Bertha Henson on a second Singapore conversation: Are the 4G leaders losing it?

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Photo: Bertha Henson, YouTube screengrab

A former Straits Times editor Bertha Henson wrote a piece on her blog about 4G leaders that she published early Wednesday morning.

In it, she touched on the issues of parking and of speaking plainly.

Henson started by quoting Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on a promise that he made in a speech, and according to her, failed to keep.

Minister Heng: “The fourth generation leadership will listen with humility and respect. 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.’’

To that, Henson said she was too optimistic, “With all humility and respect, I think the 4G leaders are ‘losing it’ ”.

She continued and cited Leader of the House Grace Fu’s response to a commentator in the Straits Times, and added that Grace Fu might not have been too clear in her response.

“I think she would have done better to clear this mis-impression in the column – that Parliament House carpark is not open to the public and intended only for staff and MPs. Because what comes to mind are plenty of empty spots on prime land, since Parliament sits so infrequently”, Henson wrote.

In the dialogue about speaking plainly, Bertha referred to a letter Minister Heng’s press secretary Lim Yuin Chien wrote to the forum section of the newspaper.

Bertha quoted the ending of Lim Yuin Chin’s letter, suggesting that Lim himself may not have been “speaking plainly”.

The end of Lim’s letter read, “The easiest five words to utter in politics are: “I promise you free lunches.” But that’s not plain speech. That’s pandering and populism”.

To this ending, Henson suggested an alternate. One that was possibly less harsh, and more didactic.
She suggested: “Why couldn’t the letter have been written this way:

I thank Mr Han for his column on plain-speaking. It is correct that politicians should phrase their messages in simple and empathetic terms for the layman. We do try, and we acknowledge that we don’t always succeed. I wish to add that Mr Han neglects to say that plain speech also means telling the full truth. It is easy to make promises but the electorate would also have a part to play in fulfilling it. I doubt that they will be satisfied with “don’t worry about the details or how we will do it”. The 4G leadership wants to forge a new relationship with the people, which must also mean alerting them to the pitfalls and hard work ahead. We intend to do so – and yes, in plain words.”

Bertha Henson then ended her article talking about the Singapore conversation. She wrote, “It doesn’t seem to me that they are listening “with humility and respect”. Nor are they keeping an “open mind”. Not even communicating the reasons for its decisions clearly”.

She ended asking, “Wherefore the next Singapore Conversation? Or would it be at the ballot box?”


On Facebook, the post of her article saw 115 shares and more than 300 reactions.

It was also shared by Andrew Loh, founder of The Online Citizen, who said, “Just 3 weeks – for Heng Swee Keat to go from promising humility in listening to arrogantly scolding others who make suggestions.


obbana@theindependent.sg