In regards to the latest issue of allowing nurses to don tudung at their workplace, Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan took to Facebook on Monday (29 March) to highlight the lack of communication among People’s Action Party (PAP) ministers.
Dr Chee was referring to the recent speeches made by ministers during the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament earlier this month.
It all started when Aljunied GRC and Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Faisal Manap asked the Government on 8 March whether it would reevaluate its ban on the religious headgear for women working in uniformed services, stating that the rule has prevented many Muslim women from taking up such roles.
Allowing nurses to wear the hijab at work, thus, could expand the local pool of nurses, he illustrated.
As a response, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli reiterated the Singapore government’s secular stance on the issue of allowing Muslim women to wear the tudung in uniformed professions such as nursing and the police force.
Further, Mr Masagos went on to say that any discussion on such matters should be held behind closed doors because these issues were delicate and “sensitive”.
He also went on to say that allowing the donning of the tudung “would introduce a very visible religious marker that identifies every tudung-wearing female nurse or uniformed officer as a Muslim”.
“This has significant implications: We do not want patients to prefer or not prefer to be served by a Muslim nurse, nor do we want people to think that public security is being enforced by a Muslim or non-Muslim police officer. This is what makes the decision difficult and sensitive,” said Mr Masagos.
Beyond that, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Maliki Osman, cited Islamic scholars who have advised Muslims to make the appropriate adjustments while staying true to their faith in a pluralistic society.
He said, “We must avoid situations like in other countries where issues of religious expression take centre stage and become a divisive matter and put certain groups under the spotlight.”
However, a few weeks later, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam come forward to say that the Government might allow nurses to wear tudung at work, contradicting the earlier statements made by the Muslim politicians.
Mr Shanmugan had said that this was noted in a closed-door session with senior religious leaders and members of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) in August last year.
Mr Shanmugan said about the August discussion, “I told you very frankly: We can see good reasons why nurses should be allowed to wear tudung if they choose to do so. I said this was being discussed internally. And after that, our view is, there is likely to be a change and we are also consulting with the community before we make a change.”
“When the discussions are completed, the government will announce its decision,” he added.
Dr Chee questions the flip-flopping statements
Apart from statements made by Mr Masagos and Dr Maliki, what puzzled the SDP’s chief even more is Mr Shanmugam’s revelation that nurses might be allowed to wear a tudung at work after completing a closed-door discussion with senior religious leaders six months earlier.
“Surprising as Mr Shanmugam’s announcement was, it wasn’t the most eyebrow-raising fact. What stood out like an arthritic thumb that just got whacked by a hammer was his revelation that discussion about the govt’s change of heart had been going on for the last half-a-year,” Dr Chee stated.
As such, Dr Chee said this could mean two things – one would be both Mr Masagos and Dr Maliki were not aware of such a discussion, or two, they were aware of what was happening, which then brings to the question why they didn’t mention this in Parliament but allowed Mr Shanmugam to clarify this later on.
“One, Mr Masagos and Dr Maliki were not privy to such discussion or thinking. Question is: (A big fat) Why? They were Muslim ministers in-charge of matters Muslim, were they not?
Two, both of them DID know what was going on. If this is the case, why did they say what they said in Parliament and not tell the public what Mr Shanmugam subsequently let on?”
Dr Chee also went on to wonder if Mr Masgos and Mr Shanmugam were not in the same chat group to know what is happening on this matter.
“Was Masagos not alerted that Shanmugam would, at some point, tell S’pore that the govt would likely relent on its current position (the heads-up would have been helpful because Masagos could have tempered his speech in Parliament)?
“And, curiously, why was it left to Shanmugam to inform the public when Masagos is the Muslim minister?” asked the opposition party leader.
He also stated that the whole event is “rather bizarre”, but was not surprised given the past incidents involving the Government’s flip-flopping comments such as Minister of Foreign Affair Vivian Balakrishnan’s revelation that TraceTogether data can be used for police investigations as well as contractors “erroneously” cleared substantial green spaces of Kranji forest.
“The whole thing seems rather bizarre. But then again why should it? The mess over Dr Balakrishnan’s non-promise that the Trace Together data would strictly be accessed for Covid-related purposes only or the stranger-than-fiction explanation that Kranji forest was cut down “by mistake” should make it clear that bizarre is what S’poreans have come to expect from the current set of ministers,” Dr Chee concluded.