SINGAPORE: Former Member of Parliament (MP) Lee Bee Wah has invited criticism after posting a video in which she called concerns about the Ridout Road rentals “nonsense” by the opposition, as she expressed heartbreak at seeing Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam be subjected to an investigation over this issue.
Ms. Lee Bee Wah, or ‘Sister Flower’ as she calls herself, served alongside Mr. Shanmugam in Nee Soon GRC for nearly a decade before she retired from politics ahead of the 2020 General Election.
In a video published last Wednesday (5 July), she voiced her dismay over the investigation conducted by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) into the rentals of two state-owned bungalows by Mr. Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the subsequent debate in Parliament.
Ms. Lee Bee Wah criticized the opposition for “spouting nonsense” and expressed her belief that there was no need for such actions in her two-minute video, calling the CPIB probe “heartbreaking” and unnecessary.
She passionately defended Mr. Shanmugam, calling him a “big-hearted” and “helpful” man who never turned down her requests on behalf of her constituents. Ms. Lee Bee Wah also claimed that Mr. Shanmugam had to endure a significant pay cut of at least S$100 million when he left the private sector to serve as a minister, highlighting his commitment to public service.
Asserting that Mr. Shanmugam “served as an MP for 35 years and a minister for 15 years, just so that he can help Singaporeans,” Ms. Lee Bee Wahasked how many people would be willing to make such sacrifices.
The former ruling party politician questioned the necessity of the CPIB investigation and the parliamentary debate, expressing concern about the waste of public resources and the time of national leaders.
Ms. Lee Bee Wahthen urged the public to cherish Minister Shanmugam’s contributions and appreciate Singapore’s peace and prosperity after accusing the opposition of “spouting nonsense”.
The video has quickly sparked outrage online. Singaporeans on either side of the line have said that the former MP’s remarks were unnecessary and may even come across as elitist.
Asserting that Ms. Lee Bee Wah‘s views are concerning as it perpetuates the notion that ministers should be above reproach, Redditor u/StareintotheSun2020 expressed concern over the lack of checks and balances and said:
“So I guess, we should never check to see if the people in our gov are above board.. just take their word for it. The idea that someone thinks our ministers are above reproach and checks and balances..is kind of scary to me. And the idea that it is someone who used to be in parliament is even scarier..does the majority of her ex-party think that way?
Another netizen, u/MolassesBulky, questioned Lee Bee Wah‘s understanding of basic governance concepts and the expected conduct of public officeholders. They commented, “She served 26 years in parliament and she does not even understand basic governance concepts, expected conduct of public office holders, and the need for controls and checks.”
Some also expressed skepticism regarding Ms. Lee’s claim that Shanmugam had to take a pay cut of at least S$100 million.
Redditor u/MAMBAMENTALITY8-24 said, “100 million less? Is that a fact or a number she plucked out of thin air. Even then, it’s not like anyone forced him to switch over. So basically she is saying that since Shan took a pay cut, he should be able to do whatever he wants.”
u/AwkwardNarwhal5855, meanwhile, criticized Ms. Lee for taking a hardline stance and dismissing voters’ concerns as nonsense: “I mean, this kind of thing… Just give some motherhood statement like ‘Oh, I have trust in our processes and the integrity of our investigations blablabla lah.’ Taking such a hardline stance and branding voters’ concerns as nonsense isn’t a good look. Especially when it’s not really her business anymore.”
Others expressed their disbelief that Ms. Lee had been an MP, suggesting that the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system should be abolished.
The notion that the Government is a generous benefactor that should be above reproach is one that Ms. Lee Bee Wah has been accused of perpetuating in the past. In March 2019, Ms. Lee ignited a firestorm of criticism after she reminded the people to be grateful to their generous Government in a parliamentary speech.
The speech was delivered during the Budget 2019 debate. Ms. Lee expressed her support for the budget with a story in which she compared the Government to a generous grandfather who spends so much money on his grandson, and yet the grandson is “ungrateful”.
Alluding that the ungrateful grandson could be the people, Lee Bee Wah very emphatically shared this story in Mandarin:
“I would like to conclude this budget debate with a story: There’s a boy who lives next door to me, his name is Ah Seng. He has an “Ah Gong” (grandpa) who loves him very much.
“Ah, Gong would always scrimp on himself. Even when his clothing is torn, he would mend it over and over again. He saved every cent, one cent at a time. Every 3 or 5 years, Ah Kong would take out a sum of money to give to his dearest Ah Seng.
For example, when Ah Seng went to the university, Ah Gong gave him a sum of money. When Ah Seng wanted to go overseas to participate in an immersion program, Ah Gong gave him a sum of money. When Ah Seng wanted to get married, Ah Gong gave him a sum of money. When Ah Seng and his friends wanted to start a small business, Ah Gong also gave him a sum of money.
One day, Ah Seng asked his Ah Gong, “Ah Gong, Ah Gong, why did you always give me money only every 3 or 5 years? Why didn’t you give me money every year?”
At this moment upon hearing this, Ah Kong was deeply disappointed and also extremely angry. Ah Gong burst out in Hokkien: “You ungrateful child! You’ll ruin our family! You have such a good Ah Gong and you still don’t know it! I have been scrimping on myself, only to help you. Do other people’s Ah Gong do that for them?!”
As then-Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat can be seen smiling, Lee concludes her story by asserting:
“Mr Speaker, my residents do understand we have a very good government – very carefully and cautiously manages our finances so that we can have budget and finance surpluses, and Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Packages. Not every government can accomplish this.”
Ms. Lee Bee Wah quickly drew immense flak for the story in which she praised herself and her colleagues. Her story also drew criticism since Ah Gong in her story scrimps on himself while PAP Ministers draw million-dollar salaries as many Singaporeans see their wages being depressed even as they grapple with the ever-rising cost of living.
In a hilariously eloquent response to Lee’s story, one Redditor, u/obeyjam, said then: “I’m sorry but is she saying that the “government” is like the ah gong? Scrimping and saving? If “ah gong” is scrimping and saving, why are our ministers paid more than the president of the United States?
She has nothing for want with the salary that she earns, I wouldn’t call it scrimping and saving until you have to patch your own clothes. I’m pretty sure what she’s wearing alone, including Sim Ann’s dress and brooch will cost about half a year’s salary of the average Singaporean if not more.
Also “ah gong” gives his hard-earned money to his grandson, sure I can understand what a prick the grandson is in the analogy. But is she implying that state funds are the government’s “hard-earned monies”? The last I remembered, state funds are gained primarily from taxes and fees paid by citizens to the state.
A more accurate analogy would be ah Gong charges ah seng and the other family members rent and fees for staying in the ancestral family home (which is a 3-room flat). Ah Gong did not buy the home with his own money, but he manages it like a landlord.
There is an unwritten contract/agreement that ah gong will manage the collective pool of money so that there will be enough money to pay for utilities and upkeep, and he gets a nice salary (that is easily more than 10 times ah song’s salary working outside).
Ah Gong gives the family members some lunch money once in a while to have a nice meal and agrees that he will disburse funds from the collective finances to co-pay family members’ uni fees ON THE CONDITION THEY GET INTO NUS.
Of course, only 1 out of 5 family members actually get into NUS, to which he says “Too bad you should have studied harder, look, Muthu from next door got in from working super hard and being super smart.”
One day Ah Seng (being the ccb ah beng that he is) asks why Ah Gong gives himself so much money when their neighbor’s ah ma manages a bungalow and only gives herself 1/2 of ah gong’s salary.
To which Ah Gong scolds him, “You si Ginna! I have to give myself twice that ah ma’s salary so I won’t be tempted to steal from the family finances! I can easily go and work as a building manager in the next-door house and get paid much more!
“Why are you so ungrateful even though I always give you so much money from the family finances? You should be happy our house isn’t a mess like that ah ma’s bungalow, look at all the weeds growing on the walls! You complain some more I’m going to confine you in the bomb shelter.”
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