The Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Lawrence Wong, has written a Facebook post lamenting the criticisms directed at various people who had participated in certain events.
You can read it here (and also below).
I can understand Mr Wong’s frustrations. They are not new and indeed the same sentiments have been expressed by other ministers as well. And perhaps some of these criticisms are unwarranted. Nonetheless, to brush them aside would be to miss the underlying unhappiness.
The uproar over the “wayang show” put up to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for example, is because of the lack of authenticity in the activities – at 3pm under a blazing sun. In Singapore. Every Singaporean knows no one exercises at that god-forsaken time.
The unhappiness with the National Conversation forum on TV stems from frustrations that they do not address the issues which others feel are important. Also, the constitution of the audience, with some 10% who are PAP members, adds to that perception that it is also all a “wayang”.
So, what do we do to remove such unhappiness and criticisms?
Do not put up what would be seen as an artificial and fake representation of life here, or of who we are. Do not say that the National Conversation committee is not meant to be partisan, or that the NC is not a partisan exercise, and then the next minute have PAP members on the forum – and not reveal this. Worse, this comes after invitations to bloggers to participate in the forum were rescinded.
So, lets pause indeed, as Mr Wong said, and reflect on how things can be done better.
And really, it is not hard to do things better. All it takes is honesty and a desire to hear authentic views. I’m not, of course, saying that those who participated in the TV forum were not authentic. What I am saying is that the representation – both on the NC committee and the audience in such forums – should not only be non-partisan but also – just as importantly – to be seen to be non-partisan.
The good news is that there is still along way to go, as far as the NC is concerned. It is a one-year exercise. And to be sure, there will be more frustrations along the way, simply because each of us will hold different views of things. Which makes it even more important that a diversity of views are heard and seen to be heard.
So far, however, the NC is trudging towards irrelevance, to be completely honest. The discussions have not ignited the imagination as they should. This could be because they have not dealt with fundamental issues. What our society will be in 20 years must be based on foundational issues, principles and plans. But so far, I do not see any of these being discussed.
It seems the NC is a free-for-all, without any direction, with everyone and anyone raising anything and everything. Perhaps that is the aim for now. One hopes that as it moves along, it will be more focused – and deal with the issues which should be the focus.
As for Mr Wong’s frustrations, saying things like the following is not going to help, especially when in the same breath, he says that “we do not want to end up in a situation where every activity or conversation in this country becomes politicised, where our people are polarized by political beliefs”:
‘Look at what we have achieved together over the years. Our public housing, our schools and institutions of higher learning, our parks and museums, our container port and airport, and even the Pledge – these are national institutions that the PAP government has worked hard to put in place, with the support and contributions of all Singaporeans.”
Making a pitch for your party in this way will only raise more criticisms, especially when he also says:
“Politics can drive a wedge between us and divide our society.”
Lets go back to basics of being honest, transparent and authentic. Otherwise, everyone on each side will be frustrated – as indeed we are seeing now.
Mr Wong’s Facebook posting:
I’ve been watching incidents unfold on the internet over the past few weeks with some heaviness in my heart.
When the British royal couple came to visit, PA and HDB organised an event at Queenstown to give them a glimpse of the diverse activities in our heartlands. Singaporeans young and old volunteered readily to be part of this event. Yet, they were mocked online for taking part in a “wayang” show.
When Mediacorp organized a TV forum with the PM, they invited a group of 50 people from all walks of life. Some had participated previously in Mediacorp’s TV programmes. Several were nominated by the unions and schools. Others came from a range of professional, voluntary and self-help groups.
No one was invited because of his or her political affiliation. But it so happens that among the group of 50, a handful were PAP members. They were a small minority. But on the internet, there was a campaign targeted against these PAP members, with their names being singled out and attacked, and their phone numbers publicised online.
The PAP has done a lot for Singaporeans over the past decades. But it is not perfect – no party is. We need to listen to criticisms and improve as a party, to serve our people even better.
This is why I and many others joined the PAP – because we appreciate what the party has done, we believe in the cause the party stands for, and we want to help the party do more to serve the interests of Singapore and our fellow Singaporeans.
I understand that not everyone will feel the same way about the PAP. Each of us is free to support any political party and choose the government we want. Indeed, the critics online clearly have their own political affiliations too, even though many have chosen to stay silent on this, or to hide their real identities behind anonymous online profiles.
Politics is important. But surely we do not want to end up in a situation where every activity or conversation in this country becomes politicised, where our people are polarized by political beliefs, where Singaporeans are set against Singaporeans based on creed or political affiliation.
More importantly, when decent people step forward to be part of a genuine national effort to welcome our overseas guests, or volunteer their time to be part of a national TV forum with the PM, and yet get vilified by their fellow citizens, then we really should pause and reflect, and ask ourselves whether this is the kind of society we want.
Politics can drive a wedge between us and divide our society. Or it can be a force for good, to bring our people together, and to build a stronger and better Singapore.
Look at what we have achieved together over the years. Our public housing, our schools and institutions of higher learning, our parks and museums, our container port and airport, and even the Pledge – these are national institutions that the PAP government has worked hard to put in place, with the support and contributions of all Singaporeans.
Let us continue to work together and keep our democracy healthy – by maintaining a basic level of civility in our public discourse, by treating all with dignity and respect, and by finding ways to bridge our differences and forge a common future together.