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TOC Opinion: PM Lee at NUS: Where’s the substance?

Posted by theonlinecitizen on September 22, 2007

By Choo Zheng Xi

The Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum was a surreal experience. Throughout the forum, I had trouble believing that this event was being held the day after one of the most contentious Parliamentary sittings I had ever followed was concluded.

I had trouble believing that I was being addressed by the Prime Minister of a government that was in the process of trying to push through one of the most revolutionary makeovers of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme in history. Generally, I was troubled.

PM largely steered clear of contentious local issues, choosing instead to focus a large part of his speech on standard fare about our relations with our neighbors, with a more general sketch of local issues.

What PM didn’t say was more revealing than what he focused on. It was clear that he was trying to steer clear of touching on anything to do with CPF, preferring instead to dwell in the safe harbour of the importance of our international friendships and the benefits of cosmopolitanism.

Fair enough, considering I didn’t expect him to raise anything groundbreaking. A reporter I was sitting next to pointed out to me that one often goes to these dialogues to see what interesting questions are asked in question and answer. If you’re there for PM’s speech you’re better off reading the Straits Times the next day.

More disturbing for me was the crowd: as even PM himself acknowledged, only slightly more than half the crowd was local. A reflection on how much local students care about issues that affect them?

Even more odd, almost none of the eleven people who rose to ask questions bothered to touch on the most important issue of our day: CPF changes. Many asked general questions about relations with our neighbours, to which he gave equally general responses. Several asked general questions about integrating foreign talent, to which he gave equally general answers: “you bring to the Singaporean mix something different!”.

Frustrated with the shadow play, I decided to lob him one:

“Mr Prime Minister, how serious is your government about soliciting feedback and consultation? Your annuities scheme was announced, made compulsory, details were given, before a committee was set up to take soundings from the ground. Doesn’t this ex post facto consultation put people off the idea of engaging in the issues of the day? Why give feedback when the decision’s been made?”

His answer, as you might have read in the press, was that the government is supposed to lead, make tough choices, and would be merely a feedback box otherwise.

Fair enough, if it didn’t clash so dissonantly with his next answer to a question by NUS Law student Li Fang Yi.

Fang Yi asked: “Mr Prime Minister, what do you think about the failure to repeal 377 and it’s effect on our international image?”

His answer, paraphrased, was a familiar refrain: it’s an issue that is provocative, raises a lot of emotions on both sides, so the government is adopting a wait and see attitude.

Conclusion: “leadership” on CPF, but “our hands are tied” when it comes to 377.

It was perhaps this selective leadership that put off many of the friends I attended this dialogue with. Several commented on how good he was at answering questions, and not in a flattering manner.

Someone who’d previously attended a dialogue with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew noted dryly: “at least his father would have given straight answers”.

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16 Responses to “TOC Opinion: PM Lee at NUS: Where’s the substance?”

  1. David said

    Everytime you ask provocative question, what you get is wait and see. This is exactly why all world class education university, colleges, and many more are avoiding Singapore like fleas to human. Isn’t this the very answer that why Warwick University put out setting up university why the professor ask Singapore how sensitive to discuss politics issues and corruption years back ?

    Indeed, world class gov with their world class answer and million dollars answer => Wait And See, See How, Let’s See-Saw, Engage the Unengage, and so many crap word.

    Why waste taxmoney to give speech if PM can’t even give an ‘honest’ answer ? At least, his father dare to say thing about issue. His son ? Gut as small as Chicken ! We have a chicken PM that only can lead chicken to be slaughtered.

  2. Ned Stark said

    There is an element of fear at work here. People will not dare ask probing questions less they bring down the ire of the ruling authorities.

    Furthermore if as u say there were many foreigners present then it could be that partaking of the fruits of the sytem would not make them critical of the system. For all you know they could be critical of those who do ask probing questions.

  3. RH:
    1. I believe that many or most of the ‘students’ who stood up to ask questions WERE PLANTED WELL BEFOREHAND WITH WELL REHEARSED PRE-ARRANGED QUESTIONS, AS USUAL, TO MAKE LIE HL LOOK BETTER THAN HE REALLY IS.

    2. This has long been practised by LIE KY since 1959. Whenever LIE KY consents to a foreign interviewer, he asks for and gets a list of all the questions to be asked so that he can pre-prepare his answers with much help from ghost writers, PR professionals and even advertising writers for good soundbites. He used to use British journalist and author Alex Josey extensively previously but now Alex may be too old.

    3. Nothing is spontaneous in Prison State Singapore. Everything is carefully pre-arranged even to the tie he wears or the amount of make up he puts on his face.

    4. CHOO was probably the only 1 who was not planted. Kudos to you for spoiling the staged wayang show. As for the real questions and questioners, they are all too intimidated to dare stand up and be identified and punished with lifetime surveillance by the secret police if their questions are too bold.

    5. A recent such wayang show staged by LIE HL at a JC was started by the teachers and principals warning the students to be careful what they ask the PM. Lest he be proven and found to be naked in the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  4. Planted? Nah.

    I knew some of the people who actually went up to ask the questions.

    There’s contention, and there’s stupid conspiracies that instil even MORE fear.

  5. Alex Har said

    He is after all a politician. Politicians have liscense to talkk like this, don’t they?

  6. Alex,

    More like not having any other choice. Worth a grin, for sure.

  7. vote of no confidence said

    they can’t solve present problems, what makes me think they can solve problems 10 -20 years down the road? is it going to be another 2 is enough policy? are they going to make us pay for a retirement that we will never see the money?

  8. James Chia said

    I think he hopes to be popular among Singaporeans by steering clear of sensitive issues. He already got a 66.6% last election. If Singaporeans don’t like him, he might embarass himself and his party with an even lower % in the next election. If you have noticed, he hasn’t made much appearances and comments on the minister’s pay hike, GST hike, and now the annuity issue.

  9. Getting the centrist vote seems to be his attempt at regaining lost popularity.

  10. RaymondChua said

    James Chia:
    “If you have noticed, he hasn’t made much appearances and comments on the minister’s pay hike, GST hike, and now the annuity issue”

    How true is that ! You have LKY come out to force people to accept minister’s pay hike instead of joker Lee. Remember the trillions dollars economy, and dose of bad gov crappy answer from LKY ? Where Junior Lee ? Isn’t he as PM suppose to defense this decision to increase price hike ? Instead, he disappeared and when thing settle, come out and say he donate his salary for the good of all mankind !!!

    Now you have annuity issue, gay issue, etc. Where is our millions dollars Joker Lee ? Nowhere to be found again. Instead, you have YES-MAN coming out to justify whatever money can take out from citizen.

    So the millions dollars question is : IS OUR PM JUST A PUPPET PM OR IS HE JUST ANOTHER OBEDIENT DADDY’S BOY WHO TAKE ORDER FROM PAPA ??? WHY CAN’T HE JUST DEFEND THE POLICY HIMSELF TO PROVE HE MAKING THE DECISION. WHY USE OTHER HENCHMEN TO DEFEND IT IF HE HIMSELF SUPPORT THE DECISION ?

    In fact, so far from what I see, I have a feeling that it is LKY behind the scene calling all the shots and policy because LKY has been so active nowsaday for a man of his age.

  11. Tan said

    I dont want to sound subversive, but why is it when an inconvenient question is always asked, its usually followed by a wall of silence?

    Is this the way one nurture a world class society? Can stone walling really be a substitute for rational dialogue?

    I am sorry, it just insults my intelligence.

  12. Mee Siam with extra HUM said

    Well it just goes to show how much we Singaporeans are lacking in awareness of the issues that will affect us.

    Youth theses days don’t even give two hoots about the going-on of the government and their actions.

    I believe we need to influence the youth to play a bigger role in nation building. Its a lamentable fact that the government decides every little thing that we can do or not do without a need to answer to the people.

    Wish more people would speak up like Zheng Xi. After all, Singapore’s a supposed democratic society. Not a monarchy. Keep up the good work TOC and team!

    Ps. the State’s Times’ really a boring read…

  13. […] Discourse – Choo Zheng Xi, TOC: TOC Opinion: PM Lee at NUS: Where’s the substance? – Ng Sook Zhen, TOC: TOC Report: PM Lee at NUS Ministerial Forum – ringisei: Defining ASEAN civil […]

  14. It takes years of skills to hone this skill of giving an answer without actually answering the question. It’s like asking what time is it and you get the answer that the sun is bright.

  15. Yihao said

    Well, perhaps it’s not that the students are not aware of local issues, but there’s increasing apathy since nothing the citizens say is being taken into consideration. Think bus fare hike, 377, minister’s pay, cpf, etc. If that’s the case, why waste our time at such forums listening to “model answers”? Bah. I’m better off playing DOTA.

  16. Well, Mr Choo, we even have unethical-sounding politicians who want to poach specialists from other countries. Your years at the famous nearby school should have prepared you for it. Do drop by and visit some day.

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