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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Personal answers to national questions

So the Prime Minister fielded questions at an undergraduate forum yesterday. One question was from a foreign student who lamented on behalf of his Singapore friends that doing National Service was only delaying the start of their careers. Nice of him to speak for his friends, but weren’t they in the audience too? Too scared to speak up or were they setting up their foreign friend for a robust rebuttal? In any case, PM Lee was quite kind but firm in insisting that NS should stay.

I agree absolutely.

Have our young people been navel-gazing? All that tension in the South China sea and the saber-rattling is enough to cause worry that there will be a repeat of World War One, when nations sleepwalked their way to war. And it’s the 100th anniversary this year…

Okay. Now that I’ve got that out of my system…

The MSM is filled today with two sets of reports. Besides the PM’s forum, there was yet another portion of an IPS survey released, this time concerning attitudes towards foreigners and some hot-button social issues. Remember that the earlier sets were about race? That we’re not quite as race-blind as we may think we are?

Well, actually there’s no need for a survey to tell me that we are more anti-foreigner now than before. So we’ve somewhat closed ranks among ourselves (very good). And we put up a barrier against other nationalities (not good). According to the survey, 32 per cent of people surveyed said there was “more/much more’’ prejudice against foreigners compared to five years ago. This was articulated by half of the Chinese respondents surveyed. Big number indeed… 

Here’s the part I can’t quite understand…

According to TODAY, about 70.6 per cent of the respondents also felt that the government is responsible for racial and religious harmony in Singapore. However, only 45.8 per cent of them felt that the authorities have done well to improve the integration of new immigrants here.

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When asked why this is so, IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said Singaporeans may expect the State to continue to be a mediator given its prior success with issues such as race and religion. “People have a lot more expectation, just like how we dealt with race or religion, everything was so well-orchestrated, (so they feel that) immigrant issues will be equally taken care of quickly,” Dr Mathews, who headed the survey, added.

There we go again, expecting the G to do everything, including containing our dislike for foreigners. The G actually admits it could do more to “communicate the worth of foreigners’’ to its citizens. Seriously, do we need the G to do everything?

We can hold the G responsible for certain aspects. It was responsible for the huge inflow of foreigners in the past without giving much thought as to how it would strain relations here, and the kind of burden it would put on the infrastructure, which is leading to further strains on citizen-foreigner  relations…

In recent years, it’s making amends. It’s done quite a bit to make a distinction between the privileges of the citizen and the PR in terms of doling out G subsidies. It has set up an employment framework to ensure fair hiring. It has tightened the foreign worker tap, so much so that SMEs are screaming in pain. Now it’s intervened to set quotas in the HDB neighbourhoods to prevent foreign enclaves forming.  

What else? Now this is the part I worry about. Predictably, the Anton Casey case came up in both reports, mentioned both by the PM and the IPS people who did the survey. Mr Casey shouldn’t have said what he did, and this is almost universally acknowledged. But now that he is out of town and out of a job, attention has turned to the “lynch mob’’ and “pack of hounds’’ who exist, where else?, online. The spectre of the rise of fascism here was raised by no less a person than the Government Chief Information Officer who also heads IPS. Already letters have been published in MSM calling for controls on xenophobic and extremist sentiments online.

The G could well say that it has to intervene to calm anti-foreigner sentiments just as it had in the past to quell race/religious tensions. And you guessed it – the clamps will be online. Never mind that the same xenophobic and extreme statements will be made in coffeeshops and bars. So long as not many people are listening, it doesn’t matter eh?

It is for us to police ourselves online. Can we do a better job of shouting down/over the insane, inane and plain unreasonable voices? I suppose people will say there is freedom of speech online, but you wouldn’t want more curbs so that there would be even less freedom would you? And that will happen if the laws come in with a heavy hand, never mind the G’s insistence that it is really a “light touch’’.

Okay, I should really stop lecturing and answer the questions below which I culled from newspaper reports on both events:

a)     Do you like living in the present, or would you prefer to be born in Singapore 50 years later?

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Depends on whether there is a Singapore 50 years later…PM Lee said the future is bright and promising for young people. You can’t expect the leader of a country to say anything else, can you?

 But I know this: I am glad to have Singapore as my birthplace and can’t fathom being born anywhere else.   


b)    If a Malay/Muslim policeman intervened in a quarrel between your Muslim and Chinese neighbour, do you watch to see if the cop will side with a member of his own race/religion?

I wouldn’t but I know many who would automatically jump to the conclusion that it was race thing if the cop sided with the Muslim neighbour.  This was an interesting point that PM Lee brought up when he talked about women police officers wearing the tudung. It would make the distinction so much more apparent. Frankly, I’ve never thought of it that way. We have to hope that the next generation would be more race-blind. Fifty years?


c)     Do you think meritocracy is a “dirty” word?


Not at all. I am a beneficiary of the system. My worry is that we will push for so much egalitarianism that merit is no longer a useful marker. The dirty word really is not so much meritocracy as “stress’’. The pursuit of meritocracy does mean some stress. Even in a “compassionate meritocracy’’, can you take the “stress’’ out of the system? Should we?

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d)    If you’re Chinese and a choice between working for a non-Chinese Singaporean and a Chinese national, which would you pick? 

Can’t answer this since I am only half-Chinese and therefore a minority member. My answer would depend on whether the boss can speak comprehensible English!


e)     If you’re against gay marriage, are you also against gay couples adopting children?

I was a bit puzzled by the survey results. About 72 per cent said gay marriage is “always wrong/almost always wrong’’. Yet a smaller proportion (about 61 per cent) said it was okay for gay couples to adopt children. I would have thought the numbers should be about the same. If you are against gay marriage because you think a unions should be between a man and woman, doesn’t it follow that you think this should be the family unit which raises the child?


I am against both. I don’t think much of society is ready either. What I am against: the retention of section 377a criminalising homosexual sex. For this simple reason: If something is in the rule books, you either enforce it or you don’t. You don’t dangle it like a sword of Damocles and swear you won’t use it. People shouldn’t live in uncertainty.

I’m probably going to get whacked for the above. If you feel like whacking me, please be nice can?   

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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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