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.
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.
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.
“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.