The WP’s Refusal to Answer

On the evening of 12 July, the Workers’ Party (WP) received a public rebuke from no less than the Prime Minister, who had nothing but harsh words calling the WP to account. (See: http://www.pmo.gov.sg/content/pmosite/mediacentre/pressreleases/2013/July/statement-from-the-prime-minister-s-office-on-aljunied-hougang-p.html)

In this post, I take issue with WP’s evasiveness on the matter and I refer to their 201-word press release dated 13 July 2013. (See: http://wp.sg/2013/07/our-mps-consciences-are-clear/)

I state for the record that I have listened closely to the proceedings of the Parliamentary Sitting on 9 July and I have accordingly transcribed the exchange between Mr. Low Thia Khiang and Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan. You can ascertain the accuracy and veracity of my transcription for yourself here.

In Parliament, Mr. Low said that he would pursue the matter and find out more. He added that he was unaware of what Mr. Tai said and/or did with regard to the hawker centre cleaning. Additionally, Mr. Low called the ATL quotation “a puzzle”. I reproduce his words here:

I’ve not spoken to Mr. Tai, this is the first time I’ve read all these things but I gather that’s how it came about, you know, because of the ‘spring cleaning’….The next issue about the ATL quotation – it is a puzzle, and, umm, umm, I’m trying to find out who actually ask them to quote (sic). Obviously, people ask them to quote and then otherwise they won’t quote (sic). But there’s nothing to do with the Town Council. The Town Council has not asked them quote either.”

However, and to my shock, Mr. Low said on 10 July before commencing his Meet-the-People Session (MPS) that he would not be “going for any investigation”.

My question is this: Why the immediate turnabout?

On 9 July, Mr. Low said that he would investigate. On 10 July, he said he would not do so.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Why?

There was no acceptable answer given. Why is the WP denying the allegations despite the evidence and the exhortation by the Prime Minister to conduct an inquiry?

But the WP did not stop there. What is worse is that it grossly and shamelessly pushed the burden of judgment to the public. The statement released by the WP on 13 July said that it would let “the public make its own judgment on the matter.”

Not only has the WP refrained from clearing the air on the integrity, honour and reputation of its MPs, it has shirked all responsibility of holding itself accountable. This is grossly unacceptable. How dare you? Is this how you account to the people who believed and voted in you? It is repulsively arrogant of you to simply say, oh, let the public decide for themselves.

As of 14 July, it is clear to me that the WP has no interest in defending its reputation and is unwilling to clear the air in the interests of public accountability. As the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Ms. Chang Li Lin has put it, “Mr Low’s latest non-statement addresses none of these serious charges, which therefore stand unrebutted.”

In all honesty, not only do I not understand why the WP would flip-flop in a span of two days, I do not comprehend why the WP would leave such harsh and serious allegations unanswered. It simply does not make any sense! The logical thing for any person to do would be to stand up and refute these charges with relentless vigour. In politics, credibility is paramount. Credibility is not a cheap commodity to be auctioned away to the public.

The WP said to let the public decide. Well, I’m deciding right now and it is clear to me that you need to come clean.

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Transcript: Low Thia Khiang vs. Vivian Balakrishnan (9 July 2013)

Transcript of the Exchange between Mr. Low Thia Khiang and Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on 9 July 2013

Reference for the transcript has been taken from:

Transcription begins at 29:30.

Mr. Low Thia Khiang: Thank you, Madam. Madam, I do agree with Ms. Lim. Umm, from my understanding, the Town Council is well aware of the obligation to clean the high area of the market.

And what I gather from the whole episode is arising from a misunderstanding between “annual cleaning” and “spring cleaning”. In the past in Hougang, we don’t require the market to close for annual cleaning and we fulfil our obligation to clean the market once a year. Everything – high scaffolding and all that.

Umm, and thereby I can understand the perspective of email, whatever the meeting, because you are talking about “spring cleaning”. “Spring cleaning” is conducted quarterly, four time a year (sic). “Annual cleaning”, cleaning the – clean the high-rise area of the market, once a year. So, if the Town Council is obligated to clean also the high-rise area in the “spring cleaning”, then the question is: how many times do you have to clean?

I’ve not spoken to Mr. Tai, this is the first time I’ve read all these things but I gather that’s how it came about, you know, because of the “spring cleaning”.

The next issue about the ATL quotation – it is a puzzle, and, umm, umm, I’m trying to find out who actually ask them to quote (sic). Obviously, people ask them to quote and then otherwise they won’t quote (sic). But there’s nothing to do with the Town Council. The Town Council has not asked them quote either.

What happened? I mean, I don’t know. But, I’m very certain the quotation has nothing to do with the cost of the cleaning the high area of the market (sic). It is not. This is my understanding of the whole issue.

Okay, umm…Because of that difference in terms of arrangement of the cleaning of the high market (sic) or the market high-rise area, and thereby there was this problem of the “spring cleaning” – the market close for five days, umm, but not necessarily that we’re going to clean. In fact the Town Council has come up with a schedule.

But I thought it would be good if you get the “annual cleaning” together with the “spring cleaning”, and thereby you save all the problem of after the “annual cleaning”, after the “spring cleaning” you come back and clean the high-area. And that’s why I went down to speak with them and just get the work together lah! I mean, “spring cleaning”, once a year, or the four “spring cleaning”, or one of them, just do the high-rise cleaning and finish (sic). That’s the position. (end transcription at 32:08)

32:11 Minister Balakrishnan speaks.

Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan: Mr. Low, that’s precisely the point. There are four cleanings a year. One of those four will be a full, comprehensive cleaning including the high areas. This is not something new. This has been going on for ten years.

Even – let me finish – even in 511, your Town Council did it last year. Of course, I think it was a different contractor, but you did it last year. So, you cannot say that your staff are confused or didn’t know, or that Sylvia didn’t supervise, and all this is a misunderstanding. It’s – I’m afraid it’s not, you see.

The evidence is incontrovertible that your Mr. Tai said, “not my problem” anything above 2.5 – it’s clear. And he also said, and not once – you see – on three separate occasions, with witnesses, you want it clean, pay me extra. Now, that is the crux of the whole matter, you see, unless you say Mr. Tai is not your officer, not your authorised one.

But my understanding – and when I checked – I understand that he is an employee of FMSS, your Managing Agent, he is the Property Manager of Aljunied Town Council. So what he says, those words have to be taken seriously. What he says is the position of the Town Council. And you have asked for money, you have denied responsibility. And I’ve tried to show you in my answer. We’re not inventing new rules here you know? It’s been around for ten years! Everyone, including you when you were personally supervising Hougang Town Council, had no problem. We had no problem working with you.

But now – I don’t know if it is a lack of supervision or people somewhere in your organisation someone is trying to cover up, we have this unnecessary distraction. That’s basically what – that’s why I said we can discuss all the minutiae that Sylvia wants to. But the simple crux of this matter is what did Mr Tai say, and what did he fail to do. And to me, that is very clear. And because that is very clear and backed up by evidence, I find the denials, the public denials, by Ms. Sylvia Lim and Mr. Pritam Singh very, very troubling.

You know, let me make this further point. Politics is a contest for power. But you know, the key principle when you have power is don’t take advantage of people under your charge and always be honest and upfront with your people. All of us will make mistakes.

But when a mistake is made, just come clean and say so. But don’t cover up. That’s why I have not let this go. Because it is not about cleanliness of the ceiling, it is about clean politics.

And I appeal to you, because I know you to be an honourable man, I appeal to you, go back, do a thorough investigation of what’s gone on and what’s gone wrong in your Town Council and put it right. Set it right. I have confidence that you will do so, Mr. Low.

Transcription ends 35:38

Of Parliamentary Privilege and the WP’s Deafening Silence

A few readers asked about Parliamentary Privilege and what Minister Balakrishnan’s forfeiture of his own Privilege constituted. This post serves to clarify what the term means and provides an analysis of the latest developments.

Simply put, Parliamentary Privilege means that MPs cannot be sued in Court for what they said in Parliament. The intention of such privilege is to facilitate frank and honest comments in the spirit of good debate. Of course, abusing such immunity would lead to punishments by the Committee of Privileges. More information can be found here: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications/p (See “Parliamentary Privilege).

sg parliament

Now, what is the relevance of Parliamentary Privilege to the latest episode between Dr. Balakrishnan and the Workers’ Party (WP)?

It is this: After his statements in Parliament, Minister Balakrishnan informed the media that he would be forfeiting his Parliamentary Privilege. It means that he is willing to face any form of action that will be taken against him, including a lawsuit for defamation by the WP if it comes to that (information from ST and Zaobao, 10 July 2013)

Honestly, it’s a bloody gutsy move.

I now turn to what Mr Low Thia Khiang said earlier this evening (10 July). Mr Low said that no additional inquiry into the matter would be conducted even though the Minister had appealed to him yesterday. The Minister said:

“ I appeal to you, because I know you to be an honourable man, I appeal to you, go back, do a thorough investigation of what’s gone on and what’s gone wrong in your town council and put it right, set it right. I have confidence you will do so, Mr Low.” (author’s emphasis; source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/integrity-is-key-issue-in/739166.html)

To begin with, it appears that the Minister’s confidence in Mr. Low was misplaced when the latter clearly dismissed the need to conduct any investigation of sorts (see: http://www.singapolitics.sg/news/wps-low-stands-mps-says-vivian%E2%80%99s-attack-not-good-politics)

But wait a minute. What does Mr Low’s decision mean?

It simply means that the WP has a very strong urge to put this episode to a close.

Why?

If one recalls the WP’s determinedly persistent attitude in pursuing the AIM issue a few months ago, one would clearly be puzzled by the reprehensibly feeble and pathetic performance in this hawker centre episode.

Hence, the question is: why is the silence so deafeningly loud?

As they say, silence means consent. And if this were true in this instance, then one would ask: does the WP admit to the charges that the Minister put forward?

Oddly enough, Mr Low sought refuge from further questioning by hiding behind the Prime Minister’s call for Singapore to get its politics right. In my view, Mr Low seems to think that Dr. Balakrishnan’s allegations and the implicit invitation to press charges amounted to taunting and, consequently, bad politics.

No. Bad politics is precisely what the WP did: twisting words spoken by other heavyweight ministers, trying to push the blame back to Dr. Balakrishnan and wanting to escape from the hot seat.

Accountability lies at the very heart of this episode. Through Mr Low’s comments, observers are left to think that the WP was unwilling to rise up to the occasion and prove its innocence. Thus, I am led to conclude that the WP’s behaviour constitutes an abhorrent and intolerable shirking of its responsibility to hold itself accountable to the public.

The Clarion Call to Clean Politics

In this post, I deal with the Bedok hawker centre sagas and an interesting phrase that Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan used in Parliament earlier today – “clean politics”. I explore that in the later part of this ramble.

Pre-ramble

It is a rare sight to see the people’s darling, the Workers’ Party, being thoroughly questioned in Parliament. It is indeed much rarer to see them being interrogated and put on the defensive. Today was one of the rare occasions.

To begin, it is important to point this out: it is one thing for the WP to say that a “misunderstanding” regarding “spring cleaning” and “annual cleaning” arose from an email. It is completely another to ask the hawkers to pay more for services that are the legal responsibilities of the Town Council.

In a nutshell, a whole saga ensued when a Sunday Times article pointed out that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council did not carry out the scheduled cleaning services that was stipulated by law. I will not even bother going into quoting the Town Councils Act because that is publicly available on the Statutes’ website.

What’s important is this: the hawkers complained that they had to fork out money to pay for services that were the legal responsibility of the TC to provide. Not only did the AHPETC fail to clean the hawker centres at Blk 511 and 538, the hawkers had to lose five days’ worth of income and return from their absence only to find that the cleaning had not been done.

In Parliament, Dr. Balakrishnan pierced the WP’s shining armour and shattered it after repeatedly questioning whether or not did Mr. Tai Vie Shun (the Property Manager of the AHPETC) “demanded extra money from the hawkers for cleaning the high areas of hawker centres” (Source: Dr. Balakrishnan’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Vivian.Balakrishnan.Sg?fref=ts) and when the WP utterly failed to give a coherent response.

Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan

Introduction

Although admirably defiant in the face of pressure, it is futile for the WP to deny the evidence produced in the dossier of email correspondence.

But that is not the main point, as Dr. Balakrishnan said earlier today (and I quote):

All of us will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so, but don’t cover up. That’s why I have not let this go, because it is not about cleanliness of the ceiling, it is about clean politics …”

Clean politics. How many of us would actually grasp the true meaning of that phrase?

In the Name of Clean Politics

Admittedly, one can argue that as long as you are in politics, you can never be clean. Do I sense an overdose of scepticism? Maybe. But all human societies are directed towards Rousseau’s idea of perfectibility – the notion that we should strive for the ideal.

The case for clean politics has never been stronger today. While the scourge of corruption thrives in other countries, Singapore has done well in keeping that vile malaise away from our fair shores. The public has done its part by placing high expectations of its elected leaders: integrity, honour, incorruptibility, honesty are the bare minimum of what is required.

Naysayers would be quick to jump the gun and accuse Dr. Balakrishnan of defaming the honour of the WP MPs by calling them “untruthful”. But the very fact that he has done so clearly implies that he is willing to stand and testify in a court of law. It’s more than just name-calling: even the Minister’s reputation is at stake. If the WP MPs find that their reputation has been sullied by the Minister’s words, they are more than welcome to file a defamation suit against him.

Clean Politics – The Role of the People

Yes, we all have a role to play in this. Individually, how can we help ensure that politics remains above-board?

For starters, stop all that name-calling online. It’s really destructive, not constructive. I say this to diehard supporters of all parties. Need I remind you of Andrew Loh’s presidential example of name-calling? There is no need to. That is the kind of name-calling that should cease. Why? I think we have forgotten something called “respect”. How can we, the people, be united if we don’t even respect each other?

What it should be.

What it should be.

Honestly, I think the lack of respect might be the root cause of all these tensions that have reared their ugly head in society recently. I don’t care if it is foreigners’ “disrespect” for our curry or our “disrespect” for their wanting to actually provide for their families by coming here to work. Take xenophobia and homophobia for examples – these two irrational fears stem from a fundamental lack of respect of the human person. Disrespect also includes hostile behaviour towards MacDonalds’ service staff just to get a Hello Kitty plush toy (which in my opinion is simply nonsensical).

Rude Post

This is the bottom line: we cannot engage in civil discourse without first being civil ourselves.

Parting Thoughts

For far too long the WP has pranced in Parliament and asked question after question. Those scot-free and cavalier under-dog days are over. Today the WP was given a taste of its own medicine: accountability – the very same platform upon which they pledged to keep the ruling party in check. The Parliamentary proceedings are abundantly clear in showing that the WP was unable to swallow its own pill. Today was a test of accountability for the WP and they failed utterly, completely, and miserably.

Today is also the day I say no to the duplicitous double standards with which some members of the public have used to judge the WP and the PAP. For a long time, the WP has had a free pass for all that it did. Some members of the public and its sympathisers were quick to say, oh, they are a small party, let’s give them a chance when they make a tiny misstep. But when the PAP makes a wrong move, they are even quicker to pounce on the PAP and dish out their harshest criticisms.

Many have asked for an even playing field between the ruling party and the opposition. That time has come. No one should expect the ruling party to enter the boxing ring with its master arm tied to its back and only allowed to parry off the incoming blows from the opposition. The playing field is now equal.

And for those who think that the previous paragraphs contradicted the segment on clean politics – I humbly say that they do not. In fact, respect is when you accord your opponent the same rights and privileges as you give yourself. A level playing field is the place to start.

What Are You Saying? 你讲什么? Ler Kong Si Mi?

When Minster for Education Heng Swee Keat said that school children will be burdened by dialects, I was incensed, enraged even, because what he said cannot be further from the truth. It is absolute bullshit. Firstly, Mr. Heng has misunderstood how children learn languages. Secondly, and indirectly, the stubborn insistence on keeping the ban on dialect media productions hints at a lingering lack of confidence in the almost four-decades-old bilingual policy. Third, saying that dialects clash with the bilingual policy reeks of complete contempt and disrespect for dialects.

Before I begin, I will say it openly that the issue of dialects is something that is very dear to my heart. That is why I am writing this piece to say what I feel and think about this emotive issue. Make no doubt about it – the issue of dialects is an emotional one. Also, I am very cognisant that I am writing a piece that concerns the Chinese community in Singapore. I ask your forgiveness for not focusing on a more wholesome picture.

Teochew Opera

Teochew Opera

I believe I can speak for many of us when I say that dialects are the emotional bonds linking many younger Singaporeans with their grandparents, and this is why these bonds are so precious and worth cherishing. It is precisely the same reason why we bemoan its slow and painful death as a part of Singapore’s colourful “folk culture” (if I may be so bold to use the phrase without getting lynched by sociologists). Why else would older Singaporeans occasionally mention that the use of dialects will pass on into history when younger Singaporeans don’t speak it, much less grow up in a family environment that speaks it from time to time?

Misunderstanding How Children Learn Languages

Children have a great propensity to learn languages before they turn 10 years old because their brains are like sponges – highly absorbent and malleable. They learn very quickly and they seldom forget. Furthermore, academics have pointed out that humans have great potential for learning languages, and that a linguistic environment will support language learning over time.

In my 23 years of life, never have I once felt that dialects were a burden. No. Never.  I grew up with my doting maternal grandparents who spoke Teochew. Naturally, my first language was Teochew, not English. I then mastered English and Chinese as I grew up, with a strong preference for the former which later became my dominant language. I struggled with Chinese, but with some effort, it is decent now. Along the way, I picked up Hokkien, which was easy because of its homophonic intonations. I spoke more Hokkien while in NS (bloody useful in establishing rapport with people). Over the book-out weekends, I picked up Cantonese while watching TVB dramas from Hong Kong.

In my first three semesters in university, I learnt German. Now, I’m dabbling with Bahasa Melayu. The point is simple, and I borrow from The Linguist:

“In fact it is motivation and attitude, not age, that determines our ability to learn languages. Most, if not all, polyglots, learn most of their languages as adults. Adults are often more inhibited or self-conscious, and have less opportunity, or are less willing, to socialize with people of another language group, whereas children just blend in to their new environment.The only thing that matters is that we can learn at any age. If we are 50 there is no point in wondering if we were able to learn better when we were 5. If you can motivate a child to learn a language when young, great. Otherwise it is never too late to start.”

So, the case is clear as to whether children can learn dialects or not. From the above, it does not matter when children learn dialects. Heck, you can learn it even beyond the optimum age and still grasp it so long as you have the verve for it. What cannot be tolerated is MOE’s dogmatic insistence that it is the final pedagogical authority on language learning. As a avid lover of languages, I cannot agree. Many young families with school-going children are mostly mono-lingual or bilingual (if they’re lucky). As such, the family environment already supports the mastery of two languages. Our celebrated public school systems provide yet another conducive environment for entrenching the use of two languages. As it is, there is already very little room for dialect. This brings me to my next point: why the fear about dialects?

Still ban dialects? Come on, 40 years with the Bilingual Policy already

Before I continue, I want to be clear: I am not calling for dialects to be instituted as curriculum. I don’t think there’s a need to. What I am saying is this, and I borrow a phrase from my lecturer, there is no need to get your panties tied into a knot whenever dialects are mentioned. By all means, continue with the bilingual policy. Singaporeans are sensible enough to see its merits, what with China and all the rest of it. But since the inception of the bilingual policy in 1972, we have come a long way.

I can understand if it was given as a rationale that we had to unify language learning back then for education’s sake. Lee Kuan Yew went as far as to ban dialect media. All that took place 40 years ago.

Those who know me would know that I have the deepest respect and admiration for our founding prime minister and all that he has done. However, when it comes to dialects, I would like to humbly disagree.

We are now in 2013 and are facing a loss of our heritage. Dialects are receding into memory, and so are the dialect operas. It’s a big problem because those are our real roots, not merely being Han Chinese. We are the descendants of dialect speaking immigrants. Our forebears spoke dialects and not Mandarin. So, my suggestion to the government is this: if it is genuinely concerned about rekindling in our hearts the connection with our ancestry, then let it be bold and lift the ban on dialect media before it becomes too late. Did the government not challenge its own paradigms last week with the announcement for free transport which this blog praised? It can be done.

After all, what has the government got to lose? As mentioned in the introduction, a decision to not lift the ban would hint at its insecurity towards the bilingual policy – that the ban must still be in place to support the learning of two languages because dialects are still an intrusion and that families do not have the requisite environment for learning, speaking, and mastering two languages. If MOE is still feeling insecure after 40 years, that’s just quite sad. Nothing else, just sad that MOE is not confident enough of its own policy.

No Clash Between Dialects and Bilingual Policy

The learning of dialects is not antagonistic to the bilingual policy. The two can coexist and it is not a zero-sum game – it has never been and it should not be. In fact, other than sharing the Chinese script, the two are worlds apart.

Dialects, in their spoken and written form, differ greatly from the Chinese script. The syntax and words are totally different for the same expression. Take “woman” for example. In Chinese, we know it to be 女人. It’s the same for Cantonese (loei yan). But for Teochew and Hokkien, it’s different – 查某 (zha bou/zha bor respectively). The differences are clear. Not only will learners see that the words are different, the sounds are different. Well, I think there’s more to learn. Dialects make the language colourful. And Chinese dialects come from the main language, Mandarin. This makes them related, not separate from one another.

Final Thoughts?

I reiterate my displeasure at Minister Heng’s unfortunate misunderstanding of language learning and deplore the poor attitude taken to dialects. It’s hurtful, to say the least. I am not calling for dialects to be instituted as curricula but for the ban on dialect media to be lifted so that inter-cultural learning can be facilitated. There is nothing to be ashamed about dialects. It is about high time the ban got lifted because 40 years is more than enough for MOE to entrench the bilingual policy and have confidence in its own policy.

No free transport, comprain. Got free transport, also comprain. Buay sian ah?

I read the ST Forum letters from time to time and I’ve found them to be insightful, mature, thought-provoking, and honest. Then there are the bad ones too. And this one was simply too repulsive for me to stomach it. It’s a classic case of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” for the Government. What I simply cannot take is the incessant whining about what is largely a positive move.

The announcement of free train rides trial programme came as welcome news early this week. It is a bold move, and pretty unconventional too. Let’s first deal with the criticism that free train rides will only ensure more overcrowding.

It is absolutely wrong to say that commuters who work in the heartlands and industrial areas “would be inconvenienced by the larger crowds during the early part of the morning”.

How so? The industrial areas in Tuas are so far away from City Hall and Raffles Place. How on earth would human traffic headed in both directions get caught and be inconvenienced? Granted, the dense concentration of human traffic might be at interchange stations. But once the train arrives, commuters headed for Tuas or City Hall would go in entirely opposite directions! Hence, I fail to see where the ‘inconvenience’ would stem from.

Even students are mentioned in the Forum Letter. Excuse me, but what has it got to do with students? Yes, the free trial won’t affect them since they are already benefiting from student concessions. The discussion of students in the entire free rides scheme is utterly and hopelessly irrelevant.

It is important at this point to reiterate that the free rides scheme is intended to spread out the human traffic. I think this graphic will help:

LTA Infographic

LTA Infographic (extracted from LTA’s Facebook Page)

Just look at the low human traffic exiting the 16 city centre stations on weekdays. This means that our trains can carry more people during this from 7 am to 7.45 am. In LTA’s own words:

LTA Quote

LTA Quote

By offering free travel, the Transport Ministry is trying to incentivise early rides. There is no guarantee that this will work, but there’s only a hope that it might. There are two issues that could possibly impede the success of this pilot programme: sleep and companies’ operating hours.

Sleep – yes, it is darn precious. Would you give up sleep for free transport? Personally, I might. What about you?

Operating hours: this is a tricky one. It is much harder to get employers on board, but in order for the free travel scheme to work more effectively, employers should take part as well by adjusting their operating hours to accommodate travel patterns. In fact, a ministry has taken the lead. Take a look:

LW Quote

From Acting MCCY Minister Lawrence Wong’s Facebook Page

And here’s my favourite: the taxpayer argument. The ST Forum Letter opines that “Even though the Government will pick up the tab for the trial, which is expected to cost $10 million, it should not be forgotten that this is actually taxpayers’ money. Therefore, I urge the ministry to reconsider this trial and come up with better solutions that would benefit all commuters.”

Yes, you may be a taxpayer but that doesn’t mean that you will get what you ask for all the time. Be reasonable. The commuters who work in the city areas are taxpayers too! Is it wrong for them to benefit from this? In fact, this scheme is a judicious use of tax monies precisely because it does not extend to all commuters for the entire pre-peak period. Only an irresponsible Government would have done that. By keeping the trial project to a small area, the Government is indicating that this trial could be expanded to other parts of our little island. Thus, this brave initiative of $10 million is likely to augur well for transport improvements in time to come if this trial is replicated in other areas.

Contrary to the implied notion that the $10 million trial is not one that benefits all commuters, I would argue that it does by virtue of alleviating congestion on trains. By doing so, the experience on public transport would be improved. So, to the author of the ST Forum Letter: just because you don’t benefit from it doesn’t mean that you are entitled to knock the proposal down. That’s plain selfishness.

Don’t get into university, blame government? Siao bo?

A Facebook post by “The Singaporean Times” (whatever that means) about a man having to sell his house to allow his daughter to study medicine overseas made its rounds last night. Drastic?

Image

The veracity of the story not withstanding (yes, such things can be easily fabricated), the daughter applied to the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS with her ‘A’ level results of AAB (frankly, it’s a good set of results) but was unfortunately unsuccessful.

Now, does it come as a surprise that rejection took place?

Not at all.

Why? NUS Medicine is one of the most competitive faculties locally; it is elite, and many know that even a full bag of ‘A’s might not even secure you a place simply because there are limited vacancies. Thus, based on results alone, she does not make the cut. Furthermore, there’s no need to ask daddy to sell the house and go to Australia. Have you heard of the new medical school at NTU?

The point of this post is not to give alternative education recommendations (even though necessary). What lies at the heart of this (doubtful) post is a mentality of self-entitlement that is bubbling in Singapore with increasing effervescence. I think this is dangerous and entirely toxic because we place ourselves on a pedestal.

In the post, the man claimed that he did NS and now the Government is not taking care of him, or in this case, his daughter (“our own people”, he says). While NS gives you a good reason to claim something against the state, it is not a blank cheque with which you could do so. After all, to claim a 5 to 6 year medical education for your daughter after a 2.5 year stint in the SAF is simply striking an asymmetric bargain. So, no, NS does not give you the right to claim anything and everything from the state.

Another point of course deals with foreigners, the new F-word in town. The angry man assumed that her daughter’s “rightful” place at medical school was robbed by a foreigner. While it is true that NUS accept foreign students, there is a strict limit of 15% in place for all local varsities now, down from 18% (http://www.nie.edu.sg/newsroom/media-coverage/2012/lower-foreign-university-student-ratio-can-better-promote-exchanges-and-expand-contacts). Furthermore, the foreign student would have to meet the high standards set by the School. As such, to jump the gun and conclude that a foreigner has definitely robbed the vacancy is a conclusion that reeks of bullshit. Really, is the man so blinded by his anger to realise that a more competent and sterling Singaporean student could have gotten the coveted spot at Yong Loo Lin? Don’t just blame everything on foreigners; it shows how much responsibility you actually take for your own actions when you blame it on others (oh, how convenient).

I had an interesting discussion with my friend on this issue over Facebook last night. He suggested that the Government discriminates in favour of its own local students and lower the bar for admissions. Sounds sexy, right?

That’s the kind of self-entitlement I am talking about. It’s disgusting. Yes, being a citizen does come with its privileges but there is a line that ought to be drawn when it comes to admissions into university, especially if we are compromising standards. Lowering the bar for locals and setting a higher bar for foreigners is like smoking opium: you are deluding yourself and you will one day wake up to find yourself in deep shit.

Let me explain. Firstly, it is not even feasible. A limited number of vacancies will still allow natural selection to take place and the University will still have to pick from the crème de la crème. Secondly, even if it was possible (through sheer dumb luck), accepting more qualified foreign students to compete with our local students will inevitably place our local students at the bottom rung of rankings since you set the bar higher-than-usual for foreigners and lower-than-usual for locals. Our students will not benefit from this. What you are doing is deluding them into thinking that they “can make it” when they are really not up to the task. Should they languish in medical school as a result of this self-entitled mindset embedded in the policy, it will be ultimately cruel and Singapore as a whole will not be better for it because we might end up with lesser doctors than the cohort admitted. Hence, it is far better to compete on an even keel, not just for medicine, but for all faculties and courses of studies. Policies with a smack of self-entitlement are not only populist, they are foolish, inefficient and erode the meritocratic foundation in our society.

That said, I am not going to let the Government off that easily as well. The numbers and percentages of foreign students in our midst should be released and the policymakers should account for these statistics ie why they are the way they are. This is to aid public understanding and end this acrimonious and increasingly mind-numbing riposte against foreigners. Secondly, the Government should review its scholarship policy towards foreign students. While the need for them is understood, to give them free scholarships without bonds and without requiring them to pass a basic standard of English is unacceptable. The rationale is simple: you want to come to Singapore, you better know how to speak English because that’s our working language and that’s the medium of instruction. It’s as simple as that. And really, why bond-free? It’s inexcusable to give such scholarships to students who do not intend to contribute back to Singapore. After all, there’s no such thing as a free meal.

Before I conclude, I would like to borrow one of the many sensible comments that have ensued from this shit-stirring post: “The government is in no way obliged to give this girl a place in NUS. If you think that just because her father served NS, or because she is Singaporean she will get a spot, then we would be seeing >90% of applicants getting in. Secondly, you cannot expect the government to solve all your problems. Just because your daughter does not get into a university course she wants, you curse the government? Think about all the other applicants who didn’t get accepted as well, there are probably hundreds of other hopeful students who did not get an interview, and nobody is complaining about it.” (John Tan)

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My parting words? You want to stir shit but Singaporeans ain’t that dumb as to swallow your bullshit lock, stock, and barrel. Your actions, by masquerading to be pro-Singapore and pro-Singaporean, simply demean the essence and spirit of being Singaporean and make slogans like “Singapore for Singaporeans” ring even more hollow. Grow up. No one owes you a living.