The South China Morning Post (SCMP) had earlier published an article on the letter by writer Dr Catherine Lim to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong describing an “unprecedented crisis of trust” between his government and Singaporeans. This prompted the Singapore consul-general of Singapore in Hong Kong to respond, citing international studies that vouch for a high degree of trust in the government.
SCMP has described Lim’s letter as an open missive to PM Lee, extracting many segments from her letter that substantiated her claims.
“Lim, who is in her early 70s, said there were clear signs of a trust issue. She cited the recent case of graffiti at a public housing block that was targeted at the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) as well as the rising number of protests and the increased online criticism, among other examples.”
SCMP also drew attention to Lim’s point about the ongoing legal dispute between Lee and blogger Roy Ngerng. “She heavily criticised Lee’s recent defamation suit against Roy Ngerng, a young blogger who allegedly accused the prime minister of misappropriating state pension funds. While supporters say the defamation suit is crucial to ensure Singapore does not embrace a culture of slander and libel, critics insist it will harm the image and reputation of Lee and his party, especially since the case is being pegged as a David-vs-Goliath duel.”
As Lim elaborated in her letter, which TOC has earlier published in full, “What had worked well in the old era may no longer be relevant today, or worse, may even be damaging. When Mr Lee Kuan Yew liberally used the defamation suit against his critics, one of the reasons he gave (if I remember correctly) was that he wanted to punish them for implying government corruption, and thus eroding the trust of the people, which he said was necessary for the government to do its work.”
“Today, in a twist of supreme irony that would have incensed Mr Lee, Singaporeans see the defamation suit itself, and not the act that has entailed it, as the very cause of the erosion of trust. A few more applications of this once effective instrument of control, even if legally justifiable, would surely damage the PAP cause further, in the highly charged atmosphere of the new Singapore.”
In a letter to SCMP, Jacky Foo, the consul-general of Singapore in Hong Kong, cited international studies that prove contrary to Lim’s claim.
“There are international benchmarks of trust in government. For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer found only 37 per cent of respondents in the United States trusted their government. The UK scores 42 per cent, and Hong Kong 45 per cent. Singapore scored a respectable 75 per cent.”
Foo also took issue with Lim’s references to the 2011 General Elections, saying, “the ruling party has taken Singapore through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed – the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, and the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition, it has won four further general elections by healthy margins. But still Ms Lim continues to regularly bemoan a collapse of trust and respect for the government.”
Foo did not mention that the PAP has actually witnessed a gradual downward slide in votes in the past three general elections. He also did not make any reference to the party’s defeat in two by-elections following GE2011.
Foo also dismissed Lim’s supposed claim that PM Lee’s defamation suit against Ngerng will further erode trust. “On the contrary, Mr Lee acted because the government prizes integrity as the ultimate source of the trust it enjoys,” he wrote. “A leader who does nothing when he is accused of criminally misappropriating monies from the state pension system must engender mistrust in his honesty and leadership.”
“It is no coincidence that in countries where lies and false accusations are the stock in trade of public debate, people have a low opinion of all politicians, and a very low trust in their governments,” he added.
Image – screen capture from South China Morning Post