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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Good Men don't join the PAP

Good Men Don’t Join The PAP

Soon, there will be a local version of the popular TV gameshow, "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" No doubt, there will be long queues of would-be contestants vying to get into the show and win big money, if not the actual $1m. Who wouldn't, in this openly-avaricious society of ours that places money above all else?

Yet, if our PAP leaders are to be believed, nobody seems to want to be a millionaire Minister or even a lower Minister. This is strange as it goes against all our private experiences. Singaporeans never pass up a chance to make money. The queues at the 4-D and Big Sweep counters are always full. Our racecourse teems with punters. Even our stock markets have their devoted followers. Employees don't even think a second longer to job hop to another company for a slightly better pay.

Yet, if Lee Kuan Yew is to be believed, nobody is interested in becoming a Minister and thereby accumulating wealth at the steady clip of over $100,000 a month, or over $1m a year.

This is strange as being a Minister in Singapore is all gain and no pain. Our Ministers enjoy full privacy from the prying eyes of photographers and almost no probing questions from Parliamentary opposition or journalists. The media does not even chide them for mistakes or highlight bad policies or other failings. They do not face angry constituents who demand their rights, from jobs to housing to childcare or healthcare. We are a very timid, respectful and intimidated lot.

Still they tell us, nobody wants to be a millionaire.

Is it because we have no public-spirited people? This can't be because there are lots of volunteer workers in the churches, charities, civic bodies and those manning aid organisations. Many of these volunteers are doctors, lawyers and other qualified people who could be good enough to become Ministers. Then, if universities are reservoirs of brainpower, we have two full universities filled with dons with very high academic qualifications. And what about the tens of thousands of graduates they churn out every year? Where do they disappear to when considering candidates for Ministerial posts? It simply doesn't wash.

The reason lies elsewhere. Much as Lee Kuan Yew thinks that the pay is not enough, and that potential Ministers can earn more in the private sector (another self-serving myth thoroughly debunked in an earlier letter called "whypay", the real reason is no further than his own nose.

Why do I say that?

Consider. Given that Ministers are the highest paid in the world and Singapore is the easiest to administer, and the job stress is far less than that of an ordinary $10,000 a month middle manager, why don't qualified people simply queue up to join the PAP? After all, even being an MP already nets you nearly $10,000 a month in extra cash and if you succeed in lasting 3 terms, you get a life pension as well.

Maybe it's Lee Kuan Yew himself.

Reflect on this fact. Lee alone is responsible for setting the entire tone of political debate and practice in Singapore. There is no dispute on this. He created the environment from 1959 till now and set the level of political discourse. And boy, does he set it!

To begin with, instead of the gentlemanly debate usually practised in real democracies, with the contest of ideas as the primary focus, so that the country benefits from a thorough discussion of views and alternatives, from political parties, politicians, media, interested bodies and citizens, he has behaved exactly like the "thug" he said he looked like on TV when we first had television. For example, in Parliament and outside, he has called Mr Jeyaretnam a "skunk" and "mangy dog", among other things.

He has also employed defamatory stings, the latest against Mr Tang Liang Hong in the 1997 General Election, when he baited Mr Tang by calling him a "anti-Christian, anti-English-educated Chinese chauvinist", knowing that Mr Tang, in an election, must deny this. Thereupon, Lee and others sued him for millions -- successfully of course (was there any doubt?).

Then also, he has not hesitated to play dirty. Even as late as the Francis Seow case, Lee has had innocent people simply jailed without trial, in the case of this former Solicitor-General, simply for opposing him so well in debate that Lee flushed before his own parliament. In the 1987 arrests, 22 men and women were arrested as "Marxists" although Lee privately acknowledged to a confidant that "they were not really Marxists, just do-gooders".

Of course, no brief litany of Lee's crimes against humanity can omit his defamation suits against opponents. He has jailed Mr Jeyaretnam for 6 months, expelled him from Parliament, timed a GE so that Mr Jeyaretnam cannot contest, nearly bankrupted him numerous times and now this will soon be finally accomplished.

Then, there is the nepotism. Few people really believe that his 3 children, who did not come tops in their respective cohorts in the PSLE, 'O" and "A" levels examinations (and probably not even in their schools) became President Scholars by sheer merit. Fewer believe that his 2 sons became Brigadier General by ability. Or that his relatives occupy such high positions by talent. Or that Lee Hsien Yang became CEO of the largest corporation in the country by proving himself.

In short, many principled and right-minded men and women shun politics because they wish to have no part of a political culture that calls opponents names, defames them, sues them and jails them without reason -- all for only daring to oppose Lee. They look aghast at Lee's antics and ask themselves, "If I go into politics, is this what I have to do? To call people names, to defame them, to sue them to bankruptcy, to jail them and even have the secret service harass them and their families? If so, I want no part of this." And rightly so.

To sum up, Lee Kuan Yew is like a skunk who stinks up his own environment atop a tree by being thoroughly himself, then wonders why no sensitive animal wants to join him there, when the answer is as close as his nose. To this day, he can't smell the real reason, believing very conveniently that more pay is the answer (so he keeps increasing his own pay at every opportunity).

As a Singaporean, I think that it could have been so very different. Politics could have been a noble calling, where people join for public service and duty and pay need not be the draw. To believe that we don't have public minded people is to deny that better people than ourselves can exist and that is typical Lee arrogance and blindness.

So because of this Lee mentality, good men in Singapore don't join the PAP.