Former ST Editor-in-Chief Han Fook Kwang who is now an Editor-at-Large wrote an article today (‘Is the ground sour? Time to tackle it‘, 26 Aug) highlighting the growing sourness and grumbling on the ground.
“There seems to be a certain sourness on the ground, with more grumbling than usual about issues especially to do with the Government,” Mr Han observed. “In the many chat groups I belong to, more people seem to be getting worked up.”
Mr Han also observed that earlier this month, a doctor wrote to ST revealing that many of his patients from the different varied backgrounds were badmouthing the government in front of him.
The doctor wrote, “It is further aggravated when ordinary folk who are struggling to make ends meet conclude that those in authority lack empathy and that those making policies do not understand the sentiments on the ground.”
“I am also concerned about the responses of the younger generation, who pepper their comments with vulgarities, showing little respect for the office of those who are given the responsibility to govern,” the doctor added.
Mr Han said that the present mood reminds him of the run-up to the 2011 GE when PAP suffered the biggest setback at the polls in Singapore’s history. He attributes the public discontent to the “disconnect” between the government leaders and the general public.
And one of the reasons for the disconnect is the high salaries enjoyed by the government leaders. “I agree with commentators who have pointed out that overly high ministerial salaries poison the relationship between leaders and the led, reducing it to a transactional one,” Mr Han said.
“Already, segments of the population don’t show the same respect that earlier generations of leaders enjoyed, which makes it difficult for the Government to win hearts and minds.”
Urging 4G leaders to rise to the challenge
However, Mr Han continues to think that the government is right to be “firm” on issues like making changes to the Elected Presidency and announcing to raise GST to 9%.
He did not think that these are actions of an “elitist government out of touch” with the masses but rather examples of “far-sighted, decisive” leadership. The government just needs to do a better job “explaining to and persuading” the people, he said.
“I do not think it (government) has done so convincingly enough,” Mr Han opined. “The souring ground needs to be addressed because it colors people’s perception of the Government.”
But of course, Mr Han forgets that when one is suffering from hunger pangs, it is hard for one to listen to explanations with the stomach growling at the same time.
In any case, Mr Han contends that the sourness of the ground has led the public to question the high ministerial salary. “If not tackled, it might well rebound on the ruling party in the next general election, due by 2021,” Mr Han warned.
He concluded his article by exhorting the PAP fourth-generation (4G) leadership to “rise to this challenge” with the opportunity to “define their leadership” by winning over a new generation of Singaporeans and establishing a relationship of “trust and respect” with the people.
Incidentally, unlike some other older Singaporeans who have to drive taxis or grab cars so as to continue to sustain themselves and their families, Mr Han is one of the “lucky ones” to have been given a “nice” retirement job as a senior fellow in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at NTU since late 2016.