The following is an excerpt of an interview with Catherine Lim that was published in the 2010 issue of Social Space Magazine. You can read the rest of it here.

————————————————–

Singapore is a society undergoing transitions. With a burgeoning migrant community, the advent of integrated resorts with casinos and an arguably increasingly effervescent non-profit, civil society sector, Singapore looks to be a society that is rapidly opening up. Yet, as writer and political commentator Catherine Lim controversially proposes, civil society and non-profit activists cannot create change without getting their voices heard and actively participating in the political process. She shares with Social Space, her thoughts on the indispensable ingredients for openness and political engagement in a society that wants to be truly global.

Has Singapore become a more open society?

I think it’s incipient. Things are changing and moving in a positive direction. This has nothing to do with any noble change of mindset on the part of the government. It is the inevitable effect of opening up, which is what the government knows people want. I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister say in January (2010) that he would focus on economic restructuring, addressing demographic changes and “updating the political system.”1 The government is also changing its tack because it knows that the profile of voters has changed. There are many young netizens nowadays and the government knows it has to engage them and win them over. However, it seems to me they are good at giving a semblance of openness without relinquishing much real power. They are not even devious about it! I like them for their honesty and lack of pretense in this respect.

The reason is that our leaders are not comfortable with “mess.” In January (2010), George Yeo made a speech in which he remarked that we must be prepared to have a little bit of messiness.2 This was the first time I have heard a minister say it. But it will still be a controlled mess and for me, that is a mockery. My thesis is this: For the government’s own survival, they need to allow for some disruption, to a degree which they can handle.

As it stands, the environment in this country does not allow for an open discussion of serious matters, let alone disruption. For example, there are no political clubs. In the past we had the Socratic Circle and the Roundtable. Nothing of that kind exists, not even in the universities. There is no foment, no excitement amongst students. To me this apathy is a bad sign because social and political awareness usually begins in the tertiary educational institutions.

Instead, everything is now on the Internet, which I am wary of, because there is a lot of scurrilous rubbish online under the cover of anonymity.

What are the ingredients needed for society to be more open?

A change of mind-set on the part of the government. The media and the related institutions still take their cue from the government, which also needs to change. As for the general community, there are too few voices to really make an impact.

Since 2007, the Economic development Board has been on a strong drive to woo international non-governmental organisations (INGos) to Singapore. does this spell the flowering of the civil society sector?

My concern is that the growth and development you describe is being seen by people as a general opening up. I take great pains to emphasise that this is not the case. The government might even be happy that this is happening because they can retort to naysayers that we are opening up. I feel things are probably worse than before, in that the government is more perturbed now. If such organisations had a mandate to implement change in Singapore, they would not have been allowed into the country in the first place. People have a calculus, an abacus to measure pros and cons. So such organisations see the pros in this country – the rule of law, favourable tax regime, efficiency, the idea that Singapore honours its word and does a great deal of humanitarian work across the world. This does not go unnoticed by organisations that choose to set up in Singapore.

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

总理称双语优势减弱 七成华族家庭家中讲英语

昨日(22日),总理李显龙在讲华语运动40周年庆典上致词时,指出如今许多年轻人听得懂华语,也会说华语,但有时不太流利。他认为大家须意识到,新加坡的双语优势正在相对减弱。 “因为世界各地的人,正在积极学习华语。他们清楚要到中国工作、和中国人打交道,把握中国发展的商机,就必须学好华语。” 不论是本地中文或英语媒体,皆有报导总理的上述演说,《联合早报》将报导刊在今日头版,至于总理完整演讲稿也上载到该报官网。 在致词中总理称1979年建国总理李光耀发起“讲华语运动”,旨在鼓励本地华人“多讲华语,少说方言”,建立共同语言桥梁以加强华社凝聚力。 但现如今讲英语的华人渐渐增加,在90年代该运动就转为鼓励讲英语华人多讲华语;也提及如今有近71巴仙家庭,在家中主要讲英语。 但他仍认可讲华语运动的贡献。本地华社,华文媒体以及学校仍努力推广华语;本地华文媒体也发挥作用;并指出许多到中国做生意/工作的国人,都明白唯有兼通双语,才能在世界舞台上大展拳脚、左右逢源。 冰冻三尺非一日之寒 然而,讲华语运动办了40年,至今七成华族家庭在家中仍习惯说英语,这似乎不算什么值得庆幸或赞扬的成就。尽管民间团体都已努力透过各种活动、场合营造说华语的气氛、或增加学习华语的乐趣,然而今日华文水平的式微,又是谁之过? 就连讲华语运动在2017年的推介仪式,都可以闹出错别字的笑话,把“听说读写”的“读”,误选“亵渎”的“渎”字;南洋理工大学食阁招牌禁华文;乃至最近国家文物局,把承载许多国人记忆的新谣,配上上世纪60年代照片和弄错歌词,都凸显对民间华语圈文化的理解不足。 再者大众书局日前宣布只有八家书店出售华文图书,尽管大众书局企业通讯部经理沈毅文今日在《联合早报》交流站指出,不会放弃华文书籍,然而市场需求不足、华文阅读风气减弱的问题,是存在的。 说英语“高人一等”的迷思 在独立前,包括陈六使、高德根及连赢洲等人代表华社提呈“华文教育委员会”,议案,呼吁公平对待各族学校、保存华文教育之优良传统制度等;1959年,人民行动党接纳1956年各党派华文教育报告书。…

两教堂开放供街友夜宿,9点后可到教堂过夜

两教堂开放给街友,提供他们夜宿,是首个宗教团体以提供住宿的方式解决街友露宿街头的问题。 据《海峡时报》报导,位于宏茂桥的耶稣君王堂(the Church of Christ the King)自1月起,已向无家可归的街友开放晚上暂住服务;而位于武吉巴督的天使之后堂(The Church St Mary of the…

丹戎巴葛、宏茂桥年长居民 今早接种冠病疫苗

丹戎巴葛和宏茂桥的年长居民,也在今日起开始接种冠病19疫苗。 总理也在脸书发文,指出上述两区乐龄居民较多,今起让70岁以上年长者接种。今早他也前往宏茂桥宏茂桥综合诊疗所的疫苗接种中心,视察接种疫苗过程。 他也透露,从下月中旬,在其他选区也将推展接种计划。符合资格人士都会收到接种疫苗的邀请。他指出人民协会和关爱乐龄办事处的志工也会拜访家户协助年长者。 李显龙再次鼓励民众接种,尽早受到保护也能越早恢复正常生活。 总理本身是在本月8日接种第一剂疫苗,他将在本月29日接种第二剂。

The Bukit Brown issue: Not enough land? Let’s do the math

~ By SOS Bukit Brown| ~ Let's be clear, Singapore's total floor area,…