Minister for Education Lawrence Wong (Wong) was recently criticised for not having publicly dealt with mounting concerns over the potential invasive roll-out of the Device Management Application in the devices of students, the way the Ministry of Education (MOE) has woefully handled how it has dealt with a transgender student, Ashlee, and allegations that MOE had interfered with her hormone replacement therapy.
It is also noteworthy that Wong’s lack of ownership and seeming disregard for the feelings of students on the transgender issue may have contributed to a peaceful protest outside MOE which led to three individuals (some of whom are students) being arrested.
Instead of dealing with criticism directly, Wong has only skirted the issue when answering questions levelled at him in Parliament. In other words, if he was not questioned about it in Parliament, he might not have dealt with it at all.
In responding to The Workers’ Party (WP) member of parliament (MP) for Sengkang Group Representative Constituency He Ting Ru’s questions about MOE’s policies and guidelines on students with gender dysphoria, and how often such policies and approached are reviewed as well as the level of autonomy schools have over implementing them, Wong had this to say:
“Issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars in some Western countries and societies. We should not import these culture wars into Singapore, or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society“.
Not only does this not answer the question, but it is also an attempt to deflect from the issue. The crux of the matter is how a student has been treated. But instead of taking ownership, Wong is going off-piste, muddying the waters with culture wars and the PAP’s favourite and boring excuse for everything – that of western culture and western values.
As this issue is being played out in Parliament, another key issue is also being fleshed out – that of the TraceTogether data.
Just to recap, the Parliamentary sitting in January 2021 generated a firestorm of controversy with revelations that data collected by the TraceTogether system for COVID-19 contact tracing can be accessed by the police pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
This information caused an uproar because the Government had previously assured Singaporeans that such data could not be used for any other purposes apart from COVID-19 contact tracing. In fact, Minister-in-charge of the smart nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan (Balakrishnan) and Wong had assured the public of the same in a press conference last year.
As this news broke, a public furore ensued as questions were asked of whether or not the Government had deliberately concealed this information which could, in turn, lead to an erosion of trust. The criticism was so intense that Balakrishnan publicly admitted to having made a mistake.
Likely as a result of this public outcry, Balakrishnan announced that the Government would be introducing legislation to set out seven categories of serious offences for which TraceTogether data can be used for criminal investigations which would include offences related to terrorism, drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping, and serious sexual offences such as rape.
This brings us to the Parliamentary sitting this month where the law to formalise this commitment to limit the use of the data will be debated. Prima facie, this appears very positive.
So what we have in Parliament now is a one Minister (Wong) saying that we should not import western culture as an excuse for MOE’s handling of Ashlee while another Minister (Vivian Balakrishnan) is saying that he takes “full responsibility” for his “mistake” despite not having actually said the words “sorry” or “apologise”
Why is this relevant?
It is relevant because the Government cannot have it both ways. If it wants to use the bogey man of “western culture” as a blanket excuse for errors, it must then be implying that Asian values trump.
However, if Asian values trump, how have our Government implemented or followed such superior Asian values?
As Shawn Lim (Lim), a multimedia reporter at The Drum, posted on Twitter, if Singapore does not want to “import western culture”, why is it not following Asian examples when it comes to ownership and responsibility?
Lim mentioned two examples – that of Mongolian’s Prime Minister immediately standing down for the country’s handling of a heavily pregnant woman who was COVID-19 positive, and the Industry Minister of Japan resigning over the misspending of political donations.
Balakrishnan has made a colossal error in the TraceTogether data. Why has he not resigned then? By Wong’s logic, surely he should? In fact, even Wong should! After all, wasn’t he present at the same press conference where the assurances were made?