I have noted with some concern that my use of the term ‘little people’ in my letter on the Mas Selamat scandal has been deemed offensive. And since there are quite a number of you who have been offended or even upset, I can only conclude that I have used the term inappropriately, creating a gap between the intended and the perceived meaning, and therefore owe an explanation. Hence I would like quickly to make the following clarification:
My intention in the use of the word ‘little’ was purely to emphasize the humble, low-ranking position of most of the nine people being punished; if the word carried any emotions at all, they were chiefly those of sympathy and compassion. Never ever could I see myself–or any of you who wrote in–belittling people such as security guards who make a simple, honest living in our society.
Below are the responses to my letter that was published in the Straits Times on May 28, 2008.
‘Little people’ don’t need the grand gesture
by Mr Ooi Boon Hock
I HAVE always appreciated Dr Catherine Lim’s insights in the past, for often saying what we have thought of but have not found the words for. But this time, I think she is really out of sync. I am referring to her letter on Wednesday, ‘Mas Selamat: Shocked and disappointed’.
Dr Lim is being very patronising in describing the officers, who have been taken to task, as ‘little people’. They are professionals who, also being human, had unfortunately made some mistakes.
We all make mistakes. These officers must not lose heart and must endeavour to do better and learn from this incident. It seems to me that the officers have accepted the disciplinary actions and sanctions imposed on them. I salute them.
It is Dr Lim who cannot accept this outcome because it is too boring and bloodless. She obviously wants a more dramatic and colourful ending to the Mas Selamat story. As she writes in her blog, she demands that a ‘large public gesture’ be made and this grand gesture must be nothing less than a minister offering to resign and the Prime Minister rejecting it.
I know Dr Lim means well but she must continue to suffer her disappointment in the real and virtual company of a few.
Any claim that her view is universally held by ordinary people in the real world is fictional.
This kind of political theatre is not what the ‘little people’ want.
We want straightforward, practical action. No need for grand gestures, symbols and theatrical effects.
This is my humble opinion but it is also shared by my friends and family in the world of ‘little people’.
Top officials should do more
by Dr Johnny Lee
I REFER to Wednesday’s letter by Dr Catherine Lim ‘Mas Selamat: Shocked and disappointed’. I read the news of the closure of the Mas Selamat escape episode with shock too. I am also utterly confused. Am I to understand from such a judgement that it is the lesser officers who must shoulder the major responsibility, while the top officials need shoulder only little or no responsibility?
At the very least, and in good faith, the top officials should have volunteered for a pay cut or a smaller chance for future promotions, or both.
Nobody should have been punished
by Mr N. Rajendran
All the officers involved did their duty honestly but the circumstances were favourable to Mas Selamat and he took the opportunity to escape.
Disturbed by the outcome
by Dr Rosemary Chwee
I feel a disturbing uneasiness laced with a deep-seated feeling of unfairness on the issue of professional accountability. This is a clear-cut case of national security. The lower-ranking officers who were punished should have at least been shown some compassion, given that the top-ranking officers got away with barely a slap on their wrist. The positive and negative influences surrounding an organisational culture that includes its work ethics, always flows from the top – its leadership – to the bottom.
The buck stopped at the wrong place
by Mr William Tay
I fully agree with Dr Catherine Lim that it is very disappointing that only the ‘little people’ are punished for Mas Selamat’s escape.