Composition of Honour Singapore raises questions about its values

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By Terry Xu

A new non-profit organisation (NPO) called Honour (Singapore), officially launched on 5 August 2014 at the Fullerton Hotel, was reported widely in mainstream news, but garnered some raised eyebrows about the intent and slant of its key members.

Honour Singapore is headed by Singapore’s elites in government and includes:

  • Group president of GIC, Mr Lim Siong Guan as chairman
  • Former senior director with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Mr Jason Wong, as executive director
  • Mr Khoo Oon Theam, Mr Georgie Lee, and retired senior district judge Mr Richard Magnus as directors

It also has a panel of community advisors for guidance and counsel. The panel is no less impressive, which includes:

  • Mr Philip Ng, CEO of Far East Organisation as panel chairman
  • Mrs Janet Ang, managaing director of IBM
  • Ms Claire Chiang, senior vice president of Banyan Tree Holdings
  • Mr Chua Thian Poh, Chairman and CEO of Ho Bee Land Limited
  • Mrs Fang Ai Lian from Chair Charity Council
  • Mr Laurence Lien from Lien Foundation
  • Mr Andy Lim, chairman and founder of Tembusu Partners Pte Ltd
  • Mr Mohamed Alami Musa, former Member of Parliament
  • Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, ‎Ambassador to Kuwait and Foreign Minister's special envoy to the Middle East
  • Dr Edwin Thumboo, Emeritus Professor at the National University of Singapore

Well-defined objectives?

Despite the stellar line-up of people at the helm, the cause championed by this newly formed NPO remains unclear.

In its mission statement, Honour Singapore aims "to seek the well-being of the nation by promoting a culture of honour and honouring”, and envisioned "a nation where honour and honouring are well understood and widely practised". It also indicated the two dimensions of honour to be, "to honour our word" and "to honour each other", but gave very little indication about what these dimensions entail.

Indeed, at the launch of the NPO, as reported in media, chairman Mr Lim was quoted as saying:

"We came to the conclusion that the real explanation went beyond Government policies and all the schemes that we see which has brought Singapore to its state of economic and social development. But even more fundamentally, that the reason was because we are a people and a country, whose word is our honour. We take our promises seriously. Whatever it is that we say that we will do, we will do."

On the other hand, Education Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat gave a very different definition:

"This cannot be a matter of one side winning and the other side losing. Rather, it is a matter of concerned, thinking citizens hearing and respecting other perspectives. We honour one another by developing empathy, by trying to understand rather than waiting to be understood, by avoiding making judgement. The space to express our views is best coupled with a commitment for greater good."

Religious affiliations made clear?

 

Membership and affiliations of leading members of Honour Singapore

Membership and affiliations of leading members of Honour Singapore

However, of greater concern was the causes that Honour Singapore might support. Social-political blogger Ng E-Jay has noted that the board of directors of the NPO had connections to a Christian group called Full Gospel Business Singapore, or FGB Gatekeepers.

Messrs Khoo Oon Theam, Georgie Lee and Richard Magnus are all simultaneously senior members of the FGB Gatekeepers board.

In a publication by FGB Gatekeepers titled the Fire Report published in December 2013, Mr Jason Wong was also identified as an elder of FGB Gatekeepers Singapore's Strategic Gatekeepers' Family Gate.

Similarly, the publication also included this quote by Honour Singapore's chairman Mr Lim Siong Guan, who was responding to a programme he seemed to have participated in:

"Impelled me to practise the principles and values of the Kingdom of God in my work, my family and everywhere I am called to, as a blessing to all around."

Even more disconcerting was the write-up available on the FGB Gatekeepers’ About Us page:

“FGB Gatekeepers (FGB Singapore) is an inter-denominational organization of Christian men and women whose lives have been transformed through personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We understand the pressures of the marketplace and what they can do to a person, family and work or business. We've come from all walks of life and backgrounds, with a myriad of life experiences. But, we share one common relationship with a living Savior. We have discovered the peace that Jesus promised to us even in the midst of difficulties.”

A programme by FGB Gatekeepers called the Making Disciples in the Marketplace (MDM) School similarly states:

"The Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all nations. The transformation of individual lives must permeate the institutions of the family and church into the structures and institutions of communities and nations, and eventually, the world. The Lord Jesus Christ did not just change individual lives. he changed the whole world.”

Observers have queries whether the new NPO’s mission statement, "to seek the well-being of the nation by promoting a culture of honour and honouring" is based on a religious bias.

In the wake of the NLB "Penguingate" saga, where many have noted members of religious groups attempting to influence the decisions of the government, the composition of Honour Singapore and the views espoused by its leaders raised concerns online about whether the concept of "honour and honouring" might follow a similar trend.

Nevertheless, the Education Minister did not seem to find anything amiss, as he commended formation of the NPO during its launching ceremony:

“...I think we must Honour the quiet leaders who brought us together this evening. I commend Honour (Singapore) for your initiative to promote a culture of honour and honouring in Singapore. I feel encouraged that we have a group of people who act on their love for Singapore and concern for the well-being of succeeding generations. I am extra encouraged that so many of you are here to inaugurate this worthy enterprise.

I look forward to following the progress of Honour (Singapore) as you promote a culture of Honour and Honouring for the well-being of Singapore. I wish Honour (Singapore) every success in your noble mission.”

It is not clear if Mr Heng is aware of the religious connections and affiliations of the key members of Honour Singapore.

Honour Singapore has also been granted the status of an Institution of Public Character (IPC) for collection of donations. It is also not clear if IPC status has been granted as a result of this connection, or if the Commissioner of Charities is aware of the situation, or if the collections and usage of donations would be audited with this in mind.

Tracking back, examining the appointment of Mr Jason Wong as senior director with the Ministry of Social and Family Development might raise similar queries. Was Mr Wong holding any significant appointment with FGB Gatekeepers when he was serving in MSF? Did any policies he might have crafted or directed during his time in MSF hold values similar to those espoused by FGB Gatekeepers and have his affiliations been declared to MSF?

Such queries have similarly been raised recently, where the government's stand towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has tended to give preference to the "majority" view, which is generally regarded as "pro-family" in terms described by religious groups. Questions remain about how religious groups have influenced policy making and the secularity of Singapore as a nation state.