Real issues for the National Day Rally

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah


This is the yearly take-a-deep-breath pause between National Day and the ND Rally. After what the cinema industry people would describe as a sneak preview in the August 8 ND message,  the real political show will premiere on August 20 when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will address real Singaporeans  – not foreigners and PRs  – on the issues that he thinks are important, going forward.

He has already pinpointed three issues: Improving pre-school, nurturing children for a new world, fighting diabetes and keeping Singaporeans healthy, and building a Smart Nation.

I am sure many Singaporeans will be interested in these (or will they?) The kancheong Tiger Moms will want to know how their superkids can be developed into game-changers and world-shakers. Check. Diabetes, I’m certain, is being discussed everyday at our coffeeshops and hawker centres. So maybe, just maybe, there will be a sizeable audience for that life-threatening topic. Check?

And, indeed, if there is any issue at all that has been gripping the minds of Singaporeans, it would be how we can become a Smart Nation. Check? The cynics will ask how we can become a truly Smart Nation if we cannot ask difficult questions and get decent answers. But that may not be fair because like they say in conformist Japan, it is smart not to stand out and get clobbered.


Let’s see. We await the nuggets which will be shared with Singaporeans next Sunday. Beggars can’t be choosers.  Or can’t we?

Can we not suggest some genuine national elephant-in-the-room topics which ought to be discussed on August 20 at the rally?

Let’s start with PM Lee’s health. As he wishes Singaporeans a healthy life in the ND message, we thank him and also wish him the best of health. But we need to know. He is, after all, our PM. Is he OK? Can he address that next Sunday?

Next, what’s happening with our soccer? This is the only sport which can command sell-out crowds and bring the nation together and it has been stuck in the mud for far too long. What’s the new FAS team doing about it? What are its plans? Too slow, too uninspiring. Same old, same old, as they say.

Can the PM say something about his nephew, Li Shengwu, even if he is committed to a fragile ceasefire with his brother, Hsien Yang, and sister, Wei Ling, over the 38 Oxley Road house? Why is the government so harsh on Shengwu who has now said he is not coming back to answer whatever infractions the Attorney-General seems to be hurling at him? Clear the air and let Hsien Yang’s son have a fruitful and trouble-free life in Harvard University.  Don’t get angry at anyone who disagrees with you.

Talking about disagreement, we should stop having a controlled mainstream  media which relentlessly promotes only one narrative. I have not read that many articulate views by people who do not see things the way the government sees. We have an elected Opposition for so many years now and we have not read anything from Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao or Pritam Singh in the mainstream Opinion pages. They do represent a sizeable number of Singaporeans. Is this healthy? Can they not be “invited” to give their takes on national issues?

One national issue which should be addressed is the forthcoming Presidential Election.

Specifically, the massive elephant-in-the-room issue is Dr Tan Cheng Bock. He could have been at Marina Bay waving farewell on August 9 instead of the outgoing minority president Dr Tony Tan.  He would have been a very popular president. I think many Singaporeans would have wanted him to have another try at being our next President. Can the Malays-only turn not be carried to the next election? Such a supreme act of maturity and utter self-confidence on the part of the government would bring the nation together and not leave a sour taste which will forever taint PE2017 as it stands?

As Singaporeans rush home to watch the ND Rally on Sunday, hopefully the MRT will not stall because of “signalling” problems or faulty doors. But it may – and will likely continue to do so for the time being.  Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth whenever he touches on the MRT.  He has said the system is three times more reliable than in 2015 (after conveniently excluding the delays in the North-South Line due to resignalling works because these incidents “happen once in every 30 years”). And, in the next breath, he asked Singaporeans to expect delays until 2020.

We should have greater accountability.

Singaporeans need to know what happened to the MRT since its launch. Who was responsible for messing it up? What were the problems? Was it because of the population explosion caused by the government’s liberal immigration policy, which resulted in too many train users during peak hours? Was there misdirection, neglect or lack of forward planning?

Just two more things for PM Lee to talk about.

Are the current 4th generation leaders in the Cabinet the best that we have? Are there any better potential Singaporean talents OUTSIDE Singapore that we have not tapped on or reached out to? People whose mindsets are not stuck in group-think.

Finally, this may sound a slight contradiction with that last point. But it is not because all policies must serve us, the people.

We want the PM to categorically state that true-blue born-and-bred Singaporeans take top priority in everything that the government does. Foreigners and others come a distant second. No ifs no buts. This categorical pledge will set Singaporeans’ minds at ease. No more unthinking acts of charging Singaporeans more than others for any kind of event, much less a community club activity.

With that, I wish all Singaporeans Happy National Day.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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