Workers Party no longer the party for the Chinese heartlands

Workers Party no longer the party for the Chinese heartlands

What’s happening to the Chinese heartland champion Workers Party?

Under the new leadership of Pritam Singh, the party has appeared to have abandoned that valuable branding that endeared them to the Chinese heartlands in the East, particularly the Teochew speaking crowd.

To be fair, that shift had begun from about 10 years ago when Western educated professionals were brought to the fore. By 2015, Low Thia Khiang was boasting about his slate of candidates like they were PAP candidates, trotting their credentials such as Oxford, Cambridge degrees, easily forgetting how they used to attack the ruling party for having scholars from top schools.

But never would one imagine Pritam would carry this that far and abandon the whole party branding altogether. This is no longer the party that could speak directly to the heartland uncles and aunties in Hougang, Aljunied, Serangoon and  Bedok Reservoir.

Sample what happened last one week. First, the party failed to turn up a representative on the National Debate because they could not produce a single candidate who could speak Mandarin proficiently. Sure, Low, Png Eng Huat, Chen Show Mao have left the centre stage. Now surely, there are others. Not one. My conclusion : speaking Mandarin proficiently to connect with the heartlands is no longer a pre-requisite for the party. With it goes that important branding and affiliation with the Chinese voters.

Second, they have gone left on social issues. Last couple years, they recruited the likes of Daniel Goh who began to champion causes such as LGBT which was misaligned with his party’s official platform of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, essentially the status quo.

And now it goes even further recruiting privileged class activist Raeesah Khan, daughter of businessman and a former Presidential candidate Farid Khan. Her unfortunate rant on her Facebook – on top of her attack against the police – include a line that suggested rich Chinese are getting unfair better treatment from the police.

Ouch, if you still have doubts that Workers Party has given up on the Chinese party brand, that should do it. Workers Party today is no longer the Workers Party of Low Thia Khiang.

Interestingly, what the party has become now is not just PAP lite as suggested by PM Lee where they take PAP’s policies and just add and minus a couple of percentage points. It has also become SDP lite as well with liberal causes such as LGBT and human rights. In fact, the recruitment and resulting unprincipled rebranding has turned the party into a strange political animal. We no longer know what they really stand for.

Speaking of party stand, the leadership would do well to state unequivocally where it stands on issues brought up by Miss Khan. Does the party agree that the police here favours one or two races at the expense of others? Does the party agree Chinese and Christians are getting unfairly better deal than the minorities in public institutions? Does the party agree that mosques are being harassed? Not a word from the leaders on such key issuses. If it had been uttered by a PAP candidate, the likes of Kirsten Han and Cherian George would step up the self righteous podium and deliver their standard boiler plate lines on equal rights, and care for all races.

Mind you, these are legitimate questions one should ask of a candidate who made such radical assertions. Pritam seemed to suggest he tolerates it by saying he doesn’t want his candidate to whitewash their past behaviour. But if he doesn’t he better clear it up fast before the Hougang Teochews turn on you. Over to you, Pritam.

 

Oppo also elite now

Oppo also elite now

Ok, I haven’t been blogging for a while, thanks to the Covid-19.

So General Elections is here.

And possibly for the first time in recent history we have a televised political debate. That’s nice progress. Good for our country. We are maturing as a society.

Missed out on the Chinese debate. So nothing much to comment there, other than the shocking discovery that the Workers Party – the party ironically prides itself to be close to the Chinese heartlands – not showing up for such an important platform. What has happened to the party led by the Nantah champion Low Thia Khiang. Can’t they even find one bloke to come in and present their manifesto? In any case, I hear Mr Ong Ye Kung won this round hands down.

This underscores an interesting development in the latest GE. For the longest time, I have been troubled by this populist and silly argument that the ruling party is now run by elites who are now out of touch with the masses. The easy-to-bite narrative is these are scholars, civil servants, intellectuals, doctors, financiers etc. They do not understand what it is like to be the poor heartlanders. All silver spoon. How can they understand our plight?

Now with the latest GE, this narrative becomes difficult for the Opposition. Sample this : the English language political debate last night. Two RI boys and two ACS boys expounding complex social inequality issues over the heartland and elite schools. Dr Vivian was a medical doctor from ACS. Dr Chee was a PhD in neuropsychologist and yes from ACS. An RI boy, economist Dr Jamus Lim picks up degrees like he collects stamps – will take too much space here to list all of them here. An American accent to boot. And finally, Francis Yuen, a former SAF scholar and air force colonel who used to be CEO of Hong Leong Asia.  Wait, did some Opposition supporters just say air force scholars should not be running public office because got no relevant experience. How ironic.

I woke up this morning receiving a fun meme from a friend. It asks an interesting question which has been on my mind all this while. What if “Kee Chiu” Chan Chun Sing was a WP candidate – the narrative would then be humble background, one of us common people, speaks dialects, Mandarin, Malay, down to earth. And has a single mother who worked two jobs. We laughed at his Ah Bengness in 2011. But what if degree collector Jamus was a PAP candidate?  Why Angmoh accent, so action, elite background, won’t understand common people. Enough said.

So this out-of-touch elite narrative has become inconvenient for PAP critics. Sample PSP. Besides Francis Yuen, founder Tan Cheng Bock was himself an RI boy and medical doctor. His key leaders – Hazel Poa, PSC scholar in  Government Admin Service from Cambridge, elite to the max; Leong Mun Wai, overseas merit scholar in Government and chief executive of OCBC. The whole party is now made up of elites : admin service, army scholars, doctors, businessmen, and yes, former PAP cadres.

And we haven’t talked about the Workers Party yet. Once a upon a time, they had Chen Show Mao who was an ACS boy with a lucrative multi-million dollar legal career. The party is now filled with Western educated lawyers, accountants, professors, civil servants, etc. To the point that they had no confidence to produce even a proficient Chinese speaker to present their manifesto to the heartlands during a national debate.

Ironic also is Opposition supporters have now suddenly suffered from collective amnesia. Now they are telling Singaporeans on Whatsapp that PAP should not be telling voters about the humble background of their latest batch of candidates – many who came from poor families and worked their way up the corporate ladders. Some of these candidates even gave up careers to run charity organisations to help the needy.

The truth is anti Government critics who used the elite line missed the point. Elitism is never about the family or education background.  In fact, most societies in the history of mankind have been governed by the elites. People like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who speak passionately about the poor were law professors in elite colleges.

Never forget who were the first generation leaders. Lee Kuan Yew was a top lawyer; Goh Keng Swee, a LSE trained economist; Toh Chin Chye, university don; Rajaratnam, an editor; Lim Kim San, a banker and businessman. All elite and this was the 1950s but yet able to connect, campaign, mobilise and lead the country out of poverty.

What we want are sincere, honest leaders who are able to connect, identify key issues and help lift the lives of the people. Opposition supporters should do well to have some intellectual honesty and consistency. So with this historic GE and the emergence of the elites in the Opposition camp, it is time we dropped this nonsense about academic and professional background and focus on the real issues at hand.

Apologise for FW dorms? Shut up already.

Apologise for FW dorms? Shut up already.

Imagine this scenario. A terrorist bomb goes off near a government building. Dozens of people are badly injured. Some have died. There is panic. You are a doctor who happens to be nearby and quickly runs to the scene to help. Everyone around you comes in to help, cleaning wounds, bandaging, comforting victims, calling their families, carrying them to safety. Everyone performs superbly. Selflessness everywhere.

But among the onlookers, there is one retired uncle who is not doing anything. While we are all busy trying to salvage the situation, he is hovering around over us, going on and on about how it is all the Government’s fault, he knows terrorism was going to happen sooner or later. We should have done this. We should have done that. And then he asks you, “Are you going to apologise for all these now?’’

Recently, an NMP with an activist background asked if the government would apologise to the foreign workers for the conditions of their dorms. Previously, she had asked government to give migrant workers GST relief money.

Let’s put aside several glaring facts.

One, that an apology would not help the workers themselves at this moment. And indeed, if there is evidence and ground to show that an apology is needed, is this even the time to discuss it? The government already said it will review the whole crisis.

Two, that the dorms were actually built to provide enough facilities for the workers, and that they are much better than the unregulated cramped dwellings workers live in elsewhere. The FWs would have seen pictures from their compatriots before they chose to come here. Activists insist on blowing up only the cases with bad conditions, and linking them to Covid spread with little evidence, to misrepresent the entire situation.

Three, that we are spending our taxpayers’ money to feed, entertain and heal the FWs, unlike some countries. Many FWs have openly praised and thanked the government for this. Actually, many cash-strapped Singaporeans are already begrudging this, without the expensive changes that the activists are asking for. For god’s sake, they are getting assured salary, free wifi, recreation facilities, ATMs inside dormitory premises, food delivered to their premises. Check with their compatriots in Malaysia where employers are asked to pay for testing for workers.

I could go on and on.

But what I really want to do, is to think about what scenario the activists are asking for.

From TWC2’s website:

–          “A little more living space and a few more showers won’t fix it.”

–          “With some 300,000 workers in dormitories of all kinds, we will need to move about 150,000 out to reduce density by 50%.”

–          The root problem is “(Singapore’s) addiction to cheap labour”.

TWC2 suggests using carparks and bomb shelters to house workers. Are those exactly great living conditions? And what about after the pandemic? After all, they are the ones who say conditions must improve permanently. 150,000 is the same size as Ang Mo Kio town. Do we use taxpayers’ money to house them in HDB flats? Sell and rent to them at discount? Do we give them the same subsidies we get in polyclinics and public hospitals? Send their kids to compete with us for primary school places? Queues will lengthen, taxes will go up, and if we mandate employers to do more, prices will also go up significantly.

I have actually heard an old schoolmate suggest that we give all FWs citizenship because they built our nation. Actually the PAP might be happy about that- the FWs know how it is to have corrupt infighting governments, and will overwhelmingly vote PAP. Let’s see what the activists say then. Bet you the same activists will go ballistic and accuse the PAP of using foreigners to win votes.

Too unrealistic? Let me give you a more realistic scenario then- the activists will actually get what they want. The dorms will be thinned out- not because of any activism, but because the economy will slow down significantly, especially construction.

To mandate better dorm conditions in a hurting economy will actually incentivise employers to cut corners in other ways. Fewer FWs, lower wages, less training, less safety precautions. It will also mean a double whammy to our economy, and higher prices at a time when many Singaporeans will be jobless.

And all for what? To change something that most FWs willingly chose and are grateful for?

Back to the busybody uncle. If you are not helping, if you don’t have better workable ideas that also take into account the costs, please step aside. And shut up.

SG bashed for being too diligent

SG bashed for being too diligent

I know the first rule of the internet is “don’t read the comments”. But with the circuit breaker, we are all bored at home and inevitably we start spending more time on social media. That’s how I saw many comments questioning whether Singapore’s circuit breaker was ineffective, since the case numbers are still high.

Imagine this: A Singaporean foreman works side-by-side with a foreign worker who has Covid-19 but doesn’t know it. The foreman goes home and infects his family, including his elderly parents, wife and 2 teenage children. His children go out to have supper with 2 friends each. That means 10 secondary infections, at least 2 of which are likely to be life-threatening.

Now multiply this by 5,000 infected foreign workers. That’s what would have happened if we hadn’t gone into circuit breaker. The fact that we are seeing 20 plus community infections a day, and not upwards of 2000, shows that circuit breaker is working. There was simply no alternative.

Some are rightly asking, but how did we get here in the first place? How did the infections among migrant workers get so widespread?

The workers’ living conditions can certainly be improved. But epidemiologically speaking, the key was probably not the conditions per se, but simply communal living. One has to remember this: about half of dormitories are infected – including the best equipped and designed ones. We also saw the virus spread like wildfire on one of the most advanced US aircraft carriers. If we hadn’t stopped BMT, the same scenarios would have happened too to our NS boys.

Look, if a student brings home the virus to a condominium flat, it is most likely the whole family will get infected because of close proximity. When you eat together, use the same dining table, utensils, bathrooms, appliances and leisure facilities, your chances of infection is very high. It has little to do with living conditions.

I would caution all the champagne socialists not to be too quick to use an “inequality and ill treatment” narrative to explain the spread. Many of these workers chose Singapore over our neighbours and more importantly, their own countries, to come here to make a living. They know conditions here are better than many places, And the Government, to its credit, has come out strongly to help them, pledging taxpayers’ money to protect their jobs, income and their healthcare needs should they fall ill. Do not be too quick to judge. By contrast, in India, Modi just declared shutdown within hours and let millions of his own walk hundreds of miles, with many starving to death. People like Prof Tommy Koh and Tay Kheng Soon were spending most of their life enjoying the good life and nowhere to be found near the migrant workers. Suddenly they are scolding the government, like they were the only ones who care for the workers?

Could government have moved in earlier to lock down the dorms or thin them out? Easier said than done. If we had locked down the dorms without any sign of viral spread inside, people would have accused us of discriminating against the workers, violating their human rights, blah blah blah.

Thinning them out? Even now, for the 7,000 essential workers in purpose-built dorms, only some have been moved out. Some are being separated within the dorms. That shows how hard it is to accommodate 7,000 workers. Rehousing even half of 200,000 would mean using every scrap of space we have. How many would complain if the unsold unit next to theirs was used for this?

Remember, it was only recently that we know the virus spreads asymptomatically. In February, the government would have decided to treat migrant workers like any other group- if there’s a (symptomatic) case, contact trace and isolate. Like all governments around the world, we were caught by surprise by the asymptomatic spread.

The difference between Singapore and other countries is that we are attempting to trace and stop this. It’s the right thing to do. But instead, people are bashing Singapore when this uncovers high case numbers. Actually, other countries could well have hundreds of thousands of undetected cases. After all, antibody tests suggest more than 20% of New Yorkers test positive.

By the way, that’s also why we’ve changed our stance on face masks– because of new evidence on asymptomatic community spread. The WHO is also reviewing its face mask guidelines accordingly. No one could have known this even a few weeks ago.

I know, the idea of asymptomatic spread is scary. It’s one of the worst case scenarios for us GPs. It means that while the medical world is racing to find a vaccine, the only hope of containment involves widespread distancing and circuit breakers. Yes, with an “s”. They will be incredibly painful. The government will probably have to dip further into the reserves to help people through this.

We all want someone to blame. But blaming the government for not predicting the future will not make the virus any less scary. Let’s stay the course and fight this as one united people. If you’ve read till here, whether you agree with me or not, let me remind you- stay home, stay safe.

Malaysia-It’s All About the Money

Malaysia-It’s All About the Money

Immediately after the defeat of UMNO by a fragile coalition led by Dr Mahathir and his former rival Anwar Ibrahim in 2018, naïve political analysts and unthinking liberals like Bridget Welsh, Thum Ping Jin and Kirsten were quick to jump on the bandwagon to praise the New Malaysia. Swept by all the electoral rhetoric and false promises, they began to tout Malaysia as the beacon of democracy we should all look up to. Not forgetting a few nice photo ops with Dr M himself.

From day one, it was clear from comments made by some in our own establishment that no one truly believed that was going to happen. We humoured them by congratulating them on their new-found enlightenment. Like a good neighbour, we always wish them well and pledge to work with them,

But let’s face it. Insiders all know it that it has always been about Malay supremacy, power and control. What happened in 2018 was not because the Malays were ready to go for a true meritocratic non-race-based society and share wealth and progress equally with others. That was wishful thinking.

What happened then? It was the Malay elites’ own reckless manoeuvering and realignments without regard for national interest that unintentionally landed voters with an unprecedented slate of electoral choices that they were unprepared for. This ironically split the Malay votes that tilted marginally towards the multi-party coalition led by Dr M and Anwar. Oops, suddenly everyone realised this was not what we signed up for. Before you could learn how to pronounce Pakatan Harapan, Dr M and his team were already declaring they would not be keeping their campaign promises.

Anyone who wants to control the Government needs the Malay votes. Pakatan Harapan took one third of the votes and with the help of other races sealed the victory. But one third of Malay votes are not enough to secure a stable government. In any case, that was not what the Malays had wanted. Not good for Malay supremacy and special rights.

What most have forgotten was the 2018 results were mainly a response by the same Malay leaders who have controlled the wealth in the last few decades and who have decided one of their own has taken too much – namely Najib Razak. It was never about giving up Malay supremacy and sharing with people outside this elite group – a corrupt elite that appears to be comfortable with working with anyone, including current and former enemies, to keep the looting going. It was naïve to think only Najib was guilty of kleptocracy.

With that shock new permutation where a group of senior UMNO leaders were now kept out of the loot, the realignment started almost immediately. Anwar was seen on video having discussion with Hishammuddin. Dr M were seen with UMNO and PAS members. Azmin and Anwar split became public. The discussion appeared to be – how can we go back to the bad old days of clear Malay control and keeping power and wealth within ourselves? Malaysian Chinese who thought this time was for real had to be kidding themselves. Is Dr M really going to share power with DAP? Now with MIC and MCA completely obliterated, do they seriously care for the minorities? Dr M has jailed almost all his top coalition partners before. Is he really now friends and comrades with them? Never forget how Anwar had openly accused Dr M of making his own sons rich through shady deals before cutting the 2018 deal with him. Dr M, for his part, had declared for years, that Anwar was not fit to be Prime Minister.

When Singaporeans pointed those out, wide-eyed Malaysians slammed Singaporeans for being jealous of their new found democracy.

But the events of the past week have proven us right. It looks like liberal ideals of a two-party state will not come true, and the balance of power between races is even more one-sided than before.  As usual, we Singaporeans wish our friends up north well.

COVID-19 shows the world Singapore works- and we didn’t say it ourselves

COVID-19 shows the world Singapore works- and we didn’t say it ourselves

No prizes for guessing what a medical professional like me has been busy with in the last month or so. But it is time to come back to my blog to get things off my chest.

Lucky Singapore has thrived in the last five and the half decades by living off other people’s ideological mess, poor governance and idiotic politics. And thank god, that appears to be continuing.

Fresh from independence, we leapfrogged past others during the Cold War when half of the world went to sleep. China, India, Eastern Europe, Indochina, Latin America were all caught up with the nationalistic politics and proxy wars.

By the 1990s, everyone appeared to be waking up and joining the economic race. It was not good for us – small Singapore.

But look at what’s happening in the last few weeks again. Suddenly, all the liberal media and global institutions are becoming a fan of Singapore, when their lives are being threatened by a bug.

The world now faces one of the most serious potential pandemic crises. Singapore was one of the first to catch the virus. The Government acted decisively. Save for a couple days of panic buying of toilet paper and rice, the population was generally resilient, cooperative and rose to the challenge. The frontline staff had been superb.

Not surprisingly, World Health Organization repeatedly hoisted Singapore’s firm and serious response as a model for others to follow, saying they were very impressed by the city state which is leaving no stone unturned. Our effective efforts in testing, contact tracing, quick treatment, quarantine was quickly recognized worldwide. Even the token mask distribution ( a signalling PR exercise at best) as well as our response to the panic buying in the stores impressed our rival city Hong Kong. South China Morning Post was singing praises of our Government’s firm control of the situation while slamming the Carrie Lam Administration which has, of course, lost trust with the public.

And we are winning fans from our usual critics. Sample some of the recent global media reports. Bloomberg, not a big fan of Singapore, complimented Singapore more than once. In its headline last week, the wire said Singapore has emerged as the “litmus test for coronavirus containment’’. Yahoo! dutifully carried the story.

Telegraph’s headline said “Singapore shows how to stop coronavirus without bringing the world to a halt’’. And a Harvard University study said “Singapore’s Gold Standard of Covid 19 detection is far more effective than rest of the world’’. And we got a rare compliment from the New York Times for our effective handling of the cases. Of course, the liberal newspaper had to add that Singapore method works because we are rich and that our response may not be sustainable in the longer term. I don’t see our usual opposition parties or media critics jumping in to dispute these reports for being biased.

Meanwhile, what’s happening around us as the virus spreads wildly in Japan, South Korea, Italy and others. USA and Japan’s leaders continued to mess around with mixed messages sending the stock markets crashing.

Closer to us, Indonesia, with a population of 300 million stubbornly claimed for weeks they don’t have a problem. Sure, if you don’t detect, you get no cases. With the tens of thousands travelling from Indonesia to Singapore every day, I really worry about the spread from there. Without clear leadership and conviction, the country is not ready for the monumental task. (Now they say they have two cases, do you believe them?) As if it was not laughable enough, its Health Minister says the absence of COVID -19 is a blessing from God. And it didn’t help that a learned Government official could actually say within the same week that strong sperm from male swimmers can make women pregnant in swimming pools.

Meanwhile, instead of focusing their energies on fighting this serious pandemic, politicians in Thailand and Malaysia are more eager to engage in manoeuvres to kick one another out of power. In the same week, Thai Prime Minister had to survive a no confidence vote in Parliament while Dr M’s coalition collapsed and Anwar’s ascension to premiership is again derailed. By now, Thailand has firmly established a governance system that has free elections that will be interrupted every few years by military coups. Malaysia’s multi-party system dominated by constant bickering by different greedy Malay segments will continue to rock its political stability. As it is now, there is no meaningful minority representation in the new coalition – dominated by many former corrupt UMNO members and Islamic conservatives in PAS.

Countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia should be doing a lot better than Singapore, given their massive amount of natural resources and talent. In Singapore, we always say we need political stability in the region for us to develop and survive. That said, we also need all these dysfunctional countries politicking within themselves to continue for us to stand out in the region as the real beacon of democracy and economic development.

HK Violence: A Military Option for a Military Situation

HK Violence: A Military Option for a Military Situation

So the violence escalated this week following the death of a Hong Kong student. This column has warned about the inevitability of deaths if the violence was allowed to continue and escalate. With arrows, petrol bombs, sabotages of transport infrastructure and mass arson, it would be a real miracle if no one gets killed. In fact, I fear we will soon be getting a mass casualty situation when fire spreads through a building and kills everyone in it. Watch this space.

But today I want to make two points. First, Hong Kong is not equipped to handle the current security situation. With defence left with Beijing under the One Country Two Systems agreement, the Hong Kong police is not equipped and trained to handle what is no longer a simple civilian protest.

The use of water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas is only effective to quell isolated social unrest or one-off mass protests. What the movement has evolved into is a military operation, well planned and funded. Which can sustain multi-front and long-term attacks. It is guerilla warfare planned with military intent and precision, supported by deadly weapons.

It is no longer a one-off protest but a massive operation mounted from different locations, meant to disrupt a city. It has backing of a financier or financiers, weapon manufacturing capability, communication networks, intelligence collection and more important, thousands of vicious, brave foot soldiers willing to kill. What do you think you should do when the enemy is overpowering you in terms of numbers and weaponry?

So Hong Kong and Beijing leaders have one decision to make – is it time to declare war. This is a military operation that requires military options. We are talking helicopter mounted weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles, snipers, infantry men (Yes live rounds) , intelligence gathering, aerial surveillance ( drones and radar) and disruption of enemy’s telecommunication networks and logistics supply, cutting off the HQ meaning taking out the gang leaders and their backers. And most important, the option to exterminate. Yes, licence to kill. Hongkongers will have to decide if the time has arrived. If you still don’t get what I am talking about, yes, the time for PLA to arrive. Remember, power comes from the barrel of the gun. It is either some deaths now to end the crisis early, or more deaths in a long drawn out conflict. My guess is the unelected Hong Kong civil-servant-trained leadership without a direct mandate does not have the moral authority and courage to do it.

Second, I do feel sad for Hong Kong. It has become one of the most unfortunate and unnecessary political conflicts in recent years. For decades being a pace setter for Singapore economic development, the territory ironically has one of the best governments in the world, in terms of competence, transparency and governance. It is also unfortunate that Hong Kong civil servants are some of the world’s finest, incorruptible, able, eloquent and always looking at what they can do for the people. Year in, year out, they are ranked among the top in the world for economic freedom, rule of law, civil service competence, press freedom, political stability, making them one of the most attractive destinations for investments and tourism. I do not think any of the other liberal democracies including in the USA, Europe or Asia come close to them. So then, what exactly are the freedom fighters asking for if they already have a better Government and freer society than many places?

The only thing they are lacking then is the vote. Self-determination without independence. I say, Beijing, give them universal suffrage. Let them vote for their own Chief Executive and legislature. I bet you to the last dollar, they will still not solve most of their major socioeconomic problems, most which are global in nature. Martin Lee, Joshua Wong, or for that matter anyone in Hong Kong, would not be able to solve anything without the support of the central government and mainlanders. They would not be able to run a highly politicized and divided Hong Kong society. By then, they would have no one but only themselves to blame.

HK: The ugly duckling still thinks she can pick the prince?

HK: The ugly duckling still thinks she can pick the prince?

OK, I have said before that Singaporeans, especially their leaders, have been exceptionally gracious and careful with their public comments so far on Hong Kong. Understandably, it’s not nice capitalising on their current political instability. In any case, it does not serve Singapore any good if Hong Kong does collapse altogether, given how much we have invested in the city.

But I have to respond to this fellow Phil C. W. Chan.

Writing in the South China Morning Post, Chan said he was once a PhD student studying in NUS and understood enough about Singapore to warn Hongkongers looking to flee the Chinese territory that Singapore may not be the “happier, freer land’’ they are looking for. Before they consider emigrating to the republic, consider the fact that Singaporeans do not enjoy the rights and freedom that Hongkongers do, Chan said. So he dishes out his misguided advice on Singapore without much regard to the facts on the ground, the outcomes and how much Singapore had gone way ahead of them with its own brand of effective governance and economic development that has delivered.

First thing first. Let’s get this harsh reality out of the way. Heard of the ugly duckling who somehow thinks she still gets to pick her Prince Charming? Do the Hong Kong youth of today still fit in the mould of what Singapore is looking for in the first place? Ironically, I would imagine Hongkongers should actually be jumping for joy if they do get picked by Singapore immigration recruiters in their search for new citizens. The fact is Hongkongers are no longer the same crop that the Singapore Government was looking for post-Tiananmen – at a time when China was still opening up cautiously.

In a report in 2017 on how well educated students are, the Economist Intelligence Unit warned Hong Kong youth may lose out on jobs because their students are less prepared for a future than their peers in Singapore.  One report even warned Hong Kong was wasting resources in producing so many poor quality graduates that the market did not want. So I was really tickled when one protestor was caught on video trying to spray graffiti with a grammatically incorrect statement.

Hong Kong’s education has not just failed in instilling national identity and patriotism, it has not even educated them well enough in basic skills needed for the economy. Many Hongkongers still have below-par English standards, being more comfortable in Cantonese. Another study found flaws and poor English standards among Hongkongers, describing their English as “barely adequate’’.

In Hong Kong, a degree can no longer guarantee a decent income with one in six graduates taking on low paid unskilled work. Another recent study found that while a Singapore fresh graduate is earning S$S3,500 a month, the equivalent in Hong Kong is S$2,500 a month. What kind of freedom does one have in terms of housing and other key living expenses when you earn that sort of pay in a place where a 284 sq ft apartment can cost HKD $4 million?

It is also here that I would like to point out a misconception that Hongkong offers a low tax environment. Unknowingly, Hongkongers have been paying one of the highest taxes in the world through the Government land premium. The fact is Hongkongers pay half or more than their salary into residential property purchases – the high price being a result of the high land premium collected by the Government when sites are sold to the developers. So effectively, that “tax’’ had been passed to Hongkongers who could be paying the equivalent of astronomical Scandinavian tax rates without the accompanying welfare benefits.

On the other hand, across the border, the mainland Chinese are increasingly fitting in the mould of what Singapore is looking for. Driven, disciplined, eloquent, well educated, proficient in two of Singapore’s official languages: English and Mandarin. And guess what, they are more global as well. Every year, China sends hundreds of thousands overseas to the best universities in Singapore (note we rank way above HK universities), Europe, USA. Many now work in London, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, competing with the best in the world. Thousands of them have made it to Singapore universities, doing their undergraduate degrees, masters, second masters, PhDs in the high-tech sector. These are the ones that Singapore should be picking up. Hongkongers are nowhere near what they can offer us as new citizens.

Now Chan talks about Singapore’s legal system. So Singapore does not have the rights and freedom of what Hongkongers are enjoying today? Freedom to do what? Attack police with petrol bombs, knives, metal poles? Vandalise public property? Block traffic road to disrupt public transport and retail business? Destroy ATM machines? Invade Parliament House and damage it? Burn MTR station and break turnstiles? Burn down PRC-owned shops? Beat up old men on the street who disagree with them? Gladly, we do not need such freedoms. We never planned to take in you guys anyway. In fact, the violence in recent months has added one more negative point to the suitability of Hongkongers in our list on immigrant desirability.

Again, like many of those who write poorly about Singapore, Chan has got his cause and effect wrong. It is exactly the strong laws and enforcement that make Singapore what she is today. For instance, it is because of the effectiveness of the caning deterrence that Singaporeans do not go out there to destroy public property or burn MRT stations and banks. Chan said Singapore would not have allowed demonstrations like in Hong Kong now. Wrong again. I would say we had the foresight to see how such mass demonstrations can go very wrong given the madness and violence that are erupting every weekend and now weekday in Hong Kong today, endangering the lives of so many innocent. Chan would probably say he is fine not being able to go out to the streets now with his family for a nice weekend. But I do want to go out and enjoy my nice weekend here.

On his point about he wouldn’t be able to write any of the stuff about Singapore leaders just like how they are now doing in Hong Kong, my question would be: what exactly do you want to write about Singapore leaders which you think is not allowed? Just about anything that has been written on Carrie Lam would have been allowed here on Singapore leaders or anyone for that matter. Unless Chan believes defamation laws are not necessary and that you are allowed to get away with accusing anyone of anything without proving it.

Ironically, it is the unfettered freedom and irresponsible media and liberal politicians unaccompanied by sound legal, social and economic policies that have led to the violent mess today. While we are still on rule of law, I may want to remind Chan that Singapore ranked in the 95th percentile in World Bank’s ranking for rule of law. We ranked first by World Economic Forum for public trust in politicians, transparency in government and efficiency of legal framework in settling legal disputes. We have beaten Hong Kong in almost every ranking of legal systems, anti-corruption, criminal justice. Just for good measure, Singapore ranked highest in the world in independent rankings on healthcare, education, home ownership and yes, global liveability and quality of life.

While Hongkongers were enjoying their  “rights and freedom’’ quarrelling and fighting among themselves since the handover, Singapore which was only half of Hong Kong’s GDP in 1997 had overtaken them in less than 15 years. And mind you, Hong Kong was backed by a strong hinterland with China growing at high GDP rates. Ironically, it was the protestors themselves who eroded those rights and freedom in the last four months by hurting members of public, blocking traffic, business activities and government proceedings. Not Beijing.

And one more thing – Singapore has the most important rights and freedom that Hongkongers do not get – the vote. We get to decide who runs us every five years. If we think our rights and freedom are infringed and our leaders are not delivering the outcome, we can throw the lot out. Get this right: we have legitimacy and accountability in government.

Despite his training in law with a PhD to boot, Chan appears unable to link policy to good outcomes. The few years of education in Singapore obviously have been wasted on him.

Freedom of speech- but only for some

Freedom of speech- but only for some

In a column in the Straits Times, a local journalist says when the Government responded to Alfian Saat’s involvement in the Yale-NUS saga, it was coming down hard on him and the Government can be deemed to be over-domineering. I guess when the columnist slams the Minister publicly, she is not deemed to be coming down hard on the Government. She even bends backwards to say Alfian was not referring to himself in his poem when he talks about his disdain for Singapore, just like a teapot is not the poet when a poet says “I am a teapot”.

Oh, come on. Either you are really that naïve or you are just plain dumb.

There lies the issue I have with many of these government critics. Alfian can be as offensive as he wants whenever he writes about others, including other races. He once said in a Facebook post, that the word ‘cheena’ could be simply from the Malay word for ‘Chinese’. He said it might not be a slur, it could refer to only “stereotypical” Chineseness. In fact he wrote a play about a ‘cheenah’, which going by the poster is an ah-lian-type character. Just imagine if a Chinese person said, I know where the term ‘keling’ comes from, it refers to only those very stereotypical Indians, you Indians shouldn’t get offended by it!

But when these people get called out, suddenly it is about oppression, ruling party over domineering, dictatorship, end of the civilised world as we know it. Otherwise it is mere creative licence, oh you country bumpkins don’t get it. This literature is too sophisticated for you.

But aren’t these the same people who preached a Western style democracy where it is everything goes for public debate? Kirsten Han was the one who went publicly to say offensive cartoons of Muslims raping Buddhists should not be taken down and everyone should be able to handle all kind of robust debate and satire, no matter how offensive. These critics are the ones who claim freedom of speech overrides everything, including serious social consequences like racial or religious riots.

Yet they are the one seen boasting publicly on Facebook that they are deleting comments by those who disagree with them on social media. And what is this business with this allegation that every time someone disagrees with them, immediately they are labelled as pro-Government or pro-PAP running dogs. People are not allowed to have their own views. As my friend once told me, the liberals are the most dictatorial people on earth because only their liberal views, no matter how offensive they are, are entitled to freedom of speech provisions. Any other views are quickly dismissed as hardline, right wing, fascist, racist, homophobic (I happen to support abolition of 377A incidentally).

My advice to them is this: Be intellectually honest. You want to debate, you want to have robust public discourse, you want freedom of speech, be more thick skinned. Do not be too quick to cry baby like Kirsten or other self-anointed freedom fighters. Ministers and Government officials are entitled to their freedom of speech. In fact, they are and should be entitled to “coming down hard” too if they can back up their case in their debate on public policy. I wonder if these critics ever watch how American and British politicians attack each other and the media?

Those who are prepared to dish out good ones must be prepared to take in the chin as well. That includes the Straits Times reporter too.