Dr Tan Meng Wah’s post, “COVID-19: Why the ‘Mishandling’?” has certainly created much debate as politicians, social commentators, experts and academics wade into the discussion presenting their own views and opinions. This is something that ought to be welcomed.
After all, there can be no thought process and improvements if everyone sang from the same song sheet. To progress from this COVID-19 pandemic, this robust discussion is very necessary.
Associate Professor Ben Leong has responded to Tan’s article with his own take on the government’s handling of the corona virus. To generalise, we can broadly categorise Leong’s essay as pro government while Tan’s is a criticism of the government.
Like Poh Yong Han , Editor-in-Chief, of the Singapore Policy Journal, it is likely that most of us would be somewhere in the middle. However, when reading articles, it is always prudent to not only think for ourselves and not take anything as gospel, but to also contextualise any particular narrative before coming to your own conclusions.
Quoting Leong verbatim : “Data has context. It’s not simply a matter of how many infected cases a country reports. You need to understand where the data comes from and how it is obtained. The capacity limits for COVID testing means that we need to be wary about believing the data and it is not because anyone is intentionally under-reporting.”
So in the same way, any article and any opinion has a context – the reader will do well to remember this in everything he or she reads or hears.
In the Singaporean context, we have something very unique that no other country with a serious outbreak has. We have a government that has had unbroken and overwhelming majority in Parliament since independence. We also have a government whose ministers are paid among the highest in the world.
To top it off, we have a mainstream media that is seen as very pliant to the wishes of the majority Peoples’ Action Party (PAP). With all of these in its favour, the PAP led government in Singapore really ought to have done better where the virus is concerned. It does not have to convince anyone in Parliament to vote for what it wants (given that it has the majority). It does not have to quiet the mainstream media for criticising it.
In a democracy, this is virtually unheard of. But most of all, its ministers are so well remunerated! As citizens, are we wrong to expect more from those who get paid much more?
In short, with everything weighted in its favour, all the government had to do was to focus on combating the virus.
However, it would appear that the government chose to try and organise a general election alongside fighting the virus while at the same time — with politicians conducting walkabouts, creating a COVID-19 task force chaired by people with no medical experience.
Of course, especially when compared with the wider world, Singapore has not done a dismal job. Far from it. But if you look at the full picture of the great power and resources that our government has in its arsenal, such as passing new regulations on a daily basis after the Circuit Breaker was announced in April, is what they have done thus far good enough?
As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. With the full picture in mind, has the government lived up to this? You the reader can decide.