The chut pattern instruction manual of the establishment is beginning to show its age. It used to work in the goode olde days. But not now, not any more. Times have changed. Singaporeans have grown more savvy. It is not so easy to pull the wool over their eyes.
Let’s start with the Raffle Girls’ School incident. The New Paper, in a report on RGS’ move from Anderson Road to Braddell Road, quoted a school spokesman as saying: : “Moving away from the luxurious condominiums in Orchard Road will allow our girls to reach out more to the ordinary Singaporean.”
That remark got netizens (perhaps ordinary folk who are not so privileged to smell the wealth and luxury of Districts 9, 10 and 11) hot and bothered as it had connotations which revealed an elitist mentality towards the hoi polloi. RGS’ move, as captured by the statement, sounded like royalty descending from their castle to mix around with commoners – to get a feel of what life “down there” is really like. Whoa! Talk about elitism. Talk about the social divide. Talk about condescension.
Bad as it was, what was worse was the inane attempt by RGS to disown the comment which first appeared in The New Paper.
In a statement, RGS said the article “referenced an informal conversation with a staff member who was not the school’s spokesperson”. The employee “had also not identified himself as such to the reporter”, RGS added.
Responding to CNA queries on that report, TNP editor Lim Han Ming said: “Our reporter spoke to the RGS staff, who confirmed the quote and asked for it to be attributed to an RGS spokesman.” Three cheers to TNP.
So we are spending a whopping $90 million on the new campus – half of which amount came from taxpayers’ money (through the Ministry of Education), the other half from the school or other sources – to help our young girls reach out to ordinary citizens. What do ordinary Singaporeans think? Are they supposed to be grateful?
And what do ordinary Singaporeans think of Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing’s remarks on elitism? At the closing panel discussion at a conference marking the 30th anniversary of local think tank, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), the minister cautioned that a distinction must be made between elites who give back to society, and those with elitist attitudes who have closed themselves off from the rest of society.
He sounded rational. The Trade and Industry Minister, described by a journalist at the panel discussion as a member of the elite, explained: “I agree if the group is monolithic and uncaring, by all means call them elites and bash them up. But if the group succeeded and come from diverse background? Don’t pigeonhole people into groups that we find comfortable to do so.”
If we look more closely at what he was saying, he was, in fact, defending elitism by offering two non sequuntur. Of course we are not against any successful person who gives back to society. Of course, we can also spot those with the wrong attitude, who think they are a class apart All this is not rocket science.
The real danger is to allow elitism of any sort to pervade and embed itself in Singapore society. The RGS case is just another example of the mindset prevalent among, if not the elites themselves, their families and people who serve them in the whole ugly system. The system breeds lackeys and functionaries who will out-PAP the PAP and even the PAP elite.
This is precisely what has been happening in the ding dong between Workers’ Party secretary-general Pritam Singh, one of the MPs in Aljunied GRC, and a PAP grassroots adviser over the “political double standards” practised by the PAP. The construction of a simple access ramp took seven years to build. Make your own conclusion.
I am not going into the details but I share the view of former WP NCMP for Joo Chiat Yee Jenn Jong on the whole business of allowing unelected people the power to approve community projects. He said in Facebook: “It is ridiculous and a mockery of our democracy for unelected and losing candidates of GE to be approving community projects (funded by taxpayers) initiated by elected members of parliament, and delaying or ignoring chasers because it is simply playing dirty and inconveniencing residents who may badly need these facilities.
“Singapore belongs to Singaporeans and not to the PAP. No doubt many Singaporeans, myself included, are grateful that the first generation leaders got us onto the right track for good economic development. That does not mean that we approve of undemocratic methods to entrench themselves in power.”
And, still on chut pattern, finally, I come to Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and the Central Provident Board.
Two persons approached Chee/SDP on 13 Oct for help as they were unable to withdraw their savings. He wrote about this in Facebook. The CPF then asked the SDP chief for details so that it may look into the matter. Again, the pattern of trying to brush over a problem was at work. The CPF said: “Every year, we address close to two million requests and queries either in person or through the phone, e-mail and written correspondence. The fastest way for members to reach us for assistance is to visit our five service centres conveniently located across the island, phone our call centre or write in to us.
“If you wish to help the two CPF members you cited, please let us know their contact details so that we may look into the matter. We look forward to receiving the details soon.”
Chee gave this answer to the CPF and I thought it was reasonable: “You seem to have missed the point. They came to the SDP precisely because they had approached CPF to return them their savings but were turned away.”
Schools that see themselves as citadels in hitherto gloomy neighbourhoods that should be ever so thankful for their presence, elites to whom the less privileged are expected to bow deferentially for their contributions and public service agencies which get irritated by inquiries for help and offer sarcastic replies – they have been part of the politics of dominance. Break the pattern.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.