In a typical Parliamentary session, Hokkien is hardly uttered, but when Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah mentioned si gui kia to describe ungrateful child, it raised eyebrows among Singaporeans. She said the phrase while telling the story of a doting grandfather or Ah Gong, and his grandson called Ah Seng.
In the story, which was completely told in Mandarin, she said that Ah Gong takes care and gives Ah Seng monetary support throughout important parts of his life, such as for his university education, overseas immersion programme and wedding.
One day, Ah Seng gathered the the audacity to asks his Ah Gong why the financial help is not given to him regularly, triggering the elderly man to scold Ah Seng in Hokkien for being an ingrate (si gua kia) and a wastrel (bai jia zi).
“You have such a good grandfather and you don’t even know it! I save and scrimp on myself, all for you. Are other grandfathers that good to their grandchildren?” said the Ah Gong in MP Lee’s story.
Her story appeared to be an analogy for Singaporeans who questioned the Government why the latest Budget didn’t provide the people with more financial support, especially in areas like healthcare.
According to an article by the Straits Times (ST) written by their journalist Tee Zhuo, this seemed obvious because immediately after the story, MP Lee applauded and thanked the Government for cleverly managing Singapore’s finances so that surpluses could fund spending like the S$6.1 billion Merdeka Generation Package. She also highlighted that not a lot of governments did the same for their people.
“I am glad that the Merdeka Generation, that is those born in the 1950s, have been recognised in this year’s Budget. But I disagree with Ms Lee’s depiction of the Government as the Ah Gong I have wronged,” wrote Tee in his article.
Although the MP is famously-known for her stories in Parliament, but not all of it went down well with the audience.
In the beginning of last month, a clip of her talking about snakes and rats in her ward had also gone viral. She told that this happened due to cat feeders leaving the food unattended too long, causing a hike in snakes and rats in her area. However, this story is an issue her constituents were facing, which after all is her job as an MP.
Tee wrote, “I have no problem with these ‘folksy, down-to-earth ways”, as she has been described. In fact, I think her stories are often effective, and not just in helping fellow parliamentarians stay awake.”
However, the usage of si gua kia in her latest story drew a lot of criticism from the public, and it took the attention away from the other important parts of her speech.
“What a pity, when she had actually spent 15 minutes raising pertinent concerns on important issues like the Budget’s sudden diesel tax hike and tightened foreign worker policies. Distracting from her own point is one thing. The widespread anger online she has since drawn is another,” the journalist noted.
In fact, the comparison of Ah Gong and Ah Seng are a bad example for the relationship between the Government and the people.
“For starters, while one of any government’s most important jobs is deciding how to use and distribute money on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the people, that money comes from taxpayers. Ah Gong’s money was his own and he chose to give some of it to Ah Seng. Social spending, however, is not a charitable act by the Government. It is a duty,” expressed Tee.
He further questioned, “Does the fact that they disagree with the Government or each other automatically make them ungrateful? On the contrary, I think it shows they care enough about this country to speak up and present alternatives.”
Tee was referring to the lively debate that occurred post-Budget that suggested on how best to balance social spending with fiscal responsibility. Some suggestions even came from Ms Lee’s fellow MPs.
In the ST’s article, Tee concluded by saying that “Ah Gong was neither Ah Seng’s servant nor his representative”. This is because a good government should be do the both for its voters.
“Paternalism is a dangerously complacent attitude for those in power. Unlike Ah Seng, who had no choice in who his grandfather was, Singaporeans elect their political leaders…In other words, the Government is #notmyAhGong, and I am no ingrate,” Tee said.
Following his article, over 400 comments were received on ST’s Facebook page, supporting Tee’s viewpoints. They all expressed that Singaporeans don’t owe the Government, but in fact, it is the Government’s duty to provide support for its people. Furthermore, the people of this country pay their taxes, which is what the Government is using to provide for the people.
Some even felt that the comparison of Ah Gong as the Government is wrong because the Government is obviously not poor and scrimping on its money to give financial help to Ah Seng (citizens).
A bunch of netizens were also ashamed that MP Lee is part of the Government, and felt that she is disrespectful. They want her to step down and hoped that the next election will show such results.