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High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia presenting the prize to Tan Wah Piow. Beside stands Dr Tan Peng Guan, NUS alumni advisor in UK, and chair of UK chapter

Singapore exile, Tan Wah Piow wins return tickets to Singapore at NUS Alumnus dinner in London

By Ghui

When renowned Singaporean doctor, Dr Ang Swee Chai was honoured as an inductee to the Singaporean Women’s’ Hall of Fame, it was a bitter twist of irony of Singapore’s own making when she was unable to return to Singapore to witness her own induction. (read more)

At the NUS Alumnus London Chapter dinner attended by High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia in the Millennium Gloucester Hotel last night, ironical history was to repeat itself when Tan Wah Piow won the top prize at the raffle draw in aid of cancer research – Two return tickets to Singapore! As the audience broke into a smattering of applause, bemused glances were exchanged. Tan has just bagged himself a prize that he could never utilise!

As most readers would be aware, the government of Singapore revoked Tan’s citizenship when he fled Singapore after serving a prison sentence of one year on the basis of trumped up charges of rioting. (read more) It is also noteworthy to remember that it was upon the testimony of a man of questionable morals and honesty, Phey Yew Kok, that Tan was convicted in the first place. (read more)

As Singapore moves forward as a modern international democratic city, it seems petty and incongruous that Singaporeans such as Ang and Tan are still prohibited entry into the country of their birth.

While they both live meaningful and successful lives in London, they still very much identify as Singaporean. They still speak with the distinctive Singaporean accent and socialise actively within the Singaporean community. Indeed, as you see them mingle with fellow Singaporeans including government representatives at the NUS Alumnus dinner last night, there was no hint that they have been effectively barred from entering the country of their birth!

In Tan’s case, his citizenship was revoked over a series of events that have now been called into question after the arrest of Phey Yew Kok. Should the reasons that led to the revocation of his citizenship not be revisited and set aside?

In Dr Ang’s case – surely the incongruity is obvious in itself. Clearly, Singaporeans respect her and look up to her achievements. In wishing to honour her as an inductee to the hall of fame, they have irrevocably claimed her as one of their own. Why then has the government not followed suit? Why have they allowed an administrative loophole to hamper what should have been a glorious return?

(Left to Right; Tan Wah Piow and his wife, Dr Ang Swee Chai and High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia)
(Left to Right; Mrs Tan, Tan Wah Piow, Dr Ang Swee Chai and High Commissioner Foo Chi Hsia)

Tan’s lucky draw victory highlighted the ridiculousness of the situation and reminded me of Dr Ang’s similar plight. Is it not high time for the government to lift their bans? The very reasons cited by the government to keep them out were, amongst other things, that they were communists or had communist links. Communism is no longer a viable threat in Singapore. Why not let them in then?

While Tan knows that he will not be able to utilise the prize that he has won, he saw the funny side of things. As he received his prize from the High Commissioner, he graciously quipped that it was God’s will that he be allowed to return home.

Whatever the case, God certainly has a sense of humour.