Each time we celebrate National Day on August 9, we are reminded of how far we have come as a nation.
Indeed, Singapore is a metropolis with towering skyscrapers, a global financial hub and a vital and vibrant centre for commerce. As a nation, we have come a long way since independence.
But as a people, have we matured and come that far?
There is more than an inkling that Singaporeans are still expected to conform and be grateful for any comforts that come our way – no need to debate and question so much because the PAP government knows what to do and what’s best for Singapore. That attitude hasn’t really changed after all these years.
Nothing illustrates this better than Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s response last week to someone at a forum who suggested cutting Ministers’ pay to help fund pensions for the elderly. He essentially berated the person, declaring “Ministers are not paid enough!”
So you can still get reprimanded for a question or suggestion which is too inconvenient or bothersome to address. They decide what is off limits and out of bounds to citizens.
Every National Day, we are also reminded of how prosperous a nation we have become. But then Singaporeans are not entitled to ask about our national reserves.
More than 20 years ago, when President Ong Teng Cheong asked for a detailed account of the reserves, he became persona non grata. And yet he was someone tasked with safeguarding the reserves!
So what are the chances of ordinary citizens getting clarity on the reserves?
How much the country has in reserves – like Ho Ching’s salary – is a closely guarded state secret.
It’s like shareholders of a company being told they cannot be informed of how much money the company has. Would that be acceptable?
Singapore may have come far as a nation, but Singaporeans are still kept in the dark about many things and are not supposed to ask inconvenient questions – such as those concerning Ministers’ salary and accountability, Ho Ching’s salary, the goings-on at Temasek, and the country’s reserves.
They can talk about widening income gap and disparity between the haves and have nots but we are not to ask the questions about who perpetuated this gap.
They can talk about the wonders of meritocracy but we are not to question whether it is elitism and entitlement in disguise.
They can talk about the need for a greater influx of foreign talent and immigrants but we are not to question about the impact on infrastructure and the polarising repercussions.
So, yes, every National Day, we are reminded of how far we have come as a nation.
But as a people, have we really come that far?
We are still expected to baa like sheep and be grateful for whatever mercies and comforts that come our way, and we are expected to stop asking about the things they don’t really want to talk about.