PM Lee reiterated his commitment to improve the lives of Singaporeans when he said: “Our economy is maturing, and we are reducing the inflow of foreign workers. But we must continue to create opportunities for ourselves, develop new capabilities and improve the lives of Singaporeans,” in his May Day speech (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/keep-singapore-a-land-of-opportunity–inclusiveness–pm-lee-in-may-day-message-012454835.html). While I do not doubt his sentiments, I wonder if the government has truly laid the groundwork to “improve the lives of Singaporeans”.
No doubt, there have been more attempts at engagement but it is unfortunate that strong elements of clamping down on free political expression still remain and the government has shown no desire to eradicate these. The ISA is still retained; there is still no political engagement vis a vis Section 377a; Alex Au ran into some trouble with regards to certain comments left on his blog and the list goes on. The latest being the Nizam Ismail saga. Does PM Lee not realise that improving the lives of Singaporeans goes a whole lot further than mere economic prospects?
Of course, I am not downplaying the importance of economic growth but for the lives of Singaporeans to be truly enhanced, they will need to have the right to freely make their political and social views known. They need to feel heard and be heard by the government they have voted for. More crucially, Singaporeans need to have the security of knowing where they stand with their elected government.
At the moment, the government is seemingly encouraging dialogue but at the same time, there have been disturbing reports of allegedly politically motivated “sanctions” taken against those who have been construed by the powers be as too vocal. A notable recent example would be that of Cherian George who was denied tenure at NTU despite overwhelming support for his glowing credentials. The rumour mill has been swirling that the adjunct senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies and former journalist with The Straits Times has been penalised for having spoken out against media control and being critical of the ruling People’s Action Party. (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/ntu-rejects-outspoken-professor-s-tenure-appeal-115504121.html)
The government seems confused in its approach to Singaporeans and in its “mixed signals” attempts have muddied the waters further. Despite publicly stating on numerous occasions that it welcomes feedback, the government has on the other hand acted against those who have sought to provide the seemingly requested for feedback. Take Alex Au for instance, who was served a letter of demand by the PAP for his take on the AIM debacle (http://www.tremeritus.com/2013/01/05/prime-minister-serves-letter-of-demand-on-yawning-bread/). Their actions do not seem to gel with what they are saying and this causes a great deal of insecurity and fear mongering amongst Singaporeans.
Open communication is the way forward but the rules of engagement have to be clearly defined and respected. The government cannot purport to reap the benefits of voter support by paying lip service to open dialogue without actually committing itself fully to the realities of genuine discourse.
The net effect of detaining cartoonist Leslie Chew (http://www.tremeritus.com/2013/01/05/prime-minister-serves-letter-of-demand-on-yawning-bread/) and the questioning of filmmaker Lynn Lee (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/s-pore-film-maker-assists-with-investigation-into-police-brutality-173326960.html) only serve to make the government come across as disingenuous.
It has to be committed to truly effecting change. This current lukewarm halfway house attempts seem to be a case of taking a step forward only to take two steps back. Certainly, it does not live up to the image of efficiency that Singapore takes great pains to maintain.