I was wondering how I could somehow find something, some common thread, to sum up an extraordinary week. I don’t think I will succeed one hundred per cent. I may even sound incoherent. But I will do my best, see whether I can make some sense. So bear with me.
Peter Ho, Masagos versus Faisal, Tan Cheng Bock Part 2, City Harvest, Malaysia F1 axe, and maybe, fake news (in local heartland lingo, if got time and energy, leh).
Let’s talk animals and birds. Here, I tip my hat to the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, a man of great vision. The former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister liked to use animals in his speeches – elephants, pelandok, lambs, lions. I recall one speech in which he said Mr Lee Kuan Yew once confided in him that he would rather be a lamb in the company of lions than a lion in the company of lambs – that is, if he could not be a lion among lions. Three cheers to the two first generation lions. We, at least I, do miss them.
Then, there are the black swans and black elephants mentioned by former civil service head Peter Ho in his first lecture as the Institute of Policy Studies’ S. R. Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore.
According to Wikipedia, a black swan is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect and is usually rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. A black elephant event, Ho said, is a rare cross between a black swan and the proverbial elephant in the room: “a problem that is actually visible to everyone but no one wants to deal with it, and so they pretend it is not there”.
Ho also talked about how national problems should be solved using a Whole of Government and Whole of Nation approach. Basically, have the big picture and think ahead, always. Don’t work in silos.
There’s quite a bit of black elephant and lion/lamb in the exchange in Parliament between Masagos Zulkifli and Faisal Manap. The Environment and Water Resources Minister whacked the Workers Party MP for trying to outdo the PAP (Malay leaders/MPs) in dealing with Malay/Muslim issues, such as the wearing of the tudung. He said Faisal was being divisive. In brief, Masagos is reiterating the government stand: There are certain things best resolved quietly outside public glare.
Maybe so. But we cannot always pretend everything is hunky dory. That the government must have the only say and the final word. That there is no disquiet and that the “official” narrative is not to be challenged in public. That discordant notes are jarring and to be sledgehammered away. That social harmony is achieved through groupthink and ignoring the problems – and that we should be a nation of parrots and lambs. Elected MPs, both government and opposition, represent Singaporeans with various shapes of community opinion and aspiration. They have every right to speak up. We sorely need a Whole of Nation approach.
We need this same approach to a growing Elephant – the Elected Presidency.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock has asked a perfectly legitimate question: “I would urge the Government to explain, or refer AGC’s opinion to Court to confirm whether AGC’s advice is in sync with the Commission’s spirit and purpose for having reserved elections.” At issue is whether it is correct to count the next coming September election as one to be reserved for a Malay/minority president. Should the five-president cycle be counted from the presidency of Mr Wee Kim Wee (who was not elected as president) or the first elected one, Mr Ong Teng Cheong? What did the AGC say exactly? We need to clear this up, for the sake of the next Elected President’s legitimacy, not least in the court of public opinion.
Talking of the court of public opinion and Whole of Nation, it is fair to say that justice needs to be seen to be done or even ensured it is done in the City Harvest case. There is a very strong backlash at the appeal judgement, with sentiments hugely against the halving of the sentences. So we must be relieved to hear Law Minister K. Shanmugam saying: “The matter is not over yet.” He was referring also to the implications of the High Court’s ruling that the CHC directors were not agents under the more serious Section 409 of the Penal Code dealing with criminal breach of trust and which carries heavier penalties. The court’s decision could have impact on other corruption cases.
Finally, we have to do something about the Elephant which has been around since 2008, which comes charging through the city every year, irritating and inconveniencing everyone, since its inaugural event. Very few Singaporeans, as far I know, have anything happy to say about the F1 nonsense. Malaysia has finally decided, wisely, to call its quits. No more F1 from next year. “The Cabinet has agreed to end the contract to host F1 races from 2018 as it is evident that the returns are diminishing compared to the costs of hosting it,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement posted on Facebook. He might have added “social costs”.
We should also say goodbye to it. It has served its purpose. Yes, our skylines and the Marina and city coastal landscape have been advertised around the world. Beyonce now knows where Singapore is. But locals could not care less about something so alien, so artificial and so irrelevant to the country.
Enough is enough.
Not enough space for fake news though. Shall we talk about that another day?
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.