OPINION | The entitled establishment, tone-deaf politicians, trading influence for cash and other stories in review

The wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Madam Ho Ching, appears to have become somewhat of a self-styled moral barometer of society. The avid user of Facebook recently uploaded a post appearing to chastise ex Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), Calvin Cheng for calling businesses that haven’t gone cashless “backwards” and “shameful” before labelling Singaporeans “primitive people, who find it controversial to boycott merchants who offer cash as only payment option.”

In one of her posts, Madam Ho said: “encouraging folks to go cashless or go digital is the way to go. But scolding folks for sticking with cash is not the way to bring society forward together.” While Madam Ho has made a good point in this regard, I wonder if she could perhaps employ the same empathy and approach when it comes to citizens who are concerned about rising Housing Development Board (HDB) flats.

For most Singaporeans, their HDB flats are the only assets they have, and yet, this asset that they would have spent their entire lives paying for will not technically belong to them or their estate in perpetuity. Rather, it will only be theirs for 99 years. While some might say that this at least provides a roof over their heads for the entirety of their physical lives, will the numbers continue to be fair value for Singaporeans if the prices continue to rise? After all, if you are paying much more, shouldn’t you be entitled to ask questions, especially when it is not an asset that one can say pass down to their children?

However, Madam Ho did not appear to be very sympathetic among other things, the Prime Minister’s wife wrote (in relation to a Netizen bemoaning HDB pricing issues), Don’t spin cock and bull about land for HDB should be free so that buyers can enjoy a bigger windfall than they already have. And don’t spin an excuse not to pay taxes. Taxes are a duty for everyone, to fund and support common essential services for the common good. We cannot want low-cost housing on the one hand, and free education, while paying no taxes.”

It seems strange for Madam Ho to chide Mr Cheng for his apparent lack of empathy when she may have come across the same way about the HDB issues. Is Madam Ho’s social media page a soft mouthpiece for the Government’s policies, concerns, and reputation?

If so, Madam Ho’s social media activities may not be the establishment’s only methodology for influencing public opinion as it appears that the Government may be utilising public funds for “feel good” advertising.

In his speech on proposed budget cuts during the Committee of Supply debates for the Ministry of Communications and Information on Tuesday (Feb 28), Workers’ Party MP Leon Perera argued that taxes should not be used in funding government advertising aimed to make people “feel good” or think positively of the government.

The Aljunied GRC MP wrote that when government advertising nudges citizens to do beneficial things, such as taking up health habits or applying for a useful scheme, the public interest is served.

But some advertising seems to not embody a nudging intent. Some ads seem to be aimed more at fostering ‘feel good’ vibes towards an agency; and some even seem aimed at persuading the public to see the government in a good light, with no clear public interest served in terms of ultimately nudging positive behaviours.”

Mr Perera suggested for a return on investment test be applied, arguing that revenue should not be spent on ads that generate feel-good vibes or which aim to persuade people that the government is doing a good job as the latter is more akin to political advertising that should not be funded with public money.

The revelation that the Government may be spending over $100 million on advertising is quite sobering! Particularly as they raise the Goods & Services Tax (GST) for the masses!

In other news on the Parliamentary front, the Worker’s Party’s Sylvia Lim has called on the Government to bring down the voting age for Singaporeans—from 21 years to 18 years.

Instead of answering Ms Lim’s questions directly, Minister for Education, Chan Chun Sing, said that “previous considerations remain valid” and added that the youth in Singapore are already asked to engage in national and societal issues. He also acknowledged that The opinions of our youths are indeed important.”

However, the obvious question remains – If their opinions are indeed important, why not just let them vote?

As Ms Lim so rightly pointed out. 18-year-olds are given the responsibility of serving national service and potentially dying for the country. The age for imposing capital punishment is also set at 18. So if they are deemed mature enough to die for the country or be put to death as an adult, aren’t they old enough to vote? It boggles the mind!

As the Prime Minister’s brother, Lee Hsien Yang previously pointed out – Singaporeans are allowed to take part in many life-changing decisions at a younger age, such as voluntary enlistment (16), contractual capacity to transact business (16), driving (18), buying and consuming alcohol (18), having sex and “presumably have children (16).

“At the age of 10, Singaporeans are considered old enough to bear criminal responsibility. Young persons who commit a violent crime will be charged in court like other adults, and not in a juvenile court, even though they are under 21.”

As Ms Lim so aptly asks “What is so unique about our youths aged between 18 to 21, that they should not be entrusted with the vote?”

In other mind-boggling answers from the People’s Action Party, the erstwhile Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo, has also been seemingly practising how to not answer a question directly or properly.  In Parliament on Monday (Feb 27), Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh advocated for an English test in evaluating an individual’s application for citizenship or permanent residency.

The current Second Minister for Home Affairs said, among other things, that “certainly, on the ground, every day, we meet with residents who cannot speak a word of English. And I don’t think anyone has suggested they are any less integrated into Singapore society.”


What is she basing this belief on? Has she commissioned a survey on Singaporeans?

At the end of the day, Singapore is a multi-racial country and the ability to communicate through a common lingua franca is of paramount importance. Indeed, the ability to speak a common language could well be the key gel that holds society together.

Unsurprisingly, netizens commenting on a CNA report on the exchange between Mr Singh and Ms Teo favoured the WP head’s position.

So why then is the Government acting like an ostrich whose head is buried in the sand?