by Khush Chopra
In Parliament yesterday (26 Feb 2019), Member of Parliament and Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh brought the Merdeka Generation Package (MGP) and its timing into sharp focus on day one of the Budget debate yesterday. Pritam Singh rightfully questioned the timing of the MGP.
He questioned the government during the Budget debate about the “the ground feel” that the Merdeka Generation Package (MGP) was “timed with the election cycle”, “giving an unfair advantage to the electoral prospects of the PAP” and criticised the MGP as an “election tactic”.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat and MP Murali Pillai responded to the widely held sentiment that the MGP was timed for the imminent General Election as articulated by the Workers’ Party chief.
To try to side step criticisms of the MGP and PGP as inadequate one-off packages that in fact evidence the failure of PAP policies which only go so far as to only treat the symptoms but not the disease of what ails our society, both took pains to argue that the MGP was a recognition or acknowledgement of “contribution” by a preceding generation and not to plug any “needs gap”.
Whatever the motive for the packages, I have already argued that the MGP and PGP are evidence of a system that is sick and in urgent need of change and in need of structural change not one-time packages.
If the MGP were truly a gratuity or gift why not just give the Merdeka generation monthly cash contributions and why otherwise define it in such great and narrow detail as social expenditure to address healthcare cost concerns and benefits. They can’t have it both ways. Is it a recognition or social expenditure?
It is my opinion that no one will buy this double speak about acknowledgement of contribution and not a measure to address the needs of those affected.
Chee Hong Tat then unconvincingly charged the WP chief with “politicising this tribute to our Merdeka Generation”, chastising the WP essentially for being ungrateful for its generosity and accusing the WP of duplicity in wanting more but certain criticising the timing of the Government’s generosity when it is clear as day to anyone that despite Chee Hong Tat’s song and dance in Parliament that the MGP is a vote buying exercise for the significant “Merdeka” demographic of senior citizens.
MP Murali Pillai reading off his prepared speech, echoing Chee, attempted again most unconvincingly to argue that the MGP was not timed for the imminent General Election; arguing that such schemes as the MGP cannot be rolled out at start of Government’s term as the Government would need to be a “fortune teller” to time the MGP for the imminent General Elections because it is impossible for the PAP Government to know whether there will be sufficient resources at the beginning of the Government’s term as surpluses need to be earned and therefore you cannot ascribe a political motive to the MGP
What do predictions as to Budget surpluses have to do with the MGP? The fact is that you have sufficient resources and you decided on the MGP.
Nobody is saying that you roll out the MGP right at the very start of a Government term or asking the Government become “fortune tellers”; what everyone is saying is that you are timing the MGP just before elections and this is an indisputable fact and the PAP’s political motives are an irresistible inference that can be drawn by any reasonable person despite any irrelevant “fortune telling” budgetary forecasts that nobody has asked for. You chose the timing and you therefore are answerable for the implications of that choice.
In any case there are a myriad of ways to acknowledge the contributions of any cohort of Singaporean’s and again the PAP has chosen to use public funds in terms of the MGP to do so discriminating against every other Singaporean.
However quite apart from the theatre about it being “misleading” to link the Merdeka Generation Package and Pioneer Generation Package to election cycles that no one I know thinks is misleading to say, it was reported much to my disappointment
Referring to Pritam Singh’s assertion that the ground sentiment was that the MGP was “tied with the election cycle rather than being a strategic budget” it was reported on the Channel 5 news that such sentiments may give rise to cynicism and if left unchecked could undermine national unity.
I am not sure who is being accused of undermining national unity but I think it’s important to address the contention that any criticism of the budget statement is a threat to “national unity” or otherwise a “strong and united Singapore”.
Now that the Merdeka Generation Package has been exposed for what it is, and Singaporean’s have essentially lost faith in the ability of this PAP Government to deliver real solutions to the indelible social problems our society faces, they have the gall to threaten their critics with the offence of stirring sentiments that “if unchecked” could “undermine national unity” whatever that means.
It is therefore most disappointing to hear what can be taken as veiled threats against PAP critics using language vaguely suggestive or otherwise evoking the sedition and internal security laws.
Critics like me categorically reject any insinuation that our criticism or opposition is not in the public interest. It is the duty of a patriot to criticise what they see as wrong. Dissent can be the highest form of patriotism. Criticism is the foundation for change.
The great American President Theodore Roosevelt defined what it meant to be a patriot as follows:
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
Patriotism means to stand up for Singapore not the PAP. Patriotism means to stand on the side of the people of Singapore not the PAP people. The PAP is not Singapore and Singapore is not the PAP Government.
We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticise the PAP Government without fear. It is the sacred duty of all who care deeply and share a sense of national responsibility for our country to expose any abuse of power of the Government including expressing their opinion as to the use of national resources to buy votes especially at a time when the General Elections are imminent.
We who oppose the Government must and will call a spade a spade despite unwarranted and unjustified insinuations.
These insinuations raises serious concerns as they indicate high-level political coordination and intimidation. Such insinuations and the recent spate of cases against critics of the Government represents in my opinion an attack on free speech and indicates an ongoing trend of political repression since the beginning of PAP rule when power was for all intents and purposes essentially usurped by Lee Kuan Yew’s machinations that led to the detention of 113 of its political opponents without trial in a diabolical covert operation called Operation Coldstore carried out on 2 February 1963.
No matter what you think or the names you call or say about your dissenters; the duty of a patriot is to call out what is wrong. As writer Barbara Ehrenreich the American author and political activist put it: “Never mind that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.”
I therefore reject assertions made in reports of yesterday’s budget debate in Parliament that any criticism of the Budget Statement as being timed for election is misleading or otherwise undermines national unity.
It is in fact the duty of every patriotic citizen to criticise what they see as wrong and critics should not be accuse of undermining national unity.
This was first published on Mr Khush’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.