Singapore — This year has been a roller-coaster ride, with the Covid-19 outbreak at the beginning and everything else that followed after. From the foreign worker dormitory Covid-19 outbreak to milestone victories such as the Parti Liyani case, here is a look at the local events that made headlines in the last 12 months.
1. Covid-19 Outbreak Across Foreign Worker Dormitories
In February 2020, Singapore saw its first cluster of Covid-19 infections among its migrant workers. From there, things escalated quickly to a point where a majority of the daily Covid-19 figures came from foreign worker dormitories.
The topic of cramped living conditions causing the swift spread of the virus was highlighted frequently in social media, with many pointing blame at Manpower Minister Josephine Teo for not addressing the situation promptly.
A petition by a concerned member of the public calling for more protection for migrant workers from the virus received more than 38,000 signatures in hopes of gaining Mrs Teo’s attention. Foreign workers were described as “sitting ducks trapped in a ticking time bomb” in the petition.
The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 spread around the world a pandemic on March 11.
By mid-April, Mrs Teo announced a three-pronged strategy to be adopted to arrest the virus spread in the dormitories. They were locked down with mass testing and monitoring. Confirmed cases among workers were also separated to limit further spread. Lastly, workers in essential services were transferred to other living quarters for protection. Isolation facilities were also set up to prevent more clusters from forming.
2. The Circuit Breaker Period
With the Covid-19 outbreak declared a pandemic, Singapore implemented a limited lockdown called the Circuit Breaker, which began on April 7 and officially ended on June 1, moving forward to a three-phase plan exiting the period safely.
The people were allowed to leave their homes only for essential or important services. Social gatherings at home, vacations and staycations were prohibited, among other regulations.
Of course, the limited lockdown still had its “circuit-breaker breakers” such as a foreigner caught skiing on the road, a woman insisting on eating outside, or a man threatening two girls for smoking at a void deck. It became a social media norm for “photographers” to share Circuit-Breaker violators.
3. Chan Chun Sing: Cotton From Sheep
During a virtual doorstep interview on May 30, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing accidentally commented that cotton came from sheep. He blamed an apparent lack of sleep for the mistake. The statement was made in relation to labour issues, explaining how vital international trade was to Singapore’s survival.
His exact words were, “Don’t have too many sheeps in Singapore to produce cotton.” Cotton, of course, is a naturally-produced fibre coming from cotton plants, while wool comes sheep.
The clip went viral, eliciting a “good laugh” from Mr Chan himself. He was quoted saying: “I had a good laugh too when I was told that I spoke too fast in a video interview yesterday about cotton and sheep. To any one (especially young children) watching the video — cotton definitely doesn’t come from sheep; it comes from cotton plants!”
4. General Election: Opposition Wins One More GRC
In what became the biggest upset of the General Election in July, the opposition Workers’ Party won in the newly-formed Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC), defeating the People’s Action Party team with a 52.13 per cent vote share. Videos of Sengkang residents cheering for the WP on Polling Day went viral on social media, with many from the online community congratulating the party on its win.
The Sengkang team of Ms He Ting Ru, 37; Associate Professor Jamus Lim, 44; Mr Louis Chua, 33; and Ms Raeesah Khan, 26; was spotted working the day after winning in the elections.
5. 38 Oxley Road Saga
The feud over 38 Oxley Road, the former residence of the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his family, made headlines once more in 2020 as the siblings clashed on what to do with the house, whether to demolish it or let the government decide whether to make it a heritage landmark.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong believes the government should take the reins on what should be done with their late father’s house. Meanwhile, his siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, stand on the fact that it was stated in LKY’s will for the house to be eventually demolished after his death.
A two-man tribunal is appointed to look into the role of LHY’s wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, in the preparation of the last will. It finds her guilty of misconduct. The matter goes before a Court of 3 Judges, which suspends her from practice for 15 months.
6. Full Support for Li Huanwu’s Marriage
Mr Li Huanwu, a son of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern, made headlines in 2019 when he married longtime boyfriend Heng Yirui in an intimate ceremony in South Africa. His marriage was newsworthy not only for his relation to LKY but also because there is a law penalising acts of “gross indecency” between men in the Singapore penal code.
In June 2019, the parents showed support for Li Huanwu by attending Pink Dot, the LGBTQ community’s most high-profile event of the year.
In October this year, Li Huanwu shared his mother’s reaction to his coming out on social media.
In a rare interview about her personal life, Mrs Lee Suet Fern spoke about how her son first came out to her. “He did come to me because I’m closest to him and I’m not sure I handled it very well initially. Although I rapidly realised that it was tough for him and that he needed our love and support,” she said.
“And I’ve learnt a lot in the process. Huanwu is our child, and we love and support him unconditionally, wholeheartedly and unreservedly. He has made every one of us in our family better persons. We think he was hugely courageous to have come out.”
7. The Milestone Victory of Parti Liyani
In September this year, Indonesian domestic helper Parti Liyani made headlines when her appeal against a theft conviction was allowed by the High Court. Ms Parti had been sentenced to 26 months in jail in March 2019 after her employer, the family of Mr Liew Mun Leong, a high-profile individual, had accused her of stealing items amounting to S$34,000 when she worked for them from 2007 to 2016.
Ms Parti’s pro bono lawyer, Mr Anil Balchandani, successfully argued that the family framed Ms Parti to prevent her from filing a complaint with the Manpower Ministry (MOM) for illegal deployment.
The case being overturned led to criticism from many, including Dr Siew Tuck Wah, who said the MOM had failed Ms Parti and “utterly disgraced Singapore in the eyes of the world”.
8. Dr Lee Wei Ling Shares Rare Condition
Dr Lee Wei Ling, daughter of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and sister of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, revealed to the public in August that she had been diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that did not yet have a cure. The 65-year-old neurologist explained that it was a rather “nasty brain disease” which starts with Parkinson’s-like symptoms but gets worse to difficulty swallowing, choking aspiration, pneumonia and death — for the fortunate.
Still, after hearing the news, her initial reaction was to “忍” (ren), or endure in Chinese. She noted how she had always applied ren since in Chinese school, “recognising that life has many unpleasant, unavoidable situations”.
9. Lim Tean Is Counsel for Defendant in PM Lee’s Suit
Lawyer and opposition Peoples Voice politician Lim Tean took on the case of Mr Leong Sze Hian, a financial adviser and blogger being sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Lee sued Mr Leong for sharing a link in his Facebook profile in 2018 to an article falsely alleging that former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak signed “secret deals” with Mr Lee in exchange for assistance from Singapore banks in laundering money from 1MDB, the embattled Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
Mr Lim cross-examined Mr Lee in a series of court hearings in October in what was dubbed in social media as a “David vs Goliath” scenario because Mr Lim represented Mr Leong while Mr Lee had five counsel.
“In other words, I will be flying solo for Leong Sze Hian,” said Mr Lim. He appeared “very happy” with the final oral arguments in the suit, according to a Facebook post on Dec 6.
10. Singapore’s Hawker Culture Added to Unesco List
On Dec 16, after nearly three years since application, Singapore’s hawker culture was officially added to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The decision to accept the application was unanimously made through a virtual conference of a 24-member international panel.
Furthermore, the committee deemed it unnecessary to debate the nomination at the 15th session of the inter-governmental board as Singapore’s application had met all the requirements.
Singapore’s hawker culture marks the first item on the intangible cultural heritage list. Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage website defines hawker culture in Singapore as “community dining and culinary practices in a multicultural urban context that is present throughout Singapore”.
Moving forward, Singapore will be required to submit a report to Unesco every six years highlighting efforts to safeguard and pass on hawker culture to future generations. /TISG