The government is not the only arbiter of truth nor should it allowed to be

It would appear that Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng has accused historian PJ Thum of “not wishing Singapore well” as a result of Thum writing on Facebook that Singaporeans should also rejoice in Malaysia’s Merdeka Day. I am struggling to understand the seemingly overreaction on the part of Mr Seah. How is wishing Malaysians a happy Merdeka Day controversial in any way? What is wrong with wishing Malaysians well on their national day? If a foreign friend wished Seah Happy National Day on the 9th of August, would he consider that foreign well wisher a traitor to his or her home country? Surely not?

Perhaps Seah feels threatened by Thum’s meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir and this massive overreaction is triggered by this perceived threat. That said, by overreacting the way Seah has does the PAP more harm than good. It displays the vulnerability felt by the party which comes across as weak and insecure to the electorate. I am not sure that this would send Singaporeans the message of stability.

Further, Seah does not seem to understand what the term “Malaya” actually means. If he did, he would not have reacted so negatively to Teo Sur Lung’s reference to Singapore being part of Malaya. The term Malaya loosely describes a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries. It is, therefore, a matter of fact that Singapore was a part of Malaya. How is stating a historical fact treasonous?

He describes lawyer and ex Internal Securities Act detaine, Teo Soh Lung’s usage of the term “Malaya” as a tip of the hat to the name the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) preferred for the peninsula, including Singapore. Here we go again with the communist insinuations! Teo, who was detained during the Operation Spectrum, was never a communist. She has denied this strenuously over many years and this accusation has also been debunked by notable historians and academics alike. Seah is behaving like a one trick pony by using this old and tired accusation yet again. In this day and age, the term “Communist” no longer has the political currency it once did! Will the PAP government please turn a page!

Singapore and Malaysia do share a common heritage and were once part of the same country both pre and post independence from the British. With that in mind, what is wrong with celebrating each other’s milestones?

Given that Teo has never been proven a communist; that wishing a neighbouring country happy Merdeka day is a gesture of good will and not a sign of treason; that Malaya is a historic term that referred factually to both Singapore and various states in the Malay Peninsular, I really cannot see the basis of any of Seah’s accusations?

At the Select Committee hearing on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, a committee member, suggested that Government backing or verification is the only way that truth can be ascertained. Among other things, he listed racial issues, financial and economic issues as examples for when only the state can confirm as fact. What was not properly addressed is what happens when the state makes a mistake?

Take Seah’s accusations levelled at Thum and Teo as an example. Here Seah, who also sits on the Select Committee, seemingly misunderstood what the term “Malaya”meant and made ample implied allegations of communist activity by Teo. Malaya is a historic term that denotes a set of islands in the Malay peninsula and Singapore which were ruled by the British in colonial times. Seah seems to have confused the term Malaysia with Malaya. In this case, how can government verification be taken as gospel? Seah had definitely made a mistake. In these cases, who fact checks the government?

What about the time when the government declared pre-election that it had no intention to increase the GST only to backtrack on this promise after the election rendering its verification of facts meaningless. Is the government here the purveyor of fake news too?

Is Seah promoting a falsehood by insisting that Teo is using the term Malaya to hark back to her communist days? With his misunderstanding of the term, could Seah be accused of perpetuating fake news?

Can a government who has been made up of the same majority rule PAP really be the best arbiter of truth? Can it not be said that the government has an agenda that it would like presented to the public that may be in the best interest of the party but not necessarily for the best interests of the country?

Why does the government need to be consulted on “truth”? Surely each “truth” will have its own specialists and experts that can verify matters better than the government? Besides, won’t it look better to the public for non-partisan experts to verify the truth of a given matter rather than a government whose intentions could potentially be suspect?#

At the end of the day, governments make mistakes and/or have their own agendas.