3 ongoing petitions are testing the government’s pledge to “listen with humility and respect” to Singaporeans’ views.
The petitions are currently “live” on change.org and have attracted thousands of signatures in support. 2 of the letters of appeal urge the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to grant 17-year old footballer Ben Davis a National Service deferment so the youngster can honour his 2-year contract with English Premier League club, Fulham.
Mindef had earlier rejected his appeal, which caused an uproar, especially online. More of that later.
The 3rd petition calls on the Ministry of Health (MOH) to rethink its policy that women are to pay higher premiums for Careshield Life when the scheme kicks in from 2020.
The MOH had said that since women lived longer lives and are thus expected to consume more healthcare services, they should foot a higher premium bill. The news was greeted with criticisms, with some describing it as sexism and discrimination.
The authorities have not responded to any of the 3 petitions so far.
Earlier this year, during the debate on the Budget in Parliament, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat pledged that the 4th generation (4G) leaders will embark on a national dialogue with Singaporeans. He said that ministers will “listen with humility and respect” to the views of citizens.
“We will partner Singaporeans each step of the way in our journey of building our future Singapore,” he said then.
“We will consider all views with an open mind, and adjust our course accordingly. We will communicate the thinking behind our decisions clearly. We will bring Singaporeans together and give everyone a role to turn good ideas into concrete action.”
The two issues – of NS deferment for sportsmen and Careshield Life premiums for women – are testing the government’s pledge to listen.
Ben Davis is the first Singaporean to be have signed a professional contract with an English Premiership side. It is reported that, in fact, he is the first Southeast Asian to do so as well.
But his plans have run into some obstacles from Mindef, which said that “it would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development.”
The Mindef statement said Ben “must dutifully serve NS along with others in his cohort.”
Mindef’s insistence that the young boy serve out his NS first drew disapproval from the public. Many felt that such an opportunity is rare and that Ben should be given leeway to fulfill his dreams of playing in the English League, which included some of the best players in the world.
Some have now taken to Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s Facebook page to plead his case.
On Monday, 16 July, Mr Tharman posted his praise on Facebook of France’s World Cup victory. He said that France’s win “shows what is possible when a leaf is taken from the French football system, and every young person is encouraged and supported in developing his or her strengths.”
Response to his remarks came fast.
“I feel Ben Davis is exactly that young person that we should be encouraging and supporting,” said Olivia Choong. “It’s a crying shame for time sensitive opportunities to be lost. And it sets a precedence [sic] for other athletes, sending a message that sporting dreams and athletic ambitions are not worth fighting for.”
Farah Elais asked the minister: “Does Singapore plan to follow France’s example? Perhaps we could start by approving Ben Davis’s application for NS deferment.”
Wen Kai said Mindef should “give that boy a chance to develop.” “In any case, he is asking for deferment, not exemption… we will all regret if he is being offered an English citizenship and play for the 3 lions instead of our Merlion in future.”
Three lions refer to the English national team.
Despite the uproar the past week, Mindef has yet to respond, and it is left to be seen if it is listening and change its position on Ben’s deferment.
The two petitions in support for Ben’s NS deferment have garnered almost 8,000 signatures in total, while the one on Careshield has more than 6,500 signees in support.
That’s a total of almost 15,000 signatures for the 3 petitions, with many more voices of support which have not signed the appeals.
Will the government listen? Will it change its position on the two matters? We can only wait and see.