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What is Honour Singapore’s “value-based” agenda?

honoursingapore

A YouTube video sent by a reader to The Online Citizen has raised new questions over the religious affiliations of non-profit organisation Honour (Singapore).

The video features a talk by Honour (Singapore) director Khoo Oon Theam entitled "Leadership Forum of Global Chinese Christian Entrepreneurs" in Taipei on May 2014, in which he explicitly links the supposedly secular organisation to the mission of a Christian group and its "gatekeepers".

It's been a little over a year since non-profit organisation Honour (Singapore) held its official launch at the Fullerton Hotel on 5 August 2014. Graced by then-Minister for Education, Heng Swee Keat, the launch was widely reported in the media, but Singaporeans were left confused as to what the group actually stood for.

Although new as an non-profit, Honour (Singapore)'s leaders aren't new by any measure.

The organisation is headed by past and present high-flyers in Singapore's public and private sectors:

  • Group president of GIC – one of Singapore's sovereign wealth funds – Lim Siong Guan, who is chairman
  • Former senior director with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Jason Wong, who is executive director
  • Khoo Oon Theam, Georgie Lee, and retired senior district judge, Richard Magnus, as directors

Honour (Singapore) claims in its mission statement that it aims “to seek the well-being of the nation by promoting a culture of honour and honouring”, and envisions “a nation where honour and honouring are well understood and widely practised”.

The organisation was quickly criticised for questionable connections between its board of directors  and a Christian group called Full Gospel Business Singapore, or FGB Gatekeepers.

Khoo Oon Theam, Georgie Lee and Richard Magnus are all members of the FGB Gatekeepers board. While the former two are President and Vice-President, Magnus is the chairman of Strategic Gatekeeper Roundtable & Circles.

Jason Wong was identified in a 2013 FGB Gatekeepers publication – known as The Fire Report – as an elder of the FGB Gatekeepers Singapore's Strategic Gatekeepers' Family Gate. He is currently listed as being a member of the FGB Gatekeepers' advisory council.

Lim had responded to criticism then by telling The Straits Times: "A group of us who have known each other for many years and who all think the same way about wanting Singapore to be a place of peace and stability, decided to set up Honour (Singapore). Honour (Singapore) is not a Christian or religious organisation... We are not an advocacy group on issues of Government or public policies."

In response to queries from The Online Citizen last year, Lim said, "All the board members of Honour (Singapore) have worked, or are working, in secular organisations. They are involved in multiple roles where every role has its specific responsibilities and limitations. They know the boundaries between secular activities and religious activities. We are sensitised and are sensitive to the multiracial and multi-religious nature of Singapore, and the absolute need to maintain social and religious harmony. We know that we have to reach out to all sections of Singapore society, and we cannot do this if we carry out our object with a religious thrust."

Yet Khoo's speech at the leadership forum paints a very different picture.

"We just launched, by the way, what we call Honour (Singapore)," he said. "This is a foundation, I tell you what, this is a miracle, this is a whole agenda to deal with the whole issue of Singapore. What is the vision of Singapore, what are the values for Singapore to succeed over the next twenty and thirty years. What is the moral leadership that we need. And we address all the seven gates [as identified on the FGB Gatekeepers' website] by the way."

Khoo also said:

"For the last one year, we have been doing the national landscaping. We want to landscape Singapore. ... We got a Singapore conversation with the government, okay? We asked the Holy Spirit: what do you want Singapore to be, over the next twenty years?And we ask the Holy Spirt, and we wrote to the government, this is what Singapore should be, as led by the spirt of God. Amen."

The message was made even more stark when he touched on the subject of engaging with politicians:

"They would want to talk to you. They want to talk to you. So we meet up with politicians and we share with them the kingdom's values. Amen. And so that is a different value."

Towards the end of his speech, Khoo appeared to reveal yet another issue on the list:

"This is a national agenda. A family is mother and father, man and woman, not father and father and son, no. Not mother and mother and son. Is father and mother. Amen."

It is not clear if Khoo's speech was endorsed by all members of Honour (Singapore), or if all these members share his vision. But the crossover between FGB Gatekeepers' national board and Honour (Singapore) gives Singaporeans reason for concern.

While religious groups should have their freedom to practice their beliefs in Singapore, it is not desirable to have certain groups extend their sphere of influence into government policies which would possibly marginalise certain segments of society.

Khoo said that Honour (Singapore) only needed one month to be given its Institute of Public Character (IPC) status as opposed to the usual one year. However, enquiries with the Charity Board revealed that processing time is usually two months.

Thus, for a new entity with no history of prior operation to get its IPC status in just a month is indeed an impressive feat.

With all that Khoo had said about his organisations and their spheres of influence, the scenario is indeed troubling. Just a look at the members of Honour (Singapore) suggest that the group does not lack resources or connections to push its agenda.

Are religious groups masquerading as secular NGOs? What does this mean for a secular country like Singapore?

For the full video of Khoo's speech, please visit this page.