Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said that “Singapore can be a place for progressive minds to contest ideas and share perspectives, and it should play this small but useful role to advance peace and humanity”. In making this statement, I wonder if Minister Ng is familiar with the phrase “charity begins at home”. While I am not suggesting that peace brokering is necessarily charity, it is ironic that Minister Ng wants Singapore to be an international venue for the exchange ideas when Singapore does not appear to permit the contest of ideas by Singaporeans.
Recently, former social worker and current social activist, Jolavan Wham was charged for allegedly flouting the law for organising public assemblies without the required permits. Arguably, the peaceful gatherings he organised were to raise awareness over certain social issues thereby facilitating debate and discussion. The participants were not violent nor disruptive and it is certainly reasonable to assume that had he applied for the relevant permits, they would not have been granted. So, while the charges levied against him were not to ostensibly subjugate his ideas, they had the same effect of silencing him and his causes. Is this not a suppression of ideas that flies in the face of Ng’s statement of: “We do not seek only to gather people who agree”?
What of the saga of Roy Ngerng who raised questions about Singapore’s CPF monies? Although he was never violent, he was eventually made to apologise to Prime Minister Lee and pay a huge amount of damages.
While I understand that PM Lee values his reputation, this action had the effect of showing Singaporeans that criticising the establishment is never acceptable even if the questions were valid. How can Minister Ng say that he hopes for Singapore to be a place for the fair exchange of different ideas when Singaporeans have been punished for daring to do just this?
Singaporeans are not the only ones that have fallen foul of government sensibilities. Various international publications have been made to pay large amount of damages for daring to criticise Singapore.
Perhaps Singapore only accepts differing ideas if the ideas do not relate to the Singapore government.
In making these statements, Minister Ng seems to have an identity crisis about Singapore. Do we permit the free flow of opinions or do we not?