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The Art of PAPsplaining

by Law Kim Hwee

There’s mansplaining, womansplaining…there’s also whitesplaining….then there’s PAPsplaining in Singapore and for Singaporeans only.

WikiBBCMerriam-Webster explain the various meanings. I’m here to try to capture how in our uniquely Singapore context, our ruling, dominant political leaders have been “PAPsplaining” issues and failures, in particular – to us Singaporeans.

What is PAPsplaining?

PAPsplaining is when members, especially leaders, of the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) try to explain a situation in such a way as to assume Singaporeans are all mostly daft, and they think they can get away with their none-the-wiser explanation. PAPsplanation defects blame away from the PAPsplainer.

Government ministers are most prone to PAPsplaining when the situation is a bad one, like the death (again) of another precious son of Singapore during National Service (NS) training. That is when they try to PAPsplain and take the blame away from themselves. They sometimes preface it with the sounds of the words of sadness and regret, if the situation is so warrants.

The evident effectiveness of PAPsplaining is when Singaporeans end up being none the wiser, but the PAP leaders are allowed, without any questions from or in the mass media, to continue doing the same PAPsplaining.

Here are recent examples of PAPsplaining (or PAPsplanation):

  1. Heng Swee Keat and Gan Kim Yong

In response to a Feb 1 LianHe ZaoBao editorial, Heng basically echoed all the previous “PAPsplanations” for all the recent failures that the LianHe editor raised to support the observation and concern that, perhaps, the government has “gone slack”.

Heng, failed to explain how it has come about that, unlike in previous decades, all the recent failures appear to converge recently. That is the crux of the issue – not how each failure has individually occurred, but rather, why they all come together NOW – which may indicate underlying slackness in leadership.

“No!” Heng simply responded.

“I reject the suggestion” that this cabinet has allowed the whole system to go slack. He re-PAPsplained all the recent failures in “National Service training deaths, SingHealth cyberattack and the HIV data leak”, pinning blame on lower ranks. Not taking responsibility as a leader.

Similarly, Gan also came out to echo “I reject” any allegation of cover-up by his ministry in the HIV data leak.

Yay, sure. Failing to reveal since 2016, is not a “cover-up”.

“On the one hand, there is the need to be transparent,” he elaborated. “On the other hand, we need to consider the impact of an announcement on the affected persons with HIV – would it serve their interest, or harm them instead?”

That consideration didn’t apply to the 8 deaths from Hep C infection.Then, there was no need to consider “the impact of an announcement” since the 8 were already dead and gone. Instead, the PAPsplanation then was not to create a “blame culture”.

  1. Ng Eng Hen and Lee Hsien Loong

It took 4 deaths in 17 months – and a long 19 days after Aloysius Pang’s death – before Ng came forward to say “I am deeply sorry”. His ministerial statement on 11 February in Parliament is little different from all previous ones.

You know, where your time is, there your heart will be also. Never mind his touching words, in all his nearly 8 years as Defence Minister, did we ever read of Ng showing up time and time again at Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training exercises to speak and emphasise the need for safe training? Nope. Not once. Just check his Facebook entries. Zilch. Zero.

If the top dog pays only lip service to Safety, first, what do you think those Chiefs of Defence, Chiefs of Army and the lowly Training Safety Officers were doing about safety? Why am I not surprised to learn of death #11, a.k.a CFC Aloysius Pang?

We are left with yet another same-same-but-different COI – and none the wiser why our NS sons keep dying during training.

Then, after 3 weeks, Lee Hsien Loong pitched in to say the obvious, “We know zero fatalities is extremely hard to achieve” and “We cannot outsource our security and defence to anyone else”.

Hello, Mr Highest-Paid Politician in the World, please lah tell us something we don’t already know!

  1. Monkey hear, monkey say

So, the PAPsplaining habit continues down the line of leadership. Here’s Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Education) Low Yen Ling PAPsplaining why Mikhy F Brochez was employed with fake qualifications. “There is unfortunately no system that is able to exhaustively keep out those who are out to lie and cheat,” Please lah, tell us something we don’t already know!

She also revealed that “prior to hiring Brochez, both polytechnics had carried out the pre-employment checks by verifying Brochez’s educational certificates against ‘original’ certificates he produced.” And the answer is to PAPsplain away the failure in diligence, in HR practice? What a joke!

Our education services’ due diligence has been not the current highest “best practice” that the private head-hunters do.

Should we be surprised that the PAPsplaining virus has infected the entire political leadership in Singapore? It’s an Art Form, actually.

No PAP-smear needed. Or can help – except to vote wisely.


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