Of Donald Low and… whatever happened to Ngiam Tong Dow?

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Unless social discourse takes on a wrong turn and turns truly dark, I still refuse to be pessimistic about public debates in Singapore. Let’s look at this week’s discussions.

I will quickly first list some of the participants  – K. Shanmugam, Donald Low, Chee Hong Tat, Paul Tambyah, Josephine Teo, Daniel Goh.

We all know what happened between the Law and Home Affairs Minister and the LKY School of Public Policy academic. In short, Low apologised twice in public for misrepresenting Shanmugam’s views on criminal penalties and public opinion. The academic said he was wrong and he said so unreservedly in his second apology. Fine.

And so we move on – with my fervent hope that Donald Low would continue to voice his opinions on vital public issues and not simply disappear from the public radar. Like the former head of civil service Ngiam Tong Dow, who was quite active in commenting on policy affairs. We have not heard a squeak from him since he was believed to have been given a dressing down by the Cabinet in 2013 for allegedly speaking out of turn.

Ngiam told The Straits Times that he gave the “wrong impression” in a controversial interview in which he said current ministers were afraid to speak up because of their high salaries and that they were elitist. He said then he had since sent a clarification statement to the editor of the Singapore Medical Association News which had published the interview.  He retracted his earlier charge which he described as illogical and unfair, adding that many of the ministers did, in fact, come from humble backgrounds.

We have not heard of or from him since. Hope he is in good health. He is still listed as an Adjunct Professor at the same institution that Donald Low belongs to.  In doing my due diligence checking, I see that a number of ex-ministers are also listed as Adjunct Professors  – Wong Kan Seng, George Yeo, Raymond Lim, Yeo Cheow Tong and Aline Wong. Ex-Minister in the PMO Lim Hwee Hua is a Distinguished Visiting Professor. No pearls of wisdom from any of these distinguished ladies and gentlemen? Nothing to say?

Then there is the Chee Hong Tat/Paul Tambyah exchange of words, with The Independent somehow caught in the minor tangle. To sum up, without going into the details already reported:  The Senior Minister of State for Health wants  the senior infectious diseases consultant and SDP member to be clear and specific about his feedback of complaints by junior doctors and also not say or imply that he was misrepresented by a report in The Independent. Facts are facts.

Finally, we get to Josephine Teo, who is fast becoming one of my favourite ministers.  Replying on the belief of “no flat, no child”, she said sometime ago: “You need a very small space to have sex.” There you go, what are you waiting for, young virile Singaporeans?

This week, the Second Minister for Manpower has this to say of the controversy over costly infant formula milk: “Milk is milk, however fancy the marketing.”  Unfortunately, her advice is likely to fall on deaf ears.  The late Ivan Baptist, MP for Potong Pasir and head of the Consumers Association of Singapore, once told Singaporeans that they could wash their hair with normal soap and still have luscious locks. No need to buy expensive shampoos. Very few listened. The supermarket shelves are still stacked with high-end shampoos of every type, all promising to transform users into superstars or models.

But Josephine Teo should not have been so fast in dismissing Daniel Goh’s call for redundancy insurance.  No one is objecting to the government’s efforts to help workers keep their jobs and assist those who have lost their jobs to find new ones. All are commendable. The proposal by the Workers Party NCMP is meant to complement the government’s existing schemes. The unemployment insurance plan will relieve pressure on the affected workers and is only for a short specific period and not meant to be permanent.

What’s so objectionable about that?

As Prof Goh said: “It relieves the woes of laid-off workers.”  And how will that undermine our work ethic? The possibility that some workers will game the system cannot be used as an excuse to reject the constructive proposal. This is a country well known for its regulatory efficiency, so no sweat really, if you have the will.

Help is help, it has no ideology.

What Ed Sheeran really means

The issue here is not that scalpers are scooping up tickets for British singer Ed Sheeran’s concerts on November 11 and 12 and trying to sell them for up to $2,500. Where there is profit to be made, the black marketers and scammers will emerge like worms from the woodworks. People have made money from the selling of COEs and paying youngsters to sleep over night and queue for hot property sales.

We have to live with the fact that Singapore is now a global and totally connected city. We are beginning to pay a high price for that  – that top marquee events being held here do not serve just locals. The whole world will come – and we have to compete with the tycoons and their children and the rich and famous on an uneven playing field.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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