It was with no insignificant measure of bemusement when I chanced upon Mr Shanmugam SC's response to Dr Chee's call for the tightening of immigration controls.
Widely reported in the media, Dr Chee purportedly said: "That starts at the ICA, and this is where I think the lax immigration policy is. You let in hundreds and thousands - millions - you got to be asking yourself: There cannot be people there who are not properly vetted. And this is where I'm saying - the Government must pay more attention to this problem right now.”
On any ordinary construction of Dr Chee's comments, I fail to see how Mr Shanmugam SC, or anyone with a decent command of the English language, could draw an inference, from any of those words, and especially in light of the bolded ones, that Mr Chee's was in fact urging "[t]hat we say no to all foreign workers? Or we say no to all foreign workers who are Muslim?"
I feel it would be safe to discard the proposition that Mr Shanmugam SC might have misunderstood Dr Chee, since his appointment as Senior Counsel indicates a high degree of proficiency in the English language, without which his practice of the law would have been greatly held back.
Another way to make sense of Mr Shanmugam's ill-conceived response is to assume that Mr Shanmugam SC genuinely believes that a proper vetting of entry applications into Singapore is likely to result in the refusal of all applications by foreign workers, or all foreign workers who are Muslim. But this is a proposition so utterly ridiculous I dare not for a moment think, for the sake of Singapore, that it is a belief that Mr Shanmugam SC in fact does hold.
Before I touch on what might be a third reason for Mr Shanmugam SC's outburst, I should add that it was embarrassing for Mr Shanmugam SC to then go further to suggest that Dr Chee's comments necessitated that "[we] Send them all back? Who is going to do their jobs? And also, construction sector, you send them back, who suffers? Singaporeans will lose their jobs too."
A baseless, meaningless conjecture, premised on his own (perhaps deliberate and conveniently) flawed understanding of Dr Chee's comments, perhaps it is only now fitting that Mr Shanmugam SC take heed of his own caution: "These are serious matters, security issues, they require careful consideration, proper thought, and I think we really all should just avoid making or taking cheap shots and political opportunism."
After all, the third and most likely reason for Mr Shanmugam SC's comments was that he took an opportunity to misrepresent Dr Chee through the media, and in doing so, appeal to the insecurities of Singaporeans- in my book, that is political opportunism exemplified.