Has it been an exciting year or not? You judge.
1. Who will be Prime Minister?
It was three, then two and finally, the winner emerged! Mr Heng Swee Keat was anointed first assistant-secretary general of the People’s Action Party which put him directly in line to succeed PM Lee Hsien Loong, the current secretary-general. Mr Chan Chun Sing is now second assistant secretary-general. Cabinet changes early next year will cement the sucession. We’re still waiting for that next Singapore Conversation that was promised in the Presidential Address. It’s akan datang, Mr Heng said. The question now is whether the country can expect more of the same style of politics from the 4G or a vision to keep Singapore going especially since….
2. The rich are getting richer while the poor are…
About 100,000 people? Or 200,000? We’re not sure because there is no poverty line or minimum wage level. But questions are being raised about whether meritocracy is really working well enough for those at the bottom to climb up the socio-economic ladder. The issue of inequality was brought to the fore by academic Teo Yue Yenn who wrote the book This is the Face of Inequality, which, among other things, asked if Singapore’s social policies were too rigid to do much uplifting anyway. A television documentary on the issue is now more remembered for the way some young people in the lower educational streams seemed to have resigned themselves to their lot in life because they are not as “smart” as their peers.
3. But is the nation Smart?
The SingHealth hacking scandal was a blemish in the glossy brochure that glamorises Smart Nation Singapore. The benefits of going cashless even when topping up cash cards, the advent of driverless cars and the installation of smart lamp-posts were thrown in the shade by the loss of more than million people’s personal records, including the medication needs of the PM, to hackers. The pause button was pushed. It looks like it’s all down to people’s sloppiness, kiasi and kiasu attitudes when it comes to preventing, detecting and reporting glitches. But in the usual Singapore style, the work must go on…
4. Even if the High-Speed Railway can’t
The joy Malaysians felt at the return of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister was matched by the pall that fell over Singapore at the prospect of having to deal with the cantankerous 92 year old again. Drama was played out in the media, with public statements from the Malaysian side about stopping/postponing the billion dollar project (now postponed), the price of water and the building of the crooked bridge. New tensions emerged in the form of air and sea space and who has the right to fly or sail in which area. Officials on both sides (which Dr M described as twins) will talk in the second week of January. In the meantime, one Malaysian vessel is still in Singapore waters. With Singapore Coast Guard and Navy keeping watch. And that’s not fake news…
5. Which is going to be harder to come by…
After a parliamentary committee received representations from cyber-security experts, academics and civil society activists. Expect laws, including against tech companies, to govern online speech. At one stage, the committee’s hearings morphed into a history lesson of pre-Singapore independence. Historian P J Thum’s version of history, very uncomplimentary to the PAP, got the panel’s hackles up. They were raised even further when Dr Thum and a few others met Dr M for a dialogue, which some viewed as an attempt to solicit outside intervention in Singapore’s politics. The issue didn’t die. In the aftermath of the exchange of words, TheOnlineCitizen published an article from a contributor who had used another man’s identity. It was deemed as criminal defamation.
6. And which was used again in another case of fake news…
This time, it was online site States Times Review which ran an article which was picked up by Malaysian media alleging that the PM and Singapore were complicit in covering up former Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s 1MDB tracks. The site was shut down and re-opened as the Singapore Herald, which was again banned for articles commenting inappropriately on the Singapore-Malaysia row. FaceBook has refused to remove all traces of the site while one blogger is now facing charges for sharing the original offending article. They are expected to be fodder for the upcoming fake news legislation which online media, including yours truly, is now bracing itself for.
7. But it’s the house which really matters no?
So everyone was in a tizzy when they were told that their old HDB flats might be worth nothing when their 99 year leases were up. It seems that some people were buying up old flats expecting to reap a windfall when the Selective EnBloc Re-development or SERS comes to their neighbourhood. They skipped the word “selective’’. Now that the flat isn’t the capital investment asset it was made out to be, they now have to be content with more upgrading exercises to shore up the value. This includes a new Voluntary En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme, which will allow for some re-development – except that you might not live to see it. But hey, housing prices are coming down – in case, you’re thinking of buying one.
8. And what about getting around?
Commuters who had enthused about the promotions and discounts when companies with ride railing apps started operating here had to moderate their expectations when Uber was grabbed up by Grab. Regulators had to grapple, belatedly, competition laws, licensing of an increased pool of drivers and complaints about threats to the livelihood of taxi-drivers. They also had to contend with the one, two, three-wheeled contraptions – manually, battery- or electrically-powered – that started perambulating on pavements, roads and open spaces. Shops selling personal mobility devices and bike-sharing companies found themselves saddled with new rules. And cyclists found that they would be responsible for where they left their bikes. That is, not just anywhere.
9. Is it safe to eat anywhere?
Nothing gets a Singaporean more excited than talking about food. Well-known establishments, such as Mandarin Hotel and Spize, dished out poisoned food, leading to one death and excruciating pain for more than a hundred people. Talk of a link has been pooh-poohed by the National Environment Agency, which attributed the cause to poor personal hygiene and kitchen habits. But less well-known – and humbler – establishments got the spotlight too when food blogger K F Seetoh started campaigning for a better deal for hawkers operating in centres run by social enterprises. Confused talk about high rents, extra fees and cost of management services followed – until the NEA decided that it would play a bigger watchdog role to keep operators and hawkers happy. As it should. After all, Singapore is gunning for a United Nations heritage award for its hawker centre.
10. Finally, let’s talk about sex.
The proposed changes to the Penal Code include plenty on sex crimes, such as tougher penalties for those who prey on minors. Also a crime: marital rape, which husbands were previously immune from. But nothing was said about Section 377A, which criminalises homosexual sex, a bugbear of the LGBT community. Some leading Establishment members, such as Professor Tommy Koh and Mr Ho Kwon Ping, have taken up the cause for its removal, prompting counter-petitions from the pro-377A lobby. Uncharacteristically, the Government is taking a back seat. It won’t move until the “community’’ does and we really don’t know what that means…