Chan Chun Sing not entirely wrong

Andrew Loh

Read this post by Alex Au on the controversial (to some, at least) remarks by Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Maj Gen Chan Chun Sing. Also mentioned by Alex in his article is this blog posting by Rachel Zeng who, incidentally, is a good friend of mine.

It all started on 3 July, or more accurately, from a Straits Times report by Rachel Chang on 3 July. Here’re the minister’s remarks – made at a Young PAP forum – in the ST report which generated much consternation among netizens:

“Major-General (NS) Chan Chun Sing, the youngest member of the Cabinet, yesterday urged young people to ask themselves whether their ideas can move the country forward, rather than just ‘throw stones, cast doubts and tear down institutions’.

Later, the report quoted Maj Gen Chan as having said, in reference to online postings:

“Go and reclaim the space for reasoned discussion then. No point complaining that it’s dominated by the lunatic fringe and we leave it as such. If you have a point of view, go forth and do something.”

As you can see, the remarks above unsurprisingly have got some netizens up in arms. And I don’t blame them, really. Describing those who express themselves in cyberspace as the “lunatic fringe” is, to be honest, entirely inaccurate, and worse, demonstrates a certain ignorance of who indeed inhabit online space.

But to be fair, it is unclear – from the ST report – whether it is MG Chan who is describing netizens as the “lunatic fringe”, or that MG Chan was just repeating what others may have told or complained to him – that online inhabitants are of the “lunatic fringe” – and that they should not just make such complaints.

In short, MG Chan could be referring to what some have described these cyberspace citizens – and advised them that there “is no point complaining that it’s dominated by the lunatic fringe…” – using the words or phrase that others have used when they complained to him.

Still, whoever it is, ascribing such derogatory terms to netizens is not a new endeavour by government ministers and its apologists, such as the mainstream media. From time to time, a remark or an article will appear which seems aimed at discrediting all netizens with one stroke of a broad brush.

However, there are times when certain blogs are indeed guilty of crazy pronouncements or claims – such as one recently which accused me of “absconding” with some funds belonging to the website I was involved in. Or the incident where MG Chan himself was accused of being a member of Lee Kuan Yew’s family just because of a picture of MG Chan at Mrs Lee’s funeral. To be fair, such accusations are not limited to the so-called “anti-PAP” camp either. The pro-PAP side too is guilty of some atrocious claims.

Nonetheless, if one were to be at the receiving end of such lies – for that is what they are – perhaps one would understand better how one would feel.

Having said that, I would like you to note that MG Chan was referring to critics of both the Government and the opposition. The ST reported him as having said:

“They were caught up in the heat of the moment, attacking the Government or the opposition. I want to know… after you attack, do you have better ideas to bring the country forward?”

So, quite contrary to what some are saying, he wasn’t really just defending the government.

Indeed, in the past and in private, some opposition members have also asked me the same question when they were criticised – after the complaining, then what?

Lets have a look at the gist of what Maj Gen Chan was saying. If you read both the 3 July report and the one five days later, on 10 July, also by Rachel Chang, you perhaps will get a better idea of what the minister was driving at.

The execution – or use of words and phrases – could be improved. Indeed, in the second report, the general accepted this.

Rachel Chang reports:

“He is aware that some find his style too ‘military’ and plans to ‘evolve’ the way he does things as he goes along.”

MG Chan reminds me of one Dr Ng Eng Hen, the current Minister for Defence. When Dr Ng first appeared on the scene in 2001, he too was seen as rather arrogant. This impression was cemented when he remarked – during one of the debates on ministerial salaries – that he earned “five times more” in the private sector and that Singaporeans should be grateful for getting ministers at a “bargain”. Soon enough, the deluge of criticisms followed and Dr Ng has, since then, toned down somewhat and is more guarded about making such remarks.

I have no doubt that Maj Gen Chan would as well, in time to come.

Back to the gist of what MG Chan said. From reading the two reports, I gather that he is trying to encourage young Singaporeans to do things for themselves. I really don’t find anything wrong with this. I mean, that’s what I hope young people will do, to cast off the cloak of fear, step up and step out, and determine their own future and the future of our nation.

I do not think critics of MG Chan would disagree that his message is a good – and even a much-needed – one. So, no arguments here.

I would also go further in my approval because MG Chan is putting his money where his mouth is – with a youth engagement exercise planned for introduction later in the year. The idea is for young people to come up with community-based ideas. If the ideas are workable, the MCYS will provide seed funding for them.

I feel this is a great idea.

But what I fear is that skeptics will pooh pooh it simply because the ideas will have to have MCYS’s approval before they are given the green light. Or that anything which has to do with the PAP Government is to be dismissed and disdained.

I would find this sad, if this were to happen.

In my view, whether it is the PAP or the opposition parties, if the ideas are good for our society, community or country, we should give it our support. After all, we are all Singaporeans, are we not? Isn’t this what we’ve been saying all along, both those in the alternative camp and those in the establishment camp?

At the end of the day, what MG Chan, his critics and all of us are aiming for is empowerment. It is that distrust which is holding us back from giving such initiatives our support.

I would thus urge, at risk of being labeled a “PAP plant” or a “PAP apologist”, that we keep an open mind. A new minister is in charge of MCYS. He is, in my opinion, a necessary replacement from his predecessor whom I have always disliked.

The new minister may fail or prove to be insincere or ineffective in carrying out what he promises. But until that day comes, it is best we hold our horses and give him a chance.

After all, isn’t this what we all are doing (or would say in defence) with regards to the newly-minted opposition MPs as well, if they should falter? So, for now at least, I would give the general the benefit of the doubt, and rather than go loony over his remarks, I would instead try and understand the gist of what he was trying to say vis a vis young people’s participation and involvement  – and I do not disagree with his views.

PS: I would like to add that I agree with what Rachel Zeng said in her blog entry. I know Rachel has been through some tough moments trying to stand up for what she believes in.


Here’re the views – unedited – of someone who was at the July discussion held by MG Chan at the Buona Vista Community Club. 

Also, read this other note by Lynne as well.

Lynne Lee

I have often considered myself a non-partisan citizen; I could not care about joining any political group to make a real statement or a frontal impact. I always believe that an individual is sufficiently enough to make any significant contribution if one deems to do so. There are some living examples among us, right here in Singapore, such as Bridget Tan and Teresa Hui whom touches many lives that transcend boundary.

During the political hustling leading to the eventual election in May 2011, I have viewed a fair bit of the YouTube editions on the new political candidates during press conferences and public intro, with no real expectation.

Chan Chun Sing appeared to be a netizens target because of his peculiar ‘Beng-likeable’ conversant and his initial ‘try very hard to impress you with the 100-year survival theory’ speech. His approach is not well receptive, especially among the more savvy and intellectual critics that feel turn-off by this highly educated Major General that supposedly helm the 4G leadership.

So when the opportunity arrived for me to attend the discussion, I thought it would be fun, to meet him in person and have a real good chance to ticker him and play ‘Kee Chui’ with him, afterall its TGIF and I was dateless again.

However, I did not expect that his approach is down to earth, there is no talking down like he ‘knows it all’ style, he does not minced his words and he speaks with conviction that we should not tear down the institutions if we have not bother to learnt about how the thinking work. Thus, the monthly discussions come about because he wanted us to know and take away what are the considerations that go on behind each policy-making.

He encourage active participation but, he did want the participants to think before asking, meaning to take responsibility when fielding a query or making a statement, which I thought is a practical thing to do, so no one will oppose or complain for the sake of just giving out hot air.

There were instances when he stumbled during face-off with difficult queries such as, the one that I threw at him, with regards to ‘Marketing Singapore to the world’ as the world views Singapore as an efficient system that really works, thus many arrive in doves.

When I asked him bluntly; “Singapore systems works for whom? For foreigners or citizens?”

And he did try, to attempt to answers queries field by the 30 odd participants, sometimes rather fast and furious.

At the end of the discussion, he even humbly requested the participants to give some business to the local hawkers by patronizing the local eateries in Buona Vista area, which I found is rather endearing.

I went home feeling engaged that my Friday night is well spent and rather assured that perhaps PAP with the new 4G apparent leader, is personified and his attempt to connect with Singaporeans, via social media or face to face engagements, is on the right track.

Personally, I feel that the general election is already over and the vote results are finite, we as concerned citizens whom genuinely want to see an enlighten Singapore, should drop our angst and come forth to engage with the respective ministry pertaining to ones concerned matters, so we could move ahead as a united country, regardless of our differences in opinions.

I guess this is what he meant when he said, “don’t just throw stones”.

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