Sunday, 24 September 2023

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The next steps towards a fair and just society

By Ghui


The creation of a fair and just society has long been the mission statement of the Peoples’ Action Party. These words are proudly emblazoned in the centre of a series of concentric circles, which set out the core values of Singapore’s ruling party.

This mission statement is a laudable one and one that our present Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong appears committed to given that this was not only posted on his Facebook page but mentioned in his National Day address. He also repeated it during the National Day Rally speech.

PM Lee’s government has sought to deliver the PAP’s promises through a whole raft of reforms aimed at keeping housing affordable and medical health accessible. There is also a renewed commitment to maintaining the system of meritocracy to ensure that all who work hard have an equal chance to success. While I applaud these efforts, I wonder if PM Lee’s idea of “just and fair” might be just a little bit one sided?

I don’t deny the importance of education, healthcare and housing. However, I do see these as basic rights that everyone should be entitled to. Singapore is now a developed nation. This implies that the creation of a “just and fair” state needs to be ramped up a gear.

Beyond economic comforts, the creation of an equitable nation must also include social, political and civil liberties. Citizens must feel able to freely air their opinions and engage in robust debate with regards to matters that concern their country. A climate of fear and self-censorship, which leads to resentment and/or empathy, must be eradicated. How can a society be truly fair or just when its citizens feel unable to have a genuine stake in the affairs of their country?

Singaporeans have only recently found expression via the Internet. While there have been certain unpleasant incidents, these remained firmly in the minority. The good still outweighed the bad. Let’s not forget that it is the efforts of the online media that has kept Dinesh Raman’s wrongful death in the lights. Why has the government only focused on the negative and feel the need to ensure that its citizens read the “correct” content? If PM Lee is committed to the creation of a holistically just and fair society, then the new MDA laws to regulate Internet content must be abolished.

Justice and fairness would also mean that all Singaporeans be treated equally. Why then are taxes paying single parents still prevented from owning HDB flats? Are they not family units too?

What of gay rights? Why is being gay still technically a crime? Is it “just” or “fair” that some Singaporeans are treated as criminals simply because of their sexual orientation? No one is asking conservative Singaporeans to endorse the gay agenda that they seem to so fear. There is after all a difference between accepting that others have a right to live their lives and embracing the so-called “gay lifestyle”. The government needs to take the only reasonable stand there is to take here and decriminalize homosexuality.

Singapore has come a long way as a country. That is undeniably a stellar achievement by all Singaporeans collectively. But for the vision of a completely “just and fair” society to be achieved, the government has to go beyond economics, basic rights and self back-patting.

PM Lee recently gave a speech that started off motivational but ended off uninspiring. Speaking at Teck Ghee Community Club, PM Lee urged the Singaporean youth to give back to society. This was heartening because volunteerism is a powerful tool to the creation of a just and fair society. This rousing call was however marred by PM Lee’s next statements, which came across as a thinly veiled attempt at self-praise. What has unemployment in Europe got to do with volunteerism in Singapore?

While job security is important, giving back to society is a separate issue altogether. It would appear that at the forefront of PM Lee’s mind, monetary concerns are the most crucial pieces to a just and fair society.

Given that fairness in society goes so much further than monetary comforts, perhaps the incumbent requires a minor mindset shift? Or perhaps, the government needs to play catch up? Singapore is no longer a developing nation – they need to aim higher.

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