out.

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  • VFC:

    VFC:
    LW will not change because he is from the same mould! It is the form of governance that need to be changed. Change has to come from outside.

    Deny pappy two thirds majority by voting in more opposition candidates this upcoming GE! Policies pass in Parliament will not be simply rubber-stamped but fine-tuned to ensure passage of good & better policies for citizens’ well-being!

    For now under dominant pappy SG is a fake democracy. They use race card to change electoral boundaries & create GRCs in their favour saying minority race has slim chance to be voted in. It is not true – look at the recent PE with Indian candidate voted in – he was elected democratically because of his personality & not his minority race.

    GOD SAVE SG!

    Remember how pappy govt was forced to change after GE2020 when they lost 1 GRC. PS was appointed Leader of the Opposition!

    If they lose more GRCs do you think the pappy govt will remain status quo. Will they not fear the Opposition will one day take over pappy?

    So, if you want to see more changes vote in more Opposition GRCs!

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  • rice:

    Angmoh$ have their own “trade bloc” that mostly exclude others.
    Now,not only,will we have BRICS,soon China and Russia will create “CROCS”.
    China,Russia and Other Communist-friendly countries to counter-act Angmoh$.

    Sg will not be able to sit on the fence for too long.
    It is not going to be easy.
    Look,Angmoh$ start the ‘jing-ganging” so Angmoh$ cannot blame “others” for doing likewise.

    Its all centred on “$” and Power.
    The “arrogance” of so-called world leaders is leading us all to “hell”.

    This world is tran$itioning into a Big Big Me$$!

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  • SINGAROAR:

    Is there a need to change? We think so but not the ruling party. All it works for is a win in the elections and continuing with a bloated and expensive cabinet using tax payers’ funds to keep their membership rewarded.The change must be done in us not the PAP in changing our voting habits. Some people have to undergo hardship before they realise that they actually have a choice at the ballot box.So the prices running up may make voters choose more Opposition and force a coalition government. A PAP win will never bring in any changes to benefit the citizens. We have already experienced it repeatedly. Why are we punishing ourselves when we have the power in our hands?

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  • Its like you read my mind You appear to know a lot about this like you wrote the book in it or something I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit but instead of that this is fantastic blog An excellent read I will certainly be back

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    No head no tail ?
    If so the lady from 中金 need to jump.

    Guess the latest cooking oil fiasco from 中储粮 and 汇福粮 also another western propaganda or someone’s grumbling.

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