Roy Ngerng – from loner to polarising figure

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It is hard to imagine this is the same man who has become today’s polarising figure in Singapore politics.

He comes across as a loner. It won’t be far-fetched to say that Roy Ngerng’s only friends are his computer and those who read his Heart Truths blog.

“I am a person who has always been on my own. I speak when I have to. I don’t go out that often, I eat on my own. It gives me time to reflect.

“You know, when I am on the trains, I don’t think people know I am the one  who has just got a lawsuit from the Prime Minister,” says Ngerng, the 33-year-old blogger who became the flavour of the week after the PM sued him over his post on CPF.

Nearly every day after his entanglement with the PM, Ngerng has made the news.  His decision to become an NMP, his apology – the letter was sent to the PM earlier today — and the posts that support him and attack him have made this impressionable young man an instant celebrity.

His family has no real idea of his Heart Truths persona until his name hit the headlines.

Says the medical care worker somewhat nervously:  “I had to sit them down in the last couple of days and tell them about what I do. It was not easy but I think I got the message across.”

Giving a peek into his past, Ngerng says:  “I was with the Health Promotion Board from 2006 to 2012. When we were coordinating a community event to promote HIV awareness, I wanted the HPB to partner with the Textile and Fashion Federation to use Singapore’s Fashion Week to promote HIV awareness. I was laughed at.

“But I insisted anyway and we managed to get fashion designers, politicians and celebrities designing clothes to talk about HIV.

“Many people felt I was naïve, but I think I made it work.”

It  was with the same youthful exuberance that Ngerng hopes to make an impact if he becomes an NMP.

“How should we increase wages, reduce work hours and ensure businesses to still get things going?

“That is why we need independent workers’ unions, whereby the unions are independent and have a strong mandate to say they want to increase wages. The unions should represent the people, the business association the businesses. The government’s role is that of a moderator.

“Each group should not  interfere with the others’ decision-making process, so that they are able to act in the interests of their members, to achieve a balance in Singapore.

“It is this balance that is missing in Singapore. In the longer term, it would upset the economy.”

It is not a new argument you have there, I say.

“I think people are realistic and they realise that things do not pass in Parliament even if there are PAP MPs who try to speak up. They are constrained by the party whip. But the current batch of NMPs has done a good job. They have spoken up and I am not going to match that. I want to do my best though.”

On his days as a civil servant, Ngerng says: “It is a funny thing, when I was with the HPB, all of us believed in what we were doing. I actually believed if I continued what I was doing, I could advocate changes to my bosses, and they would advocate changes to their bosses.

“But the changes were small. When you are doing health care programmes, you got to believe in what you do, you know. You cannot be constrained by fear.”

Back to his accusation against the PM.

He says: “You know, everyone is talking about the lawsuit now. That is not the focus.

“The government has taken an unclear stance about the issue of CPF. They have said that the CPF money is put into a reserve, but as to how they are using the savings is not explicit.

“I want them to explain where does the money go to. I am asking for transparency, I am not accusing any office bearer. To be honest, that was not  the real gist of the article.”

But you chose to illustrate that alongside a scandal like City Harvest?

“Well perhaps, you know the City Harvest case more than I do.”

We drop the subject. Other bloggers like Mr Brown have also posted similar concerns about the CPF as Ngerng did, except that Mr Brown did not point fingers at any office bearers directly.

Ngerng continues. “The government took down the PDF [on the CPF website] and edited out some text and uploaded it back on another link. They removed the words “in reserve” among other things.

“By removing those words, it seems that the CPF fund is not invested in those reserves anymore. I made that link quite clear [in some of my blog posts], and I found evidence of it but it has been taken out.”

In his apology letter written by his lawyer to the Prime Minister, Ngerng calls for a “frank conversation” with the Prime Minister, “so that the transactions involving the CPF will be transparent to ordinary Singaporeans.”

What have you learned from this episode?

“I think I have been a bit too aggressive towards the PAP, because I am displeased.

“But I want to raise awareness and I want to reach more people, I think I need to create criticism that is less aggressive. Does that sound right to you?”

He started Heart Truths three years ago. He says: “People are angry and constantly honking, or repeatedly pressing the elevator button. People are just so anxious and stressed out.

“A gentleman I met one day  has a bad leg and he only gets $350 a month from social aid. He can’t afford the doctor. He doesn’t eat much either.

“I don’t think this is necessary in a country like Singapore. I feel there was no need for people to live like that.”

Looks like we have not seen the last of this man.