Excuse me, did the Prime Minister just say sorry?

Sophia Tsang

For the longest time, I never understood why members of the ruling party never seemed to ever, EVER say sorry. I mean, I heard complaints about how there was no lift upgrading, about how salaries were so low, low, low but cost of living was so high, high, high. I heard complaints about expensive housing. But none of the leaders of the country ever apologized.

I still remember how SM Goh responded to rising housing costs. He did not apologise, he set out to confuse us with his theory.

“Those who missed out, those who can’t buy this, who can’t upgrade and so on, so we are really feeling the unhappiness, question is was the policy good?

“Unhappiness, those who are happier, in total there’s net happiness, there’s no such thing called total happiness, don’t believe in it. It’s whether we create net happiness in all this,” said SM Goh.

Then it occurred to me. Remember the old movie starring Ali MacGraw? The title of the movie is “Love Story”. The story tells us that “love means NEVER having to say you are sorry!”

That’s it then. They didn’t say sorry cos they loved us. It was such a eureka moment. Then on national television, no less, my Prime Minister said sorry. He even sounded like he meant it. Rats! How was I going to reconcile this? Did it mean he did not love me or us any more?

I drew consolation from the title of Elton John’s song – “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Yes I believed in what the media, especially the entertainment media told me. Surely all these apologies would stop.

Horrors, it not only did not stop, PM apologized more than once, and so did a host of other ministers and MPs.

I tried to find some other examples to cling on to. I did not want to be unloved – that would be too painful. Then I found some credible examples.

Remember Tin Pei Ling? When the people complained about her, SM Goh did not apologise. Instead he told her to ignore the noise! Yes! Instead of saying sorry, insult the offended instead. Somehow, the rest of Singapore did not seem to feel love, and instead got so riled that they demanded her resignation from parliament. Why did they not respond positively to so much love?

Perhaps I could find love in Tin Pei Ling? She has not apologized for anything yet, including what many felt was criminal behaviour – someone reported her to the police, you only report criminals to the police right? Maybe she represented the best of love. She cleverly ignored all the noise and simply refused responsibility. Again my fellow citizens seemed to disagree, and even organized a Black Sunday to protest the entire fiasco.

Then I found yet another glimmer of hope in the shape of the good doctor Lim Wee Kiak. My fellow citizens were very upset about his statement regarding dignity and money. I held my breath to see his reaction. He did not apologise. Instead he said that he was misquoted. Phew – he did the right thing. He claimed to be a victim. But nobody seemed appeased. So he said he was only joking. Not bad – he blamed us for not being too thick to get the joke. But ultimately he succumbed and apologized! Shucks.

Finally I was alerted to Mah Bow Tan’s apology. I was horrified. This was the last bastion of defecse. Mr Mah had never waivered – ever. I thought my world was about to collapse around me. I am simple minded – I need to have some constants in my life, one of which is MIW never saying sorry. Then I tried to make sense of his statement.

“… And I guess to the extent that in the last couple of years, housing prices went up very sharply, coinciding with the very dramatic turnaround in the economy. Yeah, I guess…. that resulted in a lot of unhappiness on the ground and I accept responsibility for that.”

Bear with me, I am not very smart. I need to break this “cheem” statement into smaller parts.

  1. housing is becoming expensive – unhappiness
  2. price increase is due to improvement in economy = happiness
  3. people are unhappy because of price increase = unhappiness.

I tried to apply SM Goh’s equation – but since I had no numbers, and there was unhappiness as well as happiness, I was not sure if there was net happiness or net unhappiness. So I tried English instead – I am slightly better at English than Maths.

He said he was “taking responsibility for that”. My teacher told me “that” is a pointing word. So was he taking responsibility for unhappiness? Cannot be since unhappiness, he said, was the result of price increase. I got it. He was taking responsibility for the price increase. Hmm, that couldn’t be right. He also said the price increase was due to the improvement in the economy!! Hallelujah. He was not apologizing at all – he was taking glory in the improvement in economy! Wow. Should I feel loved?

Unfortunately, the ministers, who did not seem to say sorry, had retired. The MP who had not said sorry seemed to be in danger of being kicked out. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, who not only kept apologizing, but actually appeared to be doing something about the complaints, was gaining popularity.

Since I have been told that as a weak-brained heartlander, I should get away from the faces and residences of uncaring elites, I can only look to the most elite of them all – my Prime Minister, for an answer. If he keeps saying sorry, and if he says he will make sure that no Singaporean will be left behind – meaning he cares?? – then maybe love does mean you have to say sorry and take action to rectify wrongs. And sorry is not the hardest word after all!

Help – I have been conned by the media!!

Did you learn how not to apologise?

  1. confuse
  2. insult the offended
  3. refuse to accept responsibility
  4. claim to be a victim
  5. blame the offended for not getting it
  6. give a convoluted apology that make you a hero in the end.

How to apologise properly?

  1. Recognise the cause of offence.
  2. Apologise without excuses.
  3. Take action to make improvement.

LHL and some members of his team seem to be on the right track. Let us be gracious and give them time to prove their sincerity.


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