~ By Dr Wong Wee Nam ~
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appears to be loosening up. He has just launched his official Facebook page and Twitter account.
In launching the Facebook he wrote “The social media have changed the way we live, work and play, especially the way we connect with one another. Societies, communities and governments all over the world will not be the same again.
Many of my colleagues have been using social media, including Facebook. They have encouraged me to start my own Facebook page. Having watched them, I have decided to join the fun.”
It is good to see that Mr Lee has decided to let his hair down a bit. This is indeed a change from the stern image that is often associated with the
Therefore, the Prime Minister must also see it as a place to get serious feedback that he might not get by just listening to his hangers-on and reading the mainstream media. Of course, he must occasionally put up with some vitriolic nonsense and tolerate them with a good sense of humour. At the same time he should not allow himself to be carried away by the fawners and the bootlickers that will inevitably make their presence felt.
“I hope you will find my Facebook page interesting,” the Prime Minister said. This would depend on whether he and his staff can make it interesting. So far the few private photographs he has put up and some comments on what he took for dinner is a promising start.
Mr. Lee also promised that he “will use it to talk about some of the things I am doing, and thinking about, but I would also like to hear from you. Let’s use this page to help shape ideas and understanding of what we can do together to improve our lives.”
Considering the fact that Facebook has been blocked intermittently in several countries or even banned in many countries of the world, these are encouraging words indeed, especially to those of our people who believe that this is their country and they would want their opinions to be considered when the government makes policies to run their lives.
Hopefully, his participation in Facebook will help change the way the government views and react to political discourse.
Change, however, does not come from comments written on Facebook. It can come only when policies treat all citizens fairly. This would include giving the lowest income-earners in the country a decent wage to live by, making healthcare affordable to everyone, taking care of the aged and allowing alternative political opinions without taking actions that might appear to be vindictive. Fair administration is another necessity.
On 21st April, while officiating at the completion of a rebuilt estate in Ang Mo Kio, Mr Lee said, “In preparation for the country’s “silver tsunami”, Singaporeans must be more positive towards senior citizens. They have contributed a lot to Singapore, it is only right that we support them.”
These are comforting words for those who are growing old and it reminds me of an old Chinese fable.
Tian Zifang saw an old horse on the road. He was deeply moved and sighed.
He asked his driver, “What horse is this?”
“Master, this horse used to be kept by you,” the driver replied. “Since it is old and weak, it is of not much used, so it is now brought out to be sold.”
“To exploit its strength in its youth and then to get rid of it in its old age is not the way a man with decency and honour should behave.” Thereupon, he ordered that five rolls of silk be used to buy back the horse.
With his Facebook, Mr Lee will certainly be receiving feedback that from other disadvantaged groups and hopefully they too can receive his attention.
Recently 44 (and more) people were charged in court with having sex with an under-aged girl. One was allowed to go overseas to do his business and another was allowed to leave the country to get married. Indeed this show of sympathy by our judiciary is something to be applauded.
Yet I could not understand why our country could not be equally generous with their sympathy for people who are deemed to be “political”.
Dr Ang Swee Chai, is an orthopaedic surgeon, who was arrested under the
During the years in London, Dr Ang became internationally well-known for her humanitarian work in Palestinian refugee camps. She also founded “Medical Aid for Palestinians”, a charity established in the wake of the 1982 Sabra Shatila massacre in Lebanon. This is a Singapore girl who has done Singapore proud. Not many Singaporean has achieved such honour. If she had been a British citizen, she would probably have received an award on Her Majesty’s birthday.
She has spoken extensively in UK, including the British Parliament, and in Europe and yet she, was not allowed to come back to her country, not even for her parent’s funeral some years back. It was only in February this year that she was finally given permission to bring the ashes of her late husband back home.
Dr Ang has given countless of interviews overseas, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, and yet when she was here in Singapore none of the local media was interested in her.
When I had the privilege of meeting her, I tried to ascertain her feelings for her country and the home she had yearned for 35 years to return to. I asked her if Singapore should ever fall into a situation like Palestine, would she come back with the same fervour to do the same humanitarian work. She replied in no uncertain terms that she would. In fact, she and her husband often discussed fondly of the Singapore that she had left behind. She recalled once when she took a beautiful picture of a Lebanon beach and showed it to Francis, her husband replied that our Changi Beach was more beautiful than that.
Yet in spite of being honoured for her humanitarian work and an orthopaedic surgeon who could contribute a lot to Singapore, she is still not free to come in as and when she likes. In February this year, she was only given a single-entry permit to bring her husband’s ashes back. This means that she still needs to apply for a permit when she next wants to come back to Singapore. Why, I wonder, cannot Dr Ang be given a passport like all our other citizens?
A person who is sentenced to a 30-year imprisonment often gets his sentence shortened for good behaviour. Why is a person, who has not been charged for anything and has been punished for 35 years as an exile, not treated with the same magnanimity? To Dr Ang, who loves Singapore, being an exile is very painful. As she said, “You do not know what it is to be homeless until you do not have one.”
By joining the Facebook community, Mr Lee may be progressive, but he still needs to overhaul some of the outdated mindset in the government machinery in order for it to move in tandem with him.