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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Handbook for the Voter

Handbook For The Voter

PAP leaders have started weekend walkabouts in various constituencies, signalling that indeed, the General Election is near. With that, this writer offers a little Handbook of Issues for SFD readers and the opposition to think about, as we begin a new millennium that will see Goh Chok Tong giving way to Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister, as ordained by God.


You can't eat democracy nor does it allow you to buy things, but it is vital nonetheless. We haven't come to that stage, but intelligent people in other countries have sacrificed their lives to bring it about. In Singapore, some have endured decades-long imprisonment and soft torture. Democracy can take volumes to define, but a practical working definition is that, in a democracy, you can change the government. In Singapore, we can't.

In practical terms, the PAP makes elections meaningless. First, it persecutes every potential leader entering opposition politics. The most recent example is that of Dr Chee Soon Juan. The moment he entered opposition politics, he was sacked from his National University of Singapore career as a lecturer/researcher. When he protested his sacking, he was sued and had to sell his house and car to pay the damages. Thereafter, all job avenues closed for him, and without even a job, how can you survive, let alone carry on fighting?

Those leaders already in opposition politics suffer the same relentless persecution. Mr Jeyaretnam struggled heroically for over 30 years and lost his house and all his money to several defamation damages and is today, in debt and a bankrupt. His Workers Party may be shut down anytime, with the consequence that all its Members of Parliament may be expelled from Parliament, for also failing to pay up the damages.

Even activists are not spared. Mr James Gomez of the Think Centre and Mr Kevin Liew of the Open Singapore Centre and Singapore Democratic Party were recently intimidated with a severe police warning for organising a rally at Speakers Corner.

Thus, the PAP ensures that nobody dares to enter opposition politics and those who remain are persecuted to the full extent of the dubious laws. Therefore, the unhappy state of affairs is that a PAP victory in the coming GE will be inevitable. Meaning that we are in an autocracy, not a democracy, despite the Pledges we recite in school and on National Day.

Does it matter if we can't change the government?

Well, it means that the PAP has no incentive to listen to you and your problems, other than offering a token ear to your grievances. For example, our ministers earn well over a million a year, yet we can't do anything about it. They have been quite nice about it, firmly rejecting our objections by saying that we need to "pay top dollar for top talent" (Lee Kuan Yew). They have even tried to show that we "agreed" to this kind of pay 'by continuing to vote them back in', although an independent survey such as those conducted by the Gallup Poll organisation, would show the contrary.

Not being able to vote out the PAP government means that you can be hauled into jail without trial and falsely accused of being a terrible "marxist", as happened to 22 completely innocent Catholic and social activists in 1987 (read "Marxist Plot Revisited"). In other words, you may be, like these 22, law-abiding and minding your own business, yet find yourself in jail, accused of being a marxist and forced to 'confess' your crimes.

Not being able to change the government puts us in a very weak position. It gives the PAP absolute power over us instead of us over them. This means that they can do anything they like. To give the most powerful (money) example this writer can think of, remember the Howe Yoon Chong affair. Howe Yoon Chong was a very senior minister under Lee Kuan Yew. Together, they came up with the infamous Howe Yoon Chong Report, which recommended that even when we reach 55, we cannot withdraw our CPF money in one lump sum, only a small living allowance every month. Fortunately, the feedback was so furious that the Howe Yoon Chong Report was quietly shelved and Howe Yoon Chong himself never again stood for election. A small victory for the people. However, today, parts of this scheme is still in operation, with an increasing percentage of our CPF being set aside in a sneaky scheme almost like what Howe Yoon Chong and Lee Kuan Yew wanted.


Not being able to change the government means that we are powerless to change things. Again, to employ the most potent argument Singaporeans can understand, let us talk about money. Government costs of services and products need not be so high. From HDB flats to cars to MRT and bus fares, to hospital fees to telephone charges, we are all paying quite a bit more than we actually should. This is due to government monopolies. Singapore Telecom, for example, has been described as a "near-monopoly". Lee Hsien Yang may need a 'success' to prove himself after several failures, and therefore throw billions in an acquisition that may never return any profits because the nature of the telecom business is changing so rapidly, but can we implore him to lower telecom fees or to invest his billions in Singapore instead, to generate businesses and jobs?

We can't because he is answerable to nobody except, maybe, his dad, Lee Kuan Yew.

The PAP deliberately runs up huge account surpluses every year, (by deliberately spending very little on us, its citizens) which they then throw away in ventures like Suzhou Industrial Park (do a Site Search for articles), DBS Bank and Singapore Telecom acquisitions. This writer cannot understand why the billions cannot be invested domestically to create jobs and knock-on businesses. After all, the PAP has built a reputation of bending totally backwards to attract Foreign Direct Investments for those very same reasons. Yet, we are throwing billions elsewhere to benefit others, creating jobs and supporting businesses for other countries -- for no better reason than that our infallible Lee Kuan Yew thinks that regionalisation is a good idea. He has lots of good ideas, for which he makes us pay him and his carefully chosen crony ministers well over a million a year each. And when his ideas fail, as in Suzhou, Indonesia and elsewhere, we end up paying even more, in billions. For some examples of unjustifiable costs of products and services, read the article on this website called "Government by Taxation".


No democracy means that our understanding of reality is deliberately distorted, and distorted with impunity, by the PAP. Now, this is not a philosophy treatise on the nature of reality but a very practical example of how our minds are systematically warped for the purposes of the PAP. How do we understand the world around us, especially our own little island of 600 square kilometres and what happens on it every day? Through the media, of course. Meaning the newspapers first, TV second and gossip third, depending on how much you gossip and how knowledgeable are your gossipers. (The Internet is a growing and promising media but is not yet 'mainstream').

In our Singapore, every local newspaper is directly controlled by the PAP. Even foreign newspapers are subject to pressure from the PAP and about half a dozen have been 'restricted' (banned, in effect) for publishing articles the PAP didn't like its people to read. Similarly, every TV station and radio station on the island is under PAP control. This means that the PAP controls what we read, what we watch and therefore, what we know and thereby, what we think. There is a term in computer slang: Garbage In, Garbage Out. When the PAP controls totally the Input that goes into our heads, it controls not only the Output but also what goes on in our heads. In short, we are subject to all sorts of manipulation by the PAP and only the totally naive would think that any of it is for our own good! For example, most of us think quite highly of our Ministers' qualifications and ability. But are they really that good? In an open and democratic society, with a free media, we might have very good reasons to think otherwise. With a free media, we would know every instance where these little gods fall short or spout nonsense or propose stupid policies. Now, we only know when they succeed and not when they fall short or display feet of clay.


As mentioned above, Government companies like Singapore Telecom, DBS Bank, Singapore Technologies, SIA, etc, are all actually the people's companies. They made most of their money from Singaporeans. Yet, instead of re-investing this money in Singapore to generate jobs and supporting businesses for local Small and Medium-size Enterprises, they invest billions abroad. With variations, every $1 million invested locally can generate up to 100 jobs. Think how many we are losing with this Lee Kuan Yew idea of 'regionalisation'. These massive investments abroad may generate future profits for these companies but surely we should consider socially important objectives like creating jobs in Singapore rather than make more money for these companies that do not directly benefit the people?

Already, with the wholesale import of 'foreign talent' and foreign workers, Singaporean citizens and residents have not only to compete for jobs but also find their wages reduced by fierce competition. Simply, the presence of large numbers of foreign workers keep our wages low. Employers have no incentive to raise wages or to offer better working conditions or even training and staff development. They also find little need to invest in greater automation and computerisation. Why should they when there's a cheap foreign worker willing to work hard in difficult conditions for little?


When you have no power to change the government, you also suffer consequences. One of these is the NTUC. There has been no strike since the NTUC dominated the union scene. Why? Are workers so well treated in Singapore that they don't consider industrial action any more? Or are we more like eunuchs who have lost the capability to perform, even if the desire is there? The NTUC is, of course, a PAP organisation. Therefore, its mission is to pacify workers into following PAP directives and not to agitate on behalf of the workers. Therefore, it represents the PAP more than its workers. It brings in the workers' votes and supports the PAP in all its policies, even if these are bad for workers.


This writer, being only human, cannot list out all or even most of the issues in our people's lives. They include: Cramped and expensive housing; A sterile environment; Long working hours; Lack of recreation facilities; Difficulties facing singles; The plight of the poor; Spotty health care provision and high costs; Rote-approach education of our children; Lack of time and opportunities for working adults' higher education; Transport woes and high costs; Over-competitive stresses in our schools and the condemnation for life of those who can't make it; The over-emphasis on paper qualifications; The gulf between those with tertiary qualifications and those without; The low, low CPF interest rates for our forced 'savings'; Non-transparency and accountability of our Singapore Government Investment Corporation and Temasek Holdings leading to loss of billions; The over dominance of the private sector by Government Linked Companies; The high fees for products and services charged by Government utilities and corporations; No freedom of the media or access to Government information; Persecution of the opposition leading to a lack of representation of our interests; The prevention of the rise of a civil society in Singapore by the PAP thereby silencing questions and criticisms; The lack of diversity in school subjects and university courses; The overlooked social and medical needs of the elderly; The backwardness of the Malays due to the present system of 'meritocracy'; The unnecessarily long national service; The over-spending of up to 6% of GDP annually on defence; Too many foreigners in Singapore crowding out our people in jobs, salaries and living space; Giving billions of our hard-earned money to Indonesia; The imposed limited number of university places for different faculties; The over-emphasis on 'practical' subjects leading to a dearth of philosophers, social scientists, thinkers and playwrights as well as in theatre and the arts; The low standard of local TV productions; The long-suffering retail industry; Low wages for all from menial workers to professionals as pointed out in recent international surveys; The fear of the PAP government caused by the Internal Security Act and its apparatus, the ISD given unlimited budgets, manpower and powers; The impotence of the judicial system where many sentences are mandatory, giving judges little leeway (only Lee's way) to moderate punishment as befits the circumstances and the accused; The kangaroo courts that always find for the Lee Government against political opponents; The systematic corruption of every major institution in Singapore from the judiciary to the turf club to bend to its will; The nepotism of Lee following Lee as PM and Lee in SingTel and Mrs Lee in Singapore Technologies; The channelling of Government and much private business to Lee Kuan Yew's law firm; The no-contest of the last Presidential Election where we didn't even get to vote Yes or No in a referendum on him as requested by Dr Chee Soon Juan; The unfairness of the MVC; And the animosity towards Malaysia (were they an enemy or did we make them one?).

A few ambitious journalists eyeing a promotion to the editor's post, have written that there are hardly any issues for the opposition to raise in a GE, thereby suggesting that the PAP has done such an outstanding job of governing that there are no issues left. As the above very-incomplete list shows, there are enough issues to occupy several dozen Opposition MPs full-time for several terms. Which is why we need these several dozen Opposition MPs in Parliament. To voice our grievances. Articulate our hurts and wants. Give voice to our aspirations. Speak out for our rights. Watch out for injustices against us. Act on our behalf when more than just speaking out is needed. Inform us when great truths need to be told. Expose the Government when they do wrong. Help spur the Government to greater service to us. Prod them when they lag. Scrutinise their statements, policies and accounts. Confront them on issues we cannot compromise. Above all, by their very presence, remind them that the PAP cannot take the people for granted. That they owe us their position. That they work for us and not we for them.

Thus, in the coming GE, we have a choice. Either we let the PAP continue business as usual, or we make them think harder and consider more carefully every move they make. This can only benefit us.

You have one vote. But nothing in the world is more powerful than that one vote. Don't waste it!

Your fellow Singaporean