Government should stand up for Singaporeans
“We should not because of one incident make that into an issue – that all immigrants are like that, or all Singaporeans should feel like that towards not even immigrants, but towards non-Singaporeans who are in Singapore, either studying or working here. That is something we have to be conscious of.” – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, referring to the Sun Xu incident. (Channel Newsasia)
I agree totally with the Prime Minister and I am glad he has spoken out about it. (I wish opposition parties had also taken a stand and tried to assuage or calm down the negative sentiments arising from the Sun Xu episode but that is another matter for another day.)
A friend of mine posted the following comments on my Facebook page, in response to PM Lee’s remarks:
“A lot of Singaporeans are now extremely embittered about all sorts of things. Unfortunately this is manifesting itself in the sorts of attitudes that Lee Hsien Loong describes and more.”
“What I also find astonishing and disappointing is the failure of the mainstream media to honestly recognise and discuss the poisonous atmosphere all around.”
My friend has put it more succinctly than I would have.
Singaporeans are embittered indeed. Just talk to anyone around you and chances are that you will come across at least one or two who are unhappy. We all know, or have speculated, on the causes. We all know the litany of ills: the arrogance and condescending attitudes of government ministers towards Singaporeans, its flawed policies, its stubbornness in not admitting failings, name-calling Singaporeans and belittling them, and so on.
But things are changing, as surely they must, if the ruling party is interested in staying in power. And what PM Lee said is right – the government is now more consultative, more open to discussion and dialogue. Its engagement with various groups and people is welcome. These must continue if we are to sustain and build on the cohesive society which we have always been.
But here’s the rub – as evidenced once again by PM Lee’s remarks which, admittedly, was well-intentioned. The problem is the thinking behind it – and the need to direct his advice at Singaporeans, instead of at those who perpetrated the insults which have made Singaporeans furious. I am, of course, referring to foreigners who live, work and study in Singapore.
There are some 2 million of them and I, for one, am not saying that all of them behave condescendingly towards Singaporeans. Indeed, the large majority of them are hardworking, kind even, and are here to seek a better life for their families back home – just as our forefathers did in days gone by.
What frustrates Singaporeans is that whenever an incident, perpetrated by non-Singaporeans, happens, the “advice” is directed towards Singaporeans to “accept that” and “move on.”
Such comments, from government ministers, will and can only add to the unhappiness among Singaporeans. No admonishment of the perpetrator.
Lets get this one thing straight: Singapore is what it is today – a miracle which has been lauded with all sorts of accolades – because Singaporeans work their butts off, achieving another first, that of putting in the most number of hours in a work week. It is a given that we are expected to put in 10, 12, 15, even 18 hour-days at the work place. In the midst of this, we care for our families, we worry about the elderly and the poor, we sacrifice our off days to do charity work, to spend time with our children mugging through their schoolwork. We put up with crowded trains and buses in our public transport system, we wait patiently for public housing to be affordable again, we worry about our parents who fall sick and have to pay for healthcare.
Look at Singapore today. It is a totally changed place. This did not come about because we were lazy. Or because we do not work together. Or because we squabble among ourselves, or look down on each other, or are paralysed by envy and jealousy.
All these changes came about because we Singaporeans have an immense amount of pride – in what we do, in what we have achieved, in our families, in our fellow workers, and in the potential and possibilities of this “little red dot” which we, through our own hard work, have created for ourselves.
As much as the government deserves credit for leadership, Singaporeans too deserve just as much, if not more, praise for their industry and commitment.
So, let us not put down Singaporeans, or even insinuate that we are heartless or unfeeling.
But things have come to the fore in recent times – things which our mainstream media and our government officials have yet to openly admit and do something about. What are these?
In the words of my friend, the embittered sentiments about all sorts of things.
Foreigners belittling us, calling us names, making snide, rude and derogatory remarks about us. And never once has any government official stood up for us and chastised these people. The chastisement which PM Lee referred to above, with regards to Sun Xu, was done by Singaporeans themselves. No government MP or for that matter, neither any opposition MP, stood up for us. All kept quiet.
[PAP MP Hri Kumar had spoken up and criticised Shimun Lai’s posting. See here.]
The litany of causes of our unhappiness is a long one – and it is, as my friend said, an utter shame that the media have not facilitated any open and meaningful discussions or dialogues about these matters. They seem more interested in glossing over these cracks, perhaps hoping that one day they will all go away somehow. But these are not just cracks or simple frustrations. These are deep-seated or insidious poisons which will lead to the very foundation on which we have built Singapore becoming destroyed – the cohesiveness of our society.
Where do we start to repair the damage?
Do what is fair.
Start with recognising and openly showing appreciation – in word and deed – the effort which the ordinary and average Singaporean has put in, in building the Singapore we have today. Make this a regular and constant reminder to our guests who have come here to work.
We are not their servants.
Neither are they our masters.
In fact, no one is servant or master.
And then remind our guests that they are exactly that – guests in our home which we have graciously opened up to them, so that they have the opportunities to achieve a better life for themselves and their children, and pursue their dreams.
We are not against foreigners. Indeed they bring to us diversity and they share their experiences which we appreciate – whether they are multi-millionaire CEOs or movie stars, or construction workers who have come from poor villages back home. This article is not a diatribe against them. It is, however, a reminder to our government that it needs to show appreciation for Singaporeans first, and do so honestly, with recognition that indeed it is Singaporeans who have put in their hearts and souls to, as it were, help this nation rise from the ashes of uncertainty 46 years ago.
Singaporeans will continue to put their shoulders to the wheel and make this country work.
But we will not be ridiculed or belittled.
And we expect our leaders to stand up for us when we are.
Sun Xu may be just one incident but if we think Singaporeans were only angry with this one incident, then we truly have missed the woods for the trees. The gap between not just Singaporeans and new immigrants but more so between the government and Singaporeans would be wider than we may have thought.