There are middle ground Singaporeans who say that while there is no doubt that the government has dropped the ball in the COVID-19 pandemic, it should not be held to account while the crisis is ongoing.
Their reasoning goes something like this: Let the ministers rectify their mistakes, give them a chance to get it right, no point asking for an apology because it wouldn’t solve anything.
That is not entirely unreasonable.
It is about giving the government a second chance. Just move on. No admission of mistakes necessary, no apologies needed.
But the problem with that argument is that we are so used to a government that has for decades been adopting the opposite stance – a take no prisoners style to governing and ruling the nation.
Has the government been giving a second chance to the people, the critics and the opposition?
All three Prime Ministers of our country have carried on the tradition of taking citizens to court. They have been doing what leaders in other countries very rarely, if ever, do to their own citizens.
Did our leaders tell the citizens, never mind, let’s move on, let me give you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps you made an honest mistake after all?
Obviously not. Citizens must be taught a lesson.
Did our leaders tell the Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament and town councillors, it’s your first time managing a town council, we understand you have some issues, we’ll give you a chance to work it out, we’ll let you rectify your mistakes?
Clearly not. The opposition must be held to account.
The WP went though a protracted struggle and ended up being taken to court. All in, a ludicrous six-year saga.
So when Singaporeans demand answers over the mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis and ask why there has been no admission of mistakes and no apology, it is not about simply baying for blood.
It is holding the government to account, in the way that the government has been holding others to account for as long as we can remember.
There is, of course, no way that citizens can be as cutthroat as the government. We cannot take them to court, we cannot penalise them. Showing our displeasure at the ballot box is perhaps the only option.
The crisis we are experiencing has particular relevance to what Lee Kuan Yew once touched upon:
Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him.
Or give it up. This is not a game of cards.
This is your life and mine.
People’s lives are now at stake. People’s jobs are on the line. Everything has gone topsy turvy. When will normalcy return?
This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine.
Unlike in a game of cards, politicians have only one shot at getting it right.
If ministers cannot even admit to mistakes and apologise, how can Singaporeans trust that they hold themselves accountable, that they have learnt from their mistakes and will not botch things up again?