By Andrew Loh
“It is against the public interest to allow Ashley Madison to promote its website in flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality. We will, therefore, not allow Ashley Madison to operate in Singapore and have worked with the Internet Service Providers to block access to the site.” – Media Development Authority (MDA), 09 November 2013.
A week later, on 17 November, this piece of news appeared in the Sunday Times:
Mr Mugabe is no stranger – to Singapore or to the world, of course.
To Singapore, he is a somewhat regular visitor, travelling from his far-flung Zimbabwe to our tiny island for medical treatment and previously to arrange for his daughter’s enrolment into MDIS last year. (See here.)
Yes, the president himself taking care of the important task of enrolling his daughter in a post-graduate course.
But to the world, Mugabe is a murderous despot, whose army pillage, rape and kill their way to power.
And even as we speak, there are those who continue to seek ways to bring him to justice for crimes against humanity.
But what really should concern Singaporeans is their government’s position on “public morality”, or to put it another way, the government’s guard dog role in safeguarding these “public moral values”.
And it is instructive to observe the PAP government’s flip-flop hypocrisy when it comes to this.
While the MDA boasts of its safeguarding role in defending our “public morality” in the case of Ashley Madison, it forgets that the government has disavowed such a role – even as recently as 2007 and 2008.
Here were what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said, when commenting on the government’s anti-homosexual law, section 377a:
“The Government does not act as moral policemen,” PM Lee said.
“[Let’s] not go around like this moral police…,” MM Lee said.
Someone in the MDA obviously forgot about these pronouncements by our top leaders.
What PM Lee and MM Lee said is in keeping with how the government has treated pariahs like Robert Mugabe, and the Burmese generals Than Shwe and Thein Sein, both of whom had also sought medical treatment in Singapore.
PM Lee explained the government’s position in 2007 with regards to Singapore providing medical aid to Burmese generals:
“Somebody who is sick, he wants to come to Singapore, he needs treatment and you’re telling me that I shouldn’t treat him because he is not a good man? It goes against the Hippocratic oath of doctors.”
Blogsite Singapore Angle took apart PM Lee’s skewed understanding of the Hippocratic Oath here: “On PM Lee’s interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath.”
So, on the one hand, PM Lee seemed to espouse a hands-off approach when it comes to moral issues; on the other hand, however, he seemed to base his actions with regards to sick generals on moral grounds.
While saying the Government is no moral policemen, he also cites moral reasons for his actions.
In short, moral values seem to be a moveable feast to the government, cited where it is expedient and advantageous, dismissed when it is also expedient and advantageous.
It makes for a loss of public trust in the government, an issue which has cropped up in recent months, with commentators as distinguished as the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy lamenting its potential further slide.
The government needs to make up its mind. It cannot say it has to guard our “public morality” when it comes to issues like Ashley Madison and s377a; while at the same time say it is welcoming murderous criminals on moral grounds, those who have murdered, raped and plundered on a national scale on their way to power.
Even its mouthpiece, the Straits Times, seemed to be confused, conferring on the Burmese general, Thein Sein, the title of “Asian of the Year” in 2012, despite the general being part of a regime which murdered its own citizens, engaged in ethnic cleansing and slaughtered even monks.
But really, it is no surprise for the mouthpiece to follow its master – who in 2009 named an orchid after Thein Sein.
Truth be told, one would be empathetic and sympathetic towards the Government’s position. With the world changing at breakneck speed with the advent of new technology, moral issues will continue to be raised, as social media facilitates debates about such issues.
The problem with the PAP government is that it is – at least it is seen as – a “pragmatic” government which does not have any real moral compass, that it flows with where the money flows.
It is such perception that leads one (and perhaps many others) to conclude that the government is hypocritical when it comes to such matters – bending as it will to whatever is the fancy of the day.
It is thus ironic that two PAP MPs – Indranee Rajah and Hri Kumar – have criticised the opposition Workers’ Party for not having any stance or position on various issues.
The two MPs might want to consider and ponder instead on their own party’s shifting positions when it comes to certain moral principles, and see if perhaps it is time for the ruling party to get its act right first, before casting stones at others.
The PAP can first start by refraining from making a song and dance about how morally upright it is – while acting according to what is “morally” expedient at a given time.
You cannot say you are no moral policemen while at the same time ban a website invoking your guard dog role in protecting “public morality”.
And how does allowing into Singapore those like Mugabe and those who profit from and live off his atrocities square with your morals?
Nah, you cannot have your cake and eat it. It is hypocritical.
* Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is on “Genocide Watch“.