Drifting sideways, sliding backwards, has the country turned directionless?

Drifting sideways, sliding backwards, has the country turned directionless?

by Augustine Low

Lee Kuan Yew famously told Singaporeans: “Follow that rainbow, go ride it.”

The words of Singapore’s late founding father meant something then but rings hollow today. Ask the young and the not-so-young now: do they see a rainbow, where oh where is that rainbow?

As a country, we seem to be drifting sideways, directionless, time and again slipping and sliding backwards.

Look at the Lee family saga. Just when we thought the country had moved on, the plot thickens, and we are backpedalled into a dark place, with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.

Leadership succession used to be a hallmark of Singapore – the smooth, seamless transition of one leader to the next. But all we have been seeing is sideways drifting, with more uncertainty than clarity.

The Presidential election is coming up in a matter of months. The last one in 2017 left a bitter taste because the country elected a president without a vote, spurring Singaporeans’ use of the #notmypresident hashtag.

Will 2023 be a repeat of 2017? The way things are shaping up, we could indeed be going back to 2017.

The Keppel bribery scandal is yet another giant step backward, calling into question the zero tolerance against corruption, ingrained in us for decades.

Despite lingering concerns, funding of SPH Media Trust to the tune of S$900 million is rammed down the throat of taxpayers. Back to the all-too-familiar put up or shut up, public opinion be damned.

There was once talk of a First World Parliament. But have we really moved on from the time when J.B. Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong were targets for shooting practice? Now it’s Leong Mun Wai.

Chiam used to be met with derisive laughter when he spoke in Parliament. Recently, Leon Perera had to pause midway while defending the Workers’ Party’s housing paper because laughter rang out among those in white. Today, as in the past, the Opposition is an object of amusement.

Every country has problems. It’s whether the leaders show foresight or short-sightedness in addressing them. Unlike in the past, it is increasingly clear that there is an abundance of short-term solutions to long-term problems.

Inequality: the poor getting poorer, the richer getting richer. It is fashionable now to dole out cash handouts, vouchers, rebates and top-ups. How does it address poverty and inequality in the long term?

Need skilled workers for the better jobs? Let’s import more and more foreign talents.

Fertility rate too low? Just bring in more and more new citizens.

Public housing out of reach and unaffordable? Let’s offer more and more grants.

What is the direction we are heading? Temporary reprieve to kick permanent pain down the road for another government, another generation.

The ones who should know better, the leaders who are entrusted to take the country forward, seem to be helming a rudderless ship on a clueless, directionless course.

While for the people, that promised rainbow is turning out to be nothing more than an illusion.

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