by Joseph Nathan
The on-going Bicentennial Celebration has uncovered many new truths that debunked what we, as a nation, had been told repeatedly by our political leaders, mainstream media (MSMs) or taught at schools all these past 50 over years. Singapore wasn’t a slum but a thriving sea-port. With critical sea-routes and undersea communications links established by the British, our populations were not all poor migrants. We now have a list of many were well-to-do families from a diverse culture properly validated and this has allowed many of us to rethink about our real identity as a nation.
We are learning some Hard Truths about how some of our political leaders have a tendency to distort the truth to fit their agenda. Some called them blatant liars without conscience while others tried to justify their action as a necessity. Rationally, a lie is still a lie and using the end to justify the mean can be a dangerous self-belief as at some point, one may no longer be able to distinguish between realities from their own lies and distortions.
As our economy thrived and flourished, it attracted many migrants to our shore. Many of our earlier grassroots support was based on clan, ethnic, nationality, religion etc. People provided supports largely for their own. Even one of our current Member of Parliament (MP) from the People’s Action Party (PAP) acknowledged just this week on CAN News that the triads or secret societies played a vital role to help these earlier migrants.
This was a shocking revelation. Did those triads also help to protect our political leaders during their contentious and hostile encounters with our unions too?
Those who have lived in a kampong or village before will also attest that we used to have our own kampong-heads to act on our behalf. At the work front, union leaders acted as the representative for their workers. MPs were not a preferred option of the people as many do not trust the politicians. They needed the support and help of these society and union leaders to convince the people to vote for them. This was the organic structure of our Singaporean way of life. MPs needed us more than we needed them. The same is true even until today.
Today, our political leaders have replaced those leaders in every aspect of our society. They were downgraded to grassroots advisors, and over time, they too become obsolete as MPs took over their social roles. Today’s activists and grassroots leaders are all largely politically aligned. Even our union leaders have all become affiliated-union leaders of NTUC. Our present representation has been artificially-structured to favour the incumbent political party. As such, it is to be expected when their party politics superseded the interests of the people.
I read with concern about the case of an elderly homeless man as highlighted by Brad Bowyer yesterday. Our political leaders have spent much of our tax-payer money to promote and celebrate our Pioneer Generation, and almost all of them talked passionately about their invaluable contributions to our nation.
Some even reminded our youth to respect them and learn from their selfless contribution to our country so that when their time comes for retirement, they too can be assured that our country will also celebrate their invaluable contribution and support them.
To learn about the hardship case raised by Bowyer, and also other cases raised over the past days by other concerned netizens, I am wondering why these real-life hardships of our Pioneer Generation are surfacing like bubbles in a glass of soda.
We are not talking about an isolated case that contradicted what our political leaders are celebrating but rather about cases after cases of hardships concerning our Pioneer and Merdeka Generations. In the case raised, the elderly man had approached his MP and her assistants, and they were all fully aware of his financial hardship and homelessness.
Housing and Development Board (HDB) seems to have deferred the matter to the MP and her team and is expecting them to write an appeal letter back to HDB, like some kind of pre-arranged status quo. Why must HDB, after more than 69 years of being established, still defer the matter to the MP instead of addressing the case directly? Is there some hidden “magic” in those appeal letters? Are we having just one too many MPs until we have to create some “work” just to justify their existence? Don’t they have anything more important to do than to supervise their estate cleanliness or write appeal letters? Since when have we reduced our elected politicians to such mundane functions?
If our elected leaders are reduced to estate supervisors and writers of appeal letters, then it makes a mockery of our whole election system of political representation. We did not elect our MPs to do such mundane works or to echo-chamber government policies to us, but to be active in making representation on our behalf in parliament.
To do so, they will need time to engage with their respective electorates, understand our real concerns, conduct research, seek expert-reviews, prepare and present their case persuasively. All these are time-consuming and crucial endeavours, critical to the constructive development of our nation.
HDB and other agencies ought to be conducting their own appeal of hardship cases independently. Our MPs are not their servants so why must they be doing such works for HDB or other agencies?
By now, our public services ought to be better integrated and should be able to offer any Singaporeans a one-stop contact point for the review of any hardship appeal compassionately without frustrating any suffering Singaporean further. There ought to be a clear line of separation between the elected political leaders and these entities.
Every case must be reviewed on its own merit and with urgency, and not based on whom their MPs are or who they know. If the MPs think that any of these entities have failed to evaluate any case properly or have been unreasonable, then they ought to make their case, rebut these entities more forcefully and hold them accountable for their failures. Isn’t this a more robust and progressive model? Isn’t it better to have some check and balance to hold our public sector and their agencies functional and accountable?
These suggestions are not rocket-science or complex management concepts. Our past leaders in our kampong, unions or street-level were already doing things these ways, way before many of our present MPs were even born. If our political leaders want to replace our pre-independent political-representation system and institutionalize everything in Singapore politically, then they ought to be doing a better job or have a better representation system that can effectively mitigate issues concerning Singaporeans. Are the party-politics of our politicians undermining our collective good?
The current directive of our public agencies to any Singaporean experiencing hardship or issues with red tapes is to go to their MPs first. This clearly reflects a very lazy-attitude and is time-wasting. It is definitely flawed. Such an unproductive process will only end up wasting many man-hours and resources besides compounding the hardship experienced by these suffering Singaporeans.
Isn’t productivity a key economic thrust and concern of our Minister of Trade and Industry, and our Minister of Finance? Aren’t these two ministers supposed to be the leaders of our 4G political leaders? Why aren’t they even advocating for a corrective overhaul of the political system that is struggling to mitigate the hardship of Singaporeans or our issues with red tapes?
All municipal works such as estate cleanliness and supervision should be de-politicalized and returned to the Ministry of National Development. Singaporeans do not need to elect supervisors to keep their estate clean. We also do not need to elect paper-pushers to write appeal letters for us.
We elect leaders primarily to make representation for us by questioning policies, laws or any public spending that are questionable and to propose corrective actions to remedy such discrepancies. We do not need to elect political leaders to wave at us, smile at us or tell us about morality. If we want a moral lesson, we can go to our respective religious leaders.
Maybe that is why so many of our elected political leaders are so tired from doing these mundane works that when they attend parliament, they end up sleeping or yawning in parliament. Maybe some of them are so stretched for time that they end up hardly ever speaking up in parliament despite the endless lapses, breaches and failures that are plaguing Singapore.
Clearly, something is very wrong with the present way our elected political leaders are being utilized. They have much to learn from their pre-independent peers. If there is a problem, fix it. If our MPs cannot see these discrepancies or fix them, are they even fit for our public officials in the first place?
If they are being utilized poorly, why aren’t they even speaking up and have such issues addressed? If they are not empowered or felt helpless with the endless red-tapes, why haven’t any of them raised such concern openly to us or bring them up at a parliamentary sitting? If they cannot represent themselves, how can they then represent us? Are there more Hard Truths to be surfaced?
Our political leaders need to walk their talks more consistently and must step up in taking corrective actions where it matters to ensure that they are able to serve us effectively, especially for those who are in hardship. A sense of urgency can be welcoming when one is in need of help. Anyone can experience economic or financial hardship and it is not a crime.
I hope we can also start to change our political attitude when it comes to such reviews and supports. Our political leaders need to show greater empathy and sensitivity and must stop “trampling” on the dignity and integrity of anyone who may be in hardship.
This article is dedicated to the many Singaporeans who may or have been disappointed by our current political-representation system, or from its lack of representation to due recourse. Clearly, every Singaporean deserves better.
This was first published on Joseph Nathan-Hard Truths of SG’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.