Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh seconded veteran diplomat Tommy Koh’s sentiment that Singapore needs ‘loving critics’, during his parliamentary speech on the Fortitude Budget.
Dr Koh, a distinguished diplomat who currently serves as Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore, urged the Government to welcome criticism from critics who love Singapore, last year.
Asserting that “the contestation of ideas is a necessary part of democracy” and that the Government should not “blacklist intellectuals, artists, writers because they criticise the Government or hold dissenting views, Dr Koh said: “Singapore will languish if our lovers are uncritical and our critics are unloving. What Singapore needs is not sycophants but loving critics and critical lovers.”
Echoing Dr Koh’s views, Mr Pritam told Parliament that Singapore “should count ourselves fortunate that we have citizens who are the loving critics amongst us.”
The opposition chief also urged the Government against picking on these loving critics and alluded to an incident in Parliament last year, when Education Minister Ong Ye Kung lambasted local playwright Alfian Sa’at and accused him of trying to sow discord in Singapore.
Singling out Mr Alfian for his role in a cancelled Yale-NUS module on dialogue and dissent, Mr Ong cherry-picked quotes from a poem Mr Alfian wrote in 1998 and insinuated that the poet hated Singapore and is unpatriotic.
Dr Tommy Koh was among the dozens of influential figures who threw their weight behind Mr Alfian in the aftermath of Mr Ong’s aggressive parliamentary speech. Dr Koh wrote on Facebook, then: “We should not demonise Alfian Sa’at. He is one of our most talented playwrights. I regard him as a loving critic of Singapore. He is not anti-Singapore.”
Mr Pritam backed Dr Koh’s views in Parliament. Urging the Government to give space for contrarion views and perspectives, he said:
“With many corporates and big businesses already perceived to be over-represented in our political ecology be it through the grassroots or through their association in private-public national level committees, Government needs to consider how it can become a better arbiter between differing views, to give and encourage more space to our youth, NGOs unlinked to GLCs and trade-unions, and the people sector to voice to their contrarian views and perspectives. This should be done, while retaining a laser-like focus on fact-based conversations that portend a progressive future all Singaporeans can endeavour towards.
Referring to the Ong-Alfian episode, he said: “In my view Mr Speaker, we should count ourselves fortunate that we have citizens who are the loving critics amongst us, some of whom have been questioned in this very House in this term of government. Members would recall one citizen’s poems were nit-picked with a view to cast wholly negative aspersions on his character, even though that individual was not present in the House to defend himself.”
Mr Pritam pointed out that the public look to people with influence on how to debate with those they disagree with and said that dealing with differences of opinion with a binary lens would make Singapore an ordinary society in the post-COVID world. He said:
“Mr Speaker, when any leader or person of influence engages in what will be interpreted as dog-whistling, it sets the tone for how members of the public debate with those whose views they disagree with. If binary, black and white perspectives are the shape of how we as a society deal with differences after COVID-19, Singapore will become an ordinary society, no different from many around in the world.”
Urging the Government to see that citizens criticise because they love the nation, Mr Pritam added: “Nobody expects the Government to willy-nilly change its decision at the first sign of pressure and agree with a critic. Singaporeans do recognize the multitude of perspectives the Government has to take cognizance of, but it is important to recognise that citizens criticize and organise because they care.”
Calling on the authorities to consider opening more avenues for constructive discourse, Mr Singh urged the Government to place more faith in Singaporeans and encourage greater participation from citizens as Singapore traverses the post-COVID world:
“Moving forward Government should look at opening more avenues like Parliament for citizen engagement, greater data-sharing and empower other institutions like our think-tanks and the mainstream media to give alternate perspectives more voice and even provide platforms piloting change on a small scale.
“As we traverse the post-COVID-19 VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous – world, we need to place more faith and promote even greater participation from Singaporeans than ever before.”
Watch his full speech here:
WP Sec-Gen Pritam Singh Fortitude Budget speech covered the economy, the Government’s communication efforts during COVID-19 and engaging Singaporeans especially critics to envision better policymaking in future. Referring to DPM’s Heng Speech where it had been stated that Government could not “carry business forever” and that tough economic times were expected ahead, Mr Singh called for rebates and reliefs for businesses and companies that offered traineeships and opportunities for mid-career Singaporeans to learn new skills and embark on new careers.A major plank of his speech, Mr Singh noted the public’s perception that the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis had “certainly not included adjectives more common associated with the Singapore Government – such as clarity and decisiveness.” Providing examples, he added that the public were confused with many piecemeal announcements and U-turns. This lack of clarity was also felt by many Singaporean businesses, and many felt as if no one in Government was taking ownership of how COVID-19 directives would be perceived, interpreted or understood on the ground.Finally, seeing that COVID-19 crisis had resulted in many Singaporeans responding positively and volunteering to support those in need, Mr Singh called on the Government to work more closely with critics and NGOs for better policymaking, citing the lobbying of groups that had highlighted concerns about migrants workers in the past. He called for Government to open more avenues like Parliament for citizen engagement, greater data-sharing and the empowerment of institutions like think-tanks and the mainstream media as Singapore traversed the post COVID 19 volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world.Read Pritam's full speech here https://www.wp.sg/framing-the-fortitude-budget-economy-engagement-and-empathy-by-pritam-singh/Vid Credit: CNA
Posted by The Workers' Party on Saturday, June 6, 2020
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