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Lee

When ministers make wrong or unsubstantiated claims

Lee Hsien Loong pap60 party rally

There was a time when members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) prided themselves on basing things on facts, and would go the length to sue anyone who would do otherwise.

Things seem to have changed somewhat lately.

Three recent instances show that PAP ministers have made claims or allegations which do not seem to be based on facts, but are rather spurious and even wild imaginations.

In September, when the now infamous clash of events at Hong Lim Park between the YMCA and the CPF protest took place, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin led the chorus of PAP MPs who accused the protesters of “heckling” the special needs children who were at the YMCA charity event.

But as this writer pointed out then, there was and has been no evidence to show that any “heckling” directed at the children had actually taken place.

Read the report here: “Heckling, anarchist? Nah, just immaturity”.

The media subsequently picked up the accusation and even headlined their reports with it.

However, the minister himself has been silent about this since.

In his speech to party faithful in December during the PAP’s 60th anniversary celebrations, secretary general Lee Hsien Loong claimed that “the opposition have not articulated any vision for Singapore, as they say they cannot form the government.” (CNA)

Mr Lee is wrong on both counts, in fact.

First, at least four opposition parties have their own visions for Singapore and have laid these out in various forms.

The Workers’ Party’s vision, as Mr Lee ought to have known, is laid out in its election manifesto in quite some details, in fact. (See here.)

Secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Chee Soon Juan, responded to Mr Lee’s claims thus:

“The SDP published Dare To Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore in 1994.

“I had more recently described a new vision for Singapore in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal. Mr Lee ignores these and claims that the opposition has not articulated one.”

And to make sure that Mr Lee was properly corrected, Dr Chee tweeted his response to the latter. (See here.)

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) had also presented its vision, in the form of a manifesto, to Singaporeans in 2011. (See here.)

Even the newly-formed Singaporeans First Party (SingFirst) has its vision laid out on its website in some details. (See here.)

“We need a new vision that puts Singaporeans at the heart of the nation,” SingFirst says on its website. “The vision of a fair society with strong families and a confident people with high self-esteem. The vision of Singaporeans First.”

So, it is rather puzzling how Mr Lee could tell his audience and Singaporeans that “the opposition have not articulated any vision for Singapore” when these alternative visions are all there readily available for anyone to peruse.

Secondly, Mr Lee’s claims that the opposition “say they cannot form the government” is also not quite true.

According to a TODAY report in April 2011, just a month before the general election, the paper said there were “conflicting views among [the] opposition on forming [the] government.” (See here.)

While it is true that the WP had said that it was not yet ready to form the government, the WP alone is not the opposition, nor does it represent the wider opposition view.

Indeed, other opposition parties seem to disagree with the WP’s views that the opposition parties are not “at a stage when they can form shadow Cabinets to take over from the Government now.”

Dr Chee said then that it was "not right for leaders of today's opposition parties to talk as if the (PAP) is of such high quality and that the opposition... are unable to take over the governance of Singapore."

"Singaporeans, including those in the opposition camp, must not fall into the mindset that the opposition has trouble matching the PAP in terms of our candidates and our ideas,” he added.

The Reform Party’s secretary general, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, said his party was ready to be part of a coalition government, and that there was “no need for (the opposition) to have any inferiority complex with regards to the PAP over policy.”

So, clearly, Mr Lee’s claims that the opposition had said it was not ready to form the government is not entirely accurate.

It was only the WP which had said so, and the WP does not represent all the opposition.

However, the WP had also said – in its manifestos of 2006 and 2011 – that its aim is to form the government of Singapore one day. In 2006, its leader, Low Thia Khiang, gave a possible timeframe of 20 years for this to happen.

The third instance of a minister making unfounded or unsubstantiated accusations took place in December as well.

Minister of State for National Development, Desmond Lee, apparently took umbrage at some of his critics’ questioning of his attacks on the Workers’ Party and its town council.

Mr Lee, who is an MP for Jurong GRC, was reported to have said:

“[We] have seen a coordinated online campaign to distract the public, using falsehoods, half-truths and speculations, by friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers’ Party (WP). The aim is to confuse the public and distract them from the real issues.”

Mr Lee has been challenged by some online to substantiate what he claims, but to date he has not done so. (See here.)

There are so many claims in Mr Lee’s remarks which he should indeed substantiate and show proof for.

For example, where is this “coordinated online campaign”? In what website is this being conducted? Which social media outlet or platform? Who is "coordinating" this "campaign"? Who indeed is funding it, if true?

What are the “falsehoods, half-truths and speculations” which Mr Lee is accusing others of propagating?

Who are these “friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers’ Party” of which he speaks? Is Mr Lee accusing members of the public who disagree with him of being “friends, sympathisers and proxies” of the WP?

And where is the proof that it is the WP which is behind this, as Mr Lee claimed?

Unfortunately, Mr Lee has provided not a shred of explanation or evidence to prove what he freely alleges.

It is, honestly, most unbecoming of a person of Mr Lee’s position - a minister of state - to make such wild and unsubstantiated allegations against unnamed targets.

Such allegations only serve to discredit the government and its ministers. Singaporeans will now, and rightly so, raise a question mark over all that is claimed or said by our ministers.

The mark of a leader is how he remains restrained and rational, particularly on occasions when emotions run high, and not give in to making accusations or claims which are easily shown up as empty hot air.

It does no one any good, least of all in the area of building trust between the government and the people.