On the PAP’s Propaganda of the Opposition in Singapore

Singapore Opposition Parties

Someone asked me about the strength of the opposition in Singapore on my Facebook and I thought to share my response here:

The question is, who of us who are unhappy with the PAP would stand up and join the opposition and fight in the elections? Who among us who have seen the opposition been sued, bankrupted, made to lose their jobs or threatened with their jobs have stood up and fought back for them? And who among us who keep lamenting about the lack of opposition would do our part and fight with them?

The fact of the matter is that we know that under the PAP, Singapore is going downhill and yet we hold on to the perceived stability and lament the weakness of the opposition, not realising that it is the PAP that is weak itself and will be the one that will bring demise to Singapore.

While we harp on the lack of capability among the opposition, might we remind ourselves that it is us ourselves that have chosen to remain in fear and thus not support or join them in numbers.

May we also remind ourselves that it is us who have chosen to appeal ourselves to the propaganda that the opposition is weak and thus that there is no strong opposition to vote for. Maybe it is us who should acknowledge that it is our fear that prevents us from joining the opposition, and supporting and believing in them.

It would be hypocritical if we continue to lament about the opposition but not take a look at ourselves and realise the fear that inhibit ourselves from recognising our duty to our country, and not just wait for the opposition to do so.

For far too long, Singaporeans wait for the opposition to save us, too weak in our own power and too meek to rise up to the challenge, to unite and show solidarity with the opposition and Singaporeans.

What then is our right if we choose to forgo it and yet at the very next instance, blame the opposition for being weak when their very weakness lie in our own in not having fought for them?

And is it not that the government is not the be all and end all, and that there is also the civil service, think tanks, academics, civil society, media, etc, which have been proposing solutions after solutions for Singapore for the past 10, 20 years but which have all fallen on deaf ears, because the PAP refuse to listen to them nor implement these policies?

Is it not that once we have a new government that these solutions would finally see the light of day, and that will finally be enacted to protect Singaporeans?

The PAP’s propaganda is that only they are strong enough, only they know what needs to be done in Singapore. But as it is, the PAP is the one which has been refusing to implement the solutions for Singapore, when the whole of Singapore has been proposing viable and effective solutions which could have been done, if not for the PAP’s complacency and unwillingness.

So, no, it is not that the opposition is weak. It is that the PAP is weak. And if we continue to allow ourselves to be held beholden to the PAP’s propaganda, then we are allowing ourselves and our country to fail.

The opposition have been proposing solutions for Singapore, and even the Singapore Democratic Party have come out with white papers and SingFirst has discussed how they would apportion the budget to achieve that.

So, we do have a strong opposition, an opposition that has the solutions, an opposition that is only waiting to become the government, so that it can work with the civil service, thank tanks, academics, civil society, media etc, to start implementing these policies to protect Singaporeans. For the government is only 90 people or so but the country is run by individuals like you and I in all sectors of government.

So let’s stop being mired within the propaganda that the PAP has created for the opposition and let us have a fresh new look at ourselves – will we stand, will we join the opposition and will we fight? Let’s look and let’s really research and find out, how the opposition have consolidated and have credible policies to protect Singaporeans.

As John F. Kennedy had said, ask not what our country can do for you, ask not what the opposition can do for us, but ask what we can do for your country and to help strengthen the opposition (I paraphrase).

It is time we not wait for the someone else to change things for us, it is time we stop giving up on our rights and to start believing in ourselves so that if we so believe that unity should be sought, we should seek it by participating in it and bringing unity to Singapore by our very own involvement.

How can we take part in our country’s development?

For a start, we can read and find out more for ourselves, know the truth about what is going on, speak to our friends and people around us, discuss the issues, write about them, write to the government about them, join protests to speak up on these issues, and vote for change by joining the opposition, supporting them etc. There are many things we can do, once we realise what’s going on and then decide that it is in our interests to protect ourselves and our fellow Singaporeans, to then fight so that things can change for the better.

Let’s step up, for the sake of our country and the future of our lives.

On Citizenry, Wealth and Equality in Singapore

Singapore Flag Dove 4

I wrote this on my Facebook and thought to share it here.

If we think philosophically about things, in a country, is anyone person better than the other person? How should we judge someone as better? By education level, academic intelligence, or can we? If we can agree that it is not possible to determine who is better than the other, can we say that everyone is equal, or equally as good?

Then, when we look at the wealth generated by a country, if everyone is equally as good, should we not ensure that the wealth that is earned by each individual is as equitably allocated as possible? Sure, some individuals might be more entrepreneurial than another, or better at picking up on wealth-making opportunities and so we should allow them, because everyone is equally as good.

Similarly, there are people who do not believe in picking up more wealth but who want to advance society socially or in terms of its welfare and these individuals should also be equally respected, for everyone is equally as good.

The purpose of money is, at its minimum, to facilitate the transfer of basic essentials to people. But if money is used by those who control it to limit the access of people for these basic essentials, then how can the system be changed to protect people’s access to money and thereby their access to basic essentials?

Where individuals or groups of people come together and take control of power and start hoarding the wealth at the expense of others, is there a responsibility by the other individuals in society to call out such behaviour and ensure that wealth is more equitably allocated?

Where people enrich themselves by hoarding the wealth, it would result in certain segments of society receiving less, and thereby creating a pool of poor in the country.

However, where the people who hoard the wealth hope to justify their riches and thus blame the poor for being less smart or less hardworking, is it fair? If we have decided that no one is better than the other and everyone is equally as good in their own ways, by coming out with reasons to demean people so as to keep them poor, are we coming out with unreasonable excuses so as to hoard the wealth?

It is thus the responsibility of a government to ensure that it has the philosophical understanding of its role and to ensure that it enshrines the equal goodness of its citizens, for is it not that the Singaporean society is based on justice and equality?

If so, a government has to fortify itself from business-centric interests and prioritise its citizens access to wealth and essential services first and foremost.

Where we believe that everyone is equally as good and will thus be able to achieve their fullest potential if we are to respect their individual capabilities, then we have to ensure that each and everyone of us have equitable access of wealth, to advance our personal well-being and talent and thereby grow the country together.

To do so, we have to limit and constraint those who go into positions of power to expand their control and hoard over wealth. Citizens also have to organise themselves and develop ourselves as formidable counterforces to such power so that balance in society can be reached, and where the good of each citizen can be equally enshrined.

It is the case in Singapore where as those in power continue to hoard more and more wealth, that they have demonised the poor and even elderly poor more and more. From a society which used to have greater respect of one another, and where everyone was treated more equally, our society is at risk of losing the balance we used to have, and which had created the dynamism that we had.

For Singapore to be put back on track, we have to dismantle the centres of power and control, and decentralise these, such that balance, and equality, can be brought back to Singapore once again, and so that equality can be the modus operandi in Singapore once again.

When we are able to vote in a new government and where the citizens of Singapore are able to regain our power and balance equation, we can put our country back on the right track.

How the Clampdown of Freedom of Speech Made Singaporeans’ Economic Lives Worse

Why should we care about the freedom of speech? Because it has a direct impact on the economic lives of Singaporeans.

The PAP’s arrest and imprisonment, and subsequent legal prosecution of Singaporeans have prevented Singaporeans from questioning their policies and proactively supporting Singaporeans who need help, and have thus resulted in the inequalities that are present in Singapore today.

In the first 20 years of Singapore’s history after independence from the British, the PAP arrested and imprisoned without trial hundreds and thousands of Singaporeans, including opposition politicians, labour unionists, students activists and news editors – people who actually wanted to help Singaporeans, and imprisoned some of them for more than 10, 20 and even 30 years.

Operation Coldstore and Spectrum

Dr Poh Soo Kai, who was a founding member of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and who later became the Assistant Secretary-General of Barisan Sosialis, was imprisoned for a total of 17 years.

In an article earlier this year, Dr Poh said that if “the Barisan Sosialis had won in a fair and clean election” and were not unjustly imprisoned, “There would be social justice and economic dignity for the sick and disabled, the old and retired and other vulnerable groups.

“There would certainly be no astronomical salary for ministers; no polarisation of wealth in society; ministers would have to declare their assets on taking office and beprohibited to have personal holding companies, exposed to the lure of investing in tandem with the Government Investment Corporations (GICs).

“We would have promoted a robust 2-party system for checks and balances in the parliament which till today I would very much welcome.”

Dr Poh also said, “This obscene gap between the rich top 1% Singaporeans and the bottom 99% ordinary Singaporeans, results in the latter feeling insecure and marginalized: they worry about the value of their HDB flats and most importantly, if they would be able to live off their CPF when they retire, for all around Singapore, they can see the less fortunate of the pioneer generation, gathering card boxes, selling tissue packets, and offering to carry passengers’ heavy luggage with their feeble strength.”

Indeed, in the first 20 years of Singapore the first-generation PAP politicians did at least take care of Singaporeans, where wages increased, the CPF interest rates increased, housing prices were cheap and income inequality was declining.

However, after 20 years of arrests and imprisonment, and after the first-generation PAP politicians were removed from cabinet and replaced by the second-generation politicians, that was when policies started turning against Singaporeans.

From the mid-1980s onwards, the PAP-run government reduced health subsidies, increased university fees by several hundred times, reduced CPF interest rates and started inflating housing prices.

From the mid-1990s onwards, the PAP started increasing their own salaries to millions of dollars, the real wages of Singaporeans started becoming stagnant, income inequality started increasing while the share of income that went to the rich also started increasing.

The mid-1980s to 2000s also coincided with the PAP’s use of the defamation law against opposition politicians and international media which dared to question the PAP.

Opposition Politicians Defamation border

As such, the PAP was able to use the law to clamp down on the freedom of speech, which allowed them to widen the rich-poor gap in Singapore and allowed themselves to get ahead at the expense of Singaporeans. But in prosecuting Singaporeans, the PAP also stopped Singaporeans from organising themselves to help one another.

In 1987, the PAP also arrested and imprisoned without trial more than 20 Singaporeans, such as social workers and lawyers, some of whom were working with a Catholic Church to outreach to single mothers, ex-prisoners and migrant workers, doing good work. However, they were arrested on the pretext that they wanted to subvert the government. But in reality, it is clear that the government was uncomfortable that they were organising themselves and helping Singaporeans.

“On Singaporean society – well, many organisations died after 1987. Those that survived tread carefully and mainly aim to work with the government or at least to gain recognition from the government,” Teo Soh Lung said. She was imprisoned for more than 2 years in 1987.

Another was Tan Wah Piow, who was president of the University of Singapore’s Students’ Union (USSU) in 1974, and was imprisoned for a year in 1975 after he was set up as having instigated a riot. But Wah Piow was prosecuted because he was helping the workers.

But because the PAP was able to use a sophisticated set of tools to curb the ability of Singaporeans and opposition politicians from speaking up, this has prevented well-meaning Singaporeans from helping other Singaporeans and to speak up against policies, so as to improve the lives of Singaporeans.

Today, the PAP ministers earn the highest salaries in the world while The Economist has ranked Singapore 5th on the crony capitalism index where Singapore is the 5th easiest place for the rich to get rich. Meanwhile, Singapore has become the most expensive place in the world even as wages continue to be the lowest among the developed countries, resulting in the lowest purchasing power as well, putting Singapore on par with Malaysia and India. In addition, personal consumption as a percentage of GDP has kept falling since the 1970s while Singaporeans have to pay the most for healthcare out of their own pockets and also pay one of the most expensive university tuition fees and childcare fees in the world, if not, the most expensive.

In short, the lives of Singaporeans have gotten worse off, even as the country and the PAP ministers have gotten richer. All these have happened because Singaporeans were not able to speak up and if they did, they were prosecuted. As such, it became difficult to question the PAP’s actions and the PAP was able to continue to run amok and depressed the lives of Singaporeans.

As such, it is important for Singaporeans to recognise the significance of the freedom of speech. It is important to protect the people who speak up for us, and to also organise ourselves together and speak up, so that in the eventuality, our lives will be protected as well. If we give up our right to speak up and we do not stand up for those who speak up for us, then we are allowing our lives to be compromised, as it has.

Thankfully when I was sued last year, Singaporeans no longer took it sitting down. You fought back by supporting me and by taking part in the protests. We were able to make some very small changes to the CPF but this is not enough. The PAP government still does not want to reform the CPF system, and be transparent and accountable to Singaporeans.

It is not enough for you to show your support online. You have to stand up and speak up. This is why I admire Amos Yee for putting it bluntly how Singapore is being overrun by the PAP, and why I support the two men who protested outside the PAP. Their calls on “Injustice” and “You can’t silence the people” is apt.

Men Protest Istana Amos Yee

“However, for far too long, dissent has been dealt with very severely, and sometimes, downright inhumanely. We believe in Change, and correcting Injustice wherever we see it,” the two men had said.

“Ruining a person’s life when he simply asks questions (not for his own sake, no less) seems to be the norm in Singapore. Is this not Injustice? Should we turn a blind eye to this?” they also said.

We have allowed the PAP to carry on with its atrocities for the past 50 years but this cannot go on. Our economic livelihoods have become bad enough when it is estimated that 30% of Singaporeans are living in poverty and Singapore has the widest rich-poor gap and income inequality among the developed countries. The income inequality has also resulted in the lowest levels of trust, the highest prisoner rate after America and one of the lowest social mobilities among the developed countries.

If we allow the PAP to continue to pillage our country, I am not sure if the future of Singapore can still be protected. It is ironic that even as the PAP claims that if Singaporeans do not vote for them that Singaporeans will collapse but it is precisely if we continue to vote for the PAP that Singapore can potentially collapse. Yet even as the PAP keeps fearmongering among Singaporeans to claim that the opposition is weak, it cannot be clearer that the PAP themselves are the ones who are weak and have been unable to enact solutions to improve the lives of Singaporeans.

It is time Singaporeans rise up and speak up. We can no longer take things sitting down, while the PAP run our country to the ground. Now is the time to fight back, now is the time to release ourselves from their grip and to get our lives back. We have to stand up and vote right, so that we can put in a new government that will take care of and protect Singaporeans.

It is time we do what is right for ourselves.

Call on Police to Release Amos Yee and Two Men who Protested to Uphold Rule of Law

Men Protest Istana

I have written the email below to the Singapore Police Force, AGC, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law to ask for the release of Amos Yee and the two men who had protested outside the Istana. I call on everyone to send your own email to the Singapore Police Force at spf_feedback_unit@spf.gov.sg or use this email as a template to send, then screenshot and post it on your Facebook, or send it to me. 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I write to you with regards to the two men had protested outside the Istana and who were arrested under the Public Order Act.

I would like to appeal to the Police to not charge the two men.

Under the Singapore constitution, “every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression; all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.”

The constitution also says that “Parliament may by law impose … such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order.”

The Police said that the two men were arrested under the Public Order Act. Indeed, parliament only as recently as 2009 then passed the Public Order Act which is intended “for preserving public order and safety at special event areas and public places”.

The Act also says that, “Any individual or group who wishes to organise an assembly or procession to (a) demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any persons, group of persons or any government; (b) publicise a cause or campaign; or (c) mark or commemorate any event, must apply for a Police Permit.”

However, the perception of the police’s approval of such permits is that it is arbitrary. For example, last year, when the People’s Action Party (PAP) wanted to celebrate its 60th anniversary, several roads near the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall were closed and the police were deployed. However, when the Worker’s Party wanted to celebrate its 50th anniversary at the East Coast Park in 2007, its application for a police permit was rejected.

Which is more likely to cause disorder? Arguably, the PAP’s event and the closure of the roads have led to even more public disturbance than an event at the park for families and children.

This has given Singaporeans the perception that the police’s application of the law is biased and unfair.

Whereas PAP-affiliated members are readily given permits to protest and allowed, such as with the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) outside the Parliament House, the same was not allowed for the Tak Boleh Tahan protest organised by the Singapore Democratic Party.

This has given Singaporeans the perception that the police would execute the law in favour of the PAP.

Recently, the police would arrest and charge Amos Yee – only a 16-year-old boy – within just 3 days but would finally act on Ed Ello only 3 months after police reports were made. Yet, for PAP member of parliament Lam Pin Min and PAP activist Jason Neo who had made similarly discriminatory remarks, they have still not been arrested or charged, Lam for 3 years now and Neo for 4 years.

Is the police required to be lenient to Lam because he is a PAP parliamentarian and more importantly, because he is from the PAP?

Singaporeans’ belief that the police has been acting unfairly and in a biased way is thus not uncalled for.

The police says that “it is the goal of the Singapore Police Force to make Singapore the safest country in the world”. You also say that your values are of “integrity” and “fairness”.

The police also says that your “core function is to protect the people who live in Singapore from crime and all manner of criminal harm”.

However, where prosecution has been arbitrarily applied and where it is clear that Singaporeans who are in opposition against the PAP are indefinitely more likely to be prosecuted, this questions the “integrity” and “fairness” of our police force.

Moreover, in what way has both Amos and the two men who had protested outside the Istana caused any “criminal harm” to Singaporeans. In fact, it can be argued that Amos has faced even more “criminal harm” onto himself, where even a PAP grassroots leader Jason Tan had said that he would “cut his dick and put in his mouth”, here being another example of a PAP-affiliated person who has not been prosecuted.

Also, for the two men who had protested, have their actions caused any “public disorder”. Clearly, they have not. The harm has now been done onto them, as they would be potentially turned criminals just for speaking up, as I have.

But am I calling for the prosecution of even more Singaporeans? No, I am not. If the law is unclear and arbitrary, then it is the responsibility of the citizenry to question its application and of the law itself, and this is why I am writing to you.

As a Singaporean citizen and a critically-thinking person, as I am sure you are as well, if the constitution allows for the freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, what has these two men done wrong? Ironically, the two men have spoken up and said that the “subject of the protest (is for the) Freedom of Speech for Singaporeans”, as such they were trying to protect our constitution.

The Singapore constitution protects the right of Singaporeans to speak up but the PAP-run government has installed laws that run contrary to our constitution. Do you not think that this is unjust and a mockery to our constitution?

Perhaps our problem lies with the PAP having made it difficult for the opposition to run for elections and thereby allowing the PAP to monopolise government for the past 50 years, such that they have been able to enact laws that go against the interests of Singaporeans.

It is precisely because of the lack of the freedom of speech in Singapore that has prevented Singaporeans from being able to speak up and thus having our lives compromised by the PAP-run government. Today, low-income Singaporeans earn the lowest wages among the developed countries and poverty, at an estimated 30%, is the highest among the developed countries. Meanwhile, the PAP-run government spends the least on health, education and social protection among the developed countries while Singaporeans have the least adequate retirement funds among OECD and Asia-Pacific countries, precisely because Singaporeans have been prevented from speaking up on these issues and thereby protecting ourselves. Yet the PAP would pay themselves the highest salaries in the world, with the justification that this is to prevent corruption whereas they are content with paying Singaporeans the lowest wages among the developed countries.

The PAP’s hypocrisy is blatant and we cannot stand and watch as the PAP continues to use differential standards to govern our country. The safety and security of our country is at stake if the rule of law can be so tenuously abused.

As if this is not bad enough, from the 1960s to 1980s, hundreds and thousands of Singaporeans who spoke up were also unjustly detained, some for more than 10, 20 or 30 years. Some of these Singaporeans wanted to create a better Singapore, some who fought for workers like you and I (before I lost my job).

Did any of them disrupt “public order”? If anything, the thousands of Singaporeans who have been prosecuted under the PAP-run government have been trying to maintain public order but it is the PAP which has gone against “the interest of the security of Singapore” and undermined the livelihoods of Singaporeans.

If anything, the whole PAP parliament should be arrested and thrown into prison for their atrocities committed against Singaporeans.

As a citizen, I am severely disappointed in the Singapore Police Force and I believe that I speak for many Singaporeans in how the law has been unfairly and unjustly applied onto Singaporeans who have stood up and protected Singaporeans.

May I remind the Singapore Police Force, as a citizen of Singapore, that the police has a duty to carry out the law impartially and protect the rights of all Singaporeans. Where Singaporeans are wrongly prosecuted and where the PAP-affiliates are instead unjustly protected, severe injustice has now plagued our nation.

As the two men who have been protested said, “We are not anti LKY (Lee Kuan Yew). We take our hats off to him, and appreciate all that he has done for Singapore; giving his life in creating a “safe”, prosperous nation and environment for us to thrive in.

“However, for far too long, dissent has been dealt with very severely, and sometimes, downright inhumanely. We believe in Change, and correcting Injustice wherever we see it.”

I do not know the two men but they stand for precisely what the Singapore pledge says, that “We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”

In this time of our nation’s precarious transition, it is time for the people who protect our country – the Singapore Police Force – to take a firm stand against all sorts of injustice, so that the rule of law in Singapore can continued to be upheld and the people who live in Singapore can live in safety and peace.

I call on the Singapore Police Force to let Amos Yee and the two men who have been arrested go. I would also like to point your attention to an online petition, where nearly 4,000 people (at the time of writing) have also asked for Amos to be released as well (https://www.change.org/p/the-government-of-singapore-release-amos-yee).

For the sake of our country and the future of our nation, we need to stand in solidarity with justice and to protect the people who live in our land. I look forward to the police making an independent and well-thought out decision to protect the lives of Singaporeans, to uphold our constitution and to bring about safety and peace to our nation.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Roy Ngerng

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On the Foreigner-Fear Sentiment and Inequality in Singapore

Roy Ngerng CPF Protest

Photo credit: Zimbio / Suhaimi Abdullah /Getty Images AsiaPac

Someone asked me a question on how the anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore has developed in Singapore on my Facebook and I thought to repost my response here:

I think it is necessary to understand why we carry unfavourable sentiments towards certain nationalities or ethnic populations. If I am to understand these sentiments, as to why some people might start to point out behavioural characteristics of others to take issue with, this could be due to our displeasure with their greater numbers and thus our discomfort at feeling displaced or marginalised in what we see as our home. If this is indeed the case, then it would be wiser to identify the root cause of how the issue of the increase in population came about, and this should be rightfully pinpointed at the government because this is a policy issue.

It is unethical for a government to bring in large numbers of people without care to their welfare and that of the local population and to also ignore the consequent social effects.

Why are the characteristics of certain groups or people discriminated against? I will speak for myself – there are times when you visit other countries and as a Singaporean or as a Chinese person, you get judged for who you are. But why do people do that? They do so because of a lack of understanding of who I am or of certain assumptions about my cultural or national background. At times, these are ideas even we might not have thought about of own cultural or national background. If so, this would mean that for those who discriminate against us as well as for ourselves, we would need to question the relevance of such ideas and seek to understand them or for others to understand as well. As such, I would have appreciated if they could speak to me and understand who I am, instead of use aspects of my cultural or national background as a gauge to judge me.

For Singapore’s situation, similarly some of us might feel displaced in Singapore and thus aggrieved. For some Singaporeans, we are uncomfortable with first, being economically marginalised by the loss of our jobs or wages, and second, then feeling culturally insecure because of the seeming loss of the ‘Singapore identity’. This might result in a rise of negative sentiments towards non-Singaporeans.

But foreigners are not the issue. The issue is that Singaporeans feel that because we are not able to advocate to the government for policies to protect our jobs and wages that we turn towards foreigners instead, turning them into the symbols of our loss and anger. We then start creating ideas about them, the way others would create about us if we were overseas, whether real or perceived.

However, it is the case that foreigners have been coming into Singapore in larger numbers and as such, a certain sense of being replaced and a sense of the loss of “home” is becoming felt among Singaporeans. Also, culturally, Singaporeans are worried at not being able to integrate, from both sides. If so, what are the solutions?

From an economic perspective, it is important to ensure that the jobs of Singaporeans are secured and Singaporeans will not be liable for unemployment, and that their wages are adequate as well. Thus legislation need to be put in place to ensure employment security and for a minimum wage to be put in place. In the longer term, when the economy readjusts itself to ensure the employment and wages of Singaporeans are taken care of, there will be a larger allowance for us to be able to also take care of the labour needs of the other workers in Singapore, as what would happen in a more equal society.

From a social angle, should there be programmes that encourage a cultural understanding and integration with Singapore? Also, the government has to be fair and impartial in its application of the law. As it is today, Singaporeans are aware that the current government’s application of the law is favourable towards richer foreigners (and Singaporeans as well) and this puts Singaporeans on an unfair stead, which has resulted in many Singaporeans feeling as second-class citizens and the resultant anger.

As such, this then becomes a larger question on fairness and equality, in that Singaporeans are feeling insecure that the government that they have voted for have allowed them to be sidelined in their own country. From a larger perspective then, it might be fair to say that the discrimination that certain Singaporeans feel towards foreigners might be due to the economic, social and political inequality and the feeling of insecurity in your own home. Naturally, if one is to feel threatened with their livelihoods and lives in their own home, they would start to react in emotively negative ways towards others they feel are threatening their existence.

However, if so, as I had mentioned, the issue should be pointed back at the government. Foreigners, by themselves, have by and large, not directly mistreated Singaporeans. The same applies for Singaporeans when we go overseas. Our sense of displeasure with their cultural traits could arguably have arose because of our sense of feeling threatened as well. Let’s imagine that we live in a fairer and more equal society where our livelihoods are taken care of, will we become angry at others? Chances are, we are much less likely to do so.

If so, policy measures need to ensure that the citizens of Singapore feel a sense of security and equality. Again, we have to rightfully point this back to the PAP government, which has arguably refused to create a climate of equality in Singapore but which has allowed both Singaporeans and foreigners to feel displaced. If so, a change of government is in order since the current government has refused to address the grievances of Singaporeans.

Of course, different groups of people have as well to introspect and understand how they can improve themselves. Similarly, for Singaporeans who go overseas, we would also need to be cognisant of our behaviour and how we have to be sensitive to the local environments. The same applies to foreigners in Singapore. On a related note, foreigners in Singapore might also start to feel displeasure towards Singaporeans because of the feelings of being discriminated against. In that sense, sensitivity would also mean to understand the sociopolitical backdrop as to how such feelings of anti-foreigner sentiments have come about, as detailed above, and how we can then take part in a conversation to point our focus back in the right direction – towards the government.

To also add – there have been studies which have shown that because Singapore has the highest income inequality among the developed countries, we also have the lowest levels of trust and one of the highest levels of self-enhancement, where people are likely to perceive themselves as better as someone else. 

And this is rooted in the inequality in the sense that more people have to fend for themselves economically and thus do not trust that another person will look out for their interests. Also, the system has resulted in people (over-)believing in themselves to get ahead and this has also widen the social divide and thus caused people to perceive themselves as more important than someone else.

As such, the fear towards foreigners is rooted in the economic inequalities as well. As much as Singaporeans need to have the social awareness to learn and grow, the income inequality in Singapore just simply does not allow for this to happen, on a structural level.

It might even be tempting to compare Singapore with the other developed countries and lament the lack of “First World” mindsets. But if one is to understand how the rich-poor gap is the widest and where the large swath of Singaporeans are simply not protected structurally and policy-wise, then one would understand the seemingly stunted social development in Singapore that is affecting Singaporeans or non-Singaporeans alike.

The social degeneration in Singapore is not specific to Singaporeans – it is not a cultural problem. It is a problem rooted in the economic inequalities and in a government which refuses to confront this problem whilst continuing to focus on profit-making and thus allowing themselves to enrich themselves while the majority of Singaporeans languish economically and socially, as what you are seeing now.

In the eventuality, it is important to question our prejudicial feelings and to put them in perspective. For a population which has become disempowered in our attempts to advocate to the government for change and which has fallen on deaf ears, we might be tempted to take it out on another individual, since this is only as much as we feel we can do. However, the back and forth discrimination against one another will only lead to the degeneration of our society and does not bode well for the long term viability of Singapore as a nation nor can such social and economic divide sustain itself.

A wiser approach would be to revisit our attitudes and to then start to feel empowered and refocus on the government, to ensure that either a policy change or a change of government can bring parity, equality and fairness, and justice back to Singapore. In such case where we would be able to achieve better equality in Singapore and such discriminatory attitudes still exist, then we would need to question our own personal motivations and find out where the insecurities are arising from and to address them.

On Freedom of Speech and Inequality in Singapore

Free Amos Yee 2

I wrote the comment below in response to a posting I made on my Facebook and thought to share it here. 

Too many times, we forget that it is the PAP that has clamped down on the freedom of speech and prevented well-meaning Singaporeans from questioning the policies and even coming out with solutions, which mind you, many academics etc have been proposing for the past 10, 20 years but which have all fallen on deaf ears.

Amos could have made a “proper” video – whatever that might mean – but who would listen? The PAP wouldn’t. Those who side with the PAP, wouldn’t. Many Singaporeans who have spoken up have been shut off and prosecuted. We want to speak “properly” but is the PAP willing to listen? Do we believe the anger among Singaporeans today has happened because Singaporeans are naturally angry people, or because their voices have been shut off and repressed, and thus the anger?

It is too lofty for us to believe in idealised notions of free speech or governance and to believe blindly in the PAP, when the fact of the matter is that many have voiced out, spoken up and tried to change things in ways we consider as “proper” but where even with “proper” means we are ignored and when individuals like Amos make videos which we deem not “proper”, we criticise them.

But who have thought to criticise the government for not listening in the first place? It is too convenient to blame individuals like Amos and many other well-meaning Singaporeans and choose to ignore the real problem – the PAP’s unwillingness and ignorance, and then continue to hold idealised and fantastical notions of the PAP without understanding the realities that have caused what has happened today.

Some speak of protesting outside parliament if we disagree with the PAP’s policies but what naivety our comments if we ignore how the PAP government has made it illegal to congregate in even more than 5 people or just one person to hold a placard, that if people could, do you think they would not? Perhaps a naive defence of the PAP would suffice only as weak an argument, if only we see through the veil we have been brought up to believe and recognise the difficult and oppressive realities that Singaporeans function in.

Singapore has very low levels of the freedom of speech. Singapore is ranked 153rd in the Press Freedom Rankings, behind Russia and Myanmar. The government has arrested several hundreds, or more than a thousand opposition politicians, labour unionists, student activists and news editors from the 1960s to 1980s, opposition politicians and international media were sued for defamation from the 1980s to 2000s, Singaporeans have been charged with defamation, contempt of court and sedition just for speaking up over the last few years, and where the government would not wait to arrest and charge Amos, several PAP MPs have also said similarly racist remarks but their cases have been silently brushed under the carpet – the law is biased, in favour of the PAP.

The arrest and charges against Amos is political and to pretend otherwise is well, either naivety or ignorance. The PAP has never played fair and has used all sorts of ways to prosecute Singaporeans. Sure, some argue that we can have lesser freedom of speech in exchange for economic development but yet it is precisely because many of these people who were prosecuted spoke up about labour rights etc, which got them arrested, imprisoned and some sued. Sure, we can choose to have lesser freedom of speech, which explains why Singapore has an estimated 30% of Singaporeans living in poverty, why wages for Singaporeans are one of the lowest among the developed countries and why Singapore has the widest rich-poor gap while the PAP pays themselves the highest salaries in the world. Sure, let’s have lesser freedom of speech so that Singaporeans can also sacrifice their socioeconomic livelihoods, why don’t we.

Because Singapore is the most unequal country among the developed countries, we also have the lowest levels of trust, highest prisoner rate after America and one of the lowest social mobilities. In short, the lack of the freedom of speech and prosecution and the consequent inequality has resulted in clear social problems. 

A study funded by NASA has also shown that all unequal societies in history have all collapsed. It is precisely because of the lack of the freedom of speech, and the consequent social effects that will lead to instability in Singapore, and consequent collapse.

It is ironic that as some Singaporeans fear that a change of government will result in instability and collapse, that they do not realise that it is exactly by continuing under the PAP, and the drastic inequality, that will be what will cause Singapore to be unstable and collapse.

There is a limit that we can buy into the PAP’s propaganda and disallow ourselves from recognising what research and history tells us. We don’t even have to look far. Many academics in Singapore have warned over the past 10, 20 years about the possible effects and how policies need to change but all of what they have said have fallen onto deaf ears, while the PAP continue to enact policies that widen the income inequality in Singapore, and potentially lead to instability in Singapore.

It is highly hypocritical for the PAP that in their own pursuit for their own wealth, fearmonger among Singaporeans to scare Singaporeans into voting for them, by threatening instability when it is the PAP’s very action that will lead to instability.

What I Hope for Singapore: A Fair, Just and Equal Society

Singapore Flag 1

Someone asked me what I hope for Singapore on my Facebook page. This is my answer:

Hello, what I want is not different from what most Singaporeans want – for a government that is responsible and that will take care of Singaporeans.

Currently, it is estimated that 30% of Singaporeans are living in poverty, that they cannot earn enough to live even a basic standard of living, there is still no minimum wage and when it comes to housing, healthcare and education, some Singaporeans are also not adequately protected because they these are simply too expensive.

By defining a poverty line, implementing a minimum wage and increasing housing, health and education subsidies, the wider proportion of Singaporeans will be protected.

And of course, increasing wages and the CPF interest rates will ensure that Singaporeans will be able to save enough to retire.

Are we asking for the spending to be frivolous? No. First, there is more than enough surplus that can ensure long term spending on these. Second, compared to the other high-income countries, the PAP government has reneged on its responsibility.

The PAP government currently spends the lowest on health and education, as a percentage of GDP, among the developed countries, and also spends the least on social protection.

Singaporeans are made to give up the largest proportion of our wages into social security, or CPF, in the world but because we earn the lowest interest rates on the CPF, we also have the least adequate retirement funds among the OECD and Asia-Pacific countries.

Meanwhile, the richest in Singapore earn the highest salaries among the developed countries and pay the lowest tax while the poor and middle-income earn the lowest wages and pay the highest social security contribution.

Combined with Singapore being the most expensive country in the world and where the government spends the least on social protection, Singaporeans thus have the lowest purchasing power among the developed countries.

And Singaporeans thus also have the highest poverty rate and income inequality among the developed countries.

And because Singapore has the highest income inequality, it has also resulted in Singapore having the lowest levels of trust, the highest prisoner rate after America and one of the lowest social mobilities among the developed countries.

This is worrying.

Why am I concerned about Singapore? Once Singaporeans are protected, where there are policies and government expenditure that takes care of and protect Singaporeans, our society will also improve and advance. Our people will become kinder, happier and more supportive of one another.

Already, Singaporeans have been ranked by several surveys as being one of the most unhappy people in the world.

Do I think the government should provide for everything for Singaporeans? Of course, not.

But the government has to identify which are the basic areas where people’s lives need to be taken care of, namely in housing, healthcare, education and retirement, as well as in employment and wages, so that people are able to function effectively.

Once we are able to do so, productivity will increase, there will be greater innovation, entrepreneurship and we will be able to develop local brands that will be able to compete globally.

Singapore will be able to make a mark in the world, like Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even the Nordic countries, when it comes to international brands.

But for this to happen, the government has to be transparent, accountable and honest. For this to happen, we need to address the conflict of interest in the government and with the government-linked companies.

Why does the government claim that it does not interfere in the GIC when it sits on the board of the GIC, for example?

The estates of governance need to be independent, so that they can check on one another, and so that the different estates can compete and we can improve our system.

The different political parties should be allowed to run freely and on equal ground, so that we are able to have a competitive government that will address the people’s needs and ensure that policies are developed for the people. This is not the case now, where the government monopolises the decisions and controls all sectors of government.

This is also not the case now where the opposition parties are not allowed to run equally where in the past they were arrested even if they won a parliamentary seat and where they were sued, bankrupt and even lost their jobs. And of course, there is gerrymandering.

What we want is a country and people who do not live in fear, and who partake in our country’s growth and development together, so that we can put our heads together, to make our country a better place, so that our country can be sustained into the future, where we become truly a developed country, where Singaporeans are committed to the country, happy to be part of the country and will be proud to be Singaporean and do our part to grow our country.

This is what I believe in. And it starts with a government that is transparent, honest and fair and it starts with a people and Singaporeans who are willing to be courageous and to step up, take a stand and work together with belief and commitment to one another, to make our country a better place.

What I hope is for a kinder Singapore, where if we want to be a shining example to the world, this is it, where we have happy, proud and fulfilled people who are allowed to grow to their greatest potential and become the best of the people we can be.

This is all I want and hope for, and all I believe in, and in truth, what most Singaporeans believe in.

We just want a fair, just and peaceful society which is equal and together.

What I Hope for Singapore cropped

My Tribute Message to Lee Kuan Yew

image

Dear Lee Kuan Yew,

Saying my goodbyes to you is a healing experience. I grew up believing in the Singapore you spoke about but as I read about the lives of the hundreds of people imprisoned, tortured and sued under the government under your rule, I cannot but feel angry for the families and individuals who have lost their many years, and the many poor who continue to exist today. Yet, who am I to be self-righteous, an anguish only they and you can understand. Yet, is it not that many Singaporeans appreciate what you have helped built, to bring Singapore to what it is today. So, thank you, Mr Lee. I only hope that with your passing, forgiveness can take place and our country can have a new beginning, and a new togetherness and future. Now that you have left your physical body and are in a better place, I believe, I hope that you will continue to watch over the Singapore you fought so hard to turn into. May you bless Singapore and our people from where you are and may healing for our country finally take place.

Please rest in peace. Thank you.

Roy Ngerng

*****

My friends asked me to go with them for the memorial service of Lee Kuan Yew at the Parliament House two nights ago. We queued for 3 hours but had to leave when a friend started feeling unwell. I went to another memorial event today.

It took me a while to think about what to write. Truth is, I feel a sense of injustice for what has been happening for the past 50 years but as I thought through within, I realised that this could also be a time of forgiveness and letting go. He was a man of controversies, many are angry but many are as well grateful.

Rightly or not, Singapore did propel itself during the early years because of Lee Kuan Yew’s strongman leadership. But rights were also eroded.

After processing my thoughts within, this was what I wrote. They are my honest and sincere feelings.

I truly believe that at this time of his passing, we have a chance to renew our hope for Singapore and from where he is, I do believe that his freed soul can help us to start anew. I mean this with all my heart.

May all be well for our country. This is an opportunity for us as a nation to forgive and let go, and to reconcile with the truth, so that we can unite towards a new hope. I hope that we will be strong enough to move on from this together.

*****

(I will continue to be honest to speak up on what I believe were mistakes that were made in the past and present but during these few days of the family’s mourning, I will refrain from doing so. I do not know how long this sense of forgiveness can last for me but it is a process, and I hope that as the nation goes through this journey together in each of our own way, something good can come out from it.)

My Thoughts on Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s Future

Lee Kuan Yew Singapore Future

Photo credit for Lee Kuan Yew: Singapolitics

I was asked about my thoughts on Lee Kuan Yew’s “legacy”. This was my response. 

Lee Kuan Yew is respected by many Singaporeans, for what he has contributed to Singapore’s growth though I need to add that much of the development of Singapore in the early years has to also be attributed to a team of people, who have unfortunately been forgotten for their contributions. It might be more meaningful to talk of the contributions of them as a group – Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, S. Rajaratnam etc – so that we can have a good sense of how Singapore’s success should be seen in perspective.

On the same note, Singapore’s economic development in the first 20 years of independence, from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s was actually on the right track, where wages were increasing, income inequality was decreasing and interest rates on the pension funds were increasing. In short, people’s lives were getting better. In the first 20 years of Singapore, the Singapore Model was working well because there was “balance”, where wages and the living standards were rising in tandem with growth.

However, from the mid-1980s, the new policies became decidedly less favourable towards Singaporeans, where the government reduced health subsidies and where public housing and education prices escalated by even several times over. From the mid-1990s, real wages for the low-income workers started stagnating and for the middle-income, this has been happening for the past 10 years. And some Singaporeans are today beginning to feel that Singapore is seeing a reversal of our fortunes in the last five to 10 years.

Rightfully or not, in the mid-1980s, when Lee Kuan Yew removed the “Old Guard” or first-generation leaders who has helped to build Singapore in the first 20 years and replaced it with the second-generation of leaders who were too eager to please, it caused the system to go out of balance, where we have reached a point today where wages are too low, prices are too high and where Singaporeans cannot save enough to retire, and poverty is estimated to have risen to even 30%.

As such, Lee Kuan Yew had a good team of people in place in the first 20 years of Singapore who worked with him to build Singapore but his team thereafter, from the 1980s, did not perhaps have the foresight and ethical beliefs as the “Old Guard” had, and because of that, the system could not be well-maintained.

As a result, this has contributed to the belief that the current PAP leaders are in the business of politics for money, also because they earn the highest salaries among politicians in the world, as well as because they have pegged their salaries to the richest in Singapore, who also earn the highest salaries among the developed countries.

Thus if you ask me, Lee Kuan Yew could have a much favourable legacy but his selection of people after the first-generation leaders, as well as their obedience in an effort not to offend him have resulted in a system which became lopsided, as they were too eager to get into his good books. Thus Lee Kuan Yew’s formidability and wrath became a double-edged sword. Some Singaporeans believe that Lee Kuan Yew’s dictatorial leadership in the earlier years of independence was necessary as it helped to fasten Singapore’s development but it is also this fear that has even stuck into the highest levels of governance that has caused an unquestioning principle towards his way of working which has also caused the policies to become skewed. At least the “Old Guards”dared to challenge him and maintain that stability and balance for Singapore.

I would say that Lee Kuan Yew’s temperament was a characteristic that moulded Singapore’s initial growth but it was also because of this unforgiving trait that has institutionalised fear into the system which has become an unhealthy impediment for the growth, and more importantly, sustainability of Singapore.

Thus moving forward, what does this mean for Singapore? I think Singapore has to go back to the basics. First, over the last 10 to 20 years (or even 30 years), policies that have been created have moved away from caring for the people. When the People’s Action Party (PAP) removed “equality” from their constitution and replaced it with “self-reliance” in 1982, that was when their policies became more selfish, if I may add. In a way, Lee Kuan Yew was instrumental to this as he was still the Secretary-General of the PAP when the constitution was changed and he was also the prime minister who retired the “Old Guards” in the 1980s and brought in the second-generation leaders who created the imbalanced policies.

What we need to do at this point is to undo some of these policies and their effects and to bring balance back to Singapore. Thus we need to increase wages to bring it parity, so that income inequality and poverty can be reduced. The government also needs to increase health and education subsidies so that all of Singaporeans can be uplifted, and not just the select few in the elites. Also, pension returns need to be returned to the people and transparently managed, so that Singaporeans will be protected for their retirement. In that sense, we have to remove or reduce a lot of the complications that have bogged down our system and which are making the system less efficient. We need to streamline the system and start making it more focused towards the people, and to protect the people.

In short, the government has to stop pursing a business/profit-motive and to start taking care of the people. The PAP over the past 30 years have steered away from the objective of governance – for the protection of the people, and so, either the PAP has to regain a sense of ethical responsibility or Singaporeans have to do what is right to for themselves and to vote in a new government that will take care of and protect them. I think the latter is a more viable alternative, seeing how the PAP has become rigid and entrenched in its ways and is resistant to change.

Singapore cannot continue on the current modus operandi that the PAP has taken for the past 30 years. We either have to go back to where Singapore was in the first 20 years, in terms of the balance that was attained, or to allow a renewal, where Singaporeans are engaged and empowered to make decisions for the country and partake in the country’s growth. The very reason why the first-generation leaders wanted to focus on educating the population was precisely because a more educated populace will be able to help the country grow.

The current development of Singapore is not sustainable if we continue on a model of self-inflicted price escalation and artificially-depressed wages where the growing inequality can tear the social fabric apart. We need to focus on bringing our country back to balance.

As such, is it to follow Lee Kuan Yew’s approach or is it to create a new approach? It really depends on which era and which team you are talking about. Where Lee Kuan Yew had a good team in the first-generation leaders, Singapore was progressing nicely. Where he later transited into a second-generation (and then third-generation) leaders who lack the gumption and who became submissive and less ethical in their approach, it has instead thwarted Singapore’s development path.

So, is it to follow Lee Kuan Yew’s approach or not? I would say it is about putting in a team which has the heart for Singapore and Singaporeans, as well as the other inhabitants on this island, and which have the foresight and belief to start re-investing back in Singaporeans, for our health and education, and retirement for the elderly, so that with the right commitment to the people, we can bring our country back on track. Where a dictatorial leadership might work in the earlier years of consolidation and growth, a more equitable and collaborative governance is needed now where the PAP does not monopolise or hold onto power stridently, but where governance becomes a shared and decentralised responsibility and distilled among the people.

Only with unity and equality, and justice and fairness, can we see Singapore move towards a brighter possibility, and this also requires Singaporeans to let go of the fear that the idea of Lee Kuan Yew has created, and to be willing to restart our engagement with our country.

What You Should Ask the PAP Government about Singaporeans’ CPF

By Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Roy Ngerng

The PAP has sent out its activists to give out flyers in the Aljunied GRC to ask residents to question the Worker’s Party on its finances.

WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK WP'S ALJUNIED HOUGANG PUNGGOL EAST TOWN COUNCIL

But even as the PAP claims that there are “serious problems” with the Worker’s Party financial management, the PAP government’s management of the CPF funds of Singaporeans is equally questionable. We wrote up some questions in the design of a flyer.

Please feel free to print out and distribute this flyer to ask Singaporeans to question the PAP government on its management of our CPF and why the PAP has not been transparent. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK THE PAP GOVERNMENT

WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK THE PAP GOVERNMENT

Dear Singaporeans,

The PAP government has refused to come clean on some serious problems that will affect you.

1) Improper Governance

  • The PAP government has given $275 billion of our CPF pension funds to the GIC and Temasek Holdings to invest. The PAP government said that it does not interfere in the GIC’s investment decisions and the GIC up until last year said that it does not know if it uses our CPF because it said that this is not made explicit to them by the PAP government. However, the GIC is chaired by the Singapore prime minister and the board of directors are also made up of the two deputy prime ministers, several ministers and ex-ministers. Temasek Holdings is also managed by the prime minister’s wife. It is not known how much she is paid and how her salary is determined. The PAP government and GIC certify their own work and pay themselves, with little checks and would not release transparent and full reports.

2) Overcharging by the PAP Government

  • From 1974 to 1986, we were earning 6.5% on our CPF. The PAP government then said that it would peg the CPF interest rates to the banks’ interest rates to give us higher returns but since 1986, the CPF interest rates have instead been dropping and dropping until it has reached the lowest at 2.5% (on the Ordinary Account).
  • Compared to the other countries, the PAP government charges the highest investment costs to manage Singaporeans’ CPF and gives the lowest returns. This is our “lost money”. It means we have less money to retire on and to pay for our housing, healthcare and education.

WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK THE PAP GOVERNMENT Pension Fund Returns 2014

Sources: Sweden, Switzerland, India, AustraliaMalaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore

3) GIC and Temasek Lost More than $100 Billion in 2008

  • In 2008, GIC and Temasek Holdings lost $117 billion, which was nearly 80% of the value of our CPF at that time. In 2008, the PAP government then suddenly increased the CPF Minimum Sum. We do not know if our CPF has been used to paid for these losses because the PAP government has never submitted transparent and full reports.

The PAP government deliberately remained silent to important queries posed by Singaporeans.

You deserve immediate answers to the following questions:

  1. Why did the PAP government say that it does not interfere in the GIC when it sits on the board of directors of the GIC?
  2. How much did the PAP government, GIC and Temasek Holdings earn from our CPF and how much are Singaporeans losing?
  3. Why did the PAP government charge higher investment costs than other countries to manage our CPF?
  4. Why did the PAP government take our CPF to earn 6% to 16% in the GIC and Temasek Holdings but return only 2.5% to 4%?
  5. What is the latest financial situation at the CPF, GIC and Temasek Holdings and will the PAP submit full reports?

You can print out and distribute this flyer to ask Singaporeans to question the PAP on its management of our CPF and why the PAP has not been transparent.