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Bridge gap in social memory with PIDB: NSP

The following is a press release from the National Solidarity Party on 23 October:

A clear understanding of our nation’s history is key to building a strong, unified nation. A Public Interest Declassification Board will serve to plug the gaps in our collective social memory, thus playing a vital role in nation-building.

dcEarlier this month, the PAP Government launched a reprint of ‘The Battle for Merger’, a compilation of speeches made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1961 and originally published in 1962.

In his speech at the book’s launch, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that book would “provide a reality check” to attempts by some historians to recast the role played by communists and their supporters on the issue.

“They portray the fight as merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger. They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution,” he said. [1]

The PAP Government’s re-publication comes as it classified a documentary by Singaporean filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, ‘To Singapore with Love’ as ‘Not allowed for all ratings’, which means it cannot be screened in public or distributed within Singapore.

According to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the film is “a self-serving personal account, conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over facts in others“.[2]

Ironically, at least one academic has made similar allegations about “The ‘Battle for Merger’ – i.e. that it is “self-serving”.[3]

Another academic, Dr Hong Lysa, commenting on ‘Operation Coldstore’ (another security operation launched in Singapore on 2 February 1963 in which about 111 anti-merger activists were arrested and detained) says in her blog entry[4] that “revisionist history” challenges the PAP Story and tells of the “struggle between the ‘pseudo-anticolonialist right-wing’ and the ‘genuine socialist anti-colonialists’.”

While the Media Development Board has classified Tan Pin Pin’s film ‘Not rated for public viewing”, it has not banned the film. The general public are entitled to view the film privately. In any case, hundreds of Singaporeans have already crossed the border to watch the film in Malaysia when it was screened as part of a film festival there.

By now, most informed citizens would have heard the Government’s narrative of the events leading to our independence. They would also have access to the various ‘revisionist histories’.

How do these citizens decide for themselves which one they should believe? If we accept the axiom “History is written by the victors” then the scepticism that a considerable number of such citizens would have regarding the official narrative is understandable.

As our 50th anniversary of independence draws near, there is considerable public interest in the history of modern Singapore. At the same time, there seems to be huge gap in our collective social memory.

In March this year, a call was made for the Government to bridge this gap by legislating a thirty-year rule Declassification Act, where Cabinet papers are released to the public domain after a thirty-year period. The Government responded that it would not be not prepared to enact such a legislation. It said that it would release information only to encourage good governance[5].

This discretion that the Government exercises as to which information it should release and which it should not, is not in the interest of the general public. The Government had previously clarified in Parliament that public interest is “not sufficient reason to disclose information“[6].

The Government’s reluctance to declassify some of these documents is understandable when the classified papers relate to national defence, foreign relations and internal security. The Government should have regard to public interest – especially when it is on the issue of collective social memory, for it is only with such a memory that we can build a strong, unified nation.

It is for this reason that the National Solidarity Party calls for the Government to establish a Public Interest Declassification Board – an advisory committee with the mandate to promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of extraordinary public interest. The members of this Board should comprise of elected Members of Parliament from the different political parties, reputable members of civil society and academics.

It is unreasonable for the Governing Party to assuage the general public to trust its discretion in such matters especially when the same Party has been the Government for over 50 years. Clearly, there are chances that such discretion may be exercised in a self-serving manner.

Especially when Singapore does not have legislation like the Freedom of Information Act or the Declassification Act, the establishment of Public Interest Declassification Board will demonstrate to the general public that matters of public interest are important to the Government, and that it is prepared to release classified papers provided they do not compromise matters of security and/or sensitive matters of bilateral relationship with other countries.

Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, Secretary-General
On behalf of the 15th Central Executive Committee
of the NATIONAL SOLIDARITY PARTY


[1] http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/the-battle-merger/story/mr-lee-kuan-yews-radio-talks-merger-fight-back-print-20141010#sthash.V0UD2ztI.dpuf

[2] http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/exiles-singapore-love-shouldnt-get-chance-air-self-servi#sthash.J8w4DHNJ.dpuf

[3] “Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project” By Michael D. Barr at Page 28

[4] http://minimyna.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/they-do-say-the-darnest-things-what-a-to-do-about-operation-coldstore/

[5] http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/release-govt-papers-guide-good-governance

[6] Parliamentary Debates on “CEO-DESIGNATE OF TEMASEK HOLDINGS (Resignation)” 18-08-2009 at Column: 936 found at this link: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00003510-WA&currentPubID=00004791-WA&topicKey=00004791-WA.00003510-WA_1%2B%2B