By Ethan Guo
Last year it was the jewel at the airport. This year, it’s the makeover of the zoo and bird park.
I appreciate that our Prime Minister doesn’t always have something big to announce, but it’s also not every day that your every man gets a chance to pose questions “live” to the PM.
Instead of probing questions and an insight into pressing issues of the day, what we get are gems like these making the headlines.
Like a father-to-be calling in to ask whether the PM changed his sons’ diapers. Really? With time at such a premium, such questions are akin to a man on death row choosing to take a nap in his final moments. You just don’t do it.
The Q&A wasn’t a complete waste of time. PM Lee did talk about important issues, but many were kept at a superficial level – disappointing those expecting a greater understanding of policy decisions (is that not the point of the show?).
Population matters and the link to our economy are always at the forefront – why was this not raised? The inadequacy of the CPF, plenty would’ve liked some assurances on that. Property prices and transport; how they’ll be managed in the long term: sadly not addressed.
A few good questions popped up on screen but were not posed to the PM – likely a tactic to placate viewers into thinking the show isn’t a complete whitewash.
The hosts of the show didn’t want to probe further in many instances. On the issue of bridging differences between people, why didn’t they ask about the government’s conflicting signals? Regarding the upping of retirement age, why wasn’t he probed about the general health of Singaporeans in their 60s and how realistic it was as a strategy against financial problems the elderly face?
Having worked in the news media before, I know the fact that our Prime Minister is on “live” television fielding questions from the public is a very big step.
With all the talk of Singapore meeting global standards, we’re far from similar programmes like “Meet The Press” in the US, and the UK’s long-running “Question Time”. Singaporeans aren’t even expecting crossfire with the presence of opposition. All they want is a frank and open “Kopi Talk”, which the show failed to deliver.
What his communications advisors need to understand is that his appearance cannot come across as “window dressing”.
My sceptic-radar was sky high during the broadcast. No doubt all the callers were screened. I dare say some were planted as well. In itself there’s nothing wrong with that – a standard public speaking strategy. But if you want to do this, do it right.
Already participants in online forums are calling the show “vague”, “wayang” and “staged” – not an outcome the PM was going for, I’m sure.
This exercise could’ve helped PM Lee’s image by portraying how he’s personally reaching out to the public for feedback and explaining the thought process behind his decisions.
It works only if there’s no nagging doubt or suspicion of the authenticity of it all.
The public is merciless. It cares not about his managed persona, only how genuine he is.
I give the PM a thumbs-up for effort, but a thumbs-down for failing to strip the barriers of showmanship – perceived or otherwise.
The conversations stemming from this year’s national day have been a let down. I’d wager a bet that PM Lee is holding back and merely making a dry run.
There’s a lot at stake next year for the big 5-0 celebrations, a year before the next General Elections are due to be called.
I’m expecting a slew of “feel good” and grand announcements, all carefully crafted to tout the nation’s remarkable achievements.
The dream and master plan for a better Singapore for all Singaporeans in the next 50 years will be rolled out with a caveat to keep voting in this government with the ability to realise that vision.
And in the televised Q&A next year, PM will have plenty to gush about without having to sweat the small petty stuff.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. We all need to and should. It’s nice to have something to look forward to.
In this year’s Q&A however, it was a missed opportunity to first provide the honest answers out of people’s nightmares.