Prof Donald Low says China’s efforts on transparency with Wuhan virus sounds “more progressive and enlightened” than Singapore on labour information

Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre, where some patients are reportedly in quarantine (Source: Weibo).

On Tuesday (21 January), Senior Lecturer and Professor of Practice at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Prof Donald Low commented that China’s efforts to maintain transparency on its handling of the Wuhan virus sounds “more progressive and enlightened” than Singapore’s stance on labour statistics.

Sharing an article by South China Morning Post (SCMP) about China warning its officials not to cover up the spread of the virus on his Facebook page, Prof Low said, “sounds more progressive and enlightened than the Sg [Singapore] government on labour market information”.

Prof Low also quoted a passage from the article:

“Only by making information public can [we] reduce [public] fear,” it said. “People don’t live in a vacuum and [we] will only provide a breeding ground for rumours to grow if we keep them in the dark and strip them of their right to [know] the truth.”

What’s happening in China?

The reason transparency was brought up with regards to the Wuhan virus in China was because of China’s poor handling of the SARS outbreak back in 2002 – 2003 which SCMP noted was “Marked by cover-ups and an official reluctance to share information”.

The article went on to say that sceptics are beginning to question if China will again put politics above public health.

The article then quoted one of the persons who raised this concern on social media on Tuesday, Peter Cordingley, who was the spokesman for World Health Organisation during the Sars crisis.

Online, Mr Cordingley accused Beijing of “lying about the spread of the Wuhan flu virus from the start”.

He added, “I say this because I was the WHO spokesman in Asia at the time of the 2003 Sars outbreak, and I’m seeing precisely the same reckless behaviour now.”

The article goes on to note that Beijing has reacted quickly to assure the globe that it will not stand for any cover-ups or withholding of sensitive information in relation to the outbreak.

In fact, the highest political body for law and order in China, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, released a statement on Tuesday cautioning Communist Party officials to remember the painful lessons of SARS and to make sure reports on the current situation are timely.

“Anyone who puts the face of politicians before the interests of the people will be the sinner of a millennium to the party and the people,” the commentary on its Chang An Jian account read.

“Anyone who deliberately delays and hides the reporting of [virus] cases out of his or her own self-interest will be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity,” it added.

The commentary also included an instruction from President Xi Jinping issue on Monday that the virus has to be “resolutely contained” and that all cadres must prioritise “the safety of people’s lives and their physical health.”

It was emphasised that the best defence against rumours and public panic is transparency.

“Only by making information public can [we] reduce fear,” it said. “People don’t live in a vacuum and [we] will only provide a breeding ground for rumours to grow if we keep them in the dark and strip them of their right to the truth.”

Additionally, SCMP highlighted that China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday that the country taking a “responsible attitude” in its handling of this outbreak in Wuhan and is willing to share information with other countries and regions.

Transparency in Singapore?

Now let’s go back to Prof Low’s comment about how China’s apparent commitment to transparency on this matter is “more progressive and enlightened” that the Singapore government’s stance on labour market information.

The issue about employment data has been dragged out as many opposition politicians, media, and netizens have persistently requested for a breakdown in employment figures of citizens and permanent residents but the government continues to be evasive.

Earlier this month, Worker’s Party chief and MP Pritam Singh had tabled a parliamentary question asking for the number of jobs created in each sector of the government’s Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) broken down according to citizens, PRs, and foreigner groupings.

In response, Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing merely said that local employment increased by nearly 60,000 between 2015 and 2018.

Following Mr Chan’s speech, Mr Singh repeatedly asked for a breakdown of the employment data but Mr Chan did not directly answer the question.

The back and forth then continued beyond Parliament when Senior Minister for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat weighed in to caution against ‘driving a wedge’ in society by differentiating between PRs and citizens.

But employment isn’t the only sticking point when it comes to the government not volunteering data and information that has been widely and persistently asked for, both by the public and members of parliament.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has continued to stay silent on the breakdown of construction costs of HDB projects while the Ministry of Health declined to name those who have been identified to be at fault for the Hepatitis C outbreak back in 2015 which resulted in eight deaths.

We also still don’t know the identity of the person responsible for the largest cyberattack in the country—the SingHealth data breach affecting 1.5 million patients including the Prime Minister.

Additionally, Singaporeans have been debating the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and the benefits it apparently brings to Singaporeans. Many have asked for data relating to CECA and concrete information on how the agreement has benefitted citizens, but have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

And last but certainly not least, the country is still in the dark about just how much the Prime Minister’s wife Ho Ching makes as CEO of Temasek Holdings. Since the company is an exempt private company under the Singapore Companies Act, it is not required to publish its audited statutory consolidated financial statements. This means we’re left to merely guess at how much Mdm Ho earns, with guesses going up to the millions based on market rates. Of course, we don’t know for sure.

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