Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has said that the government is committed to multiculturalism, intolerance towards corruption, and acceptance of National Service (NS) because these are a”common and necessary sacrifice”. He further noted that these qualities are part of some of the intangible values that “hold us together as one people”. While I believe that these should indeed be part of our intangible values, I wonder if PM Lee has the same understanding of multiculturalism and corruption as the common Singaporean.
Let’s start with multiculturalism. The fact that Singapore is made up of a different races, religions and cultures is undisputed. Whether everyone is treated equally on the other hand is a separate issue. Let’s look at how our minority racial groups are treated and how that stacks up with the government’s professed commitment. President Halimah Yacob was chosen by the PAP government to be the current president of Singapore. The reasons cited for the changes in the criteria for the President was ostensibly to ensure minority representation. However, given that the president is a position with zero political power outside pomp and ceremony, what does this say about the government’s real view to multiculturalism? Is it just tokenism or lip service?
Then you have PM Lee declaring on international TV that Singapore was not ready for a non Chinese Prime Minister. How does this gel with his professed commitment to multiculturalism. How can we take his commitment seriously if he says otherwise on the global stage? Besides, on what basis is PM Lee making that statement? Has any research been done? If not, do they reflect his own prejudices? If so, how can someone who may have such biases lead the nation in its commitment to multiculturalism?
Next, let’s talk about the purported intolerance to corruption. What defines corruption? Is it simply that which is illegal or does it extend to immoral or unethical practices? Singapore does take action against the former but in relation to the latter, the situation is a lot more nuanced.
Many Singaporeans would consider elected Members of Parliament (MPs) paying only $365 per annum to park in multiple locations throughout Singapore a form of corruption. Yet, this practice continues despite widespread criticism. One would think that preferential treatment due to one’s position in the government would fall under the ambit of what constitutes corruption. What is this if not preferential treatment?
How about the glaringly obvious example of exceedingly high ministerial salaries? Isn’t paying holders of elected office such eye watering amounts a form of corruption (albeit legal) too?
PM Lee’s declarations of commitment to these intangible values do not stack up with reality.