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Full Version: Catherine Lim - A Follow-up on the letter to PM Lee
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In the past week, my open letter to the PM generated tremendous interest not only on my website but on other media sites as well. Since I could not respond personally to all those who took the trouble to write in, but would like to answer the questions asked and the comments made, whether supportive or critical, I have decided to make a general response on my website. I shall use the format of a hypothetical interview based on a brisk Q and A, as this will make for quick and easy reading.

Q: Has the PM replied to your letter to him?
A: No. An open letter doesn’t normally elicit a reply which a private, personal one presumably would. But I didn’t want to do the latter, as I wanted to share my views with as many fellow Singaporeans as possible.

Q: Why did you use this Open Letter format, a marked departure from your usual, formal-essay type commentaries?
A: To convey a sense of directness and urgency, in keeping with the seriousness of the issue discussed in the letter.

Q: Was the Roy Ngerng defamation suit the direct cause of your writing the letter?
A: Actually, it was a series of happenings in the political scene which I had been observing with increasing dismay, culminating with the defamation suit.

In any society, change is always brought about by the vocal minority who act, not the silent majority who don’t.

Q: Some people are saying that in describing the present situation as a ‘crisis’, you’re being too alarmist since it involves only a minority.
A: It is a crisis, or at least a crisis-in-the-making because if the disgruntlement of a minority of 40% of the electorate in the years leading to the 2011 General Election, had actually resulted in the worst ever performance of the PAP, shocking everybody, its increasingly bolder and more aggressive manifestation today could have even more drastic consequences. In any society, change is always brought about by the vocal minority who act, not the silent majority who don’t.

Q: Graffiti and mass protests are common in every country. Why see them as a ‘crisis’?
A: In Singapore, they are unique and are becoming a new phenomenon in the political landscape. Unlike in other countries where they are an everyday thing, here they signal a degree of resentment never seen before. And one senses, uneasily, that this could be just the beginning.

Q: Shouldn’t Singaporeans be grateful when they compare themselves with people in countries where there is grinding poverty and squalor?
A: It is human nature to compare both downwards and upwards. Those who come home from their travels after seeing standards of living so much below theirs, are usually the grateful haves who can afford frequent travelling abroad. The have-nots see themselves stuck in their own, very real poverty and do a resentful upwards comparison with their well-to-do neighbours. Overall, there is general indignation against the ‘millionaire ministers’ up there. Lastly, there is a growing sub-group of young, struggling professionals who cannot afford to have their own cars and apartments and do the same bitter comparison with their better-off counterparts in other countries.

Hence, this commonly used ‘you-should-consider-yourself-so-lucky’ argument is a double-edged sword and may not be so convincing after all.

Q: Do you fear any reprisal from the top for this letter?
A: I hope not. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for twenty years now.

No sensible, thinking Singaporean would ever say, ‘As long as the PAP leaders prove to be much better than the rogue governments in the world, we should give them carte blanche to do as they please!’Q: The PAP leadership, for all its faults, is a far better government than the horribly corrupt and incompetent ones we see in so many countries in the world today.
A: I think it’s far more useful to benchmark PAP performance against their own promises about improving the well-being of the people and their own past excellent records, than to use some external criteria. No sensible, thinking Singaporean would ever say, ‘As long as the PAP leaders prove to be much better than the rogue governments in the world, we should give them carte blanche to do as they please!’

Q: Surely people are more concerned about bread-and-butter issues, than the human rights of the political detainees you mentioned.
A: Actually human rights which may seem to be remote ideological abstractions are linked to practical, bread-and-butter matters. Indeed, in the end, without the first, you can’t have the second. It was precisely the PAP’s habit of ignoring the voices of the few calling for the right of free expression and open debate, that had led them, in the first place, to have a sense of power and entitlement that, in turn, enabled them to decide, pass, and enact, with greatest ease, one policy after another. Some of these policies badly affected the people’s bread-and-butter, such as the policy allowing an influx of foreign workers.

It’s a long causal chain that people get to see eventually.

Q: Many of your readers have expressed appreciation for your having said so well what they themselves think and feel.
A: I want to thank them for their kind, warm encouragement. I love writing, and the special challenge of exploring and exploiting the vast resources of the English language to express my thoughts and feelings clearly, cogently and, if possible, elegantly.

Q: A few readers have complained about your use of ‘flowery’ words.
A: I try to use words that are precise in meaning and connotation, are just right for their context and convey exactly the intended mood and emotion. Also I avoid repeating key words, and look for good synonyms to use, for better stylistic effect. That means sometimes using words that appear too scholarly, academic, even rarefied, thus giving the impression of pedantry (which is probably what those readers meant by ‘floweriness’)

What I had meant was the nightmarish scenario of a final showdown between the government and the people, when each side might be pushed to resort to extreme measures which they would later regret.Q: At the end of your letter, you spoke about an ‘alternative’ that could be ‘just too scary’. Some thought you meant the opposition coming into power. What exactly did you mean?
A: I think my use of the word ‘alternative’ must have immediately made some readers think of ‘an alternative government’, that is, the opposition. What I had meant was the nightmarish scenario of a final showdown between the government and the people, when each side might be pushed to resort to extreme measures which they would later regret.

Q: Isn’t your letter just a bit too long?
A: I was amused by the comment from one reader that this very lengthy letter would surely fail in its purpose because it would put the PM to sleep halfway! Well, I shall have to explain that the topic of my political writing is usually the major one of the rather complex PAP government-people relationship. This topic entails much detailed exposition and analysis, necessarily resulting in a long commentary. (I am glad that my website manager has very skilfully reduced the tedious effect of the lengthy text by breaking it up with quotes that are tastefully highlighted in blue)

Q: How would you answer those who ask you to get into politics?
A: With an alarmed No! I simply don’t have the talent, temperament or inclination to be a politician.

Q: If you were asked to give your i) most pessimistic ii) most optimistic prediction of this ‘crisis of trust’, what would they be?
A: i) Most pessimistic. The PAP returns to the old, relentless knuckleduster approach and crushes dissident voices so completely that they will never be a threat again.

ii) Most optimistic: The PAP comes to the conclusion that the best legacy which they can leave their successors is to regain and build up the trust of the people, and musters the necessary political will to do this.

Catherine Lim

*The writer blogs at
I read Catherine's story books because it's part of school curriculum.

Relevant, light reading (also need to read between the lines) and hence my respect for her.

Thanks Lancelot for sharing on Catherine.

In particular, I resonance with her statement:
Those who come home from their travels after seeing standards of living so much below theirs, are usually the grateful haves who can afford frequent travelling abroad.
[Image: catherine%20lim%20short%20stories.JPG]

Heart Love Compassion
We need more Love, without Love, we will die!
Singapore consul-general of Singapore in Hong Kong responds to Cathering Lim's open letter :

Trust in Singaporean government remains high despite claims made by writer Catherine Lim.

Your report, "Writer Catherine Lim's open letter to Singaporean PM fuels social media debate" (June 9), quotes the writer saying "Singaporeans no longer trust their leaders".

Ms Lim first asserted this two decades ago in 1994. The ruling party had won the 1991 general election with 61 per cent of the vote. Ms Lim thought that was a poor performance and spied "a great affective divide" in Singapore between the government and the people.

Since then the ruling party has taken Singapore through a number of serious crises relatively unscathed - the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, and the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition, it has won four further general elections by healthy margins. But still Ms Lim continues to regularly bemoan a collapse of trust and respect for the government.

There are international benchmarks of trust in government. For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer found only 37 per cent of respondents in the United States trusted their government. The UK scores 42 per cent, and Hong Kong 45 per cent. Singapore scored a respectable 75 per cent.

Of course, not all is perfect in Singapore. Like other developed societies, our middle class too feels the squeeze from globalisation. The government has openly acknowledged the problems of income inequality and slowing social mobility. It has done much to overcome them, and is doing more in a sustainable and responsible, not populist, way. That is why trust in government in Singapore remains high.

Ms Lim is also wrong to claim that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's defamation suit against a blogger will further erode trust. On the contrary, Mr Lee acted because the government prizes integrity as the ultimate source of the trust it enjoys. A leader who does nothing when he is accused of criminally misappropriating monies from the state pension system must engender mistrust in his honesty and leadership. The person making the accusations should have basis for the accusations, and should not be gratuitously lying.

It is no coincidence that in countries where lies and false accusations are the stock in trade of public debate, people have a low opinion of all politicians, and a very low trust in their governments.

Jacky Foo, consul-general of Singapore in Hong Kong
This response is most saying of the current situation :

"Q: Do you fear any reprisal from the top for this letter?
A: I hope not. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for twenty years now."

She has been doing this for more than twenty years ........ and does not fear reprisal and has not had a reprisal.....
(14-06-2014, 11:44 AM)flinger Wrote: [ -> ]It is no coincidence that in countries where lies and false accusations are the stock in trade of public debate, people have a low opinion of all politicians, and a very low trust in their governments.

I wonder which "countries". Big Grin Some countries starting with U comes to mind.

The Consul General's reply is enlightening in so many ways, that lies engender trust and therefore, has to be swiftly and decisively dealt with.

Is trust in the government really necessary in the first place? I elect someone to do a job and measure him by the outcomes. His highlighting of the statistics seems to be counter productive because one can argue it precisely proofs this point. A measurement like trust doesn't proof or disproof anything.
when I was younger, I always cites statistics and hard facts to convince people.
This is a very natural way because in school we are trained to calculate, proof and illustrates using facts.
It works and it will continue to works so long as current education system continue.

As I grow and starts working, I quickly switch my mindset.
Beyond reasons and logics, it's all about PEOPLE

This has served as my motto for many years.

Heart LC

Earth day - save the world everyday.
Quote:Is trust in the government really necessary in the first place?

Things will get done in double quick time if trust is in placed.
Same as in workplace, if my boss trusts me, I can get things done much faster as compared with giving presentations after presentations to justify why it should be done in this or that way.

If I trust someone to do the job, I seldom scrutinize at every step. If he/she screws up, then it is a matter of poor judgement of the person or the work requirements by me.
I'll agree that trust does play a significant role in personal life and business. Heck, I got my opportunities from my ex-bosses because they trust me and rather hire someone they know than someone outside.

But when it comes to countries, whether discussion of such a value or even the measurement makes any sense? Does PM goes to Obama and tells him that the US is a failed state because they measure 37% in trust compared to our 75%? Does it correlate to a country's performance?

The entire argument laid out by the CG rest on the idea that trust is paramount in our political system. No trust, and the wheels come off on this country. I don't disagree that trust in important, but I disagree on using such absolute polemics when issues are clearly more complicated and multi-faceted.
Catherine Lim is trying to hint to the PAP leadership to hear the message. This is the ground message. To do things in a more sensible way.
Like instead of suing Roy Ngerng. Lay out the facts and invite a group of pp, including Roy, to explain and telecast it openly. THE APPROACH MATTERS.

Unfortunately the Consul uses data to reply. Which completely misses her point.

That, is the CRUX of the current leadership. Even if Inderjit singh fail to awake them, I doubt Catherine Lim can achieve much.

They only know how to shoot themselves in their own foot...
Small minds dragging down PAP

The past few weeks have been instructive in how the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) under the current leadership might not have what it takes to chart a new course for Singapore, going forward.

Several incidents in recent times showed how the PAP Government is still struggling with communicating with and inspiring Singaporeans.

President Tony Tan, in opening the new session of Parliament on 16 May, spoke of how we should “embrace one another as fellow Singaporeans”, and he promised that the Government has heard the voices of the year-long National Conversation.

“We will give substance to these voices,” the president said, “and set out a new way forward for ourselves and our nation.”

3 days after the president’s speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong issued a letter of demand to blogger Roy Ngerng over an article in Mr Ngerng’s blog.

Mr Lee’s action, lodged in his personal capacity, did not surprise many who reacted with cynicism at Mr Lee resorting to the “ways of old” in trying to right what he sees as a wrong.

Indeed, some were calling it an act of bullying – in first demanding a removal of the allegedly offensive post, and an apology from Mr Ngerng, plus a demand for Mr Ngerng to make an offer of compensation.

Several days later, Mr Lee’s lawyers made further demands, namely for Mr Ngerng to remove an additional 4 articles from his blog, and warned that Mr Lee might seek aggravated damages from Mr Ngerng.

Mr Ngerng complied with all the demands – but Mr Lee dismissed them and on 30 May commenced legal action.

Shortly after, Mr Ngerng was fired from his job at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, with the Ministry of Health issuing a statement in support of the hospital’s action.

The entire sorry episode shows how a lack of wise leadership allowed one single blog post to erupt into a lawsuit, the loss of a livelihood for Mr Ngerng, an unprecedented show of public support for Mr Ngerng when S$90,000 was raised in about a week for his legal defence fund, and a further polarizing of our society.

A good leader would have dealt with it differently – and more beneficially for his countrymen, instead of this divisive and vindictive witch hunt for blood and a pound of flesh.

In short, the episode, more than anything else, showed up the small minds of our leaders – and how they were unable to deal with a perceived wrong in a less polarising manner.

9 days after Mr Lee’s legal action was started against Mr Ngerng, PAP Member of Parliament Indranee Rajah launched another of her attacks on the opposition Workers’ Party (WP).

This time, Ms Indranee’s anger was directed at the WP’s press statement on the changes made to the Medishield Life scheme which was announced by the Government 2 days earlier on 7 June.

Specifically, Ms Indranee, who is also the Senior Minister of State for Education and Law, took umbrage with this part of the WP statement:

“Many of the recommended enhancements to the MediShield health insurance scheme have been articulated by Workers’ Party MPs in Parliament as well as by many Singaporeans over the years.”

In a rather pedantic Facebook note, Ms Indranee accused the WP of “claiming credit” for the Medishield Life changes.

“The implication is that MediShield Life happened because they (WP) spoke up in Parliament. No credit is shared or given to anyone else,” Ms Indranee said.

Ms Sylvia Lim, not unlike many, expressed puzzlement at Ms Indranee’s nitpicking.

“We have stated the fact, which was that these are some of the areas that we have been looking at for quite some time,” Ms Lim said, adding that she did not know why Ms Indranee accused WP of claiming credit.

Ms Lim said she did not find Ms Indranee’s post “particularly constructive”.

Many would indeed agree with Ms Lim – that the Senior Minister of State was engaging in destructive political nitpicking, instead of the “constructive politics” of which her party claims to subscribe to.

Ms Indranee’s behaviour, as with that of her party leader, shows once again the small minds within the ruling party.

And this smallness, this inability to rise above the petty, among PAP politicians was once again demonstrated on 4 June.

PAP MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Hri Kumar, had posted on his Facebook page about a public forum on the CPF issue.

Mr Kumar said that he was “glad to say that the response has been good, with even Singaporeans from outside the division signing up!”

What followed was a little bit of a farce, really.

You can read about the sequence of events here: “Hri Kumar’s CPF forum – an honest farce”.

Non-residents of Bishan-Toa Payoh and Thomson (the ward which is also under Mr Kumar’s charge), asked to attend the forum – and these included Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, secretary general of the Reform Party, and Mr Ngerng, who has written extensively on the CPF.

Mr Kumar had replied to one Mr Abdul Malik who asked if non-residents could attend the forum. Mr Kumar replied by telling Mr Malik that he could participate in the forum, which was billed as an “honest conversation” on the CPF.

Mr Malik said he was from the Tanjong Pagar GRC constituency.

Mr Kumar asked him to accept the online / Facebook invitation – presumably this meant clicking “going” on the event page.

Mr Kumar did not reply to Mr Jeyaretnam’s post on the same Facebook page where he also indicated that he had done the same as Mr Malik – by accepting the online invitation.

In the meantime, to avoid any misunderstanding, Mr Ngerng emailed Mr Kumar to confirm that he would be allowed to attend the forum as well, since he was a non-resident.

Mr Kumar replied that he never said that the forum “is open to all Singaporeans”.

To cut a long story short, Mr Kumar’s latest remarks on the matter – posted on his Facebook page on 13 June – are regrettable.

He adopts a dismissive and condescending tone towards those non-residents who had wanted to attend the forum.

Without naming names and referring only to “some people”, Mr Kumar seemed to be referring to Mr Jeyaretnam and/or Mr Ngerng when he posted:

“[My] direct response to a request from a non-resident, Mr Malek [sic] appears to have been understood by some people as an “invitation to all Singaporeans”. This is odd. Surely, the polite and proper thing to do is to ask whether you can attend and only claim to be invited when you receive a positive response?”

He then went on and said it was “odd” (again) that “some” would think that his remarks that non-residents had signed up for the forum is an “invitation to all non-residents to sign up.”

He claimed that his remarks stated “no more than the facts.”

And then he took a pot shot at “opposition politicians” and said that they “should organise their own forums.”

Mr Kumar’s note concluded:

“I know some people are itching for the opportunity to run me down. That’s ok – that’s how they understand politics and they are welcome to take their best shot. I will go on serving my residents to the best of my ability. Ultimately, it is their opinion which matters.”

All these from a question of whether non-residents could attend a forum where Mr Kumar will be speaking?

And Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Ngerng were in fact entirely respectful and polite in their communications with Mr Kumar.

Why then the need for the MP to adopt such a dismissive, combative and condescending tone in his post?

Is it really so hard to make such a simple thing clear?

Why, for example, at no time during the entire saga did he not simply explain, clarify or reiterate to his readers that the forum is only for residents?

I mean, as an MP you can’t even handle such a simple thing in a friendly and clear manner?

Couldn’t the MP have said something along these lines:

“I apologise for the confusion. The forum is intended for my residents only. However, since so many of you have indicated interest, which I appreciate, I will see if we can accommodate you tomorrow. Please come back here for an update which I will provide soon as I can. Thank you for your support. I look forward to a very interesting and robust dialogue.”

To this writer, the MP’s behaviour shows the mind of a little man – for he forgets that there are genuine Singaporeans outside his constituency – besides Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Ngerng – who would like to attend his forum.

A simple – and polite – clarification would have suffice – and done the MP a lot of good, instead of this needless and infantile wiggling out of a corner, preferring to cross swords over semantics than to display a genuine welcome of debate and discussion on an issue which many Singaporeans are concerned about.

Indeed and alas, Mr Kumar’s behaviour is one of a man with a small mind.

This is how the PAP is being dragged down – by those whose action, behaviour and words say more about them than about those they are attacking.

In the Straits Times on Saturday (14 June), writer Andrea Ong hit the nail on its head when she called on our politicians and political leaders to “elevate political discourse beyond a tussle over credit and discredit.”

I second Ms Ong’s call.

She called for a change of mindset – for our political leaders to “be comfortable with the fact that narratives and contributions can co-exist.”

I would also add that politicians should rise above the petty partisan politicking, especially the PAP which seems to take umbrage at the slightest perceived misdemeanour by others, as in the examples of Ms Indranee and Mr Kumar.

Perhaps it is time PAP MPs do some self-reflection and ask themselves if they are MPs ready to embrace their fellow Singaporeans, as the president urged; or are they no better than men and women of small minds who prefer to slither in the cesspool of destructive political nitpicking over inconsequential matters.

Think about it – our MPs, paid millions of dollars, nitpicking over “claiming credit” and who can attend a public forum.

Surely we did not elect them to bicker over such things?
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