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If the government is puzzled why the public is distrustful, they should take a look at their past actions

by Prof Donald Low

I think we can accept the Minister for Health’s explanation that his ministry made an honest “judgement call” not to inform the affected patients of the data breach back in 2016, and that it was not unreasonable for them to assess then that putting out the information would have caused more harm than good. So there was no (intentional) cover-up. Of course now with the benefit of hindsight, we can argue that they should have made a different assessment in 2016. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. The real test is whether given what Ministry of Health (MOH) knew in 2016, was their decision then a reasoned and reasonable one? And my answer is yes.

If you agree with the above argument, wouldn’t you also say that when Sylvia Lim suggested (during last year’s Budget debate) that the government had floated the GST increase as a “trial balloon”, it was also an honest assessment based on what she knew then?

With hindsight, she changed her mind, but again the real test is whether given the facts at the time, was her assessment a reasoned and reasonable one, even if it was later shown to be wrong? And I think most neutral observers would say it was a reasonable opinion (that many others at the time also held) and she didn’t need to apologise.

Why is this comparison important? Because as Harvard’s Levitsky and Ziblat argue in their excellent book “How Democracies Die”, one of the ways in which democratically elected governments undermine democracy is their constant denial of the legitimacy of political critics and opponents, and their characterization of the opposition as enemies, not just political rivals.

So if the government is upset that people don’t seem to give the poor Minister for Health the benefit of doubt (and I think he should be given the benefit of doubt), and that he’s been unfairly accused of a cover-up, perhaps they should ask themselves where people picked up this dis-trustfulness (and I should add, Schadenfreude) from. Because how you judge and treat your opponents is how you will eventually be judged and treated by the public.

This was first published on Prof Donald Low’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.