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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

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A muted conversation

I think the national conversation is getting off to a bad start.
First, did Mr Heng Swee Keat mis-speak when he said, with utmost irony if unintended, that bloggers and Opposition politicians aren’t included in his committee because it was NOT a partisan exercise? And did fellow minister Tan Chuan Jin really clear the air when he told TOC that Mr Heng meant the opposite, implying that his quote was taken out of context? Seems to me that the list of members of the committee is a fact, and Mr Heng himself should do the clarification in the mainstream media where he was reported saying those strange words.
Second, we’re not just hearing from Mr Heng but the PM as well on how the national conversation is not about culling sacred cows. Seems a climb down from what Mr Heng had said earlier. (See earlier blog post on Cows to the slaughter). It certainly seems “prudent’’ for the G to do so, or it might as well be stationed in an abattoir…The problem is, the box, once opened, can’t be shut simply because someone says so. Especially when Mr Heng’s committee isn’t pre-determining the agenda for the moment. This DOES mean cows will be offered up for sacrifice because that will be nature of the conversation – at least in the beginning.
I take to heart what PM said about lifting stones and putting them back in place if they fit better there. So no stone left unturned – I take it to mean that we can at least TALK about cows and bulls – and there won’t be an attempt to restrict the conversation. After all, if the national conversation is for slaying a couple of cows, I don’t see why the G should say no. This is a political exercise; a fight for the best ideas. If the G cannot persuade the majority to its point of view – and keep the cow – then the cow should be killed. To not do so would be to hold the national conversation in contempt. Or to think that superior ideas or values belong only to the realm of the elected (oops, sorry! Opp MPs not counted) and not the electors.
Sheesh. What did I just say? I can just picture someone saying that those in favour of slaughter should join a political party and fight in the political realm. I hope I won’t have to hear this line from anyone. It’s been levelled so often in the past that I keep wondering if we have given our brains away along with our vote and can only utilise them once every four or five years.
Go read Today. Academic Eugene Tan has a good article on his concerns. More importantly, he referred to PM’s injunction that the national conversation cannot undermine the core values such as meritocracy, multi-racialism and financial prudence. The PM added that “within these broad principles, we should review what needs to change and where we should act more boldly”.

He wrote:

While the core values are critical to our well-being, surely the conversation must be open to examining how those values can be refined and tweaked to serve us better? If we assume that the core values as they are being practised cannot be improved, then this imposes a severe inherent limitation. Take, for example, meritocracy. Given the likelihood of persistent and significant income inequalities in Singapore for the foreseeable future, our system of meritocracy can potentially be divisive if it results in a permanent underclass. So, while we insist on meritocracy as a cardinal organising principle of our multiracial society, how we practise it is crucial in the final analysis.
So long as a minority genuinely believes that the meritocratic system makes it difficult for them to progress, even if the majority of Singaporeans think otherwise, cohesion would be undermined.
I am a great believer in meritocracy but as I said in an earlier post, its de-merits are also becoming more evident. I will defend it, and repudiate its bad points, such as a sense of entitlement and a “self-serving nature’’. The whole issue might deserve a fresh airing, so that detractors can be persuaded that it is, like democracy, the least bad way of living your life. And ways can be found to limit its bad effects, along with a societal understanding that being meritorious is without merit if it is not couple with humility and generosity.
So how “inclusive’’ should this national conversation be? Today reported opposition politicians being upset at being left out of the committee. And some want to distance themselves from the process. I suppose Mr Heng’s idea of being “inclusive’’ seems to be “not at the top level old chap, but maybe down the line, speak to us, we’ll call you…like we would anybody else’’. While I am at it, I take great objection to bloggers being lumped into the “alternative views’’ camp along with the opposition. Some bits of the G, I like, some I don’t. Ditto, the opposition. I cannot speak for all bloggers but this blogger merely has VIEWS, which could be mainstream, alternative or even radical. Should anyone writing online who has a view be considered “alternative”? Can we stop boxing up people so conveniently? It does no good to draw lines among the people.
In any case, I think the G missed a great chance at showing a bigness of heart. Sure, I know no political party will want the profile of another party raised but this national conversation was supposed to be different! The fact is, the G has raised expectations – not the people. Online, views abound. Impatient views, rational and irrational, yes. And it has taken weeks for some sort of structure to be made public. Slow, going by the standards of the G.
And now it should do something about rescuing some public confidence. Mine has been a bit dented.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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