Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam took to Facebook to defend Member of Parliament (MP) Lee Bee Wah.
The Nee Soon GRC MP has been mocked for drawing attention to the problems that community cat feeders have inadvertently caused since they are supposedly responsible for the proliferation of big rats in her ward because of the food they leave out for the cats.
According to Shanmugam, Lee was merely “doing her duty as a responsible MP.”
The Home Affairs Minister said that Lee “has been subjected to ‘free speech’ abuse from avatar accounts and trolls,” which he says make up the majority of the comments against her, and suggested that these comments be ignored. Instead, comments from “genuine, concerned people” should be addressed.
Lee had made a speech in Parliament concerning animal management in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates.
Her speech drew flack from animal rights groups such as the Cat Welfare Society (CWS), who felt that she was treating community caregivers and the cats they care for unfairly.
However, according to Shanmugam, Lee brought up issues that are of concern to residents and that her speech must be looked at carefully.
The Home Affairs Minister said that he knew that problems regarding hygiene are a priority for residents, but at the same time he was conscious of the concerns of animal rights groups.
Shanmugan wrote about the project of CWS at Nee Soon in the past, wherein he had helped with funding for the project, as well as obtained the cooperation of the Town Council and other agencies to push for responsible cat feeding.
But he acknowledged that “at the same time, I know the issues residents have, particularly when our good work is derailed by irresponsible feeders … Their actions cause hygiene problems for residents – rats and cockroaches and so on.”
Shanmugam also sought to clarify the impression that Lee wants to stop the two-hour feeding period for community cats, where food must be taken away within two hours from being put out for the animals and noted that the MP is not, in fact, against proper and supervised cat feeding.
The Home Affairs Minister reiterated that if needed, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority “AVA and NEA (National Environment Agency) will work with CWS to tighten processes, for instance, to ask the feeders to stay close to the cats during feeding time and clear all unfinished food immediately.”
Shanmugam also took aim at those who criticized Members of Parliament who laughed when Lee made her speech.
He maintained that laughter arose because the MPs could relate to the problems Lee was recounting.
“They laughed when she shared the response she received about the snake in the drain – ‘it is part of the habitat’.
Try telling that to the residents whose flats are a few metres away. And they laughed when Dr Lee spoke about forming a rat-taskforce. MPs saw the lighter side of having to form a rat-taskforce.”
The Home Affairs Minister defended Lee unequivocally.
“Dr Lee was doing her duty as a responsible MP – to look after her residents and speak up for them.
Anyone who thinks that there is no problem with the issue, ought to visit and talk to residents.
In the last ten years, the animal rights cause in Singapore has grown from strength to strength. We have had many positive rule changes, to support the cause.
Government agencies regularly engage animal welfare groups and both sides try to work in partnership.”
He also reminded that a balance must be taken in such issues. “At the same time, I have always recognised that we need to strike a balance between a cause we passionately believe in, and the sentiments of residents, who have to face disamenities.
I have always given priority to residents’ concerns (which is any MP’s primary duty), while educating them on animal welfare, and working to advance the cause of animal welfare.”
The Home Affairs Minister’s post can be found in full here.