Our President is meant to sit above politics and act as a safeguard for the people. Yet, apart from issuing generic statements, has she done anything more to genuinely speak up for the people in which she is supposed to represent?
The past year is among the worst our young country has weathered. In the devastating pandemic, lives were lost and the economy took a battering. Amid this, most Singaporeans were law-abiding, hunkering down to obey the safe-distancing measures, the mask-wearing, and even the circuit breaker rules which meant that people had their freedoms drastically curtailed.
Businesses were shuttered and many had their livelihoods affected. Yet, citizens did this largely without complaint. They understood that the rules were there to protect the people and to stop the spread of the dreaded coronavirus.
By and large, cases seemed under control and the Government opened up our borders. Were they too complacent? Was it too fast too soon? Perhaps.
In the wake of the current fishmonger cluster and the KTV cluster, there is the suggestion that we should have limited our borders longer. Not because we are racist but because we are doing our part in containing the pandemic. Not just for our country but others too. I say this without blame because, in truth, it is clear that governments all over the world do not have the solution, ours included.
However, our Government does tend to want to create the image of the benign parent and the omnipotent superior power, giving its citizens, the children, guidance and protection. This in turn created the expectation that the Government should have the solution to all things. This is an image that our Government continues to cling onto. But is this really constructive?
If the Government insists on being seen as the provider of all things to get votes, they will always set themselves up to fail. With the advent of social media, it is virtually impossible to keep this pretence up. Shouldn’t the Government want to empower the people to rely on themselves so that we can collectively solve problems instead of passing the buck and pushing blame?
However, if we have an insecure Government that needs to rely on its “I can solve all” image just to win votes, therein lies the problem, and COVID has exposed this weakness. Yet, instead of putting its hand up, owning up to mistakes, and admitting that it does not have an answer, the Government turned around and blamed citizens for not obeying rules. If the Government sees itself as above blame, why it is blaming us? Bit of hypocrisy right there, no?
Perhaps it is time for the Government to level with the people. It doesn’t have the answer and it does make mistakes – even colossal ones. After all, the more you try to hide, the more there is speculation and rumours, usually negative. It could also lead to fake news which serves no one’s interest.
Back when the Parti Liyani case first broke, the Government had a chance to order a public Committee of Inquiry (COI) to shine a light on things within our institutions that may need fixing. It would have been a golden opportunity for people to also be engaged, take ownership, learn, and accept that the Government does make mistakes but that the system does not hide institutional failures.
Unfortunately, all inquiries were done behind closed doors with no public accountability – leading the whole thing open to suspicion, further enlarging the chasm between the Government in their ivory tower and the citizens. The President had it within her power to order such a COI. Sadly, she did nothing of that sort, not even uttering a word of support for Parti.
Last year, Co-Chair of the Multi-Agency Task Force Lawrence Wong had promised that there would be some sort of review into how the Government has handled COVID-19 at “the right time”.
Since that time, Mr Wong has never mentioned it again. Nor has anyone in the Government for that matter. Given the recent and seemingly preventable lapses in judgement by the authorities which have now resulted in new and expanding clusters, is it not the time to have a COI on this?
Surely, we should properly look into what we have done wrong or what we can do better? After all, what we are currently doing doesn’t seem to be working? A COI would allow people to get involved and understand the workings of authorities better. People would then realise that the Government is made up of people who, like us, make mistakes.
We would be more forgiving if there was accountability. It would also make us, the public, part of the solution resource who is a part of the process and incentivise us to help ourselves where we can.
Yet again, the President has the power to order a COI. Will she?
Ghui is a Singaporean writer based overseas.