The consul-general of Singapore in Hong Kong wrote in to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) after the paper carried an article based on Singapore writer Catherine Lim’s open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on trust in Singapore’s government and the country’s leaders. The full letter by the consul-general is as follows:
“Writer Catherine Lim’s open letter to Singaporean PM fuels social media debate” (June 9), quotes the writer saying “Singaporeans no longer trust their leaders”. Ms Lim first asserted this two decades ago in 1994. The ruling party had won the 1991 general election with 61 per cent of the vote. Ms Lim thought that was a poor performance and spied “a great affective divide” in Singapore between the government and the people. Since then the ruling party has taken Singapore through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed — the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, and the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition, it has won four further general elections by healthy margins. But still Ms Lim continues to regularly bemoan a collapse of trust and respect for the government.
There are international benchmarks of trust in government. For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer found only 37 per cent of respondents in the United States trusted their government. The UK scores 42 per cent, and Hong Kong 45 per cent. Singapore scored a respectable 75 per cent.
Of course, not all is perfect in Singapore. Like other developed societies, our middle class too feels the squeeze from globalisation. The government has openly acknowledged the problems of income inequality and slowing social mobility. It has done much to overcome them, and is doing more in a sustainable and responsible, not populist, way. That is why trust in government in Singapore remains high.
Ms Lim is also wrong to claim that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against a blogger will further erode trust. On the contrary, Mr Lee acted because the government prizes integrity as the ultimate source of the trust it enjoys. A leader who does nothing when he is accused of criminally misappropriating monies from the state pension system must engender mistrust in his honesty and leadership. The person making the accusations should have basis for the accusations, and should not be gratuitously lying.
It is no coincidence that in countries where lies and false accusations are the stock in trade of public debate, people have a low opinion of all politicians, and a very low trust in their governments.”
Jacky Foo, consul-general of Singapore in Hong Kong. His letter first appeared on SCMP.