This is what defensiveness looks like

Dr Maliki Osman attempted a rebuttal of Associate Professor Teo You Yenn’s influential book This is what inequality looks like. The commentary published in The Straits Times took a swipe at the book from the get go, with the headline “This is what helping families looks like”.

The commentary follows Sudha Nair’s warning about giving help to the undeserving, and reads like an unmitigated defence of the status quo. It initially rebuts “some commentators”, and attributes AP Teo’s points to this broad group, but eventually names AP Teo and her book closer to the end. To be honest, it doesn’t really answer Teo’s points well; there are chapters in Teo’s book that directly critique Dr Maliki’s points. It seems that only those who have not read Teo’s book would give much weight to Dr Maliki’s article.

There is also a major internal weaknesses in Dr Maliki’s argument, which is how he says “we need to be careful about using some particular cases or groups to generalise about the poor, the system, and the outcomes”, but then spends more than half of the article using particular cases or groups to support his claim that the system is a-okay.

But I’m letting the little things distract me. Of more concern is piece of the big picture Dr Maliki’s article (and Ms Nair’s) helps to fill, and it is shaping up to be an ugly picture. The picture shows that the G, is not listening to even the most fair-minded and well-meaning criticism.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s promise that the new batch of political leaders will “listen with humility and respect” has been shown to be untrustworthy, and this as the G gears up to run another round of “conversations” with Singaporeans.

“The fourth generation leadership will listen with humility and respect. We will consider all views with an open mind, and adjust our course accordingly. We will communicate the thinking behind our decisions clearly. We will bring Singaporeans together and give everyone a role to turn good ideas into concrete action.’’

Tracing from events as recent as the Parliamentary hearing on fake news, where Dr Thum Ping Tjin was grilled for six hours about his doctoral work on Operation Spectrum. He presented an interpretation of historical documents that ran against the G’s long-held narrative, and became the target for ministerial excoriation.

Then, ST Editor-at-Large Han Fook Kwang’s suggestion that the G communicate more clearly, with less jargon and empty words, was met with a stern letter from the Ministry of Finance, which completely missed the point of his column and took him to task for some minor point.

Even Mr Seah Kian Peng’s stirring plea to balance economic values and moral values was met with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung’s cold-sounding call to “self-discipline” via a “clean wage”. That was followed by MCCY Minister Grace Fu’s insistent defence of the cleanliness of MP parking fees. We then discover that they pay a mere dollar a day to park in any HDB car park in the nation.

All this considered, the picture is forming of a G that talks about listening to us, but really means that they are listening defensively – to rebut, to invalidate, or to keep tabs on our thoughts. Or perhaps the best we can hope for is that they pretend to listen so that we can vent our frustrations, in the hope that we may be amenable to waiting for change that will never come.


Note: Independent research has indicated that about 10 per cent of Singapore’s resident population earn below $500 per capita – a definition of financial hardship. Of these about 60% are working, 20% are unemployed, and 20% are retired. There are many G schemes to help, like Silver Support and Com Care, but their total payouts fall desperately short of any reasonable subsistence level.

Featured image from Pexels.



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