I fear for Singapore. In fact, all of you should fear. If we are not careful, the demise of Singapore as a successful political and economic model is nearing.
Reading the vicious personal attacks online in the last two weeks on the two Ministers Vivian Balakrishnan and K Shanmugam which include bringing in their innocent family members into the fray, I wonder how long more these two men could keep going. Mind you, these are good men who have made tremendous sacrifices in both monetary, physical and emotional terms for the country, much as some of the detractors there refused to believe.
Sure, it is so easy to argue, Oh you are a public servant, coming under vicious and defamatory attacks is part of the job. Easy for detractors to say that when they are not the ones who gave up lucrative careers worth millions of dollars to help Singaporeans secure a safer and better livelihood, day in day out, year in year out. Why should Shanmugam and Vivian be subject to such unfair and vicious victimization just because they want to do something good for the community. For those who have forgotten, both men made their money in the private sector well before entering politics. Vivian was a top eye surgeon while Shanmugam was one of Asia’s leading litigation lawyers.
Speaking as a medical doctor, I shudder to think if some day for some stupid reasons, people start attacking doctors as blood suckers who are making lot of money and living in nice homes and should be hounded online. Do we still want to continue practicing? Do we still want the best people to be neurosurgeons, cancer, heart specialists? By the same token, politicians and civil servants who manage billions of dollars for us and navigate crises such as Covid and bilateral disputes for our country?
And don’t tell me about what is being practised in US or UK politics. We, as decent Singaporeans with good community and moral values, are better than that. Should Shanmugam and Vivian decide to walk out, it would only give satisfaction and victory to that same group of small-minded Opposition and their usual echo chambers who have never done anything good for the country, let alone act in the best interest of us all. Some of these – political failures and scammers – have always come from a position of personal vendetta. When that day comes, it would mean we have arrived at a sorry state of political development that will bring us all down the drain. The Singapore exceptionalism of political sacrifice and public service can no longer exist.
Now why do they attack the two, in particular, the Law Minister? Well, when you want to bring down a building, you attack the strongest pillar that holds the structure together. Shanmugam, the fearless and fearsome litigation lawyer who has been the staunch defender of the Singapore successful political system, would be the best person to target if you want to weaken the PAP leadership and bring them down in the next General Election. If the man, who runs the hardest ministry handling difficult issues such as public security, drugs and terrorism and always willing to speak the truth to those who want to destroy Singapore, walks out of Cabinet, detractors or even some ordinary Singaporeans could now say “See PAP is no longer that good and can’t keep good men’’. (Hmm, can you imagine Pritam Singh running the country and Jamus Lim helming Law and Home Ministries?)
But what saddens me are the useful idiots out there who keep parroting populist lines to attack these two. Politics of envy at its worst. Shanmugam, from what I have read, had given up an annual income of between 6-8 million a year for a $1 million job, a drop of 80-90 per cent in income. Assuming a drop of 6 million a year, what he sacrificed could easily be around 90 million in the last 15 years.
Really who cares where he lives? Are public servants not allowed to rent from the Government as long as it is done above board? Does that mean those who are in senior HDB positions should not be allowed to buy or rent from HDB?
And if the ministers had spent money – possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to freshen the houses – isn’t that great for the taxpayers? That upgrading which surely will increase value of the property would have saved SLA from spending money on maintaining them? The fact is a lot of these properties are not well sought after by those who can afford them because given the prices, these rich tenants can easily afford better quality GCBs in the same district without the hassle of spending money to bring these dilapidated homes to life.
Now if it is about the tendering process and possible conflict of interest, why not wait for the review and Parliament sitting where MPs including Workers Party can query anything about the deals and embarrass the Government and the Ministers if the answers are not satisfactory?
Of course, not. Because the vicious Opposition is going milk this period to colour public opinion and weaken the Government’s position. The narrative? These are rich out-of-touch Ministers who cannot connect with the heartlanders.
What I find the most misleading and amusing is they compare the current “rich’’ Ministers to the first Generation of leaders who were supposedly humble, have good feel for the people and yes, very frugal. I am afraid people who attack others always suffer from selective retention when it comes to history. When it suits them, LKY and company are the most compassionate and frugal leaders which they now suddenly admire.
But do not forget, the first-Generation leaders were also made up of very, very rich lawyers, bankers, academicians, journalists who were far far less accessible to the commoners. Most of these top leaders, LKY, Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San, Hon Sui Sen, EW Barker lived in luxurious bungalows at a time when most Singaporeans could not even buy HDB yet. Unlike many of the current leaders who come from humble background (Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat and Shanmugam), most of the first-Generation leaders came from privileged families who could afford to send them to study overseas in the 1940s.
They were also the same leaders who were locking up critics, artists, journalists, unionists, religious leaders and political opponents, most of them without trial. Remember Ho Kwon Ping and Kuo Pao Kun? They allowed little or no media freedom or freedom of expression. Some of the bloggers and politicians who have been defaming the Ministers would have been sued or suppressed viciously by now if these men had been in charge.
Now all said, what exactly is this whole saga all about? It is politics, stupid. Corrosive politics practised by the worst kind in UK and USA. Politics of envy used by self-interest politicians that are fed to useful idiots. Almost Trump-like populist politics that are used to stoke anger to weaken the Government. Do not fall for it, fellow Singaporeans.
I don’t have a chance to meet them. But I sincerely hope the two Ministers are seen by the rational segment of the population as victims and not villains. My hope is that they remain committed to their jobs and stay strong despite all the unfair and vicious victimization. To do that, they need all our support and encouragement. The silent majority must speak up. But should the alternative happen, meaning the two walk out, it would signal to the rest of Singapore that this kind of politics is acceptable, and it would make recruitment even more difficult for both the PAP and the Opposition. That cannot be good for Singapore.
When a hardcore communist like Deng Xiaoping declared “it is glorious to be rich’’ and signal to China that it is ok to make money, the country started working and lifted over half a billion of people out of poverty. That was the biggest poverty eradication in the entire history of human race. The day we start allowing politics of envy to bring down good men and women in our Government, is the day Singapore exceptionalism as we know it, ends. Be very fearful.