It was reported on Sunday (15 Jun) that Cabinet Ministers will increase their visits to the heartlands to hear people’s views on various issues. This initiative built on Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s vision in May, where he said that the Government will be starting a series of discussions to engage different segments of society.
Marking a departure from a previous practice where Ministers visited constituencies alone, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that there were now increased opportunities for residents to speak to the Ministers directly on multiple issues.
For example, residents with school-going children had approached him to discuss their views while those looking for work had talked to cabinet colleague Josephine Teo. 4G Minister Lawrence Wong also had the opportunity to interact with those who were facing issues with the Housing Board.
The 4G leader added that “speaking to residents randomly in a coffeeshop" was “a meaningful way of having a discussion series” and the participating Ministers would exchange notes after the visit to get a more holistic understanding of the issues people face.
However, not all were impressed.
On the Straits Times Facebook page, one Cassidy Andrew Goh drew a comparison to the late President Ong Teng Cheong while he was the Deputy Prime Minister. The netizen noted that Ong “would always walk around in his shirt sleeves [and] would not be accompanied by a whole jing gang of acolytes, aides, minders, grassroots leaders, and other hanger ons”.
Goh also felt that the 4G Ministers should “leave all the baggage of officialdom behind [and] insist that [their] aides do not go ahead and 'facilitate' [the interaction for them]”. He advised the Ministers to “stop strewing rose petals on the path before you so that [they can] actually see and feel what [ordinary people] feel”.
PAP promised to listen with “humility and passion” – but have they?
If this sounds familiar, it is not the first time that a senior member of the ruling party, People's Action Party has claimed that they would listen to the people.
During PAP’s 62nd Anniversary (21 Nov 2016), Organising Secretary Chan Chun Sing said that the party “will continue to serve Singaporeans with humility and passion”. It appreciated the trust that Singaporeans had in them would “do the best for them and their children”.
Despite this "humility" that was promised, one would remember the backlash that arose in March 2018 when Law Minister K Shanmugam spent more than 6 hours grilling historian Thum Ping Tjin during the select committee on Fake News. Thum had argued that the government itself was a major "fake news" spreader.
A year later in October 2017, a 20-hour shutdown took place on the North-South Line which was caused by negligent maintenance and falsified record logs. Despite the public's outrage, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan thanked CEO Desmond Kuek for ‘volunteering’ and having his “heart in the right place”.
Former Singapore Management University Political Science Professor Bridget Welsh noted in a blog post last week (10 Jul) that the PAP is “a highly elitist party, largely unable to relate to ordinary Singaporeans”. Another Academic - Professor James Chin from the University of Tasmania - joked that "PAP actually stands for 'Pay And Pay' party".
Indeed, barely a month after Chan’s speech, SP announced that electricity tariffs would be increased by 5.6% for 1Q 2017. Despite strong profitability of close to $1 billion a year, successive increases followed suit: 6.1% (2Q17), -3.2% (3Q17), -2.1% (4Q17), 6.3% (1Q18), 2.8% (2Q18) and the recent 6.9%. Service and Conservancy charges for PAP Town Councils increased too in 2017.
The collective impact to ordinary Singaporeans are devastating. Newspaper TODAY reported that 62 year-old housewife Chuang Pek Yah tries to save money by dimming the ceiling lamp while 46 year-old Taxi driver Kent Chia, said his family “extra mindful” of electricity and water usage,
Give the PAP's actions and policies after Chan's speech, can we then say that they have listened with humility and respect?