Point/Counterpoint

July 31, 2008 by · 11 Comments
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Point

Mr Low argued that if the PAP wanted more from the opposition, it should give them more political space. “The PAP should allow the opposition more space in political participation, and not anyhow redraw the (electoral) boundaries,” he said. (Straits Times article “Hougang residents keeping me on my toes: Low to SM Goh“, 31 July 2008)

Counterpoint

I think Mr Low Thia Khiang has missed the point. It is not about what the PAP wants, but about what the people want, and about what the Opposition wants to achieve for Singapore. If the electoral system is unfair, then speak up about it and challenge it openly.

Singapore’s success not about PAP or opposition

July 31, 2008 by · 8 Comments
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EDITOR’s NOTE: On 26 July, the Straits Times forum page (print edition) published a letter by Mr Lee Choon Wah entitled “Opposition yet to show it can deliver, unlike PAP”. In that letter, Lee said that he hoped JBJ would “retire graciously“, and he slammed other Opposition candidates for merely criticising government policies and fighting for freedom of speech, but saying nothing about “how to help raise national productivity or revenue“.

Mr David See Leong Kit has written a reply. His letter entitled “Singapore’s success not about PAP or opposition” is published today, 31 July, in the ST Forum page (print edition).

Singapore’s success not about PAP or opposition

31 July 2008

I AM from the same senior-citizen generation as Mr Lee Choon Wah, who wrote the laudatory letter last Saturday, ‘Opposition yet to show it can deliver’.

In the past few decades, this generation lent its unquestioning support and blind loyalty to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) Government.

Taking its place will be a new generation of younger, better-educated and Internet-savvy Singaporeans who can think, read between the lines and add two and two to make five.

The PAP Government can rightly claim some but not all credit for Singapore’s success so far.

Its hardworking people, favourable time zone and geographical location have also contributed to its development as a financial centre and an air and sea hub.

Put simply, had the PAP governed Timbuktu in Africa, would the outcome have been similar?

Singapore’s continued survival must depend ultimately on the collective input and teamwork spirit of its politicians, civil servants and people. No one group has a monopoly on ideas or can claim all credit for Singapore’s achievements. Each group makes its share of contribution, big or small.

The necessary ingredients for good political governance are:

  • Caring politicians, who know they are answerable to the people to earn public respect, as well as encourage people to speak up freely to understand their concerns and tap their contributions.
  • Competent civil servants, who try hard to serve the public better and accept responsibility for mistakes.
  • Active citizens, who must overcome their fear of speaking up to highlight society’s shortcomings and know there are more important things in life than making money, asset enhancement and HDB upgrades – such as good health.

Only when people can speak freely will they have a sense of rootedness as citizens of Singapore. They will then not be ‘quitters’ but ‘stayers’ and will not be indifferent and leave everything to the Government.

This is one critical challenge facing Singapore. Politicians must make up their minds once and for all whether to continue breeding ‘yes-man’ citizens who will let them govern ‘their country their way’, or sincerely nurture thinking Singaporeans who will team up with them to govern ‘our country our way’.

See Leong Kit

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Goh Chok Tong’s remarks on role of opposition raises many alarm bells

July 27, 2008 by · 12 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
27 July 2008

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s recent remarks on the role of the opposition in Singapore are certainly thought-provoking. But in my mind, they also raise many alarm bells which concern me deeply.

Goh Chok Tong was speaking about the role of the opposition at a National Day dinner in Hougang SMC on Saturday night (26 July). The following excerpts are taken from a CNA report entitled “SM Goh confident PAP will eventually win back Hougang” published online on the same night as well as a Straits Times article entitled “SM: Tweaks to system yes, but the core must remain” published on 27 July. My own comments follow each excerpt.

Goh Chok Tong said that Singapore’s political system must change to keep pace with an evolving society, yet there are certain things that must not change. “Whatever the refinements we may make to our political system down the road, some core principles must remain the same,” he said.

So what are those core principles that must remain constant? Goh Chok Tong said, “One, any changes must be fair to all parties and give them an equal chance to contest and win; two, they must not lead to democratic chaos and politics of division; and three, they must not put Singapore’s unity and harmony, growth and prosperity and long-term interests at risk.

On the surface, Goh Chok Tong’s statement appears very reasonable. But let’s dig slightly deeper.

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My prochoice stand on abortion laws

July 25, 2008 by · 8 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
25 July 2008

A Straits Times review article penned by Tan Seow Hon asked for a review of Singapore’s current laws on abortion in light of changing demographics and advances in medical science. In this article, I give a critique on Tan’s analysis, and assert that any review of abortion laws must preserve the right of a woman to control her own body.

In an article entitled “Time for Singapore to relook abortion law” published in the Straits Times review section on 24 July, Tan Seow Hon rehashes a recent argument that if Singapore wants more babies, one approach that deserves more attention is to render access to abortion harder. He says that this would necessitate that the current abortion law, which allows unrestricted access to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, be amended.

The current law, enshrined in the Termination of Pregnancy Act, is a consolidation of abortion laws that have remained substantially the same since 1974. Tan Seow Hon argues that changing social goals in relation to fertility and demographics, as well as advances in medical science that allow foetuses that would previously have been unviable to develop into normal babies, suggest that a review of the decades-old abortion law is in order.

I strongly disagree.

In my opinion, the right of a woman to control her own body is inalienable, and should not be tempered with in order that society as a whole can produce more babies. To suggest that a woman’s choice of whether or not to have a child should be subordinate to society’s need for population growth is nothing short of totalitarianism, and is a violation of a woman’s dignity.

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Minister affirms light touch approach to Internet, but makes little headway otherwise

July 22, 2008 by · 1 Comment
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The Government’s light-touch approach to regulate the Internet has served Singapore well, and this has led to much public discourse and buzz in cyberspace, said Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang in Parliament on Monday 21 July (ST Online, 22 July).

‘It has helped to foster the growth of the Internet and allowed us to tap its vast potential while enabling us to protect our society from its undesirable impact,’ said Dr Lee in his written reply to a question from Madam Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC), who had asked for the measures taken to regulate political views on the Internet.

The MDA and Government keeps talking about its “light-touch” approach, and the MDA has even replied to the 13 bloggers’ paper entitled “Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore” submitted earlier this year that it would be considering an “lighter-touch” approach, but no one really understands what those terms actually mean. No legislation has been repealed. The Films Act is still intact. And the high-profile crackdown on political blogger Gopalan Nair has cast serious doubt on the meaning of the term “light-touch”, dispelling the notion that existing legislation is not selectively enforced.

Dr Lee said the Government is reviewing the Internet regulation and is seeking the views of the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) that was set up last year to study the new media and its impact on society.

Replying to another question from Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who had asked if Mica would consider issuing press passes to online news sites, Dr Lee said currently, about 1,500 press passes are issued to about 80 media organisations operating in Singapore.

More than 90 per cent of these organisations also have an on-line presence.

‘A press pass facilitates news gathering but it does not guarantee the quality of reporting in any media,’ he said.

So the upshot, in my opinion, is that apart from affirming the vague notion of “light-touch” on the Internet, not much headway has been made with regards to deregulation or regarding online news sites on equal footing with traditional media.

Ministry of Home Affairs in the Parliamentary spotlight again

July 22, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
22 July 2008

Not surprisingly, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has hogged the Parliamentary spotlight again, and justifiably so as the litany of security lapses have left a sense in Singaporeans’ hearts that perhaps our Government does not quite deserve the all-pervasive aura and perception of competence that it has given itself all these years.

Promises that officers involved will be or are being disciplined, and steps taken to strengthen and more effectively enforce security protocols may seem reassuring on the surface, but many doubts and questions surely remain, as lightning very seldom strikes the same place 3 times in rapid succession.

This round of Parliamentary debates has again seen the usual calls for lessons to be learnt from these highly unfortunate episodes of security lapses and affirming the need to ensure there is compliance with establishment procedures. Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang SMC) emphasized the need to instil more discipline among officers in complying with operating procedures, and he also suggested setting up audit bodies within the MHA to provide independent checks. Of course, how an audit body within MHA can be said to be independent is another issue.

One voice which stood out was that of Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong who called for a “clear, unreserved, unqualified apology” as a “necessary first step towards the restoration of public confidence in the Home Team” (ST, 22 July).

I have noticed that politicians in Singapore are often thick-skinned and unusually reserved or shy about offering apologies when apologies are in order. WP candidate Yaw Shin Leong refused to apologize when he was criticized by his supporters for bragging on his blog that he voted PAP and justifying his vote by making personal attacks on fellow opposition candidate Ling How Doong. Perhaps the same disease infects the ranks of the PAP as well.

On a serious note, I agree wholeheartedly with NMP Siew. An unreserved apology from MHA would show humility as well as respect for the electorate, something which the PAP grossly lacks.

Another voice which stood out was that of Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, who asked if local security forces were overstretched. She acknowledged that for each of the breaches that has occurred, there were many other times “when security was successfully provided”. (ST, 22 July). Nonetheless, she said, “What I think is constructive … is to step back and have a thorough review of the increasing demands on the MHA, the resources needed and how to ensure that the public interest is protected.”

If the MHA is indeed overstretched, perhaps it is time to review its priorities and see whether it is devoting its resources wisely in achieving the aims of physical security and stability. Instead of spending so many millions of dollars on National Day celebrations, perhaps some of those resources could be diverted to more critical security functions instead. It would also help, for example, if the MHA and police went after real criminals and terrorists and left political opponents and peaceful demonstrators alone.

Open Letter to the Prime Minister from JBJ

July 21, 2008 by · 9 Comments
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JBJ has written an open letter to PM Lee dated 21 July 2008.

This copy of the open letter was received from Mr Ng Teck Siong, Chairman of the Reform Party, on the same day.

Challenges facing political parties — recruitment, quality of candidates, visibility between elections

July 17, 2008 by · 2 Comments
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Many people recognize that the biggest challenge for all political parties — both ruling and opposition in Singapore — is to recruit credible members.

Certainly I can agree with that. Opposition parties in particular need strong leaders, good orators, as well as people able to dissect Government policies and propose alternative viewpoints in an intelligent fashion.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said last Friday (11 July) that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is trying to force the opposition to gather good candidates that will equal the PAP in integrity and competence so that if the PAP fails, there will be an alternative. He added, however, that the opposition has not been able to do so. (CNA report, 11 July).

Now, doesn’t this contradict MM Lee’s previous assertion that it is not the job of the Government to build the opposition? (statement made during the court hearing to assess damages in MM Lee’s and PM Lee’s defamation suit against Dr Chee, CNA report, 29 May).

As for MM Lee’s statement that the opposition has not attracted good caliber candidates into its ranks, that is for the electorate, rather than the Government to decide. Perhaps MM Lee should worry about the quality of its own ranks, especially in light of the multiple lapses in security in state detention facilities this year.

According to the same CNA report on 11 July, one political watcher said the parties need to keep up visibility post elections, as well as to do more.

This I fully agree. Other than the SDP, Opposition parties have not kept up the level of activity that would gain them more visibility in the eyes of the electorate and enhance their level of credibility.

ST Letter by Clement Wee: Human rights are universal

July 17, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
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ST Forum letter by Mr Clement Wee, 16 July 08

IN THE light of Ms Chua Lee Hoong’s commentary last Saturday, ‘Speak up and say what human rights mean to you’, I wish to say that human rights are a universal standard of rights all societies must uphold.

Political freedoms should not overshadow economic and social rights, but the converse also holds true. Cultural relativism espoused by Ms Chua breaches this basic principle.

Countries like Zimbabwe and China use the same principle to defend their atrocities.

Ms Chua’s idea of Singapore being a ‘hegemonic challenge’ to the West is an illusion. Singapore is singled out because our economic success is not accompanied by an increase in political freedoms, which contravenes the basic principle of human rights.

It is Ms Chua who is taking digs at the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, not the other way round. I doubt the institute is interested in hegemony at all.

Lastly, the idea of Saudi Arabia and China learning from us deserves attention. Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist monarchy and China is a communist dictatorship. If they are here to learn a new way to mask their horrendous acts in the political arena, and see us as a model in that respect, it is nothing to boast about.

Human rights are for all, and should not be violated by any government on the pretext of cultural realities.

Clement Wee

By-election not needed by law under GRC system if member dies or resigns — is it fair to the electorate?

July 16, 2008 by · 8 Comments
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The death of Dr Ong Chit Chung raises the question of whether a by-election should be held in Jurong GRC, where he was an MP.

According to Mr Lim Boon Heng, also an MP in Jurong GRC, and constitutional law expert Kevin Tan, no by-election is mandated, and the workload can be shared by the remaining GRC team. (ST article, 15 July)

For example, when senior minister of state for education Tay Eng Soon died in August 1993, other Eunos GRC MPs — Mr Charles Chong, Mr Chew Heng Ching and Mr Sidek Saniff — took care of Dr Tay’s residents in Tampines North.

In 1999, when then-Jalan Besar GRC MP Choo Wee Khiang resigned his seat in Parliament before he was convicted of a cheating offence, the three remaining MPs in Jalan Besar GRC — Dr Lee Boon Yang, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim and Mr Peh Chin Hua — took over Mr Choo’s duties in the Whampoa division.

I would therefore like to ask if the GRC system unfairly protects the incumbent party from having to face the electorate in the event that one of the GRC team members passes away or resigns his post.

After all, the electorate voted for the incumbent party on faith that all members of the team would take care of their needs if they were voted into office.

If one member is no longer able to serve the residents, shouldn’t the residents be polled again to determine if the rest of the GRC team is up to their expectations?

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