We will pay the price for unrealistic views of Lee

Seven days are over, and now I have the time and proper space to make sense of all that has been said about Lee Kuan Yew over the last week. Lee casts a long shadow over all of Singapore, and how we handle his narrative in the years and decades to come will have great bearing on how we change as a society.

Lee Kuan Yew (image credit: biography.com)

Lee Kuan Yew (image credit: biography.com)

In death, the man still has the power to unite us. From his grave, he still could be the one to tear us apart. But the choice rests with us rather than with him – our handling of the legacy that we, willingly or unwillingly, have in our hands.

There are two ways forward now. In one future we polarise ourselves, we retreat into two camps: one that idolises and one that vilifies (both unjustifiably). In another future we manage to gather our senses, sit down together and have earnest conversations about the man and about our future.

Lee Kuan Yew was unashamed of his choices – why are we ashamed on his behalf? Why the need to fabricate some narrative of unmerited perfection? Sure, he has received some unfair criticism, but even while it is wise for critics to steer away from criticisms during the man’s wake, it is similarly disrespectful to caricature his achievements and the hard choices he made.

MOE all but mandated a whitewashed history lesson in the days after his passing, and most teachers fed it to their students unedited. Die-hards like Calvin Cheng and Indranee Rajah had to reach for mockery and distortion to try and rebut what they saw as attacks on Lee Kuan Yew’s character. Talk about there being no trade-offs is pure nonsense. Talk about us having sacrificed only bad things in exchange for good things is likewise naive. Talk about how everything is totally humane fails to give Lee credit where he is due – that he made and stood by his choices in a fallen world where not everything can be win-win for everyone all the time.

And this is also the very same mistake that many of his critics make – seeing his actions in isolation and refusing to acknowledge the effective but imperfect outcome.

If Lee had not made those choices, and sacrificed dreams, even people, we would not have what we have today. And by any sensible critic’s reckoning this outcome for Singapore, out of all possible outcomes, is far, far better than what we could ever have hoped for.

Lee also sacrificed a part of his humanity. One cannot make hard choices like he did without hardening within; and to live with no regrets as he did meant that a hard pragmatism had to overrule.

Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is admirable BECAUSE he made those sacrifices. He is a leader par excellence BECAUSE he had to bear the consequences of the people he sacrificed. He is a visionary without peer BECAUSE of all the futures and freedoms he steered us away from. As much as I may want an apology for all the things he did, I honestly am glad that he never apologised. The legacy handed to us is crystal clear.

Let us remember the man he truly was, not some cartoon hero or villain of our own imagination.

Urumi and M Ravi welcomed at St Patrick’s Day Parade

I work at the agency doing PR for St Patrick’s Day (although I write this in my personal capacity) and we’ve worked hard (along with organisers SRO) to make it an inclusive, celebratory and totally rocking weekend event. There was great food, great bands (shamelessly promoting especially The Disclaimers and Craic Horse), and flowing Guinness (our dear sponsor, here’s a #jointhecrowd for you). Contrary to assumptions, this was a family event too, with all sorts of entertainment for the kids over the weekend.

Some Indian urumi drummers showed up (as expected), as did M Ravi (not as expected), and they were warmly welcomed by both local and Irish organisers. Parade chairman Colin MacDonald, while walking through the parade before it began, shook hands with Ravi and welcomed him personally. I’m not sure what part of that Ravi considered “negotiations”, but I think Colin certainly won Ravi over. That was about all that transpired between Colin and Ravi (no negotiations, not much shock expressed, etc). After the parade, the entourage proceeded to Hero’s for a few drinks (mostly Guinness).

Adding some urumi kick to the parade. And lots of dancing in the back by M Ravi.

Adding some urumi kick to the parade. And lots of dancing in the back by M Ravi.

I just want to make it clear that at no point had anyone ever rejected their participation – the parade is and has always been open to the public, and stands as a testimony to Singapore’s multicultural and inclusive spirit, so that rumour about some unnamed Singaporean organiser is utterly confusing.

Nonetheless, the important thing was that the Indian drummers were a welcome part of the celebrations, this year and in any year to come. Colin MacDonald said that “the St Patrick’s Day parade is and always he’s been organized by a joint Singaporean and Irish organizing committee. We welcome everybody to join. Next year, please come down and bring your drums; bring everything! We welcome you!”

Ravi’s attendance (and I guess the drummers’ too) was orchestrated by Augustin Lee (Zixu Augustin Lee). All I can say is… COME DOWN TO BOAT QUAY AND HAVE A DRINK LAH.

Parliament’s new drinking law not steady on its feet

Drinking-related shenanigans have got to go, but this new law makes no sense to me. I am all for an end to the disamenities and crime caused by public drinking. After all, I live within 200m of a popular drinking area, and some people do get a little unruly on the weekends. I’ve even had some of my property damaged by drunks. Yet I believe that this new law is a terrible way to tackle the issue.

linked from singapore.coconuts.co

Purpose

According to Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran, this law was passed to “tamp down liquor-related disamenities and preserve public order, in response to feedback.”

Which disamenities? The rioting? The affray? The public drunkenness? The vomiting? The littering? We have laws for these already, and are apparently not enforcing them properly (since so many people seem to still be breaking them). There’s even an existing law against being drunk and incapable in public – why not use what we already have? What is this new law going to add to our police’s ability to keep the peace, and at what cost?

We now have lost the freedom to drink peacefully in public and in return we may not get what we want at all, simply because nobody is putting boots on the ground. People who are daring enough to break one law will have no qualms about breaking two. If the Ministry of Home Affairs can show that its officers are effectively policing existing laws, but that they need more laws to keep people on the straight and narrow, then we can take the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) law more seriously.

The privacy issue

Foreign worker dormitories are considered public places for this law. This is a disturbing invasion of the privacy of private spaces, when a law can be passed to make it count as public space.

MP Hri Kumar Nair is on the record asking about how this “could unnecessarily single out foreign workers.” This is a sentiment that worries me too.

Iswaran counterclaimed that “workers can continue to drink in their private quarters according to whatever rules they have in their dorms… And they can also continue to drink in the beer gardens in their dorms, until such time as it is allowed under the licence. So it will not unduly constrain foreign workers in the dorms.”

You mean that an argument of ‘Oh, they already have some curbs, some private rules, this doesn’t change their life much. Let’s just pass this law to invade their privacy since they already have very little of it’ is considered robust? You mean this isn’t a strong hint that we are, basically, trampling on foreign workers’ rights? It’s like passing a law that says that it is legal to chop off the missing limbs of amputees. No practical implications, but inhuman, foolish and potentially dangerous nonetheless.

Unenforced – a mockery of a law

CNA clarifies that “The new law is to encourage responsible drinking and considerate behaviour. As long as members of the public act in an appropriate behaviour and are not rowdy, the police will not step in and instead, focus on the more problematic areas.” Iswaran says as much himself.

Did he actually say that Parliament passed a new law but that the Government wouldn’t enforce it in its entirety? Then why pass it in its entirety? One application of the law for one group and another application of the law for another group is just going to be a big mess. Not to mention that it is unjust, inequitable, and shakes the foundations of why we have laws in the first place.

Iswaran also “emphasised that the intent is not to penalise the mere possession of alcohol.” Well, if the house doesn’t intend to penalise the mere possession of alcohol, then why pass a law that penalises the mere possession of alcohol? The loose logic baffles me.

Grey areas – impossible to police

The existence of grey areas is another sign that this law is going to be problematic. It will either result in people getting away with breaking the law, or result in abuse of the interpretation by the police. Perhaps both.

This letter to TODAY spells out some of these grey areas.

Changing behaviour – no statistics

Okay, so there are all these people getting drunk and then committing crimes. They drink past 10:30pm (most drinkers do). Nobody has presented any data on whether they were drinking in public or in private before the incidents happened. Other than the littering and noise, how many of the other crimes and offences were caused by persons drinking in public (vs private)? Isn’t it a classic case that people get liquored up INSIDE and then take their drunken grouses OUTSIDE (in public) to get settled? How much of this sort of behaviour can be attributed to actual public drinking after 10:30pm?

Without the data, how can we be sure that change will be seen? Iswaran makes a big deal about having a national ban because without islandwide curbs, he believes that the problem “will only push the problem to other areas

Never mind that this was not the case with the Little India riots. The drinking ban there did not simply move riots to other parts of Singapore.

If Iswaran is worried about the problem being pushed to other areas, doesn’t he realise that these “other areas” will include indoor areas as well? Won’t people get off the streets, get into the bars, and then come out and commit their crimes as they always do?

A bad trade

It seems we have traded a lot of freedoms for comparatively few concrete or guaranteed benefits. Moreover, we have traded in a lot of freedoms for marginal gains in our enforcement arsenal. Either that, or we are slowly making a mockery of our legal system by making laws that are not evenly enforced.

What are our MPs doing?

Other than Hri Kumar Nair’s objection to the invasion of foreign workers’ privacy (a point that was brushed off), few other MPs questioned the law in depth. Tin Pei Ling challenged the asymmetircal strip-search powers of police to no effect. Only NCMP Lina Chiam roundly opposed the law and also managed to squeak out a vague point about a lack of consultation.  Few others raised the pertinent questions listed above (or at least I haven’t read any published in the news).

Consultation isn’t the biggest problem here, even though it is a problem. The problem is why our elected representatives are not asking the right questions, or are not getting the right answers, and how a law that seems to be so flawed was passed so easily.

Who will lead labour after Lim Swee Say?

Love him or hate him (or puzzle at his odd quips), Lim Swee Say has been a fixture in the Labour Movement for the last 8 years and has exercised considerable influence in this sphere. But now that he has announced his clear intention not to fill the post again, the question is: who will (and will it matter)?

Every NTUC Secretary-General since Devan Nair has held a cabinet position, often concurrently. I don’t expect that to change this time around. Why this is so is probably because of the longstanding relationships between the NTUC and the PAP, as an alliance between the two had formed during the struggle for independence and during the years after. Some say that the PAP controls the NTUC. Others say that the NTUC has clout in government. Perhaps both are true.

Either way, this means that the pool of candidates is not very large – look at the cabinet. The other heirs apparent over the years have faded away – Josephine Teo, Halimah Yaacob and Ong Ye Kung all once held key positions but are no longer with the movement.

Neither Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How nor the Assistant Secraties-General: Ms Cham Hui Fong, Mr Patrick Tay Teck Guan, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal Sapari seem to possess the political clout for the position.

In my reckoning, it seems possible that Josephine Teo may be positioned to take up the mantle, but at the same time she still doesn’t command the political power necessary for the position. It would be a step backwards as well, since she had already left the NTUC to fulfill her role as Minister of State.

Grace Fu seems another possibility, since she is also a minister in the PMO and well exposed to the private sector, but an another interesting candidate pops up within the cabinet.

Chan Chun Sing.

Kee chiu.

Kee chiu.

Whatever you want to say about him, he has a certain demeanour that the rank-and-file can understand; something that reminds me of Lim Swee Say – very “on the ground” (okay lah, “low class” if you’re a hater), in spite of a career as a SAF scholar. Moreover Chan Chun Sing was the chosen replacement for Lim Swee Say in my Buona Vista constituency. Who is to say that history will not repeat itself (because it is going to be the same people making these decisions)?

Chan Chun Sing as NTUC Secretary-General will throw up synergies with his current portfolio as Minister for Social and Family development. Hopefully his constant exposure to those who are suffering the most will mean that he will find avenues to raise wages to sustainable levels as NTUC Sec-Gen.

We’ll have to wait for October to see.

Discriminatory parental benefits – stop giving excuses

There’s nothing to call it but discrimination. The only takeaways from Minister Tharman’s latest justification of our discriminatory laws against parents and children from single-parent families is the usual “support married women who remain in the workforce and raise their children within the context of marriage”. Marriage is laudable and it is to be encouraged, but discriminatory laws and benefits are not the way to do it.

While we acknowledge and appreciate the benefits already dished out to both married and unmarried parents, the visible gap in benefits is a blow to many of Singapore’s children. This bare-faced prejudice will only perpetuate the hate when the children of single parents realise that they have been given second-class citizenship. The rationalised argument of “children still receive equal benefits” is hogwash. My earlier post details the discriminatory gap:

Unmarried mothers (parents) do not receive: Baby Bonus Cash Gift and Child Development Account, 8 weeks of Maternity leave, Paternity leave, Shared parental leave, Parenthood tax rebate, qualifying child relief, handicapped child relief, working mother’s child relief, and grandparent caregiver relief, Foreign Maid Levy Relief, Housing grant for families and Housing priority schemes.

Is the minister trying to tell us that children receive no benefit from these things? That these are only enjoyed by their parents? The children of these parents are not discriminated against at all?

The bogeyman of moral hazard is clearly false – it has been shown time and again that giving better protection to divorcees has not in fact impacted the divorce rate, that giving incentives like the Baby Bonus has not been able to make a dent in the birth rate, that these days, Singaporeans don’t give much thought to government policies when making major family/life choices. But it seems that the G would rather take the moral low ground.

The G clearly has no idea how to win hearts in this context. There are better ways to encourage marriage and to encourage the raising of children. We should not need to scrape the bottom of the policy barrel to punish those who sometimes have little choice in their life circumstances.

If the G wants to appease and support specific (or maybe most) religious sensitivities, then do so within those spheres. Encourage members of those faiths to actively support raising children within the context of marriage and organise resources for them to use. If there are specific secular groups that also support raising children within the context of marriage, they too can enjoy G support for that agenda.

By law, however, we cannot afford to make discrimination official. This will tear at the very fabric of our society that the G claims to be trying to preserve.

GE 2015 – first blood to Chee

The boundaries haven’t even been announced, but it seems that the first shots have already been fired in GE 2015 (or is it 2016?). Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing’s rebuttal to two articles penned by SDP’s infamous Sec-Gen Chee Soon Juan was all over the local dailies, signalling what is probably the starting gun for a drawn-out pre-election campaign.

It is worth noting that Chan wrote the letter in his capacity as Minister, an odd choice given that none of the subjects broached had anything to do with his ministry. What was that for?

Unfortunately for Chan, it seems that Chee has gained the better of him in this encounter, and the initiative shifts to the SDP, who last Saturday announced their interest in contesting Chan’s Tanjong Pagar GRC.

1) Chee’s agenda gets an airing

These HuffPo articles would have otherwise been missed/ignored by the Singapore public at large. HuffPo, in spite of it’s large US-based online profile, has little traction with the man on the street here. It is pretty left-wing, which makes for a great fit with Chee, but it’s not so much “attention and space” compared to what Chan just gave him.

Right now, any non-MSM socio-political publisher or blogger worth his salt will be talking about Chee. We’ve got no choice! It’s the flavour of the week.

As of now, just past midnight on the 17th, the first article “Without Freedom there is No Free Trade” clocked 109 FB shares and 663 Likes. “Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go” (in spite of its cringeworthy headline) has 59 shares and 494 likes. My bet is that these numbers will spike over the next 48 hours. Too bad I can’t see the article’s viewership stats – that would have been best.

By referring to the articles published on HuffPo, Chan is pulling a buttload of eyeballs to what seem to be two run-of-the-mill Chee Soon Juan pieces that merely re-hash staid SDP election issues. It’s all over the local grapevine now, and this helps spread the SDP message, as old and moldy a one as it is (I’m envisioning spores here).

2) An ad hominem that is going to backfire (or maybe already has)

There are already scores of commentators on social media commiserating with Chee, labeling themselves to be, like Chee, what Chan defines as a “failure”. Mothership went as far as to write a snarky fictitious response from Chee, accusing Chan of likewise never having been elected to represent the people (Chan’s GRC Tanjong Pagar went uncontested in the last GE). That’s a burn.

Don’t ad hominem until the crowd is already riled up (not completely rational) and on your side. Or better yet, don’t ad hominem. Keep it clean. I hope for his sake he was trying to play only to the home crowd.

Chee’s response is mature (mature-sounding at least), if a little overdrawn.

Post by Chee Soon Juan.

3) Missed opportunities for real debate

Chan’s letter to the HuffPo nearly completely neglected to debate Chee’s real points of contention – accusing the USSFTA of contributing (or even causing) Singaporeans’ labour woes and the lack of a free media. SDP’s campaign, launched last Saturday, seemed to address neither of these issues substantially. It would be at least relevant to accuse Chee of being full of hot air when it comes to pushing for real change, since Chee apparently said that he had no plans to push the liberal agenda as he had in previous elections (neither worker’s/human rights nor a free press/speech).

Chan missed an opportunity to talk about the progress made so far on worker’s rights: slow progress, but welcome change nonetheless. His ST forum letter today made more sense – real rebuttals (and in the context of MSF) with a personal snipe at the end, and one that played off Chiam See Tong’s popularity.

Too bad this exchange will be remembered for the snipe rather than the issues.

Chan Chun Sing needs to work on better strategies if he wants to win his first election – something that Chee Soon Juan would be more than happy to do in his stead.

Taxi-Taxi@SG: if you hate LTA’s app, maybe it’s you?

I’ve been there before, standing at the side of the road in the rain watching busy cabs go by, grumbling about how these lazy drivers all go into hiding at the first sign of precipitation. I swear out loud at that ****** **** who popped out 200m down the road and STOLE my fricking taxi, how dare he: I will find you; I will kill you. I try crossing to the other side to try my luck… and then all the cabs start appearing on the side of the road I just left. I curse a random deity. It’s their fault, it’s someone else’s fault – it’s not my fault.

I vacillate between booking a cab and not booking one, battling the inner scrooge wanting to save $2.50 or $4, but still desperate to get my ride. I start to make bookings on GrabTaxi, Comfort and EasyTaxi SIMULTANEOUSLY, proving that I am indeed a douchebag planning to cancel on some poor driver.

Three minutes later I flag down a taxi with a green light, jump in and leave all my bookings to hang. Let them rot – I’ve got what I came for. That’s what the surcharge is for, no? No risk, no return. Muahahahaaaa….

I want it all. I want it now.

And maybe that’s the story behind why we hate LTA’s new, FREE app Taxi-Taxi@SG. We wanted to book taxis, not flag them down. Consider, however, that there are may be some people who do want to flag taxis down: the struggling student, the low-income elderly who need to take a taxi for medical appointments, me when I’m not in a rush. Think of the taxi drivers who are sick of commuters who don’t show up for bookings, wasting their time and money. They just want to see where the general demand is and don’t want to commit to a booking that may end in a no-show.

Nevermind that there are so many applications for this big data that LTA is putting into our hands – think of how the API could be used to enhance bookings by booking apps.

If we wanted bookings, we’d have gone to someone else’s app – LTA isn’t in the business of snatching market share from other companies. It’s not out to generate revenue through taxi bookings (although we all know how ELSE it generates revenue). But forget about that – if the app doesn’t do what I want it to, it sucks.

Because in the world of Singapore taxis, we have no qualms about throwing others under the bus (pardon the pun) if we don’t get what we want, when we want it.