Leslie Fong, the former editor of Straits Times, wrote an opinion piece which attempts to tell the government about the current unhappiness among Singaporeans over the recent Covid resurgence in Singapore (‘What lies beneath the unhappiness over Covid resurgence in S’pore?‘, 20 May).
He observed that Singaporeans have turned from being appreciative of the government’s effort in containing the pandemic last year to feeling let down by its present failure to prevent the entry of the B1617 variant from India.
He also observed that these days, an inner force called “thumos” is currently at work in moving more people to speak out against the government who seemingly brushes their views aside.
“Anecdotal evidence and open expressions of disaffection in the social media space would suggest that there is certainly unhappiness that early calls for a pause to arrivals from high-risk countries had gone unheeded,” Mr Fong noted.
“It is this, coupled with the suspicion that complacency had set in, that upset the complainants.”
This public unhappiness is exacerbated by the perception that their honest misgivings have either been met with silence or deflected by officials who believe they have thought through everything, Mr Fong said. These officials think that the disgruntled Singaporeans just do not get the big picture.
The officials have regularly been reminding Singaporeans of the need to take in migrant workers and the economic consequences if Singapore shuts its borders.
Mr Fong shared, “This has not gone down well because Singaporeans, by and large, do understand that foreign workers are needed in construction, nursing and other sectors which the local workforce shuns. And they are not clamoring for a complete shutdown of the borders.”
“The exasperation is over the letting in of dependants of other employment pass holders, whether a computer programmer or a logistics manager,” he added. “Further, talk of a heavy economic cost to the country cannot but strike a discordant note with those who are already suffering a loss of earnings as a result of the tightened restrictions.”
“It would be a mistake to dismiss the dissatisfaction uttered thus far as just ‘noise’ in the ether or the opportunistic caviling of those who have an axe to grind,” Mr Fong warned.
Mr Fong also warned that it would be wrong for the government to call the misgivings of the people xenophobic or racist.
“Singaporeans who complain about letting in dependants do understand that it is only human for work pass holders or permanent residents here to want to get their loved ones out of their home countries as these are being devastated by the pandemic. But Singaporeans want their Government to put their safety first,” Mr Fong noted.
He then went on to quote Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher, who lay down the first principle of governance — “salus populi suprema lex” — the welfare of the people is the supreme law.
In his write-up, Mr Fong also suggested that the government to have “meaningful engagement” with Singaporeans over the issue and perhaps to begin with an honest acknowledgement on how the issue could have been better handled.
“All said, better a Singapore in which citizens have ‘thumos’ in their soul, as Plato prescribed, than a nation of sullen sheep,” he concluded.
On social media, the netizens in Singapore appear to have a better word to describe the Greek word “thumos” in the context of Singlish: